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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.

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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.

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

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