Senate Passes Sweeping U.S. Competitiveness Legislation, Includes Endless Frontier Act

On June 8, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) (S. 1260). The 2,300 page bill was originally introduced in the spring as the Endless Frontier Act, which sought to shore up U.S. leadership in key technology areas—specifically with respect to China—and to enhance “tech transfer” for scientific research funded by the federal government. Since then, hundreds of amendments have been offered, resulting in a substantially altered package that now incorporates several additional, far-reaching bills.

The original proposal authorized $100 billion over five years specifically for a new Technology and Innovation Directorate at the National Science Foundation. The Senate-passed version now includes a total of $29 billion over five years for the directorate and also includes authorized funding increases for NSF’s budget overall (the original bill only included funding for the new directorate, which concerned many in the research community). The substantial decrease in funding to the proposed directorate is the result of several successful amendments seeking to more widely distribute funding to other federal agencies with missions related to key technological advancement, particularly the Department of Energy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Department of Defense. The massive USICA bill now includes provisions pertaining to NSF, DOE, DOD, Department of Education, Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and others.

The NSF provisions of the USICA attempt to bridge some of the divide between the Senate proposal and the NSF for the Future Act that is currently workings its way through the House (see related article). For example, the amended Senate bill includes similar language related to research capacity building for “developing universities,” including minority-serving institutions, promoting STEM education in rural areas, and supporting early-career researchers, among other provisions. However, the two bills remain far apart in their general handling of NSF funding and policy directions. It remains to be seen whether a conference between the House and Senate will be attempted or if another path forward will emerge.

COSSA will be producing an in-depth analysis of the two competing NSF bills. Check back for details.

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 22), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

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