House Science Committee Advances NSF & DOE Science Legislation; Both Bills Head to Full House for Consideration


Last week, the full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee considered their NSF for the Future Act (H.R. 2225) and the recently introduced DOE Science for the Future Act (H.R. 3593). In another departure from their counterparts in the Senate, the committee marked-up both bills in a bipartisan environment with each amendment being approved on unanimous voice-votes. Both pieces of legislation were likewise approved on a bipartisan basis, with no votes in opposition. It’s hard to argue with Chairwoman Johnson’s statement that these two bills, “represents the best of this Committee.

There are changes to NSF for the Future Act from what was passed out of the Subcommittee on Research & Technology back in May. Most significantly, the authorization levels have been modified. NSF top-line would now receive a larger increase in Fiscal Year 2022, increasing to $12.5 billion, an increase of over $4 billion (or 47 percent); in the previous version of the bill, the top budget line for NSF increased only by $3 billion (or 36 percent). However, that comes at a cost, as the last three years covered by the bill (Fiscal Years 2024, 2025, and 2026) authorize lower funding levels than the previous version, though they would still be increases. NSF would still see a doubling of its budget over five years, increasing by 111 percent or $9.45 billion over that time; but about half a billion less than the previous proposed authorization levels.

NSF Top-Line
(FY21 funding level: $8.49B)
2022 – $12.50B (+47% over FY21)
2023 – $14.62B (+17% over previous)
2024 – $15.95B (+9.1% over previous)
2025 – $17.00B (+6.6% over previous)
2026 – $17.94B (+5.5% over previous)

The Research & Related Activities (RRA) account would track closely to the NSF top-line number. And, like that number, the funding level is now higher in the initial year while slightly lower over the five years of authorizations.

RRA
(FY21 funding level: $6.91B)
2022 – $10.03B (+45% over FY21)
2023 – $11.87B (+18% over previous)
2024 – $13.05B (+9.9% over previous)
2025 – $14.00B (+7.3% over previous)
2026 – $14.80B (+5.7% over previous)

Is there good news? Education and Human Resources (EHR) and the new Directorate for Science & Engineering Solutions (SES), the Science Committee’s version of the tech directorate in the Senate’s NSF bill, would both see better authorizations. In fact, EHR gets a more robust funding level, going from $1.58 billion in FY22, a 63 percent increase over the previous year, to $1.92 billion in FY26. Over the five years of the bill EHR would increase by $952 million and nearly double its current budget (a 98 percent increase).

EHR
(FY21 funding level: $968M)
2022 – $1.58B (+63% over FY21)
2023 – $1.65B (+4.4% over previous)
2024 – $1.74B (+5.5% over previous)
2025 – $1.82B (+4.6% over previous)
2026 – $1.92B (+5.5% over previous)

The new SES directorate would also receive more funding than originally expected. It would now be established with an initial budget of $1.4 billion in FY22; it had initially been set at $1 billion. By Fiscal Year 2026, SES’s budget would grow to $5.06 billion.

SES
2022 – $1.40B
2023 – $1.50B (+7.1% over previous)
2024 – $2.90B (+93% over previous)
2025 – $3.25B (+12% over previous)
2026 – $5.06B (+56% over previous)

In terms of policy changes, there are two of note dealing with research security; this issue has become a topic of concern for Congress. There is a new provision prohibiting awardees of NSF grants from taking part in talent recruitment programs from “foreign malign countries.” This is worded specifically to apply only to China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea recruitment programs. In a sign that this language is meant to be applied narrowly, there is wording included that this is not to be applied retroactively and that it does not cover normal activities of researchers, such as conference attendance. There is also a new provision in Section 7, called “Securing American Research from Cyber Theft.” This subsection does two things: first, it requires NITRD to provide assistance to researchers and institutions of higher education to improve their cyber security for storing and maintaining federally funded research; and second, it establishes a “Computing Enclave Pilot Program” to help carry out that assistance.

The NSF for the Future Act was approved favorably by the committee on a bipartisan voice vote, a rarity in Congress these days. CRA endorsed the NSF for the Future in early May.

Introduced in late May, the DOE Science for the Future Act, unlike its NSF counterpart, did not receive consideration by a Science Committee subcommittee before this hearing. However, the legislation’s objective is the same as the NSFFF, reauthorizing the DOE Office of Science (DOE SC), updating policy language, and increasing the agency’s funding authorization levels. To that end, the bill does provide generous increases for the top-line of DOE SC:

DOE SC Top-Line
(FY21 funding level: $7.03B)
2022 – $8.80B (+25.2% over FY21)
2023 – $9.45B (+7.4% over previous)
2024 – $10.16B (+7.5% over previous)
2025 – $10.69B (+5.2% over previous)
2026 – $11.15B (+4.3% over previous)

While this bill doesn’t double DOE SC’s budget, like the NSF legislation does, it still sets the agency on a path for growth.

The Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program, home to most of SC’s computing research programs, fares well in the bill. As with its parent agency, ASCR would be placed on a funding growth trajectory:

ASCR
(FY21 funding level: $1.02B)
2022 – $1.13B (+10.8% over FY21)
2023 – $1.22B (+8.0% over previous)
2024 – $1.32B (+8.2% over previous)
2025 – $1.43B (+8.3% over previous)
2026 – $1.54B (+7.7% over previous)

Additionally, there are several policy and program provisions for ASCR, dealing with such topics as next generation computing (ie: beyond exascale), heterogenous computer architecture, and energy efficient computing. As well, the bill calls for upgrading the Energy Science Network and increasing support for the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program. Finally, there are two provisions dealing with quantum computing; one directs ASCR to establish a R&D program to accelerate innovation in quantum network infrastructure, and the other is to establish a, “‘Quantum User Expansion for Science and Technology program’ (or ‘QUEST program’) to encourage and facilitate access to…quantum computing hardware and quantum computing clouds for research purposes.”

Just like with the NSFFF legislation, the DOE bill was approved favorably by the committee on a bipartisan voice vote. Both bills now head to the full House of Representatives for consideration. Given the bipartisan and noncontroversial nature of the two bills, they are likely to win approval at that level too, though some last-minute political shenanigans are never out of the question.

Assuming they are passed by the House, it sets up an awkward conferencing process with the Senate. Since the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 covers several topics that the two House bills don’t cover (such as provisions dealing for foreign affairs, financial services, and the CHIPS Act), it’s unclear how either chamber will proceed with the other’s bill. Will each receive consideration? Will the legislation have to be severed and handled piecemeal? At this stage, it’s hard to tell, and will likely depend on negotiations between both chamber’s leadership.

This process is far from over, so be sure to check back for more updates.