“Chips and Science” NSF Legislation, Formerly the USICA and COMPETES Acts, Heads Towards Passage Into Law

We last left the NSF reauthorization legislation (also known as USICA, the COMPETES Act, China competition bill, bipartisan innovation bill, and a couple of other names) in the middle of June. At that time, things were not looking promising for the bill’s future. The conference negotiation process appeared to be bogged down and it didn’t seem that the legislation would move forward. Much has changed in the last month and a half, as the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signing into law.

What has happened is a scaling back of the bill’s scope. Rather than a huge legislative package of several thousand pages covering a wide range of topics, the bill is now a scaled back bill with only the most popular pieces. Foremost is the CHIPS Act, which contains $52 billion dollars in emergency appropriations for subsidies for semiconductor manufacturing and R&D. This has always been the most popular part of the legislation and has been the main driver of its progress. In fact, the latest name for this scaled down package is the “Chips and Science bill.”

When this “Chips and Science bill” was first introduced, it appeared that the research provisions, including all the language pertaining to NSF, would not make the cut. However, last week, Senator Young (R-IN) and Senator Sinema (D-AZ) introduced an amendment that inserted compromised language pertaining to NSF, the Department of Energy, NIST, and NASA.

The bill’s language provides healthy funding authorizations to NSF’s top line, stipulating that the agency’s budget should double in five years. Additionally, the Foundation’s Research and Related Activities (RRA) account, where the majority of the agency’s research funding is located, would grow at a similar rate. The Directorates for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) and Education & Human Resources (EHR) also received increased funding authorizations. Please see the charts at the end of this post for detailed budget authorization numbers.

There are several things to note in these numbers. First, RRA gets increases that are in addition to what TIP would receive. One of the concerns with the new directorate is that Congress could stipulate that any funding increases to the Foundation would only go to TIP, thus depriving the traditional research directorates of much needed funds and growth. This approach makes clear that TIP should grow with the Foundation, not independent of it. However, keep in mind that these are not appropriations but authorizations levels, which is to say that these are the levels Congress says the accounts should be funded at. Congressional appropriators, who decided on the actual funding level, aren’t required to follow these numbers when providing annual funding.

FY22 Final FY27 Auth $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.84B $18.92B +$10.08B +114%
R&RA $7.20B $14.70B +$7.50B +104%
Without TIP $7.20B $10.60B +$3.40B +47%
TIP Only NA $4.10B
EHR/EDU $1.01B $3.00B +$2.99B +197%

The language also codifies NSF’s new TIP Directorate, using the Biden Administration’s name for the directorate. Both the House and Senate had proposed their own names for the “tech directorate” in their legislative plans but the fact that the Administration’s approach is already started, and has the backing of Congressional appropriators, seemed enough to put it into law. In terms of policy, in what can only be called an interesting compromise, TIP’s research mission will be governed by both 5 broad societal, national, & geostrategic challenges and 10 key technology focus areas. That would include the major organizational principles of both the House and Senate bills. These challenges and technology focus areas will also be reviewed annually and changed if deemed necessary (see the initial lists below, though they are mostly unchanged from the earlier legislative proposals). Also, the new directorate’s program managers will not be required to operate like their counterparts at DARPA, something put forward originally in the Senate legislation. There are several other provisions with regard to TIP, such as codifying the Regional Innovation Engines and the Translation Accelerator programs, but little that can be described as prescriptive toward the Foundation.

There are also several provisions pertaining to NSF’s STEM education and broadening participation efforts. Much of that, which was originally in the House NSF for the Future Act, is codifying programs and efforts that the Foundation is already doing.

There are several other pieces of scientific legislation in Division B (the R&D section) of the package:

– Expansion of the amount of money NSF must use for its EPSCOR program (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. This is NSF’s program to set aside money for states that do not receive the majority of the agency’s research funding. This expansion was in the Senate’s USICA legislation and eventually in the House’s COMPETES Act.

