The House of Representatives on Monday evening passed by wide margins two potential and complementary alternatives to the Senate-approved United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA), both of which would funnel tens of billions of new research funding to Federal government agencies.

The first bill – the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Future Act – passed on a vote of 345-67, and the second measure – the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act – was approved 351-68.

Combined, the two House bills track with some of the larger goals of the Senate USICA bill, including establishing a new NSF Directorate, increasing research and development funding at NSF and the Department of Energy (DoE), and increasing funding for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

The two House bills also represent a substantial domestic investment in scientific development, setting the nation up to compete globally in science with countries like China.

The push in Congress to open the spigot on domestic R&D funding fronts will be one of the underlying themes of MerITocracy 2021 American Innovation Forum in November. The Forum will gather Capitol Hill and White House leadership, along with industry visionaries, for creative thinking at the nexus of policy and technology to help solve some of the largest problems facing the United States.

President Biden applauded the House votes late Monday.

“We need historic – once in a generation – investments in our competitiveness that support R&D, innovation, our semiconductor industry, and advanced manufacturing to grow our economy and create good-paying middle-class jobs in every corner of America,” Biden said in a statement.  “By rebuilding those domestic sources of strength, we can out-compete China and the rest of the world for years to come.”

“I was pleased to see the Senate pass crucially important investments in our domestic strength through the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act with massive bipartisan support, and I’m heartened today to see the House pass similar bipartisan investments in R&D and science,” Biden continued.

NSF for the Future Act

The NSF for the Future Act, originally introduced in March, would establish an NSF Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES), expand education and research on STEM, and increase NSF funding to $11 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 (FY2022) and up to $14.5 billion over the next five years.

“For more than seven decades, National Science Foundation has played a critical role in supporting research,” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Tex., said yesterday. “Many of the innovations that have fueled America prosperity and security would not have been possible without it. As we look to the agency’s future, we must seize this opportunity to build upon and leverage his strengths.”

The NSF for the Future Act would create the SES Directorate, which in many ways is similar to the Directorate of Technology and Innovation that would be created by USICA. The SES directorate would have a $1.4 billion budget in FY2022 and would see its budget grow by 27 percent annually until it reaches a $3.4 billion budget in 2026, which would represent 19 percent of the agency’s budget under this bill. None of these figures are included in the estimated increased budget explained above.

The directorate would be responsible for taking risks and experimenting with science and tech to solve problems with emerging tech. The bill also directs the SES directorate to create a collaborative ecosystem for that include research institutes and private sector companies as well.

DoE Science for the Future Act

The DoE Science for the Future Act would make similar investments in the DoE’s Office of Science over the course of five years. The bill provides funding for investment in renewable energies and research into emerging tech, and, in all, invests $50 billion over five years in the DoE Office of Science and National Labs. Rep. Johnson, chairwoman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, called the bill “a substantial effort in the fight against climate change” on the House floor yesterday.

“America’s scientific and technological leadership is being threatened by the Chinese Communist Party, and we must act urgently to reinvest in our own research and development enterprise,” Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., ranking member on the House Science committee, said yesterday. “H.R. 3593 (the DoE Science for the Future Act) redoubles our commitment to the basic research conducted by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and our national laboratories. Together with the NSF for the Future act, it is a comprehensive sustainable approach to American competitiveness.”

The bill would boost the DoE Office of Science Budget to $8.8 billion in FY2022, a $1.8 billion increase from its enacted FY2021 levels. By 2026, the office’s budget would reach $11 billion if the bill is passed. The bill would also authorize research in both renewable and emerging technologies.

The research would focus on biological and energy research, as well as fusion energy research. The emerging technology investments would focus on things like nanotechnology, advanced computing research, and quantum computing.

Legislative path

The passage of both bills represents a year’s worth of bipartisan work by the House Science Committee that lines up with a large portion of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

“In March, I outlined my vision for how we can grow our economy for all workers through the American Jobs Plan, and today the House took an important step in moving that forward by advancing two bipartisan bills,” Biden said. “The National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act will make vital investments in R&D, science, and our economic competitiveness, and re-affirm the role of science in helping us solve major challenges like the climate crisis.”

The two bills made it through the markup process by the committee June 15, with each being reported favorably with amendments. The bills were also discussed in relation to the Senate’s USICA legislation in a June 25 meeting between House Foreign Affairs chairman and ranking member, Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Tex., with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan June 25, the White House announced.

The bills were considered in the House under suspension of the rules, but despite broad expressed bipartisan support, they did not pass under suspension due to a request of the ayes and nays. Later in the night the bills were taken up again and approved.

The House and Senate will now collaborate to turn these three bills – two House, one Senate – into a single measure that can pass both chambers and be signed into law by the president.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.