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Competing NSF Reauthorization Bills Advance in Congress

On June 8, 2021, the U.S. Senate voted 68-32 to pass the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), formerly referred to as the Endless Frontier Act.  The legislative package would authorize $100 billion over five years for research and development at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN), initially proposed a five-year budget of $100 billion for a new Directorate for Technology and Innovation at NSF.  After considerable floor debate, more than 600 proposed amendments, and 9 approved amendments, the latest version of the bill—now more than 2,000 pages long—would authorize $52 billion for NSF’s existing activities, $29 billion for the new technology directorate, and $17 billion for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) national labs over five years.  The legislation would also create a Chief Diversity Officer at NSF and increase support for STEM education to enhance the domestic STEM workforce.

The package includes other notable science bills that were added by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee before the floor debate.  These include the RISE Act (S. 289), which would provide federal science agencies with emergency supplemental funding to address COVID-19 related disruptions; the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act (S. 1379), which would expand research on the causes and consequences of sexual harassment impacting the STEM workforce; the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act (S. 637), which would direct NSF to create two-year fellowships for early-career scientists facing diminished job opportunities as a result of the pandemic; and the Rural STEM Education Research Act (S. 1374), which directs NSF to establish a working group to address research challenges and opportunities for improving broadband access in rural areas.  The package also includes some security provisions aimed at curbing foreign influence in research.

According to Senator Schumer, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act “will jump-start American competitiveness, and make one of the most significant government investments in American innovation and manufacturing in generations.”  The package will now head to the House where a separate NSF reauthorization proposal is being considered. 

The NSF for the Future Act (H.R. 2225), introduced by House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) along with Subcommittee on Research and Technology Chairwoman Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Ranking Member Michael Waltz (R-FL), proposes doubling NSF’s budget over five years and creating a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES) to enable translational research. Overall, the 141-page House bill would authorize $72 billion for NSF over 5 years, of which $13 billion would go to the new SES Directorate.  NSF’s current annual budget of $8.5 billion would grow to $18.3 billion in FY 2026, while the annual authorization for the new Directorate would increase from $1 billion in FY 2022 to $5 billion in FY 2026.  NSC Alliance has endorsed the House NSF bill, which takes a more targeted approach than the Senate bill in boosting NSF research.

On June 15, the House Science Committee unanimously voted to advance the NSF for the Future Act.  The committee also approved the DOE Science for the Future Act (H.R. 3593), which would increase the authorized annual budget for the DOE Office of Science from $7 billion to nearly $11 billion over the next five years.  The full House is expected to consider the NSF and DOE Science bills as a package along with other reauthorization bills for science agencies.  After the House NSF bill is passed by the full chamber, it will need to be reconciled with the Senate bill.

Competing NSF Reauthorization Bills Advance in Congress
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