CONGRESS, PHD PRODUCTION, AND THE GATHERING STORM REPORT
POST DATE April 10, 2007, 9 PM
POSTED BY Geoff Davis
[Prolific commenter Bob has submitted a guest post - interesting stuff!]
There has been some discussion on this blog about whether we are producing too many PhDs, given the size of the job market. Some have stated that Congress is not likely to get involved with the issue of PhD production. That is currently not true as will be discussed below.
Here is some homework I have done on the issue of how Congress does get involved with issues like PhD production that I hope some of you find useful, especially in light of Geoff's recent post about the origin of another bill in Congress. The discussion also illustrates the science policy power structure in Washington.
Here is an example of how Congress became involved with the issue of PhD production, in both the 109th and 110th Congresses, and the origins of the "Gathering Storm" report. What Congress will do, is ask the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), or the National Research Council (NRC), to study an issue involving science and technology ("competitiveness") on its behalf. That is one reason the NAS was established. For other issues, Congress might turn to the CRS-the Congressional Research Service for example.
Here are the web links for the 300+ page report, and the executive summary:
Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future If you sign in, you can receive a free pdf of this 300 page report.
This executive summary explains how the report came about: Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Executive Summary
On page 2 (or 3) of the executive summary the origins of the "Gathering Storm" report are discussed: "The National Academies was asked by Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Jeff Bingaman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, with endorsement by Representative Sherwood Boehlert and Representative Bart Gordon of the House Committee on Science, to respond to the following questions: What are the top 10 actions, in priority order, that federal policymakers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so that the United States can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the global community of the 21st century? What strategy, with several concrete steps, could be used to implement each of those actions? The National Academies created the Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century to respond to this request."
On page 27 of the executive summary it shows who the committee members were made of, basically CEOs and university presidents. However, my guess is that much of this large report was already put together by the NAS staff, well before this committee was formed. The report is so large, with so much data, there is no way the CEO of Intel and the President of the University of Maryland gathered all these "facts" and wrote a 300 page report. They likely read it, and signed off on it, adding a several recommendations of their own.
Notice what the NAS committee and/or the NAS staff did recommend:
Scroll down to page 10 of the Executive Summary: "Action C-2: Increase the number of US citizens pursuing graduate study in “areas of national need” by funding 5,000 new graduate fellowships each year. NSF should administer the program and draw on the advice of other federal research agencies to define national needs. The focus on national needs is important both to ensure an adequate supply of doctoral scientists and engineers and to ensure that there are appropriate employment opportunities for students once they receive their degrees. Portable fellowships would provide a stipend of $30,0007 annually directly to students, who would choose where to pursue graduate studies instead of being required to follow faculty research grants, and up to $20,000 annually for tuition and fees."
It turns out areas of "National Need" are generic fields like the physical sciences. Thus, 5,000 new graduate fellowships would result in a very large increase in PhD production at a time when many are questioning how to employ current PhD production.
In summary, The Gathering storm report recommended a large INCREASE in the supply of PhDs in the physical sciences ("areas of national need"). The 109th Congress then converted these recommendations into a series of bills known as the PACE Act-Protecting America’s Competitive Edge (PACE). The PACE ACT had 62 co-sponsors in the 109th Congress, but did not become law. Here is a summary:
109TH CONGRESS: IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES JAN. 22, 2006 S. 2198 Protecting America's Competitive Edge (PACE) Act
To ensure the United States successfully competes in the 21st century global economy. Mr. DOMENICI (for himself, Mr. BINGAMAN, Ms. MIKULSKI and 50 co-sponsors)
Full text of bill: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s109-2198
Scroll down: SEC. 181. GRADUATE RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS IN SCIENTIFIC AREAS OF NATIONAL NEED
(a) FELLOWSHIPS AUTHORIZED.—..establish a fellowship program to provide tuition and financial support for eligible students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics or science, engineering, or other areas of national need.
(b) AREAS OF NATIONAL NEED.—important to the mission of the Department of Energy, may use the areas of national need in determining the specific fields of study
(e) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.— $225,000,000 for fiscal year 2007; (2) $450,000,000 for fiscal year 2008; and (3) $675,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2009 through 2013.
In effect, the PACE ACT proposed a large increase in PhD production in the physical sciences (perhaps a doubling by 2013 if my math is correct). There are some positive education features of the PACE ACT however, but that is another topic. The PACE ACT (S. 2198) did not become law in the 109th Congress.
However, similar measures have been reintroduced in the 110th Congress. Two important bills:
S.761 America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (Placed on Calendar in Senate)
S.833 COMPETE Act of 2007 (Introduced in Senate)
...... More on the details of these bills to follow. I have found this link useful for tracking legislation: http://www.govtrack.us/
This is enough for one comment. One of the key points is that while there is discussion of reducing PhD production in the U.S., bills have been introduced in Congress in response to the NAS Gathering Storm report that will do just the opposite, in a very significant way. Currently, the average working scientist, postdoc, or graduate student has had basically no say in the formation of these bills. The question is, can we change this and have input? Again, a future topic.