Go back

Parties unite to pass bills aiming to boost US R&D

Image: mark reinstein, via Shutterstock

Senate approves package for expanding National Science Foundation while House moves ahead with alternative

Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of the United States Congress have voted to move forward major legislation that would expand the National Science Foundation—the country’s largest non-medical research funding agency.

On 8 June, the Senate voted through a bill that would establish a new technology directorate at the NSF, earmarked for up to $29 billion over five years, and would allow the agency’s budget to increase from $8.5bn in 2020 to over £21bn in 2026.

The bill was cut down at the committee stage from its original intention of allowing the NSF $100bn over five years. Amendments included authorising Department of Energy (DOE) research to grow by 29 per cent and the $3.5bn annual budget of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to double.

Senate leader Chuck Schumer said the bill, whose passage was smoothed by cross-party recognition of a need to compete with China on key technologies, was “historic”. If passed, it would also prevent any researcher from receiving US public funding if they are taking part in Chinese, Iranian, North Korean or Russian talent programmes.

US president Joe Biden signalled strong support for the bill, saying: “We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off.”

House competitor advances

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, but a reconciliation process looks likely with legislation approved unanimously on 15 June by the House science committee that also looks to boost the NSF and DOE and enjoys strong support from the research community.

Less focused on specific technologies than the Senate bill, the House bill would authorise $78bn for the NSF and $50bn for the DOE Office of Science over five years.

At a hearing, the House science committee chair Eddie Bernice Johnson warned that Congress “shouldn’t act rashly” and instead the US should be “doubling down on the proven innovation engines we have”.

On 11 June, Republicans on the House science committee also introduced new legislation that would allow minority-serving universities to expand their research programmes and create a more diverse US workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.