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Bullet policy · Apr 12, 2021

House Science Committee Introduces Bill to Expand NSF, Double Funding

New legislation 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 the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) budget over five years and creating a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES) that will enable NSF to accelerate the translation of science and technology into solutions to society’s major challenges.

The National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225), introduced on March 26, suggests increasing overall funding for the agency—not including the new directorate—by nearly $2 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2022, to $10.5 billion, and growing at an average annual rate of 6 percent, to $13.3 billion by FY 2026. It proposes a starting budget of $1 billion for the new SES Directorate in fiscal year 2022, which would increase to $5 billion over five years. This would bring the total NSF budget to 18.3 billion in FY 2026, more than doubling NSF’s current budget of $8.5 billion. The SES Directorate would be placed within the Research and Related Activities Account and would be led by an Assistant Director working with an advisory committee—the same way existing research directorates are set up at NSF. The bill also calls on NSF to increase the number of new Graduate Research Fellowships (GRFs) awarded annually over the next 5 years to “no fewer than 3,000 fellows.” NSF currently awards 2,000 GRFs annually.

Compared to the Endless Frontier Act, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last year, the House Science Committee bill proposes a modest growth in NSF’s budget and a new directorate more aligned with the way NSF traditionally supports research. The Endless Frontier Act (EFA) proposed giving NSF $100 billion over 5 years and creating a technology-focused directorate. A revised version of the EFA is expected to be introduced later this month.

Although both the House and Senate bills focus on applying basic research findings to societal problems, the House bill does not specify technology focus areas, such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, cited in the EFA. However, the House bill does require the NSF Director to identify and regularly update up to five focus areas to guide activities under the SES Directorate. In selecting these areas, the Director would need to consider the following “societal challenges”: Climate change and environmental sustainability; Global competitiveness in critical technologies; Cybersecurity; National security; STEM education and workforce; and Social and economic inequality. Notably, both bills would block the transfer of funds from NSF’s existing programs into the SES Directorate, but would allow funds to be moved in the opposite direction.

While the EFA emphasized security and economic threats from China as the impetus for the legislation, the House bill emphasizes the “grand challenges” facing the country. “Our competitiveness with China and other nations drives much of the national discourse around innovation because our economic and national security depend on our leadership in science and technology,” stated Chairwoman Johnson. “However, competitiveness with China will not be possible if we do not unleash our nation’s STEM talent on the full range of challenges we face…And the fact is, researchers and students are inspired by finding solutions, whether they be to scientific or societal challenges. In this bill, we seek to inspire.”

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