If Sen. Lamar Alexander, R.-Tenn., a former U.S. education secretary, gets his way, President Bush will make science and technology education and research highlights of his annual State of the Union address later this month.

America’s future depends on “brain power,” Alexander pointed out in promoting an ambitious, $10 billion annual boost in government spending on science and technology education and research.

Alexander met with President Bush just before Christmas to urge him to focus on math, science, and technology in his State of the Union address–and for his remaining three years in office.

“The president was very interested,” Alexander said last week after giving a speech on the proposals to a receptive audience in his home state that included officials from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and the University of Tennessee.

“I am encouraged because he understands these issues very well,” Alexander said of Bush. “He knows that we are in a competition for our jobs around the world. He is a former governor, so he knows and understands the issues in education. So I am encouraged, but I don’t have any kind of commitment.”

Alexander–a former Tennessee governor and U.S. education secretary in the administration of the current president’s father, George Herbert Walker Bush–sought guidance early last year from the National Academy of Science. A blue-ribbon panel responded with 20 recommendations in a report in October titled, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”

The report noted that U.S. industry is spending more money on lawsuits than research and development, China is producing 600,000 new engineers a year compared with only 70,000 in the United States, and this country’s 12th graders are performing below the average of students from 21 nations in math and science.

Among the panel’s proposals:

  • Create four-year scholarships to attract 10,000 students a year to math and science teaching careers.

  • Increase national investment in basic research by 10 percent annually.

  • Create a research division within the Department of Energy to study long-term energy challenges, similar to the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency that pioneered the internet.

  • Provide one-year visa extensions to international students seeking employment in the United States after receiving their doctorates from U.S. universities.

  • Establish new tax incentives and credits for innovation and research.

    Alexander is working with New Mexico Sens. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, and Pete Domenici, a Republican who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, on legislation to implement these recommendations. The three briefed Bush on their plans at the White House on Dec. 15.

    “It has been true since World War II that most of our good new jobs in America came from science and technology,” Alexander told his audience on Jan. 5. “It is going to be more true in the future.”

    In the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats in November unveiled an ambitious plan of their own to boost science and technology education and research. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced her party’s five-pronged “innovation agenda,” including affordable access to broadband technology for all consumers and incentives for students to pursue careers in science and technology, on Nov. 15 (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStoryts.cfm?ArticleID=5978).

    Links:

    U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander
    http://alexander.senate.gov

    Bush administration
    http://www.whitehouse.gov