Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, March 11, 2021

House Science Committee Reemphasizes the Need to Support Scientific Research Enterprise One Year After the Pandemic; President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Includes $600 Million for National Science Foundation

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on February 25 on the state of the scientific research enterprise one year after the pandemic. Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) explained the critical role research plays to generate new ideas and spur transformative societal innovations that fuel the economy and create jobs, inspire new generations of young people to pursue scientific careers, improve public health and education, and keep the U.S. a step ahead of global competitors. Due to the pandemic, the research enterprise has seen a slowdown in research and innovation and loss of gains in expanding the STEM workforce. She expressed concern over the lack of investments necessary to address the needs of our science agencies, universities, researchers, and students being compounded by a pre-pandemic situation of stagnant funding eroding our country’s scientific leadership.

Witnesses at the hearing included Sudip Parikh, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who emphasized that universities and laboratories are the foundation of America’s innovation ecosystem. Currently, early-career researchers — graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and new faculty — have lost or are at risk of losing research opportunities and job prospects. Researchers who are mothers have suffered a 33 percent larger drop in research hours than fathers. He encouraged Congress to work with the new administration to explore opportunities to expand the number of research fellowship programs and to provide additional flexibilities to assist researchers whose studies have been interrupted and delayed, causing uncertainty in career paths for researchers. He also said there needs to be policy coordination efforts between the academic environment and business to make progress in areas such as climate change and batteries.

Christopher Keane, PhD, Vice President for Research at Washington State, University, testified that rescuing the nation’s scientific research enterprise and supporting new research should not be an “either-or” choice. However, the pandemic has had severe impacts on undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral education; partial or complete loss of some research; amplification of previously existing inequities; and disruption of the flow of talent required to support the nation’s “innovation pipeline.” Without supplemental research funding, the contributions of research universities and hospitals to America’s health, economy, and national security will be impaired for a long time. He noted that failure to provide this funding now will force federal research agencies to make difficult decisions between supporting the completion of existing research projects or funding new projects. Some federal agencies are already planning for this possibility.

Others testifying were Felice J. Levine, PhD, Executive Director of the American Educational Research Association, who said there needs to be a wider net for those who can receive supplemental funding for items such as counseling and child support to help researchers stay in the field. Thomas Quaadman, Executive Vice President of the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spoke to bringing the supply chain back to the U.S., which would create more opportunities to engage U.S.-based researchers.

Looking ahead, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act (HR 1319) will move forward this week from the Senate back to the House with amendments. On Saturday, Senators voted 50-49 along party lines to pass the measure. Prior to the Senate vote, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) reiterated the need to provide $600 million for the National Science Foundation in section 7502 of the bill for new and existing research grants, cooperative agreements, scholarships, fellowships, and apprenticeships to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the pandemic. That text remains in the Senate passed plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) can only afford to have four Democrats oppose the bill for it to pass with all House members voting and Republicans lined up in opposition. However, she predicts House passage this week before the bill goes to the President for his signature.