UPDATE: The House passed the COMPETES Act on February 4th on a 222-to-210 vote.
Original Post: Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the America COMPETES Act of 2022. Very long-term readers will notice the call back to the original America COMPETES Act of 2007, which was a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation which called for the doubling of the research budgets of NSF, NIST, and the DOE Office of Science, as well as a major investment in the country’s STEM education. While those commitments weren’t fully realized, the House Democratic leadership is clearly hoping to rekindle the spirit of national importance from 2007.
This new COMPETES Act is a package of legislation that will allow simpler conferencing with the Senate’s US Innovation and Competitiveness Act (USICA), which passed last summer. Both are considered “China competition” bills, as the main goal of both COMPETES and USICA is to bolster the country’s competitiveness with China and respond to its rise as peer-rival to the US. Support for research, and the National Science Foundation specifically, figures heavily into both bills.
Of most note within this new COMPETES Act 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 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 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).
House Democratic Leadership released a section-by-section breakdown of the entire COMPETES Act, which provides more details on all of the sections of the legislative package.
In short, this is a huge piece of legislation, covering a large number of topics, not all of it directly relevant 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. 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. Only time will tell.
House leadership is planning on moving COMPETES this week, so we should have an idea soon on how deep the political divides have become. And conference negotiations with the Senate should start soon thereafter. We will be following events closely, so be sure to check back for more updates.