House Tech Panel Priorities Include Health IT, E-recycling

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The U.S. House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee will focus on improving health IT and math and science education, making electronics easier to recycle, and aiding research on alternative energy during 2009, the committee's chairman said.

Also among the committee's priorities are legislation focused on spurring the U.S. nanotechnology industry, restructuring a research and development tax credit for the tech industry, and working with President-elect Barack Obama to establish a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, similar to a research projects office at the Department of Defense, said Representative Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat and committee chairman.

The Department of Energy needs to fund more projects looking at alternative energy and climate change, Gordon said. "You can't hit the ball if you don't swing the bat," he said at a press conference.

Much of the committee's focus will be on improving U.S. competitiveness, Gordon said Thursday. The committee will push for additional funding for the America Competes Act, a bill passed in August 2007 that authorized increased government funding for basic science research, gave grants to states for math and science teaching, and gave money to states to establish specialized math and science schools.

Part of the committee's math and science focus will be on finding ways to recruit female and minority students into math and science fields, Gordon said. Those groups are "woefully under-represented" in U.S. math and science fields, he said. "If you want to get the quickest bang for your buck, it's reaching out and focusing on programs for women and minorities," he said.

The committee also plans to evaluate all of the math and science education programs operated by the U.S. government and work on better coordinating these efforts, Gordon said.

Many large tech companies, including Microsoft, Dell and Intel, have called on Congress and local governments in recent years to improve U.S. math and science education. U.S. students are falling behind those in other countries, putting U.S. competitiveness at risk, Gordon said.

Tech groups have also called for several other changes on the committee's agenda, including restructuring of a research and development tax credit, and

The committee's work on health IT will target ways to encourage health IT systems to be interoperable, Gordon said. Improving health IT "will save us money and will save us lives," Gordon said.

In the area of electronics recycling, the committee will look at ways to help manufacturers make their products easier to recycle, without subjecting recycling workers to health hazards, Gordon said. "Our landfills are filling up with electronics," he added.

Critics may ask where the money is coming from to accomplish all the priorities, Gordon acknowledged. But the committee's priorities are largely focused on improving the U.S. economy and U.S. competitiveness in the long term, he said. U.S. residents with children or grandchildren "should be concerned they will have a national standard of living less than their parents," he added.

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