On The Campaign Trail


April 2008

On The Campaign Trail


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) issues have become political hot-buttons amid growing concern over the U.S.'s ability to stand up to global competition in the technology market.  Last August, President Bush signed the America COMPETES Act into law after it passed Congress with overwhelming support. Since then, science and technology issues have remained at the forefront of lawmakers' agendas—and have also become a prominent platform in this year's presidential campaign.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, in partnership with the Association of American Universities and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, recently launched a Web site devoted to science and technology issues in the 2008 presidential campaign (http://election2008.aaas.org). The site features a summary of Democratic and Republican candidates' positions on competitiveness and innovation; STEM education and workforce, health, energy and environment; and national and homeland security.

Here is a sampling of the remaining three candidates' positions on STEM issues: 

Senator John McCain (R-AZ):

  • Senator John McCainWould aim to advance U.S. competitiveness through export markets for advanced energy technologies.
  • Would expand the H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers, a contentious issue.
  • Would implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. McCain also supports the use of nuclear power and increased use of biofuels, although he opposes subsidies for ethanol.
  • Would fight for full funding for NASA and the space program, including supporting the return of astronauts to the moon in preparation for a manned mission to Mars.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY):

  • Senator Hillary ClintonWould double, over 10 years, the research budgets at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the Department of Defense, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Clinton would also triple the number of NSF fellowships and increase the size of each award by
    33 percent.
  • Would seek to spur innovation by increasing R&D funding, increasing prizes awarded for accomplishing specific innovative goals, and making permanent the R&D tax credit.
  • Would seek to make the U.S. energy-independent and reduce the threat of global warming by creating a $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund to finance an energy research agency, implementing a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, enacting stronger energy and auto efficiency standards, and increasing green research funding.
  • Would advocate full funding for NASA's Earth Sciences program and a space-based Climate Change Initiative.

Senator Clinton has cosponsored three bills supported by NSPE: the National Infrastructure Improvement Act (S. 775), the Zero-Emissions Building Act (S. 1059), and the Higher Education Amendments (S. 1642), which would establish a math and science scholarship program for first- and second-year college students who complete a rigorous secondary school curriculum in mathematics and science.

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL):

  • Senator Barack ObamaWould aim to boost U.S. competitiveness by doubling federal funding for basic research, making permanent the R&D tax credit, and creating the position of Chief Technology Officer to ensure that the government has the most current infrastructure and technology services available.
  • Would "improve" the H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers. (Obama has been careful not to use the word "expand.")
  • Would seek to increase the number of graduates and undergraduates pursuing degrees in STEM fields by establishing a Teaching Service Scholarship program for recruiting STEM degree graduates; expanding access to computers and broadband connections in public schools; and investing in science education R&D to determine what types of curricula and instruction work best.
  • Would seek to reduce carbon emissions by establishing a market-based cap-and-trade system, investing $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, and doubling R&D funding for clean energy projects.

Senator Obama has cosponsored the NSPE-supported Higher Education Amendments (S. 1642).

Whether you lean Republican or are a staunch Democrat, each of this year's presidential candidates offers promising new ideas for keeping the U.S. competitive in a global market, encouraging more people to enter STEM fields, reducing America's reliance on foreign energy sources, and protecting the environment. Your continued involvement in the political process will ensure that engineers' issues will remain at the forefront of our nation's legislative and regulatory agendas for elections to come.