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Ranking Member Lucas Opening Statement at Full Committee Markup of H.R. 144

Mar 9, 2021
Opening Statement
H.R. 144, the Supporting Early Career Researchers Act

Thank you, Chairwoman Johnson, for holding today’s mark-up.  The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act addresses a great need in our research community, and I’m pleased that this was the first bipartisan bill we introduced together this Congress.  

As we have seen this past year, COVID-19 has caused substantial disruptions across the U.S. research enterprise.  Most research and development work stopped or was dramatically limited to provide for safe social distancing, and it’s estimated we’re losing between 20 and 40 percent of our research output.  Those problems are only getting worse as Congress continues to ignore this problem in COVID relief bills.  

In addition to this loss of research, we’re facing the loss of our researchers. As we heard in our hearing two weeks ago, graduate students and post-docs are particularly vulnerable to research disruptions. With their research on pause, many are finding it difficult to complete their degree requirements. Those who have finished their degrees are having trouble finding work. Much of academia has implemented hiring freezes and it is estimated that faculty openings in the sciences have decreased by more than 70 percent compared to 2019.  

The COVID-19 crisis has put funding and support for these junior scientists at risk, threatening to upend their future career paths.  If we do not take steps to provide support, our STEM pipeline could be irreparably damaged. 

At the same time, the pace of innovation is accelerating globally, and with it, the competition for scientific and technical talent.  The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly stated it is determined to overtake the U.S. in critical technologies like AI, quantum computing, and advanced manufacturing.  These technologies will require new levels of scientific skills and understanding, and this new generation of scientists will play a critical role in how they’re developed. 

Now more than ever, the innovation capacity of the U.S. – and its prosperity and security – depends on an effective and innovative STEM workforce to compete with our adversaries.  If we do not provide the resources to support these young researchers, we will be limiting our ability to support new and innovative research for years to come, playing catch up to our foreign competitors like China. 

That’s why I am so proud to cosponsor this legislation.  It will establish a pilot program at the National Science Foundation to provide two-year fellowships to young researchers whose career pathways have been disrupted by the pandemic.  The bill will support 3,200 fellowships over four years. 

These fellowships will allow talented young scientists and engineers to carry out independent research at an institution of higher education of their choosing. This bill provides targeted and temporary relief to support early-career scientists, keeping them in the STEM pipeline while the research enterprise recovers. By supporting these young researchers, we’re investing in  America’s research and technology leadership.  

I want to thank the Chairwoman for holding today’s markup and co-sponsoring this important bill with me.  I would also like to thank all the organizations that endorsed this bill--your support is truly appreciated.  I strongly encourage Members to vote in favor of this legislation and I yield back the balance of my time.

117th Congress