House Science Committee Discusses NSF’s Future

As previously reported, leaders of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee introduced the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) earlier this spring. Over the last several weeks, the Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a series of hearings to discuss the bill and, more generally, “Advancing Research for the Future of U.S. Innovation.” On April 28, the hearing featured NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan and Chair of the National Science Board Ellen Ochoa. A second hearing featuring stakeholders of NSF funding, including representatives from research universities and the private sector, occurred on May 6. COSSA issued a statement in support of the NSF for the Future Act on May 7, applauding the bill for its comprehensive approach to strengthening NSF, enhancing its budget, and preserving its role as the premier U.S. basic science agency.

Throughout both hearings, Subcommittee members from both parties expressed strong bipartisan support for NSF and especially its basic science mission. The NSF for the Future Act proposes creation of a new Science and Engineering Solutions Directorate, which would be tasked with supporting more “use-inspired” research and translating basic research findings into solutions to address societal challenges. Both Democratic and Republican members of the Subcommittee stressed the importance of taking a careful and deliberate approach in setting up a new function so as to not harm NSF’s gold-standard basic research activities. Several members made references to the very different approach being taken in the Senate with the Endless Frontier Act (S. 1260), which is seeking to invest $100 billion directly into a new technology-focused directorate while making few other investments in the agency. See COSSA’s full coverage for details. Subcommittee Chair Haley Stevens (D-MI) made special note of the unique opportunity before us in which there is strong bipartisan support for significantly enhancing NSF’s budget.

Over the two hearings, Republican lawmakers focused their remarks and questions on the need to enhance competition with China and address research security concerns. Several argued that the best way to do that is through regular, strategic investments over the long term as opposed to a one-time infusion of funding that will be impossible to sustain, again a nod to the Endless Frontier Act.

In addition, several lawmakers discussed the need to enhance the U.S. scientific workforce and asked about NSF’s efforts to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many also discussed the need for additional investment in STEM education at the elementary level and for better mentoring and graduate training.

Recordings of both Science Committee hearings are available on the committee’s website. The Research and Technology Subcommittee plans to mark up the NSF for the Future Act on May 13, after which it will go to the full committee for consideration. In addition, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has scheduled a markup of the Endless Frontier Act for May 12. It remains unclear how or if the relevant sides plan to work out the differences between their respective bills. Stay tuned to COSSA’s coverage for more as these bills move forward.

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Posted in Issue 10 (May 11), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

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