– 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. This was part of the House’s COMPETES Act.

– Combating Sexual Harassment in Science – 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. Part of the COMPETES Act.

– Supporting Early-career Researchers – 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. This is modeled after CRA’s CI Fellows program. It was also in the COMPETES Act.

– And an extensive section on Research Security which includes prohibitions on malign foreign talent recruitment programs and funding for higher education institutions that continue to host Confucius Institutes (there is a carve out for institutions to get an exemption). Much of this was in the COMPETES Act.

On the whole, this looks increasingly like a solid win for the NSF community: strong funding authorizations which the community can use in their advocacy efforts; an expansion of the agency’s missions, which is in-line with its culture; codification of many programs and efforts the Foundation is currently undertaking; and several pieces of ancillary science legislation of good note. While the authorization levels are unlikely to be passed into law as appropriations, it does show a strong vote of Congressional confidence in NSF.

Events have moved very quickly. The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday by a vote of 64-33. It then headed to the House for consideration, where it passed in the chamber Thursday afternoon on a bipartisan vote of 243-187. It now heads to the chief executive and we can expect President Biden to sign it into law in a few days.

This has certainly been a long two-year process, starting in 2020 with the introduction of the first Endless Frontier Act in the Senate. Given that over a month ago it was not a sure thing that this legislation would be passed into law, the fact that the process is almost done is great news.

Detailed Authorization Levels, Fiscal Year 2023 through Fiscal Year 2027 (FY22 Final for comparison)

FY22 Final FY23 Auth $ Change % Change FY24 Auth $ Change % Change
NSF Total $8.84B $11.80B +$2.96B +33.5% $15.65B +$3.85B +32.6%
R&RA $7.20B $9.05B +$1.85B +25.7% $12.05B +$3.00B +33.1%
Without TIP $7.20B $7.55B +$350M +4.9% $8.70B +$1.15B +15.2%
TIP Only NA $1.50B $3.35B +$1.85B +123%
EHR/EDU $1.01B $1.95B +$940M +93.1% $2.50B +$550M +28.2%
FY25 Auth $ Change % Change FY26 Auth $ Change % Change FY27 Auth $ Change % Change
NSF Total $16.71B +$1.06B +6.8% $17.83B +$1.12B +6.7% $18.92B +$1.09B +6.1%
R&RA $12.85B +$800M +6.6% $13.80B +$950M +7.4% $14.70B +$900M +6.5%
Without TIP $9.30B +$600M +6.9% $10.00B +$700M +7.5% $10.60B +$600M +6.0%
TIP Only $3.55B +$200M +6.0% $3.80B +$250M +7.0% $4.10B +$300M +7.9%
EHR/EDU $2.70B +$200M +8.0% $2.85B +$150M +5.6% $3.00B +$150M +5.3%

Initial List of Societal, National, and Geostrategic Challenges for TIP Directorate:
(1) United States national security.
(2) United States manufacturing and industrial productivity.
(3) United States workforce development and skills gaps.
(4) Climate change and environmental sustainability.
(5) Inequitable access to education, opportunity, or other services.

Initial List of Key Technology Focus Areas for TIP Directorate:
(1) Artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, and related advances.
(2) High performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware and software.
(3) Quantum information science and technology.
(4) Robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing.
(5) Natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation.
(6) Advanced communications technology and immersive technology.
(7) Biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology.
(8) Data storage, data management, distributed ledger technologies, and cybersecurity, including bio metrics.
(9) Advanced energy and industrial efficiency technologies, such as batteries and advanced nuclear technologies, including but not limited to for the purposes of electric generation (consistent with section 15 of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (42 U.S.C. 1874).
(10) Advanced materials science, including composites 2D materials, other next-generation materials, and related manufacturing technologies.

“Chips and Science” NSF Legislation, Formerly the USICA and COMPETES Acts, Heads Towards Passage Into Law