Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, November 11, 2021
The White House released a smaller plan of $1.75 trillion over 10 years for the Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376, that was negotiated in good faith with a broad group of key senators and members of Congress. It is much closer to passing both chambers of Congress than the original version that was at $3.5 trillion. The House Rules Committee began consideration on October 28 of the revised bill (re-released on November 3 as a 2,135-page committee print 117-18,) in anticipation of a final vote on the floor the week of November 15, despite not having an official Congressional Budget Office score. This score would provide clarity on the actual cost of the bill to taxpayers. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he could not support the sweeping measure until its impact was fully analyzed and told Progressive Democrats not to hold the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, H.R. 3684, hostage to a House floor vote since it would not accelerate his deliberation to support the Build Back Better Act. H.R. 3684 finally succeeded in passing the House on November 5 with Republican support. 

Meanwhile, items were stripped from the Build Back Better Act and time frames were shortened for initiatives in order to reduce its size. The National Science Foundation (NSF) total of $3.5 billion was broken down into three major categories:  the new technology directorate, research infrastructure, and core research. Under the new language, the agency was provided $1.52 billion to fund and administer the new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIPS) to remain available until September 30, 2026 – a key priority for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–NY). TIPS would accelerate use-inspired and translational research and the development, commercialization, and use of technologies and innovations of national importance, including supporting efforts to mitigate natural disasters; improve microbiome research fundamental to health, climate, and ecosystems; and other societal challenges. There was also $25 million for research security activities; $200 million for research capacity building at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs); and $55 million for cybersecurity education and training available until September 30, 2028. 

Funding for NSF’s research infrastructure included $200 million to repair, renovate, or, in some cases, replace obsolete science and engineering facilities primarily devoted to research and research training. Another $200 million was provided for mid-scale and major research instrumentation, equipment, and infrastructure awards available until September 30, 2026, and $100 million for academic research facilities modernization and research instrumentation, including construction, upgrade, renovation, or repair of research infrastructure, at historically Black colleges  and universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other MSIs available until September 30, 2028.

Under core research, NSF received $668 million to fund research awards and traineeships available until September 30, 2026. Another $25 million is to ensure broader demographic participation in NSF’s work and $500 million for climate change research, both available until September 30, 2028. Last, there was $7 million added for the NSF Inspector General to oversee funds provided to the agency until September 30, 2030. After the reconciliation language was released in October, the White House also released its net zero green house gas emission plan by 2050 explaining how it will achieve this goal.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) was provided $75 million for fiscal year (FY) 2022 and until expended to maintain and expand programs to increase research capacity at MSIs, including supporting the Path to Excellence and Innovation program of the NIH; support efforts to diversify the national scientific workforce and expand recruitment and retention of individuals who are underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences, and from disadvantaged backgrounds; and support and expand the activities of the NIH’s Scientific Workforce Diversity Office. The agency would also receive $10 million for more research on developmental delays in young children and $15 million for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development to fund research on interventions to mitigate COVID-19 impacts on pregnant, lactating, and postpartum individuals with a particular focus on individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups. No funding was provided for the Advanced Research Projects for Health as in the original September version reported out of the House Budget Committee, which had $3 billion until expended.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) received $210 million for FY 2022 to fund agricultural education, extension, and research relating to climate change through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).  During a recent joint hearing on agricultural biotechnology held by the House Agriculture Committee, Jon Oatley, PhD, Director of the Functional Genomics Initiative in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, testified that he believes research funding in the public sector really is the heart and soul of innovation for biotechnology within the United States, with many groundbreaking discoveries happening at land-grant universities. For our country to keep pace with other countries in science and innovation, he recommended bolstering federal funding for university research through U.S. Department of Agriculture, NIFA, and AFRI foundational programs. With each passing year, research at universities is becoming more expensive and competitive; federal funding for biotechnology in the animal space has remained largely stagnant or even reduced and funding for extramural grant awards have not kept pace. These conditions make it challenging to convince the next generation of graduate students to train to become academic researchers.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science total was $985 million for various energy research to remain available until September 30, 2026, such as low-dose radiation research and fusion materials research. Additionally, the agency’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity received $5 million for FY 2022 to remain available until September 30, 2026.