NSF for the Future Act of 2021 Expands Funding and Scope of the Agency
House Science Committee chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has introduced a much-anticipated bill to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF). H.R. 2225, the NSF for the Future Act of 2021 envisions an agency with an annual budget that more than doubles over five years, accelerates interdisciplinary research, improves STEM education and research training, and strengthens a commitment to diversity, inclusion, open access, and research security. The bill is considered a bi-partisan measure, with the committee’s Ranking Republican Member, Frank Lucas (R-OK) and both the chairwoman and ranking member of the House Science Committee’s Research Subcommittee signing on as original cosponsors.
Under the bill, overall funding for current programs at NSF would increase by roughly $2 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 (to $10.5 billion) and grow at an average annual rate of 6% through 2026. The bill would create a new NSF directorate: the Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES), which would focus on interdisciplinary, translational research and encourage partnerships and collaborations—including with nontraditional players. That directorate, which would operate in parallel to the other existing directorates, would receive $1 billion in 2022 and receive steady increases through 2026. All told, between the growth in the traditional NSF budget and the ramp up of the new SES directorate, the overall budget for the NSF would double by 2026.
It is important to note that the NSF for the Future Act is an authorization bill only. Authorization bills differ from appropriations bills in that they propose funding ceilings for specific agencies. Proposed funding levels in authorization bills do not guarantee any specific funding levels will be met; however, the proposed funding levels help inform the work that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees conduct when making annual funding decisions.
H.R. 2225 places a high priority on improving STEM education and research training, to address the shortage of STEM workers that is likely to worsen as more Boomers enter retirement. The bill addresses education from Pre-K-12 as well as undergraduate and graduate training, with an emphasis on bringing underrepresented groups into these fields.
The bill reflects the input of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including scientific societies, universities, employers, and educators. Chairwoman Johnson and the committee devoted significant effort to soliciting input and feedback. At the committee’s invitation, PAA submitted comments in August 2020 outlining our priorities and concerns related to a potential NSF reauthorization. The current version, for example, includes language highlighting the needs of the social and behavioral research community and requiring better representation of those disciplines on panels reviewing mid-scale infrastructure proposals. This language appears to respond directly to comments submitted by social science advocates, including the population research community. Moreover, the new SES directorate would work alongside and in tandem with other directorates—whereas other legislative proposals called for a structure and funding stream that would effectively dwarf the other disciplines funded through NSF.
H.R. 2225 also identifies critical research priorities, including those relevant to population scientists, such as climate change as well as violence and violence prevention. The bill also mandates that awardees create data management plans for funded research and supports the development of Open Repositories for research and data.