Urge Your Senator to Vote YES on S. 1260!

This week the Senate will take up S. 1260, the Endless Frontier Act following its approval on a 24 to 4 vote in the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee last week. The legislation is the Senate version of bipartisan legislation working its way through both chambers of Congress. The House bill, H.R. 2225, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act, is expected to be on the House floor by early June. In order enact legislation to strengthen the US research enterprise, we need both Houses of Congress to pass bills that can be conferenced and allow for a final legislative package that can reach the President.

As the Endless Frontier Act moved through the Senate Commerce Committee, significant changes were made as the Committee waded through more than 50 amendments. Overall, the revised bill would authorize congressional spending panels to give a total of $81 billion to NSF over 5 years, with $54.4 billion going to its ongoing programs and $26.6 billion to the new directorate. The Directorate for Technology and Innovation that would administer research and development of some ten key technologies including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, advanced computing, semiconductors, and biotechnology. Universities would become the focal point for translating research into advanced technologies — in alliance with the private sector.

One of the concerns addressed during the Commerce Committee mark-up was the size of the new Directorate for Technology and Innovation, especially the concern the new Directorate would dwarf the agency and negatively impact its core mission of basic research. A compromise was reached that would shrink the new Directorate at NSF, while diverting some of the money initially proposed for the new NSF directorate to the Department of Energy (DOE). As a result, the bill now authorizes $16.9 billion in new funding for DOE over 5-years.

Additionally, the Endless Frontier Act also includes provisions for better geographic distribution of federal research dollars. It is an issue that has long rankled some lawmakers; large research institutions located in a relatively small number of states tend to dominate the competition for federal grants, leaving institutions in other states with far fewer dollars. The bill would now require all NSF and DOE programs funded under the bill—including the new NSF tech directorate—to allocate 20% to grantees from those “have-not” states. It also adds geography to the traditional categories used to define the diversity of grantees, which include race, ethnicity, gender, and disability status. Tracking geographic diversity would be a part of the portfolio of NSF’s chief diversity officer—a new position created by the bill.

ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure rated the overall condition of the nation’s infrastructure a cumulative grade of “C-” across 17 categories. Among the solutions offered to “raise the grade” is the importance of research and development. ASCE’s Report Card calls for bold leadership and action and sustained investment in research and development. There is a need for a clear understanding of what the United States needs to achieve an infrastructure system fit for the future. As we consider these long-term investments, it must be through the lens of ensuring that our nation’s infrastructure is resilient - using new approaches, materials, and technologies to ensure infrastructure systems can withstand or quickly recover from natural or man-made hazards. We must leverage proven and emerging technology to make use of limited available resources.

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