On February 4th, the House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act of 2022, a legislative package containing a bold reauthorization of the National Science Foundation and calling for significant new investments in the country’s research enterprise, among other provisions. While the bill passed the House on a partisan vote, it does set up a better legislative counterpart to the Senate’s NSF reauthorization bill, the US Innovation and Competitiveness Act (USICA), which passed last summer. The hope within the S&T policy community is that a final piece of legislation can be agreed to quickly by both chambers of Congress and then be sent to the President’s desk for signing into law. However, final passage is not guaranteed at the moment.
This new COMPETES Act is a call back to the original America COMPETES Act of 2007, a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation which called for the doubling of the research budgets of NSF, NIST, and DOE Office of Science, as well as a major investment in the country’s STEM education. While those commitments weren’t fully realized, the present House Democratic leadership is clearly hoping to rekindle the spirit of national importance from 2007.
It’s worth noting that both the COMPETES Act, and the Senate’s USICA, are considered “China competition” bills, as the main goal of both is to bolster the country’s competitiveness with China and respond to its rise as a peer-rival to the United States. Support for research, and the National Science Foundation specifically, figures heavily into both bills.
Of most note within this new COMPETES’ language are the titles containing the NSF for the Future Act and the DOE Science for the Future Act. Both bills are the same, or have minor additions, to what was passed by the House last summer and the language still calls for significant increases to the budgets of NSF (+111 percent over five years) and DOE Office of Science (+59 percent over five years). CRA endorsed the NSF for the Future Act in May of 2021.
In addition to those two parts, there are additional titles in Division B of the bill, which is devoted to “Research and Innovation.” Division B is the House Science Committee’s section of the legislation and is made up of several bills the committee has moved over the last several years (you can read detailed breakdowns on the Science Committee’s website). Some of the legislation of note includes:
NIST for the Future Act – Much like its NSF and DOE counterparts, this is a reauthorization of NIST and calls for bold funding for the research agency for the next five years.
STEM Opportunities Act – Calls for policy reforms, research, and data collection to identify and lower barriers facing women, minorities, and other groups underrepresented in STEM studies and research careers.
Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act – This is to combat sexual harassment in the country’s science enterprise. It does so through a research grant program at NSF to study the problem, data collection on the prevalence of harassment, and directs OSTP to issue policy guidelines for research agencies awarding extramural research grants, emphasizing the importance of information sharing among Federal science agencies, among other provisions.
Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act – Establishes a two-year, $250 million agency-wide early career fellowship pilot program at NSF, providing a bridge for recent Ph.D. graduates to stay in their research career while navigating the disruptions to the academic research job market due to the pandemic. Modeled after CRA’s CI Fellows program, the legislation calls for two cohorts of 1,600 fellows working in all STEM disciplines to carry out their research at the U.S. institutions of their choosing.
Malign Foreign Talent Recruitment Program Prohibition – A general prohibition for American-based researchers, who accept federal research dollars, from participating in talent recruitment programs run by China, Russia, and Iran, as well as any other country deemed by the State Department to be a malign state.
Looking elsewhere in the legislation, Division A of the bill is the House version of the CHIPS Act. It calls for $52 billion in R&D funding for the semiconductor industry, as well as financial support to encourage the industry to bring some of its manufacturing back to the United States. The R&D funding sections are identical to what’s in the Senate’s USICA bill; however, the House language goes further and provides an additional $45B in loans and grants to support domestic manufacturing of critical goods. While the money and assistance to the semiconductor industry is quite popular, and has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, this extra provision is likely to cause partisan problems (more on that in a moment).
In short, the COMPETES Act is a huge piece of legislation, covering a large number of topics, not all of it of concern to the research community. There are additional sections on foreign policy and import taxes on commercial products, to give just two examples. But it does provide for a better legislative counterpart to the Senate’s USICA bill and will allow an easier conferencing process. At least, from a nuts-and-bolts-legislative-process perspective it will be easier.
Here is where the politics come into play: House Republicans don’t like this bill. Even normal science allies, like House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), an original co-sponsor of the NSF for the Future Act, don’t like this bill. Many of the complaints are centered around the additional funding in the CHIPS Act section, though other sections are receiving criticism. There is likely some electoral politics in the calculus, with the mid-term elections in November on everyone’s minds and Republicans expecting to recapture the majority in both chambers. The bill passed the House on a final vote of 222-to-210.
While the COMPETES Act’s passage is good news, there are now concerns that the bipartisan goodwill in Congress has been exhausted and there will be partisan delays ahead for any compromise bill. It’s unclear at present whether Senate Republicans, who have been supportive of the Senate USICA bill, will take up their House counterparts’ objections during the conference process. Time will tell.
Conference negotiations with the Senate should start soon; CRA will be following events closely, so be sure to check the CRA Policy Blog for more updates.