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Bullet policy · Aug 01, 2022

Congress Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Bolster U.S. Innovation

After prolonged negotiations, Congress has passed a landmark bill to significantly boost semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research in the United States. Notably, the bill contains billions in research spending authorizations at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy (DOE).

The version ultimately passed by Congress is a slimmed-down version of the sprawling innovation and economic competitiveness legislation that was being developed through bipartisan conference negotiations to reconcile the United States Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) and the America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521). Negotiations had fallen apart in July, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) threatened to derail any potential bipartisan agreement if Democrats continued to pursue a separate partisan reconciliation package focused on climate and social spending.

With increasing pressure from the Biden Administration to finalize the package prior to the August recess, momentum was starting to build to pass a standalone “CHIPS” measure to provide $52 billion in funding for grants to spur domestic semiconductor manufacturing. However, a bipartisan group of Senators moved quickly to negotiate and push for the research provisions to be included in the final bill. As a result, the research provisions were eventually added back into consideration, not long before the Senate voted 64-33 to pass the measure (H.R. 4346), now dubbed the “CHIPS-plus” package. The U.S. House voted 243-187 to pass the measure on July 28, sending it off to President Biden for his signature.

The $280 billion package includes $81 billion in authorized spending for NSF over 5 years, of which $20 billion would go to its new technology directorate and $61 billion would be directed to the agency’s core research directorates. NSF’s annual budget would more than double from $8.8 billion in FY 2022 to $18.9 billion in FY 2027. The bill would increase funding for NSF research activities for minority serving institutions and emerging research institutions across the country, by augmenting the allocation of research dollars to institutions in EPSCoR jurisdictions from the current level of 13 percent to 20 percent by 2029. EPSCoR, or the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, provides grants to help states strengthen their STEM research capacity. The bill also includes $13 billion in authorized funding for STEM education at NSF.

Notably, the “CHIPS” part of the package provides NSF with an appropriation of $200 million over 5 years to create a CHIPS for America Workforce and Education Fund to “kick start development of the domestic semiconductor workforce, which faces near-term labor shortages.”

Included in the research portion of the package, is a $50 billion five-year authorization for DOE’s Office of Science. This translates to an authorized budget of $10.8 billion for the office in FY 2027. The bill also includes a $10 billion authorization for the National Institute of Standards and Technology over 5 years. An additional $11 billion over 5 years is authorized for a network of regional technology hubs, funded by the Department of Commerce and focused on technology development, job creation, and expanding U.S. innovation capacity.

The bill retains key text supporting biological field stations and collections that were first introduced in H.R. 2225, a bill that came out of the House Science Committee last year and was endorsed by AIBS. Specifically, the legislation includes language reinforcing the need to sustain support for collection and digitization efforts, the need for specimen management plans, and the need to establish an Action Center for Biological Collections to facilitate coordination and data sharing among communities of practice for research, education, workforce training, evaluation, and business model development. The bill calls on NSF to support “enhancing, repairing and maintaining research instrumentation, laboratories, telecommunications and housing at biological field stations and marine laboratories.”

The CHIPS-plus bill also retains several other science provisions from H.R. 2225, including a measure to create a federal initiative on the bioeconomy to advance engineering biology research and a measure to expand research on the causes and consequences of sexual harassment impacting the STEM workforce.

In June, AIBS had sent a letter to Congress urging the inclusion of collections support in the finalized legislation. AIBS had also joined 34 other science, engineering, and higher education organizations in sending a joint letter to congressional leaders asking them to finalize and pass a bipartisan agreement by the end of July.

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