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HOT TOPIC: Competing Visions – The NSF for the Future Act and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act

In June 2021, the House and Senate advanced separate versions of legislation to enhance U.S. innovation and global competitiveness. The approaches taken by the two bills, however, differ dramatically. The Senate bill focuses squarely on ways to harness and in some cases alter the nation’s scientific assets to better compete with China. The House bill, on the other hand, doubles down on the nation’s existing, proven scientific leadership and proposes additional investments to push the U.S. research enterprise—particularly the National Science Foundation—into new directions.

Despite the many differences between them, some parallels can be found; for example, both propose establishing a new directorate at the National Science Foundation focused on technology development and translational research, and both measures include substantive provisions related to research security and STEM education. Beyond that, though, many unresolved differences remain.

Read on for COSSA’s in-depth analysis and comparison of provisions in the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) that are of most relevance to the social and behavioral science community.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 6), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

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)

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)

Competing NSF Bills Introduced in House and Senate

As previously reported, leadership of the House Science Committee introduced the NSF for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) on March 26. The bill seeks to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) through FY 2026 and proposes more than doubling the agency’s budget over that period. The legislation also proposes the creation of a new research directorate, the Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES), which would enable NSF to “take big risks and experiment with new approaches to accelerating the translation of science and technology into solutions to society’s major challenges” (see press release).

Meanwhile, competing legislation has been reintroduced in the Senate. The Endless Frontier Act (S. 1260), legislation that originally surfaced in 2020 by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), was reintroduced on April 20. While this bill also seeks to create a new directorate at NSF, that is largely where the similarities end between the two bills. The primary purpose of the Endless Frontier Act is 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. To accomplish these goals, the bill would authorize $100 billion over five years for a new Technology and Innovation Directorate at NSF. Unlike the House bill, S. 1260 would not provide an overall authorization or increased funding for NSF, just the new directorate.

COSSA has prepared a side-by-side comparison of provisions relevant to the social sciences in the two bills, which is available here.

The Endless Frontier Act is scheduled for mark up by the Senate Commerce Committee on April 28. At this time, it remains unclear if or how the differences between the bills will be reconciled or whether either will advance any further. COSSA is closely monitoring the legislation and will report on new developments. In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns about either bill.

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Posted in Issue 9 (April 27), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

Science Committee Releases NSF Reauthorization Proposal

On March 26, the House Science Committee on Science, Space, and Technology released the text of the National Science Foundation for the Future Act, its proposed reauthorization legislation for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bipartisan bill was introduced by Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), along with Reps. Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Michael Waltz (R-FL), the Chair and Ranking Member respectively of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology.

Although Rep. Lucas had previously introduced a competing bill, the Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act, in the press release accompanying the Committee’s bill, he thanked Rep. Johnson for “working with me to craft a bipartisan bill” and for “including provisions on research security, which has been a growing concern for Republicans on our Committee.”

The Science Committee’s bill would set funding targets for the NSF’s budget over the course of the next five fiscal years (FY), bringing the agency’s overall budget from its current $8.5 billion to $18.3 billion by FY 2026. However, as an authorization bill, the legislation can only identify desired targets; Congressional appropriators would still need to act each year to enact funding increases for the agency. The bill would also establish a new research directorate within NSF, the Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES), which, according to the Committee’s press release would enable NSF to “take big risks and experiment with new approaches to accelerating the translation of science and technology into solutions to society’s major challenges.” While in some ways similar to the Technology Directorate proposed in the Endless Frontier Act introduced in the previous Congress, the scale of the SES Directorate’s budget would be more proportionate to NSF’s overall budget (as opposed to being multiple times larger) and the Directorate would set its own scientific priorities rather than adhering to a list set by Congress.

