Congress Approves Chips Plus Science Bill

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Among the flurry of pre-August break activity, Congress approved The CHIPS and Science Act. Led by the Senate, which crafted and passed the bipartisan legislation, the bill injects tens of billions of dollars into the domestic production of semiconductor chips, as well as increases authorizations for a number of science and research programs, which ASCE strongly support. President Biden is expected to sign the measure into law.

The act, which evolved relatively quickly in the Senate, is known as the CHIPS-plus or CHIPS and Science Act, passed in a 64-33 vote. The House quickly followed suit in passing the measure on a bipartisan 243-187 vote. It is a paired down version of the America COMPETES Act, which ran into head winds over the last few weeks. In a bid to salvage parts of the bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY) pulled the provisions related to support for the domestic microchip industry out as a stand-alone measure. After a strong push from members of Congress, as well as ASCE and other science and engineering groups, the research and development provisions of COMPETES were added to the bill.

The bill appropriates or actually funds a total of $54.2 billion, the vast majority ($52.7 billion) for subsidies to build chip plants in the U.S. and support U.S. chip research and development, and it provides a 25% tax credit for building and equipping U.S. chip plants which is estimated to provide another $24.3 billion in support.

The ASCE supported provisions, the science part or Division B, significantly increases authorizations for federal science and technology research and development programs, specifically authorizing about $174 billion through FY 2027 to support the nation’s science and technology base — including for interagency programs to boost technological innovation and help translate federally funded research to commercial applications.

Among the specific programs, the measure provides authorization of $81 billion over five years for the National Science Foundation (NSF) an increase of $36 billion over the agency’s baseline authorization. The measure would also provide $20 billion over the five-years to create a National Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (“TIP”), which would focus on accelerated domestic development of national and economic-security critical technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing, 6G communications, energy, and material science. The measure also provides authorization for increases in basic research grants as well as STEM education programs, including scholarships, fellowships, and traineeships to create workers in critical fields.

Within the Department of Commerce, the Act authorizes the creation of 20 geographically distributed “regional technology hubs”. These hubs will focus on technology development, job creation, and expanding U.S. innovation capacity. Additionally, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be authorized at $9 billion over 5-years, a $4 billion increase over baseline. Included in that total is increased support for expanding interagency coordination and information exchange activities to support private sector engagement and ensure effective Federal engagement in the development and use of international standards.

ASCE was a strong supporter of the legislation, noting in a letter to members of Congress that just as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) targets many of the solutions outlined in ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure to raise the grades, the CHIPS and Science Act will help restore the United States’ commitment to research and development. ASCE believes that together with the IIJA, a significant investment in R&D will accelerate the development of new and innovative materials and processes, which will cut costs and facilitate sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Therefore, the CHIPS and Science Act is the complement that the IIJA requires in order to meet future needs and ensure the best possible infrastructure for the 21st century.

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