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Bullet policy · Jan 31, 2022

House Unveils Innovation Legislation

On January 25, 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives released a broad innovation package that would make significant investments in the U.S. science and technology enterprise with the goal of increasing U.S. competitiveness with China.

The America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521) draws its name from research spending measures previously passed by Congress in 2007 and 2010 also aimed at strengthening U.S. competitiveness. The bill is the House’s long-awaited response to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act or USICA (S. 1260), which the Senate passed last summer. Like the Senate bill, the House version would make investments in U.S. semiconductor production and innovation initiatives, including authorizing significant new spending at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

The House package incorporates several major science legislation that came out of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, including:

  • The NSF for the Future Act (H.R. 2225), a reauthorization measure that would more than double NSF’s current budget to $18 billion over the next five years and establish a new directorate for science and engineering solutions to support “use-inspired and translational research.” H.R. 2225 would authorize $11.1 billion for NSF, minus the new directorate, in FY 2022, which would grow to $14.5 billion in FY 2026. The authorized budget for the new directorate would increase from $1.4 billion in FY 2022 to $3.4 billion in FY 2026. Several scientific societies and academic organizations, including AIBS have endorsed this bill.
  • The DOE Science for the Future Act (H.R. 3593), which would authorize a budget of $8.8 billion for the DOE Office of Science in FY 2022 that would increase to $11.1 billion in FY 2026.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for the Future Act (H.R. 4609), which would increase the agency’s annual budget by 36 percent to $1.4 billion in FY 2022. That amount would gradually increase to nearly $1.6 billion by FY 2026.
  • The Bioeconomy Research and Development Act (H.R. 4521), which would create a federal initiative on the bioeconomy to advance engineering biology research, develop the bioeconomy workforce, and advance biomanufacturing. A number of scientific organizations and institutions, including AIBS, had earlier called on congressional leadership to include this bill in the final research competitiveness package.
  • The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act (H.R. 144), which aims to establish a temporary early career research fellowship program at NSF for scientists impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 204), which aims to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
  • The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 2695), which would expand research on the causes and consequences of sexual harassment impacting the STEM workforce.
  • The Rural STEM Education Research Act (H.R. 210), which would direct NSF to support STEM education and workforce development research focused on rural areas.
  • The MSI STEM Achievement Act (H.R. 2027), which would direct NSF to support research to better understand the barriers minority serving institutions (MSIs) face, their contributions to the STEM workforce, and effective approaches to enhancing their capacity to compete for federal research funds.
  • The National Science and Technology Strategy Act of 2021 (H.R. 3858), which would direct the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to conduct a quadrennial assessment of U.S. science and technology and develop a comprehensive national strategy to meet research and development objectives and maintain global leadership in science and technology.
  • The Regional Innovation Act (H.R. 4588), which would direct the Secretary of Commerce to create no fewer than ten new regional technology innovation hubs.

The COMPETES Act serves as a significant step towards negotiating a compromise package with the Senate. Several differences exist between the two chambers’ proposals that will need to be reconciled by a conference committee once House passes its version. For example, the House bill would authorize a total of $78 billion for NSF over 5 years, while USICA would approve $81 billion. The funding split between existing NSF directorates and the proposed technology directorate also differs between the two bills. Under USICA, core research directorates would receive $52 billion and the new technology directorate would get $29 billion, while the House bill would allocate $65 billion to existing research and $13 billion to the new directorate.

The COMPETES Act also includes immigration provisions that are not part of USICA. Specifically, the House proposal would remove caps on immigrant visas for STEM doctoral graduates. It would also create a new “start-up visa” category for immigrant entrepreneurs. Research security provisions also differ between the two proposals. For instance, USICA would prohibit federal grant recipients from participating in any talent recruitment programs sponsored by China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea, while the House bill would prohibit participation in “malign” talent recruitment programs sponsored by “foreign countries of concern.”

The House bill is scheduled for floor debate this week. President Biden has urged Congress to send him the finalized bill “as soon as possible,” adding that he is “heartened by Congress’ bipartisan work so far.”

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