Committee Discusses Proposed Reorganization of STEM Education Programs
(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to review the Administration’s proposed consolidation and reorganization of federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. Testifying before the Committee were the Honorable John P. Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President (EOP); Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Assistant Director of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation (NSF); and Mr. Leland D. Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 required OSTP to establish a standing Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) to develop a 5-year strategic plan to align federal STEM education programs under a coherent vision and set of goals; to coordinate federal STEM programs on an ongoing basis; and to impose greater accountability on these programs. Though that plan was due with the FY 2013 Budget Request, it was delivered last Friday. In the meantime, the President’s FY 2014 Budget Request contained a proposal to restructure and consolidate federal STEM programs. This proposal would have the Dept. of Education (DoED) take on the primary role of overseeing STEM instruction at the K-12 level; NSF take primary responsibility for administering STEM education programs at the undergraduate and graduate level; and the Smithsonian Institution (SI) be primarily responsible for informal education and outreach. While mission agencies would still maintain some of their own STEM education programs, the plan would eliminate, restructure, or consolidate 116 of the 226 total federal STEM education programs.
Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement, “I was very supportive of the mandate [in the COMPETES Reauthorization Act] because I believed it was important to look at what the Federal government has been doing and how we can improve our efforts…Unfortunately, prior to the release of the CoSTEM strategic plan, OMB included a proposal in the President’s FY14 Budget for a sweeping reorganization of Federal STEM education programs. In addition to being concerned about the process, I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself. To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out.”
Democratic Members expressed numerous concerns about the proposal included in the President’s budget including, that the Smithsonian does not have the expertise or grant-making authority to handle the new responsibilities being given to it; the stakeholder community was not given the opportunity to provide input; NSF may not be able to provide adequate support for specialized graduate programs currently run by other agencies; NASA’s outreach and informal STEM programs would be drastically cut without clear explanation as to how such decisions were made; and the amount of input the agencies actually had in developing the proposal.
Democratic Members also asked questions about the CoSTEM strategic plan such as how it will help broaden participation of women and minorities in STEM; how computer science will be incorporated as part of STEM; and what can be done to help enhance vocational and mid-level skills training.
Ms. Johnson said of the CoSTEM strategic plan, “The 5 year strategic plan is a separate document, and hopefully one that stands on its own and remains viable even if Congress refuses to support the specifics of the FY 2014 proposal. My hope is that the CoSTEM strategic plan can serve as a new starting point for discussion and more sensible and well-thought out implementation steps in FY 2015 and beyond.”