Washington Update

Proposed Legislative Changes Help NSF Broaden Its Reach

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Two pending bills have the potential to help the National Science Foundation (NSF) broaden its reach. On March 26 the National Science Foundation for the Future Act, H.R. 2225, was introduced in the House. House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Haley Stevens (D-MI), and Ranking Member Michael Waltz (R-FL) are cosponsors of the bill. FASEB provided input in the past Congress and has an opportunity to do so again.

According to the Chair, this bill will increase the funding for more excellent research; advance research and development; address challenges for data access and accountability, as well as security threats that undermine the integrity of federally funded research; and create a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES) that will enable NSF to accelerate the translation of science and technology into solutions to society’s major challenges. Minus the new directorate, the bill will increase NSF funding by nearly $2 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2022 to $10.5 billion with an average rate of growth of 6 percent, thereby reaching $13.3 billion in FY 2026. It also authorizes $1 billion for the SES directorate in FY 2022 with an average annual increase of 50 percent to $5 billion in FY 2026 and designates an Assistant Director at the helm working with an advisory committee. This budget is in balance with the budget for the rest of the agency, reaching 27 percent of the total agency budget in its fifth year.

In the Senate, a revised draft of the Endless Frontier Act is circulating, with an impending introduction in April upon the Senate’s return. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) are championing this legislation. This new version has been updated from the version from last year by incorporating stakeholders’ comments. To implement the act, a total of $190 billion for the Endless Frontier Fund for FYs 2022–2026 is authorized to be administered by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, not the NSF Director. Also, $100 billion would be available to the NSF of which not less than $2 billion is for the new Directorate for Technology and Innovation (DTI) for each of the designated FYs 2022–2026. The DTI would work on strengthening U.S. leadership in critical technologies by accelerating the translation of basic research in key technology areas and advancing the commercialization of those technologies to U.S. businesses.

The critical technologies the bill addresses include biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology; artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other software advances; high-performance computing and advanced computer hardware; quantum computing and information systems; robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing; natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation; advanced communications technology; cybersecurity; advanced energy batteries; advanced material sciences; and innovation methods, processes, and promising practices that affect the speed and effectiveness of innovation processes at scale. The bill also includes a process by which the NSF can update or revise this list of key technology focus areas.

DTI awards may be made to institutions of higher education, not-for-profit entities, and consortia that shall include one or more institutions of higher education that are not classified as a very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification process and can also include appropriate industry organizations, including startups and small business, labor organizations, national laboratories, and other entities.

The draft states that NSF shall fund graduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and traineeships, and postdoc awards in the key technology focus areas. In providing these awards, NSF is to work to increase the participation of under-represented populations in science and engineering. Another provision would authorize the establishment of a Chief Diversity Officer, with significant experience with diversity and inclusion in the federal research community.

NSF would also establish a new pilot program to award grants to build research and education capacity at emerging research institutions.

Although these two visions for boldly funding NSF and its new Directorate differ, the goals are similar.