The President’s FY 2014 budget request places new emphasis on STEM (Science-Technology- Education-Mathematics) education. The total STEM education funding request, across all federals agencies, amounts to $3.1 billion; this represents an increase of 6.7 percent over 2012 funding levels.
While the proposed increase is noteworthy, the President’s proposal includes an ambitious reorganization of federal STEM programs. The major components include consolidation or elimination of 114 federal STEM programs. This would bring the total down from 226 to 112. Specifically 78 programs are terminated with funds redirected to other agencies (this totals $176 million). The breakdown by Agency of targeted programs and the expected savings:
- Department of Defense: 6 programs (out of 16) – $49.4 million
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): 38 programs (out of 61) – $47.5 million
- National Institutes of Health (NIH): 9 programs (out of 24) – $27.6 million
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): 2 programs (out of 7) – $16.1 million
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): 6 programs (out of 15) – $13.0 million
- Department of Agriculture (USDA): 6 programs (out of 16) – $10.9 million
- Department of Energy: 8 programs (out of 18) – $10.9 million
- Department of Homeland Security: 1 program (out of 3) – $1.0 million
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission: 1 program (out of 3) – less than $0 million
Of the $176 million in funds from the 78 terminated programs $100.3 million would be moved to K-12 STEM programing at the Department of Education, $25 million would be moved to the Smithsonian for a new STEM engagement initiative, and o $51.1 million is moved to the NSF for STEM undergraduate education and fellowship programs.
The STEM Education Coalition, of which ASCE is a founder and steering committee member, is currently preparing a response to the Administration’s proposal. While unlikely to comment on the elimination of specific programs, the Coalition, with ASCE’s support, will respond favorably to the proposal. The Coalition strongly supported federal leadership and funding for K-12 math and science programs, however 226 programs across multiple federal agency clearly do not represent a national focus. While agencies like NASA clearly have an educational role to play, the existing 61 programs seem excessive.
What does this have to do with infrastructure? Engineers, as the profession most responsible for the nation’s build environment,
have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation of engineers will be ready to face the challenges of the future. Our education system is not meeting the needs of our increasingly technological society. Many elementary, middle, and high school students do not receive adequate instruction, inspiration, and information in order to pursue STEM disciplines, such that the possibility of studying engineering at the college level is effectively precluded. Students who have the aptitude to be successful engineers never have an opportunity to develop an interest in this career path. Consequently, too few well-qualified students are pursuing careers in civil engineering.
The President’s proposal does face many hurdles, not the least of which is that fact that it needs the consent of Congress. Even before the House and Senate can consider the proposal, each chamber’s authorizing committees will have to weigh in. Given the number and range of departments and agencies involved, Obama will need to gain approval of at least half the Committees in both the House and Senate, a very tall order. However, it is a start.