Bipartisan “NSF for the Future Act” Introduced in the House; Crafts Audacious Vision for the Agency’s Future

Late last month, the Chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), joined by the Committee’s Ranking Member, Frank Lucas (R-OK), as well as the Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman and Ranking Member, Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Michael Waltz (R-FL), introduced H.R. 2225, “The National Science Foundation for the Future Act.” This legislation, which is a reauthorization of the agency, lays out their vision of the Foundation’s future, and it’s fairly audacious.

Beginning with funding authorization levels, the bill is bold. It would authorize $11.5 billion for the agency in Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22), an increase of about 35 percent over NSF’s FY21 level of $8.49 billion. The legislation would continue the increases to the agency over four years with an average annual rate of 6 percent growth, topping out at over $16 billion by FY25; that would set a target of doubling the agency’s current budget over the five years of the legislation. It’s worth pointing out this is an authorization, or policy, bill, not appropriations; meaning that these numbers are more aspirational, and don’t guarantee these funding levels should the bill be passed into law. Even with that in mind, these numbers show quite a show of confidence in NSF from Congress.

In addition to the funding authorization levels, the bill establishes a new directorate within the Research & Related Activities account, which hosts NSF’s research portfolio. Called the “Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions” (SES), it will, “accelerate the translation of Foundation-supported fundamental research and…advance technologies, support use-inspired research, facilitate commercialization and use of Federally funded research, and expand the pipeline of US students and researchers in areas of societal and national importance.” If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to the new directorate in Senator Schumer’s Endless Frontier Act. SES would also take over the management of the Convergence Accelerator and the Growing Convergence Research Big Idea, absorbing NSF’s current efforts into its operations.

Additionally, SES would have six focus areas to direct its efforts; while again similar to the Schumer proposal, here they are more broad topics and societal problems, rather than research subjects or technologies. The areas laid out are:

  • Climate change and environmental sustainability
  • Global competitiveness in critical technologies
  • Cybersecurity
  • National security
  • STEM education and workforce
  • Social and economic inequality

In terms of funding, the directorate would be authorized at $1 billion in fiscal year 2022; it would then see an increase of 50% every year, topping out at $5 billion in fiscal year 2026.

The bill also has sections devoted to STEM Education (Sec 5); Broadening Participation (Sec 6), and Fundamental Research (Sec. 7). That last section is quite broad, with subsections including research and security, broader impacts, research integrity, and ethics in research. Check out this section-by-section breakdown for an easy summary of the bill’s contents.

All in all, to have broad bipartisan support for a bill that calls for the doubling of NSF in five years is a clear indication of how important both parties view NSF’s role to keep the country at the cutting edge, especially in the face of growing international research efforts. And taken with President Biden’s recently announced American Jobs Plan, and the expected reintroduction of Senator Schumer’s Endless Frontier Act any day now, it’s great to see the nation’s leaders rising to the challenge with daring proposals. This is just the beginning of a long process that is likely to take the rest of the year; please check back for updates.

PS: If all these bills and plans are difficult to keep track, we have a handy visual cheat sheet that has the major points of all three proposals.

Bipartisan “NSF for the Future Act” Introduced in the House; Crafts Audacious Vision for the Agency’s Future