A Second Bill to Reshape the National Science Foundation Filed

By John Russell

March 29, 2021

Change is (again) in the wind for NSF. Last week the House Science Committee introduced a bill – NSF Foundation for the Future Act – which would add a directorate focused more broadly on societal science issues and double NSF’s budget over the next five years. Last year the Senate introduced the Endless Frontier Act proposing an even larger budget bump, a stronger emphasis on technology development, and with greater emphasis on U.S. technology rivalry with China.

While last year’s preoccupation with the pandemic prevented much action on the Endless Frontier Act, it also spotlighted the role of science in solving pressing problems in modern society. Both bills were introduced with bipartisan support and backers of the latest bill acknowledged the earlier effort but suggested its budget goal (the new directorate of technology budget would grow to $35 billion over five years eclipsing the rest of NSF) was unrealistic and its focus on China and specific technologies was too narrow.

There’s a good account of both bills on the American Institute of Physics (AIP) web site. The proposed new directorate – Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions – would require the NSF director to select up to five focus areas and periodically refresh the list. During the selection process, the director must consider the following “societal challenges”:

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

The newest bill was formally introduced by House Science Committee chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-OK) along with subcommittee on research and technology chairwoman Haley Stevens (D-MI) and ranking member Michael Waltz (R-FL). The Endless Frontier bill was introduced by Democrat Chuck Schumer (NY) and Republican Todd Young (IN) in the Senate.

Both Johnson and Lucas were quoted in the press release announcing the proposed legislation:

  • “To fully realize the potential of science to benefit society, we must fund more research on the questions that matter to the American people,” said Johnson. “Our competitiveness with China and other nations drives much of the national discourse around innovation because our economic and national security depend on our leadership in science and technology. However, competitiveness with China will not be possible if we do not unleash our nation’s STEM talent on the full range of challenges we face. Surely the COVID-19 pandemic has made that clear to all of us. And the fact is, researchers and students are inspired by finding solutions, whether they be to scientific or societal challenges. In this bill, we seek to inspire.”
  • “America’s continued scientific leadership requires strategic investment in basic and fundamental research,” said Ranking Member Lucas. “This legislation prioritizes NSF funding for the industries of the future that will drive our continued economic growth, like quantum information sciences, artificial intelligence, supercomputing, cybersecurity, and advanced manufacturing. I appreciate Chairwoman Johnson for working with me to craft a bipartisan bill that addresses these objectives and also includes provisions on research security, which has been a growing concern for Republicans on our Committee. I look forward to working together through the legislative process to further refine our approach to American research.”

Given the early bipartisan support and the stated emphasis on science by the new Administration, it seems likely there will be significant conversation around both proposals.

Link to house release, https://science.house.gov/news/press-releases/science-committee-leaders-introduce-nsf-for-the-future-act

Link to AIP report, https://www.aip.org/fyi/2021/science-committee-makes-counterproposal-endless-frontier-act?utm_medium=email&utm_source=FYI&dm_i=1ZJN,7B0XN,1D9MBU,TMSUL,1

Link to full bill, https://science.house.gov/imo/media/doc/NSF-FORTHEFUTURE_01_xml.pdf)

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