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May 25, 2017

Ranking Member Johnson Introduces STEM Opportunities Act

(Washington, DC) – Today, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced H.R. 2653, the STEM Opportunities Act of 2017. The legislation is similar to legislation she has introduced several Congresses in a row, including H.R. 467 in the 114th Congress.

Ranking Member Johnson said, “The need for full engagement in STEM by women and underrepresented minorities goes beyond enabling individuals to fulfill their dreams of becoming a scientist. Our economic future relies on what we do now to nurture the STEM talent that will be necessary to meet the demands of an increasingly technological and knowledge-based economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that STEM employment is the fastest growing sector, with computer science and engineering jobs among the fastest growing STEM occupations.

“If things continue as they are now, however, I fear we will be ill equipped to fill these jobs. We are seventeen years into the 21st century and the demographics of the STEM workforce do not reflect the diversity of the nation. In 2015, women earned only 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and 18 percent in computer science. Black and Hispanic students are similarly underrepresented in these fields at the undergraduate level, and the problem is even more pronounced in STEM faculty. Women hold only 23 percent of all tenured and tenure-track positions, while Black and Hispanic faculty combined hold a dismal 6.4 percent of these positions. We need to leverage all of our human capital if we are to achieve the necessary capacity to innovate and to discover.”

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced a companion bill to the STEM Opportunities Act in the Senate today. “Supporting a diverse STEM workforce is critical to ensuring that we, as a nation, are able remain competitive in today’s global economy,” said Senator Hirono. “By breaking down barriers to advancement, the STEM Opportunities Act represents an important step forward in addressing the factors that have limited the progression of women and underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

The legislation would require federal agencies that fund scientific research to collect more comprehensive demographic data on the recipients of federal research awards and on STEM faculty at U.S. universities (while protecting individuals’ privacy); promote data-driven research on the participation and trajectories of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM so that policy makers can design more effective policies and practices to reduce barriers;  develop, through the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), consistent federal policies for recipients of federal research awards who have caregiving responsibilities, including care for a newborn or newly adopted child, and consistent federal guidance to grant reviewers and program officers on best practices to minimize the effects of implicit bias in the review of federal research grants; require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop and disseminate guidance to universities to aid them in identifying any cultural and institutional barriers limiting the recruitment, retention, and achievement of women and minorities in research careers and developing and implementing current best practices for reducing such barriers; require OSTP to develop and issue similar guidance to all federal laboratories; and authorize NSF to award grants to universities to implement or expand research-based practices targeted specifically to increasing the recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty.

Ranking Member Johnson said of the legislation, “In developing this legislation, we solicited extensive input from governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to ensure that the guidance and requirements reflect today’s needs and opportunities without unduly burdening our research universities. The result is a bill that attempts to systematically address the full suite of issues facing both female and minority STEM researchers, from work-life balance policies, to campus climate, to better data collection, to recruitment and retention practices. This bill proposes concrete and evidence-based solutions to the indisputable reality that our nation continues to fall well short of engaging our entire talent pool in STEM careers. That disparity in our STEM workforce will continue to have real and increasing consequences to our social, economic, and national security if we do not begin to implement scalable solutions soon...”

In 2015, the GAO released a report (GAO-15-358) that found that three federal agencies, which collectively provide $3 billion in research funding to our nation’s colleges and universities, were failing to collect demographic data for recipients of federal research grants, while other agencies have been doing so for years. This data is necessary to determine whether gender discrimination is a factor in the distribution of federal research grants. Since then, at least two of the agencies have made progress in their data collection efforts. However, this legislation would help ensure that all federal science agencies meet the same standards for ensuring transparency and fairness in the grant-making process.

Original cosponsors of H.R. 2653 include Bill Foster (D-IL), Scott H. Peters (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark A. Takano (D-CA), Katherine M. Clark (D-MA), Suzanne M. Bonamici (D-OR), Paul D. Tonko (D-NY), David E. Price (D-NC), Elizabeth H. Esty (D-CT), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jacklyn S. Rosen (D-NV), Ed G. Perlmutter (D-CO), Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Daniel W. Lipinski (D-IL).

A full list of endorsements for H.R. 2653 can be found here.