Washington Update

Bill to Strengthen U.S. Competitiveness Awaits Senate Passage

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee reported out of committee S. 1260, Endless Frontier Act, in early May. It moved quickly to the Senate floor for consideration.

The Committee’s reported version incorporated Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act, Research to Spark the Economy Act, Bioeconomy Research and Development Act of 2021, Advancing Precision Agriculture Capabilities Act of 2021, and Combating Sexual Harassment in Science. As expected, the version reported out of the Committee was expanded to bring in legislation from additional Senate committees, including Foreign Relations, Judiciary, Homeland Security, Banking, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) withdrew the Senate Commerce-approved substitute amendment by unanimous consent and offered up a new 1,445 page substitute amendment (#1502) on May 18.

This substitute would bring increased focus on U.S. research and development (R&D) with a cash infusion of more than $100 billion. Senators voted 86-11 to move forward on the bill, which broadly focuses on the science and technology enterprise of the federal government to boost technology research and development, revitalize manufacturing sectors, and provide a diplomatic and national security strategy for the country. After nearly two weeks of work on the substitute, several Senators demanded amendments to be added to improve the bill or it would not be able to advance to a floor vote. As a result, the Majority Leader struck a deal on May 28 to debate additional amendments on the bill now known as U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260). The Majority Leader had wanted to see this bill done by Memorial Day; instead, the final up-or-down vote will have to wait until June. There is uncertainty of how the Senate bill will move once it gets to the House.

Meanwhile, the House has been busy holding hearings on National Science Foundation (NSF) and working on other bills with a science, technology, sexual harassment, and education focus. For example, H.R. 2695, Combating Sexual Harassment in Science passed on suspension on the rules on the House floor. This bill would allow NSF to award research grants on sexual and gender harassment in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. An interagency working group would examine policies to reduce the prevalence of such harassment and $17.5 million would be authorized for the NSF to carry out the legislation. Additionally, a new grant program would be introduced that awards competitive grants to higher education institutions or nonprofit groups to expand research on factors contributing to and consequences of sexual and gender harassment and ways to reduce the incidence and negative effects of harassment.

The authorized monies in the House and Senate bills focused on NSF were supported in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan to invest $50 billion in NSF and in creating a technology directorate that will collaborate with and build on existing programs across the government. Such a directorate would focus on fields like semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology, advanced energy technologies, and biotechnology. However, on May 21 the White House issued a memorandum offering to eliminate the R&D spending from the American Jobs Plan and to seek it in other legislative vehicles such as the Endless Frontier Act.