In addition to an update on happenings within the United States federal government, SWE will be gathering members at WE21 for an in-person public policy session.
The State of STEM in the United States Federal Policy
Autumn is upon us. There’s a chill in the air (in some places). School is back in session. Many folks are thinking about holiday plans. Or, at least planning costumes. There is much going on across the United States as citizens dare to hope that the pandemic is closer to being over.
In Washington, DC, there has been much partisan bickering in recent months. The issues that are dominating headlines include a bipartisan infrastructure package, the Build Back Better Act (which is a $3.5 trillion proposal that reflects many of President Joe Biden’s domestic policy priorities), decisions about investments in federal agencies for the fiscal year that started October 1, and the country’s borrowing limit. With all of the noise and partisan differences that surround these issues, it’s difficult to believe that there is good news to report on SWE’s policy priorities.
In March of this year, hundreds of SWE members met with Congressional offices to discuss policy priorities that support women in STEM and engineering as part of SWE’s 2021 Capitol Hill Day (CHD). Some of the requests made of offices during those meetings have been honored. Many other requests have a way to go before they reach President Biden’s desk and implementation.
So, what’s the latest? Here’s a quick round-up of progress on issues that Capitol Hill Day participants discussed earlier this year.
- Competitiveness legislation and SWE priorities: The STEM Opportunities Act and the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act have been included in the United State Innovation and Competition Act (USICA)—a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June. USICA is an extensive legislative plan that proposes investing $220 billion in basic and advanced research; education and training programs in artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications, biotechnology and advanced energy; regional technology hubs; a supply chain crisis-response program; and various STEM education programs, among other initiatives. It’s a big bill. Through the debate and amendment process on the floor of the Senate, other provisions important to STEM advocates were added to USICA. They include rural STEM education program investments, efforts to expand access to K-12 computer science, and Postsecondary STEM pathway grants. While SWE and other STEM stakeholders are excited about the prospect of seeing this bill enacted, it is likely that the process of negotiating the Senate-passed bill with House lawmakers, who have passed the National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy for the Future Act, will take some time. Such talks are unlikely to take place until the multiple urgent issues before Congress are resolved, but SWE is monitoring the process and talking to staff about the provisions it supports.
- Supporting Women in STEM fields: The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act made some progress in the Senate, where it was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The bill, which was among the bills SWE CHD participants supported in their March conversations, passed the House in May of this year. Advocates are asking Senate leadership to put the bill on the floor in that chamber as soon as possible. In disappointing news for SWE, the Paycheck Fairness Act—which the House passed in April—was not approved by the Senate, when it was presented for consideration in June.
- STEM Restart Act: One of SWE’s highest legislative priorities is the STEM RESTART Act. There’s good news and bad news about the proposal. The good news? The bill has a House companion this year. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) were joined by Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and James Baird (R-IN) in introducing the bill in the House in April, after SWE representatives visited with lawmakers asking for a House companion. That makes the bill bipartisan and bicameral this Congress! The bad news? SWE has been talking to staff often about how to include the bill in any of the large packages that are currently being debated. So far, the proposal hasn’t found a home in any of those. SWE and other allies continue to push for its enactment, and are hopeful there might be progress next year. Patience is in order, but it will be a top ask for SWE’s Congressional Outreach Days in the spring of 2022.
Public Policy at WE21
In the meantime, we are looking forward to talking about advocacy at WE21. We hope you’ll join one of the sessions that will outline SWE’s advocacy efforts and how you can join them. Session details are below:
Title: STEM Advocacy in The Time Of COVID-19
- Time: 10:00 am – 11:00 am EST on Thursday, October 21
- Location: ICC 140
- Description: In 1848, 300 people met at Seneca Falls to eventually win women the right to vote. In the 1940s, female students pursuing engineering met regularly to later form the Society of Women Engineers. In March 2020, the President declared a U.S. national emergency for COVID-19; state and local governments banned social gatherings. When limited staff are allowed to enter key legislative buildings on Capitol Hill, how do we advocate for policies to improve STEM education, expand women’s rights in the workplace, and advance women in engineering? How do we educate members and policy makers on how to apply Title IX to STEM fields? How do you get your foot in the virtual door to help advocate for your issues? Learn about SWE’s policy focus areas, how the pandemic has impacted advocacy, and ways you can get involved in a big way without being on Capitol Hill.
Title: Local Advocacy That Works
- Time: 10:00 am – 11:00 am EST on Saturday, October 23, 2021
- Location: ICC 120
- Description: Participating in local and state governments can often have the greatest impact in our communities. As women engineers, we are uniquely qualified to advocate as experts for issues in engineering, STEM, and many other issues. Testifying at public meetings and hearings can be one way to get involved at the local and state levels in your community. This session will show you how to build relationships with local officials, research agendas, follow legislative processes and prepare testimony based on the requirements of the local governing body.
Title: Full STE(A)M Ahead – Into Public Office
- Time: 4:00 pm – 5:00 am EST on Thursday, October 21
- Location: ICC 140
- Description: The past five years have seen a wave of scientists and engineers running for office… and winning! But elected office remains a rare and enigmatic path for most engineers. This session aims to highlight how engineers can positively impact their communities by serving in public office.
In a moderated discussion, participants will hear from three women about their journeys to public service, the day-to-day life of a legislator, and how they use their science and engineering backgrounds in these new roles. Shaughnessy Naughton will provide advice and perspective as the founder and president of 314 Action, a group that has recruited and trained hundreds of STEM candidates to run for office. The panel will also discuss ways engineers can advocate for evidence-based policy making and support civic engagement. Participants will leave with concrete ideas about how to get involved, regardless of age, location, career stage, or experience.