House Advances Technology Bill

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On February 4th the House passed H.R. 4521, the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength (or COMPETES) Act of 2022. The measure passed by a vote of 222-210, largely along party lines with one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voting for the bill and one Democrat, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, opposed. The partisan vote was somewhat surprising given that the measure mainly consists of several bills already passed by bipartisan votes, and it some cases unanimously.

The bill is a compilation of more than sixteen bills either passed by the full House or the House Science Committee. Included are such ASCE supported bills as the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Future Act, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for the Future Act, and the Department of Energy for the Future Act, as well as the other measures to further the U.S. research and development enterprise.

ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure calls for significant investment in research and development as a critical solution to facilitate a durable, secure, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure that will meet the needs of the 21st century and raise the infrastructure grades.

The stated goal of the COMPETES Act is to make a historic investment to boost production of American-made semiconductors, address supply chain vulnerabilities to make more goods in America, bolster America’s scientific research and technological leadership, and strengthen America’s economic and national security at home and abroad. Among the many provisions enhancing research and development, the bill would more than double funding for the NSF from the current $8.5 billion to $18.3 billion in 2026.

The bill in many ways mirrors the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), which passed the Senate last June by a large bi-partisan majority. Both bills also provide for substantial new federal incentives to help bring advanced semiconductor manufacturing back to the U. S.—another bipartisan priority. It is now up to Congressional leaders to work to reach a compromise that can pass both Houses of Congress. The Biden Administration is supportive of both efforts with a statement that the President looks forward “to the House and Senate quickly coming together to find a path forward and putting a bill on my desk as soon as possible for my signature. America can’t afford to wait.”

ASCE is urging Congress to move quickly to reach final legislation that would significantly increase support for NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy, as well as the other provisions that further the U.S. research and development enterprise.

But Friday’s partisan divide over the House bill, along with differences between the House and Senate approaches, may spell problems for the ultimate passage of the measure. Among the differences is how to use scientific research to counter overseas threats. The Senate bill focuses on encouraging cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. The House, by contrast, gives more flexibility to federal science officials to decide which new ideas deserve to be jump-started. The House package also focuses more on global economic challenges and less on the specific threat from China, aides say. Compared with the Senate, the House also targets more funding and related policy changes toward issues such as climate change, human rights, and domestic social inequality. Its version includes $8 billion to help developing countries convert to cleaner sources of energy. Another difference is the House’s inclusion of a new, $45 billion fund to provide grants and loans to strengthen U.S. supply chains and manufacturing.

Both the House and Senate bills deal with large issues that ASCE does not have a stated interest or policy statements on, they both however, address ASCE’s long stated goals of addressing the nation’s research and development needs. Federal research and development funding has historically provided a significant portion of the total U.S. civilian investments. However, since the turn of the 21st century, the federal share of such funding has declined significantly. Inadequate federal funding limits the ability to leverage the potential talents and resources across the U.S. to address pressing current, emergent, and long-term societal needs, and hinders the ability to maximize leveraging of funds through government-university-industry partnerships.

 

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