Senate panel OKs more money for research, manufacturing

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Legislation containing a 4 percent increase in the budget for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which could benefit research universities in Michigan such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, cleared a key U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday, setting up a potential floor vote.

The measure, co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, “maximizes basic research by reducing administrative burdens for researchers, enhancing agency oversight, improving research dissemination, and reforming federal science agencies to increase the impact of taxpayer-funded research,” according to a statement from Peters’ congressional office.

The bill was approved on Wednesday by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on a voice vote. It authorizes an increase in the Science Foundation budget from $7.5 billion in the upcoming 2017 fiscal year to $7.8 billion in 2018. Money for the Institute of Standards would increase from $974 million in 2017 to more than $1 billion in 2018.

“Basic science research is the foundation of our economy, creating jobs and new opportunities for researchers to discover and entrepreneurs to innovate,” said Peters, who is the top ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee.

“The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act will help invest in basic research, encourage stronger education efforts to train the next generation of workers and capitalize on new discoveries that will strengthen American competitiveness,” the junior Michigan senator continued.

University leaders in Michigan have praised lawmakers for moving to boost money for research.

When the legislation was introduced last week, Jack Hu, vice president for research at the University of Michigan, said, “this bill reaffirms our nation’s commitment to the federal investment in basic research that has led to the stunning array of advances that underlie our economic health, competitiveness, and quality of life.”

David Reed, vice president for research at Michigan Technological University, added that, “Prioritizing basic science research and STEM education will allow students at Michigan Tech to innovate and develop the skills needed to be competitive in a global environment.

“We thank Sen. Peters for his leadership and commitment to ensuring the next generation of students are prepared to lead in the development of cutting-edge research and technologies that can transform the world.”

Supporters of the measure pointed out that the increased spending for the Institute of Standards in the bill would also help the the agency’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which is a public-private partnership that aims to increase U.S. manufacturing for small and medium-sized business.

The measure contains provisions that adjust the federal government’s cost share for the MEP program to a 1-to-1 ratio. The bill would also “strengthen and clarify the MEP Center review process and require re-competition of MEP Center awards every 10 years” and “authorize MEP Centers to support the development of manufacturing-related apprenticeship, internship and industry-recognized certification programs.”

Michigan’s MEP affiliate, which is known as the Michigan Manufacturing and Technology Center, supports more than 470 manufacturers across the state, according to Peters’ office.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing