Is Time Running Out for Compromise on America COMPETES/USICA Act?

By John Russell

June 22, 2022

Update: The CHIPS and Science Act was signed into law on Aug. 9, 2022. Additional coverage here.

You may recall that efforts proposed in 2020 to remake the National Science Foundation (Endless Frontier Act) have since expanded and morphed into two gigantic bills, the America COMPETES Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act in the U.S. Senate. So far, efforts to reconcile the two pieces of legislation have snagged and recent reports suggest a final push to reconcile narrower versions of the competing bills will occur before the July 4th break.

In late March, the Senate voted 68-28 to substitute the text of H.R. 4521, the America COMPETES Act of 2022, with the text of the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition (USICA) of 2021, and sent it back to the House, which as expected, rejected the substituted legislation and requested a conference to reconcile the differences.

It is a sprawling piece of legislation that mushroomed during the pandemic to encompass supply chain issues, science security, NSF priorities, and direct support for the U.S. semiconductor industry to name just a few of its provisions. Here’s the summary of the version sent to House for reconciliation, excerpted directly from House legislation tracking records:

“Passed Senate (03/28/2022)
“United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021
“This bill addresses U.S. technology and communications, foreign relations and national security, domestic manufacturing, education, trade, and other matters.

“Among other provisions, the bill

  • provides funding for FY2022-FY2026 to support U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, research and development, and supply chain security;
  • provides funding for wireless supply chain innovation;
  • establishes a Directorate for Technology and Innovation in the National Science Foundation;
  • extends through 2025 the authority of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to lease its non-excess real property and related personal property;
  • authorizes various programs and policies related to space exploration;
  • authorizes various international affairs programs and activities, including foreign assistance for the Indo-Pacific region;
  • requires federal infrastructure programs to provide for the use of materials produced in the United States;
  • imposes sanctions on China for cybersecurity and human rights abuses;
  • requires the Department of Health and Human Services to consider national security risks associated with sensitive genetic information;
  • includes initiatives related to elementary and secondary education, including those to increase computer science education;
  • contains provisions related to higher education, including those reauthorizing through FY2027 international education programs and addressing China’s influence on institutions of higher education;
  • modifies and expands the schedule for graduated merger filing fees;
  • prohibits federal funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology;
  • requires the U.S. Trade Representative to take certain actions related to digital trade and censorship practices; and
  • extends through 2027 the Generalized System of Preferences.”

Sorting through the bill’s many provisions is daunting task. Earlier this month, Science (AAAS) reported on one of the sticking points related to NSF’s EPSCoR program.

“[T]he bills, which Democratic leaders hope to reconcile by the end of the month, differ when it comes to how NSF should address geographic imbalance. The Senate’s version, a nearly 2500-page package called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), mandates a 10-fold budget increase for the NSF program that steers funding to have-not states called EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). The similarly mammoth House version, called the America COMPETES Act, would create new competitive NSF programs targeting poorly funded institutions in any state,” reported Science

There’s also argument about the size (currently roughly $52 billion) and manner of support to provide to the U.S. semiconductor manufacturing industry.

These are just two points of contention; there are several more but there is also agreement on the overall intent.

It’s not clear if failure to reach a compromise will kill the current bill but Bloomberg has reported earlier this month that Republicans prefer to revisit the legislation in the next Congress, given they may gain control of the House and Senate after the midterm elections this fall.

Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca), Speaker of the House, said last week, “[We are] just narrowing further those areas where we have further negotiation as necessary…[and have] put out the word that we wanted to [hear] from our Chairs what they see as the remaining issues to be negotiated.  Because this is, again – the COMPETES Act, the Innovation Act, USICA, whatever you want to call it – is a declaration of American independence, which just says we’re going to make more of it in America, whether it’s the factors of production or the products themselves with all of the constraints that COVID has played.”

Stay tuned.

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