National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Sethuraman Panchanathan told House appropriators today that the $10.2 billion proposed budget for the agency for fiscal year 2022 is necessary for the United States to remain a global tech leader, and to “outcompete” China in its efforts to take the top spot.

“For the first time in decades, the United States’ leadership in science and engineering is facing intense global competition,” Panchanathan said today during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, Justice and Related Agencies.

“Other nations, especially China, are investing vast resources in basic research and industries of the future, like artificial intelligence,” he said. “The United States needs to take a comprehensive approach to R&D investment that brings science, engineering, and technological innovations to market much more rapidly.”

According to Panchanathan, China is investing four times as much as the United States in terms of growth when it comes to fundamental research, and “they’re catching up to us fast.”

“Clearly, we are at a moment where it is exceedingly important that we make sure that we’re investing in fundamental research, as well as the translational research both at the same time, so that we can outcompete and leap forward in terms of progressing,” he said. “It is not about even being close as I said in my remarks, it’s about leapfrogging and being way ahead in terms of our innovation abilities.”

“It’s a very important moment for us to show that we are not going to let any other nation outcompete us,” he added. “We need to invest in this like [there is] no tomorrow.”

In Panchanathan’s written testimony, he said the NSF funding will enhance fundamental research and development; strengthen U.S. leadership in emerging technologies; advance racial equity in science and engineering; advance climate science and sustainability research; and continue construction of major research facilities.

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Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Penn., chairman of the subcommittee, agreed that the proposed funding is needed to accelerate the discovery and advancement of new technologies.

“I was pleased to see the proposed funding boost for research and development and plans to broaden the mission of NSF in order to accelerate the translation of basic research into new technologies in areas such as semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology, and advancements in energy and biotechnology,” Rep. Cartwright said during the hearing.

“I am looking forward to the furtherance of innovation that will inevitably result from future scientific advancements,” he added. “I am a strong supporter of NSF and its mission to promote the progress of science and prepare us for the technologies of tomorrow.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.