By Lewis-Burke Associates LLC
The Senate took a major step to advance the Endless Frontier Act (EFA), passing it as part of a giant package of innovation, trade, and research security legislation called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA) on June 8. The bipartisan vote of 68-32 indicated strong support for investment in research and technology development as key planks for enhanced competitiveness and economic development. The core of the legislation was not changed during Senate consideration. The bill would authorize $81 billion for NSF over five years, a large portion of this which would be used to establish a new Directorate for Technology and Innovation. This new directorate would prioritize efforts in ten key technology focus areas such as artificial intelligence, advanced computing, resilience, advanced communications, wireless research, energy innovation, and biotechnology. The bill would also authorize additional funding for research at the Department of Energy (DOE) and capacity building through a Regional Technology Hub program at the Department of Commerce, among other provisions.
In addition to EFA, USICA combines policy proposals from several Senate committees, including Foreign Relations; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Finance; Banking; Judiciary; and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. There are numerous provisions of relevance, including those important to HFES that would:
- Require universities to provide copies of contracts and agreements with Chinese entities to NSF;
- Establish a Research Security and Policy Office at NSF responsible for coordinating all research security policy issues;
- Set new open access requirements for scholarly publications resulting from federally-funded research;
- Give the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) new authority to oversee interagency research security coordination;
- Create a new state grant at the Department of Education to expand k-12 computer science education.
USICA also includes provisions from a number of bills, endorsed by HFES, that would bolster efforts to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in science. This includes the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act, the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act, and the Rural STEM Education Act.
Over six hundred amendments were offered over two-plus weeks of floor consideration. Of these, only a handful received a vote and most of those that did were defeated. However, the Senate is likely to try to add them in future negotiations with the House of Representatives, which is aiming to produce its own package of competitiveness legislation to be voted on as individual bills through July. The furthest along of these bills are the NSF for the Future Act and Department of Energy Science for the Future Act, which will both be considered by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on June 15 with full House consideration shortly thereafter. House leadership has charged all committees of relevance to produce additional competitiveness legislation or counterparts to USICA provisions. Issues for future conference negotiations to resolve will likely include research security provisions, balance between a new NSF directorate and funding for NSF base programs, and human space flight and exploration provisions pertaining to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), among others.
Sources and Additional Information:
- A comprehensive analysis of USICA is available here.
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