The America COMPETES Acts: The Future of US Physical Science and Engineering Research?
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The America COMPETES legislation, including the initial America COMPETES Act of 2007 (ACA 2007) and America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (ACA 2010), was one of the most prominent bipartisan legislative achievements of the past decade and was seen as having the potential to be the most notable science and innovation policy initiative of the new millennium. The aims of the COMPETES acts were to substantially increase the extent of federal funding for physical science and engineering research in the United States and to improve the country’s research infrastructure and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education capabilities in these areas. This paper contributes to early evaluation of the ACA by providing an overview of the history and goals of these acts and by tracking the subsequent federal funding and implementation of the associated ACA programs. The analysis documents that the tangible outputs of the acts are modest relative to the expectations expressed at the time of each act’s signing. Indeed, a substantial fraction of the funds authorized by the 2007 and 2010 acts was not appropriated by Congress, and many of the programs specified by the acts either have failed to materialize or have done so at funding levels much lower than those initially authorized by Congress. That said, the legislation demonstrates a clear federal commitment to support physical science and engineering and evidences a number of key achievements. A number of notable programs and initiatives have been created with the support of the ACA (including the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy and the federal prize authority), and some of the agencies affected have been able to implement programs consistent with the spirit of the acts, even in the face of funding limitations. In addition, a tenuous but consistent bipartisan consensus that may have been energized by the COMPETES legislation has enabled such programs to avoid the spending cuts experienced by many non-defense-related federal programs.
Financial support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, under grant no. 0738394.