Democrats, Republicans get partisan about R&D

Democrat and Republican lawmakers participated today in separate activities, each aimed at sharpening the nation’s competitive edge.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), the House Science Committee's ranking member, introduced a bill that would implement a proposal on the House Democrats’ Innovation Agenda, which they released last month.

The legislation would create a new division in the Energy Department modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Democratic agenda calls for refocusing DARPA on long-term basic research rather than advanced weapon systems, to which it has recently devoted many of its resources. DARPA created the earliest version of the Internet and formerly focused on computer science research.

No Republicans are listed among the bill's 16 co-sponsors yet. Alisha Prather, spokeswoman for the House Science Committee’s Democratic staff, said she expects Republican backers soon, however. “Mr. Gordon certainly does not view innovation as a partisan issue,” she said.

Gordon's bill would establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy (ARPA-E), which would be devoted to reducing foreign energy dependence by 20 percent in 10 years. ARPA-E would support high-risk, high-payoff research to accelerate the development of traditional and alternative energy sources and energy efficiency.

The legislation would also create an independent fund, administered by Energy officials, so that ARPA-E could accept non-federal contributions. The funding would be authorized from fiscal 2007 to 2012 at an initial authorization of $375 million. Funding would increase to $915 million.

As House Democrats were legislating, a Republican-initiated summit on U.S. innovation took place today at the Commerce Department. Three lawmakers announced the event last May.

At the National Summit on Competitiveness, more than 55 chief executive officers, university presidents and scientists met with top administration officials to press for more research and development funding, a greater focus on science and mathematics education and immigration reform.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds Commerce, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and much of the nation's science enterprise, acquired funding for the event. He encouraged House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and House Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) to participate.

The three Republican lawmakers, four cabinet secretaries and the director of the NSF attended.

The event was hosted by a private-sector steering committee, consisting of the American Electronics Association, the Business Roundtable, the Council on Competitiveness, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Northern Virginia Technology Council and George Mason University.

Organizers said Democratic lawmakers did not participate in the conference because it was a non-political, private-sector-led event. “It was not that they weren’t invited,” said Christine LaPaille, GMU’s vice president of university relations. “It was a business event.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement saying that innovation policies should not be politicized. Her release implied, however, that Republicans have been slow to respond to the nation’s R&D deficit.

“These issues don’t have to be partisan,” she stated. “Democrats believe that together, American can do better. We look forward to working together to implement our Innovation Agenda.”

“Today,” Pelosi added, “the Bush Administration is following our lead, holding a summit with national business leaders in Washington, D.C., to address America’s competitiveness.”

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