By Laura Szymanski, GSA Science Policy Fellow
The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, led by Chairwoman Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), has been actively addressing challenges in STEM education in a bipartisan and collaborative manner. On 20 June 2019 the committee voted favorably on two bills related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education: H.R. 2528 and H.R. 36, building on recent hearings by the committee, including “Maintaining U.S. leadership in Science and Technology” on 06 March, “Achieving the Promise of a Diverse STEM Workforce” on 09 May, and “Combating Sexual Harassment in Science” on 12 June.
Throughout these hearings, Members discussed how the current STEM workforce does not represent the diversity of the U.S., mainly due to an under-representation of women and minorities, and how addressing this disparity is integral to U.S. competitiveness.
H.R. 2528, the STEM Opportunities Act of 2019, sponsored by Rep. Johnson and originally co-sponsored by Rep. Lucas, addresses the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields and the STEM workforce. The National Academies 2017 report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, was the basis for the legislation and the bill aims to promote research on the participation and trajectories of women and minorities in STEM fields, evaluate the success of programs, and implement best practices to reduce and remove barriers to women and minorities in STEM careers. An amendment to this bill, provided by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), explicitly adds postdoctoral fellows so as ensure that National Science Foundation’s (NSF) mentoring workshop programs include best practices for mentoring this unique group of academics.
H.R. 36, the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019, sponsored by Rep. Johnson and originally co-sponsored by Rep. Lucas, addresses pervasive sexual harassment in higher education outlined in the National Academies 2018 report, Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Rep. Lucas stated, “Chairwoman Johnson and I made this one of our highest priorities, introducing it on the first day of the 116th Congress”. The bill would direct the NSF to conduct further research to determine the factors contributing to, consequences of, and interventions to reduce sexual harassment and establish a working group to coordinate the federal science agencies efforts to implement policy guidelines regarding reporting of sexual harassment. Amendments that were passed favorably during the markup of the bill include: Rep. Johnson’s amendment that adds clarifying language to protect the privacy of victims and those accused, Rep. Lucas’s amendment that clarifies when an institution is required to report to the federal granting agency when an administrative action has been taken, and Rep. Lizzie Fletcher’s (D-TX) amendment that directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop policies for the reintegration of individuals who have experienced sexual and gender harassment into the STEM workforce. This bill has a Senate companion bill, S.1067, introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on 08 April 2019.