The NSF for the Future Act includes a number of provisions that would affect the social science community, including language that the social, behavioral, and economic sciences (SBE) should be actively included in NSF cross-cutting and interdisciplinary activities like the Convergence Accelerators, Big Ideas, and Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure. COSSA will release a full analysis of the bill and its potential impact on the social sciences to COSSA members later this week.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 30), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

Defense Authorization Bill Goes to Conference with Minerva Funding Intact

The House and Senate are set to begin negotiations on the annual authorizing legislation for the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House passed its bill on July 21, with the Senate following suit on July 23. As previously reported, the bills passed by both chambers included language to prevent the elimination of Defense-wide funding for DOD’s basic social science research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, as has been proposed in the Administration’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2021. The agreement on funding for Minerva in both bills is a positive sign that funding for the program will continue into FY 2021.

Not included in either bill is any version of the Endless Frontier Act (see previous coverage). Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) had introduced it as an amendment to the Senate NDAA, but it was not ultimately brought to the floor.

Conferees have not yet been named, but the NDAA is considered “must-pass” legislation by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. A potential complication to the eventual passage of a conferenced NDAA is the threat of a presidential veto over provisions included in both bills that mandate renaming military bases and facilities named for Confederates. However, both chambers passed their respective bills with more than two-thirds majorities, indicating that a veto of the conferenced bill could be overridden.

Back to this issue’s table of contents.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 4), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Funding for DOD Social Science Research Restored in House and Senate Defense Authorization Bills

Both the House and Senate’s drafts of the annual authorization bill for the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), include language preventing the elimination of funding for DOD’s basic social science research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, as proposed in the Administration’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2021. Both bills propose a total of $17 million in the Defense-Wide funding line for the Minerva initiative, which if enacted would be a sizeable increase over the $11.4 million the program received in FY 2020. While the Minerva Initiative receives some funding from the Navy and Air Force, Defense-Wide funding accounts for the majority of its budget.

Both bills include language in support of the Minerva Initiative and social science research at the Department of Defense more generally. They contain nearly-identical language asserting that maintaining America’s technological superiority “requires not only investing in physical sciences but also the integration of cross-disciplinary research that explores the social, cultural, behavioral, political, historical, and religious drivers of today’s increasingly complex global security environment.” In addition, both bills would require that DOD report back on how it plans to continue to cultivate the social sciences within the Department.

The Senate NDAA (report) was approved by the Armed Services Committee on June 23. Floor debate began on July 1 and continued until the Senate adjourned for a two-week recess on July 2. The Senate will resume consideration when it returns on July 20. Among the amendments proposed for consideration are a version of Senator Charles Schumer’s (D-NY) Endless Frontier Act, which as previously reported, proposes sweeping structural changes for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Should the amendment pass, it would fall to the conference committee to negotiate whether and in what form the legislation would be included in the final bill.

The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the bill (Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities mark) on July 1. A timeline for consideration by the full House is unclear, but the NDAA is considered “must-pass” legislation by the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 7), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

New Proposal Would Rename NSF, Create New Technology Directorate

On May 21, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Endless Frontier Act (S. 3832). A counterpart bill (H.R. 6978) was also introduced in the House by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI). The legislation proposes the establishment of a new Technology Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation (NSTF). While housed within NSF/NSTF, a basic science agency, the overarching goal of the legislation is to infuse funding—$100 billion over five years—specifically for research and development in 10 technology areas of global strategic significance. The 10 areas include: (1) artificial intelligence and machine learning (2) high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware (3) quantum computing and information systems (4) robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing (5) natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention (6) advanced communications technology (7) biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology (8) cybersecurity, data storage and data management technologies (9) advanced energy (10) materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to other key technology areas. The 10 areas would be revisited every 4 years.

Such a focus on technology transfer would be a major departure for NSF, which since its founding has focused on supporting fundamental research across all scientific disciplines and fields. The bill’s sponsors contend that the agencies’ other activities would be left untouched by the legislation. Still, considering the bill’s authorization level for these new technology activities is nearly triple the NSF’s current budget, one could surmise that the proposal would mark a major shift in priority for the 70-year-old agency.

While, as noted earlier, this and other legislation could be attached to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill would first need to work its way through the Senate oversight committees as well as those in the House, which has been working to develop its own, yet-to-be-introduced NSF reauthorization legislation.  COSSA will continue to report on this and other NSF authorizing bills in the months ahead.

Back to this issue’s table of contents.

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 26), Update, Volume 39 (2020)


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