The U.S. Senate was poised last night to pass a spending bill for the Defense Department that would significantly increase funding for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships for students in math, science and engineering fields who commit to do civilian research at the Pentagon.
The mammoth spending measure to finance all operations of the Defense Department ( H.R. 2863 ) for the 2006 fiscal year would increase to $20 million federal spending on the SMART Defense Scholarship Program,  which was created last year to attract more young people into science and technology doctoral programs in general and into civilian defense work in particular.
In 2005, Congress put just $2.5 million in the program, and when the defense appropriations measure hit the Senate floor last week, it contained $10 million for the program.
But Tuesday night, the Senate approved an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), that would increase funds for the program to $20 million.
The senators' amendment also provided for a $30 million increase in federal spending on other basic Pentagon research. As amended, the bill would provide $1.484 billion for basic Defense Department research over all.
Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities, applauded the passage of the Collins/Kennedy amendment as a step toward bolstering the supply of qualified American scientists and engineers. "The Kennedy-Collins amendment will help us give our men and women in the armed forces the cutting edge science and technology they need by ensuring that we have a strong supply of American scientists and engineers in fields critical to our national defense," Hasselmo said.