What could be a major new US law reshaping science agencies for researchers? science

More than 2 years in the making, Congress completed this week A massive bill aims high: It envisions a 5-year, $280 billion investment to keep the United States ahead of China in the global competition for technological superiority. Is.

The CHIPS and Science Act, passed yesterday by the House of Representatives and Wednesday by the Senate, will result in some of the biggest changes to American innovation policy in more than a decade. But researchers shouldn’t expect a surge in new funding anytime soon.

The legislation calls for doubling the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) budget – now $8.8 billion – in 5 years. It would increase the $7.5 billion Office of Science in the Department of Energy (DOE) by 45% and increase the $850 million annual research account at the National Institute of Standards and Technology by 50%.

But that money is “authorised”, not committed. It leaves it to the Congressional spending panel each year to decide whether to appropriate the extra dollars. The only tangible increase in spending over 5 years is $52 billion for the semiconductor industry, plus $24 billion in tax credits for high-tech manufacturers.

At the same time, the bill makes significant changes to the way agencies work through directives that don’t require the money—and as soon as President Joe Biden signs off on the measure. For example, it gives the NSF the legislative authority to create a technology directorate that will nurture innovation with commercial potential and social impact, while combining the agency’s traditional mission of supporting basic research. The new directorate will focus on emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum information science, and on combating social challenges such as climate change and training a tech-savvy workforce.

Poorer, more rural states would benefit from a new requirement that both NSF and DOE increase the share of research spending going to institutions there to 20%. (NSF now accounts for about 13%, while the DOE does not track the figure.) The bill also directs the Commerce Department to build a network of regional technology centers designed to accelerate economic growth in those states.

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Other sections of the bill address growing concerns that China is stealing or unfairly profiting from US-funded research. In general, these research protection provisions strengthen the oversight of interactions between US and foreign scientists and foreign governments.

For example, the law prohibits federally-funded US-based scientists from participating in a foreign talent recruitment program sponsored by China and Russia and prohibits federal employees from any country from participating in such programs. This prevents the NSF from awarding any university that operates the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute – a once popular way for universities to enhance Chinese language and cultural programs on campus, now mostly closed due to political controversy. has gone. It also requires U.S. institutions to notify the NSF of a gift of $50,000 or more from a foreign government. (A current governmentwide mandate sets the minimum at $250,000.)

In addition, institutions receiving federal research dollars must now provide research safety training to faculty and staff. And the NSF has been ordered to create an independent forum to discuss how to strengthen research security in academic settings.

Although organizations representing American higher education applauded the passage of CHIPS and the Science Act, they are disappointed that legislators have sought to include at least $10 billion in immediate funding to begin the grand vision they describe. His arguments were rejected. (The only immediate boost for research agencies is a 5-year, $200 million appropriation for the NSF to boost workforce training programs in microelectronics, courtesy of the semiconductor funding package.) They fear that authorized funding may be an empty promise. .

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Peter McPherson, president of the 248-member Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, says, “We’ve been here before: In 2007, Congress authorized billions of dollars of new investment in federal research simply for failing to fund was.” , referring to the America Competition Act of 2007, which authorized a large increase in NSF and DOE funding that never materialised. “The CHIPES Act should be the first step in a process that ultimately includes providing Congress with funding that will meet the goals of the law.”

Higher education groups and others were relieved that legislators dropped several controversial research protection provisions. For example, the final bill no longer includes a new White House Research Security Office that critics saw as a threat to legitimate research collaboration, a duplication of efforts already underway across the government and targeting Asian American scientists. Invitation of

At the same time, it also removed immigration provisions in the House bill, which many academic scientists believe are necessary to maintain a strong pool of high-tech talent. Earning a degree from an American institution would have made it easier for foreign-born scientists to live in the country. Another would have created a new visa category for foreign scientists setting up companies based on their research.

The bill went through several iterations—and names—since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) first pitched the idea of ​​a $100 billion technology directorate at the NSF in a November 2019 speech. In May 2020, he along with Senator Todd Young (R–IN) introduced legislation, named the Endless Frontiers Act. Science, the Endless Frontier: A Report to the President on a Program for Post-War Scientific ResearchReport of 1945 which led to the creation of NSF after 5 years.

In June 2021, a much expanded version, rebranded the US Innovation and Competition Act, which reflects its increasing emphasis on beating China, as demanded by many Republicans, passed the Senate by a margin of 68 to 32. In February, the House approved its own version of the law on a direct party line vote, reviving the US COMPETES moniker.

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By the time Schumer passed the Senate’s final 64-to-33 vote on July 27, it had become the Chips and Science Act, involving 17 Republicans. “This is a Sputnik moment, instead of only Russia it is China, in which the US realized that if we don’t pull out all the stops, another rival power will overtake us,” Schumer said.

Although most academic leaders were thrilled with Schumer’s original vision to strengthen the NSF, some were unhappy with the prospect of a technology directorate focused on applied research that would be much larger than the core programs of the NSF. They were also concerned about its proposed semi-independent status within the agency.

The final law dramatically shrunk its size and made it the seventh research directorate in the NSF. Still, CHIPS called on the directorate to have a budget of $4 billion by 2027, or about one-fifth of the NSF’s estimated $19 billion budget for that year. In addition, some academic leaders still worry that the NSF may favor the new directorate over existing programs if Congress does not increase the NSF’s overall budget in future years.

Yesterday, House Democrats blocked a final effort by House Republican leaders to eliminate the bill, winning 24 Republican votes by a margin of 243 to 187. “With this legislation, we are ushering in a bold and prosperous future for American science and innovation,” says Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairman of the science committee and a key player in drafting the bill .

Chips may also be Johnson’s last major legislative achievement: This fall she is retiring after 30 years in Congress.

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