National Science Foundation Focus of Legislative Activity in Congress

By PAA Web posted 06-17-2021 13:34


In the first half of the first half of the 117th Congress, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has emerged as a major priority, with bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate as well as the President’s FY 2022 budget request envisioning an expanded, better resourced NSF.

While the approaches toward expanding NSF differ significantly, there is a promising level of bi-partisanship that has spurred momentum and offers the best chance for enacting legislation to reauthorize the NSF in more than a decade.

NSF logo on buildingIn the House, the Committee on Science, Space and Technology has taken a thoughtful, deliberative approach, crafting comprehensive and bi-partisan legislation to reauthorize the NSF holistically, with the introduction of H.R. 2225, the NSF for the Future Act. The bill includes doubling the agency’s funding authorization over several years and placing increased priority on interdisciplinary, translational research; enlarging the pipeline of STEM-based careers overall and expanding opportunities for non-traditional students in particular; tackling broad societal problems and technologies such as climate change, violence, and artificial intelligence; and investing in broadened definition of scientific infrastructure. The most notable feature of H.R. 2225 is the creation of a new directorate within NSF called the Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES), that is tasked with accelerating progress in translational research. PAA has endorsed H.R. 2225. 

H.R. 2225 was approved by the full Science Committee on June 15th and awaits consideration on the House floor. 

The Senate approach was driven less by the committee of jurisdiction and more by Senate leadership—namely, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)—stemming from concerns about competition with China and its accelerating investments in R & D outpacing the U.S. Senators Schumer and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced S. 1260, the Endless Frontier Act, a bill that would create a new Technology and Innovation Directorate at NSF, allocating $100 billion over ten years (the current budget for all of NSF is $8.5 billion). The bill otherwise ignored NSF, providing neither a reauthorization nor additional funds for other existing directorates.

During Senate Commerce Committee consideration of S. 1260, the bill expanded, incorporating a slew of other science-related bills that enjoyed broad support. When it was finally brought to the Senate floor, S. 1260 had been renamed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA). After protracted floor consideration spanning late May and early June, USICA was approved by the Senate with a strong bi-partisan vote of 68-21.

Meanwhile, President Biden’s FY 2022 budget request includes $10.2 billion for NSF, an increase of $1.7 billion, or 15 percent, over FY 2021. And with passage of S. 1260 in the Senate and H.R. 2225 poised for House floor consideration, there is clear momentum for Congress to act on major legislation affecting the NSF. However, the legislative differences between the House and Senate measures are profound, and eventually those differences will have to be resolved in one bill that both the House and Senate agree to pass. PAA will keep you apprised of the bill’s outcome and, if enacted, analyze its implications for the population sciences.