From the foods we eat to our transportation systems to our healthcare systems, engineering research and diligence are evident in every facet of our daily lives. Engineers translate the results of basic research into practical, affordable products that we need and use every day. However, the engineering profession is one of the least recognized, yet most important, elements of America's economic success.
Our nation is now entering a new economic phase in which both
products and engineering talent are increasingly global in scope.
Some of my colleagues in Congress and I asked the National
Academy of Sciences (NAS)
to convene a panel to suggest policy recommendations for ensuring
the country’s future economic competitiveness and innovation.
The panel issued its report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, in
fall 2005. I was heartened that the report specifically acknowledged
the importance of a strong engineering workforce and engineers’
contributions to economic vitality.
Taking the next step, I introduced several bills in January. The first bill, H.R. 362, or the 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act, implements the report's highest priority—improving K-12 education by raising teacher competency in math and science. One aspect develops special programs allowing engineering and science students to graduate with a dual degree that includes teaching certification. In return for committing to be a teacher for up to six years following graduation, these students will receive scholarships. Why is this important? We won't have a next generation of engineers without excellent K-12 math and science education.
The second bill, H.R. 363, or the Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act, invests in our nation's capacity to innovate. The bill administers awards to outstanding early-career researchers in academia and nonprofit research organizations. The third, H.R. 364, or the Establishing the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Act, implements another component of the Gathering Storm report: providing aggressive funding for clean energy technologies to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil.
We all know that our eroding manufacturing base has also meant fewer engineering jobs. In addition, recent news reports indicate that engineering design and development jobs are increasingly filled by today’s highly skilled global labor force. During the past 20 years, many countries, particularly around the Pacific Rim, have dramatically improved their education systems and focused on graduating a well-educated, high-quality engineering workforce. The result has meant more competition for U.S. engineers.
As chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, I intend to convene a series of hearings on this issue. You can't develop a solution without first defining the parameters of the problem. First, what do we really know about the trends and causes of moving technology and engineering jobs offshore? Second, what are the factors affecting students’ choices in selecting an engineering major? Finally, what do we need to do to ensure that U.S. engineering graduates command a premium in an increasingly globalized workforce?
By the end of the first session of the 110th Congress, I hope to have a series of policy initiatives addressing these issues. However, this effort will only be successful with input from ASEE members and the rest of the engineering community.
For centuries, engineers have confronted technical challenges and solved them—and they continue to do so today. The quality of life we currently enjoy is in large part due to the work and expertise of engineers. Now, our nation’s engineering community faces new challenges. I have no doubt that by working together, we can rise to this challenge while maintaining a strong, vibrant domestic engineering workforce.
Bart Gordon represents Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District and is chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee.