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Smith: Ensuring Science Investments Provide Strong Return

Inscribed on the wall of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing room is the quote “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This simple line from the Book of Proverbs is an appropriate message as we begin a new Congress. We must learn from the past, understand the present and have a vision for the future.

As chairman, I want the Science, Space, and Technology Committee to be a place where vision drives the dialogue and politics takes the back seat. The top priorities of the committee will be to promote legislation that encourages scientific discoveries, space exploration and the development of new technologies.

With broad jurisdiction over America’s federal research and development efforts, the committee helps make sure taxpayers’ investments provide a strong return.

The committee oversees agency budgets of $39 billion, most of which is focused on research and development. The purpose of the committee is to encourage the kinds of R&D that lead to new innovations and job creation.

Our first hearing on Wednesday will begin this process by examining the positive impact of today’s R&D and looking forward to potential breakthrough innovations in the future.

Federally funded basic research has supported the creation of technologies that have changed and improved our daily lives — including the MRI, GPS, laser technology and the Internet.

Innovation is also critical to a healthy American economy. High-tech companies may only make up 5 percent of all businesses, but they account for 40 percent of America’s increase in productivity and half of all exports. So it is important that we invest in the right kinds of R&D that lead to new innovations and technological advancements.

But in order to achieve the innovations of tomorrow, we must better educate American students today. We need to empower them with the tools they will need to succeed. That means preparing students for advanced degrees and ensuring that young adults have the scientific and mathematic literacy to thrive in a technology-based economy.

The committee will look for ways not only to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics but also to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM fields. The committee will set priorities for the National Science Foundation and other federal research agencies, including STEM education initiatives.

Perhaps no career in the world requires more science and math education than a career in human spaceflight.

Astronauts have inspired generations of Americans, but, with no clear mission, NASA needs decisive leadership from Congress.

As we move beyond the space shuttle era, the committee will help keep our space program moving forward. We will work on a NASA reauthorization bill that promotes the commercialization of space and advances space exploration to expand our knowledge of the universe and inspire our nation.

In addition to encouraging the exploration of new worlds, the committee promotes policies that benefit those of us here on Earth. We cannot reach our goal of energy independence without investing in energy development.

The committee will propose an Energy R&D bill, which includes all forms of energy including nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. This legislation will help harness more domestic energy resources and find ways to make production safer, cheaper and more efficient.

And producing American energy creates American jobs. In South Texas, the increased use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to access oil and natural gas in the Eagle Ford Shale formation has created thousands of well-paid jobs.

According to data from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, average per-capita incomes in counties with Eagle Ford Shale wells jumped more than 13 percent from 2008 to 2011. Across the United States, income fell.

As our country continues to face a fiscal crisis, it is clear that Congress needs to cut spending and prioritize the investments that will provide a good return for American taxpayers. STEM education initiatives, space exploration and investments in basic research are the long-term investments that will provide economic growth and help us ensure America’s future prosperity and success.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, serves as chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

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