Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, March 9, 2023
House Science Committee Seeks Ways to Improve U.S. Competitiveness

Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) held the first hearing of the House Science Committee for the 118th Congress, titled the United States, China, and the Fight for Global Leadership: Building a U.S. National and Science Technology Strategy. The committee examined reasons why the U.S. should maintain its leading capabilities since it not only drives our national security but also is our economic engine. By doing so, U.S. values of freedom to discover and create; to pursue our own dreams, integrity, objectivity; and honesty can flourish rather than the values of other regimes. Losing this competition would mean fewer opportunities for American companies, less privacy, fewer high-value jobs of the future, and an erosion of our geopolitical and national security strength.

As part of the new CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 (CHIPS) law, many of the ideas laid out in Lucas’ “Securing Leadership in Science and Technology Act” (SALSTA) of 2019 came to pass. While funding for rebuilding the microchips industry gets much attention, it is the “science” portion that will be the engine of America’s economic development for decades to come. CHIPS directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop a four-year comprehensive national science and technology strategy. The strategy is primarily focused on economic security and is consistent with other relevant federal strategies such as the National Defense Strategy or National Security Strategy. It also requires OSTP to conduct a quadrennial review of the science and technology enterprise to serve as a comprehensive examination of U.S. science capacity and to inform policy and investment recommendations. These include areas such as industrial innovation, STEM workforce, technology transfer, regional innovation, and U.S. research leadership. 

Lucas also stated that Americans’ quality of life fundamentally depends on our ongoing scientific progress. More than 60 percent of America’s economic growth in the last century was due to advances in science and technology. Additionally, U.S. public investment in research and development has generated nearly $200 billion in economic value. With this background, he also commented that the Chinese Communist Party or CCP is determined to overtake the U.S. as the global leader in science and technology. “They're outspending us, out-publishing us, and out-educating us when it comes to STEM PhD graduates.”

The value of basic research was emphasized during the hearing as a tool that has increased long-term productivity across multiple industries in the U.S. It is the foundation upon which America’s innovation rests. Not replenishing basic research would mean grinding innovation to a halt.

Other key points that came up included:
  • Developing new financial mechanisms to scale up a proven technology rather than ceding it to other countries to become the mass production leader. Currently, venture capital and banking institutions do not have the interest or deep pockets to support this.
  • Integrating workforce development and economic development leaders to drive local investments STEM capabilities.
  • Understanding that the private sector is a major national security stakeholder rather than just the U.S. government.
  • Incentivizing small companies to work more closely with universities that can serve as a research arm for the companies by lowering the barriers to co-locate.
  • Improving the coordination at the highest level of government to look at U.S. competitiveness across all sectors of the economy rather than being siloed by federal agencies.
  • Supporting the effort to develop the skilled technical workforce especially working at the community college level, which is crucial to the future.
  • Removing regulations that force businesses to go abroad to perform work rather than stay in the U.S.
  • Not shutting off foreign national immigration into the U.S. as a way to protect U.S. research and innovation because it would set the country back by generations.
  • Supporting National Science Foundation’s Growing Research Access for Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity program that focuses on addressing systemic barriers within the nation’s research enterprise by improving research support and service capacity at emerging research institutions.
  • Ensuring diversity not only by race but regionally of participants in the scientific research community through efforts such as NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.