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Bullet policy · May 24, 2021

Endless Frontier Act Advances in Senate After Major Amendments

The Endless Frontier Act or EFA (S. 1260), which proposes establishing a new commercialization-focused directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and is currently being debated on the Senate floor.

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. Following heated debate and the adoption of a number of significant amendments during the committee markup on May 12, the authorization for the new NSF directorate was cut down significantly. After approving an amendment from Senator Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), the bill would now authorize $52 billion for NSF’s existing research programs, $29 billion for the new technology directorate, $10 billion for establishing a regional technology hub program to support regional economic development in innovation, and $17 billion for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) national labs over five years. The allocation for DOE came in response to concerns expressed by a group of Senators that the new NSF directorate would unnecessarily duplicate efforts already underway at national labs. Overall, the legislation would authorize roughly $120 billion over 5 years. It is important to note, however, that appropriators can decide to provide less funding than the levels authorized.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has said that the final spending splits could potentially change again during the floor debate. Senator Young called the DOE amendment a “poison pill” and indicated that he will work to restore the initial funding level proposed for the new directorate.

Among the amendments that were approved by the Senate Commerce Committee were a number of science-focused bills, including 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.

On May 19, Senator Schumer announced a new package, the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, which combines the Endless Frontier Act with other bipartisan competitiveness bills and $52 billion in emergency supplemental funding for semiconductor-related manufacturing.

The new package includes major research security bills—the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 (S. 1169) and the Safeguarding American Innovation Act. S. 1169 would allow the government to prevent universities from accepting certain foreign gifts and contracts, relating to “critical technologies” and totaling more than $1 million. The Safeguarding American Innovation Act would allow the State Department to deny visas and lower the threshold at which universities are required to report foreign gifts and contracts between $250,000 to $50,000. These measures have previously been criticized by the scientific community as restrictive to international research collaborations. The EFA also includes a security provision that puts government-wide restrictions on science agencies funding researchers who are participating in “talent recruitment programs” sponsored by China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran.

Senator Schumer has stated that he hopes to hold a vote on the package by the end of the month.

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