The house’s science committee reaffirms its plan to expand the NSF | science


Congress today took another step in doubling the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget over 5 years, with the House Science Committee unanimously passing bill to re-approve the agency’s programs.

The work of the House Committee partially overlaps with a bill passed by the Senate last week that gives the NSF a major role in strengthening the U.S. research firm so that the United States can better compete against China and the rest of the world. Both the House and Senate bill would quickly grow the $ 8.5 billion agency and give it a new technology directorate aimed at accelerating the commercial application of academic research. Both bills also call for stricter oversight of NSF-funded research to prevent adversaries from gaining improper access to the results.

However, the House of Representatives Bill (HR 2225) takes a much more targeted approach to strengthening federal research than the Senate Bill (p. 1260). It is a slim 141 pages compared to the 2376-page giant Senate. It is also limited to NSF; the Senate bill includes several additional federal research agencies and optimizes US trade and foreign policy to meet the economic and military challenges facing China and other nations.

House Chairman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) highlighted this contrast in her opening remarks. “We need to act now,” said Johnson as she opened a hearing in which the panel also approved a second bill (HR 3593) that provides policy guidance to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. “But we shouldn’t act too quickly. Rather than trying to copy the efforts of our emerging competitors, let us duplicate the proven engines of innovation that we have at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, just that. “

NSF legislation received the unanimous support of the panel, with Democrats and Republicans complementing each other for their willingness to compromise on several contentious issues. The biggest focus is how harsh each party wants to be against China. For the committee, this has meant blocking the flow of federal funds to any researcher participating in foreign talent recruitment programs run by four nations: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

The current rules only require that federally funded researchers disclose all foreign research funding, a policy many Democrats see as consistent with the traditional ethics of transparency in science. But Republicans have long argued that China, in particular, is using its suite of recruitment programs to poach taxpayer-funded research from naive American scholars. And today the Committee’s Democrats took that tough stance and approved an amendment by MP Randy Feenstra (R-IA) aimed at limiting the reach of China and the other three target countries.

“The key phrase is … ‘in exchange for the transfer of knowledge or know-how abroad'”, Feenstra explained his amendment. Researchers participating in China’s talent recruiting programs may not be “spies in the traditional sense,” he said. “But they are still being used to gather information that the Chinese People’s Party wants.”

Many Democrats fear that passing such a rule would put Congress on the slippery path of restricting all research interactions with scientists from China and other countries not viewed as US allies. But Feenstra’s amendment does not go that far, Johnson told her colleagues. “We need to keep our doors open to foreign talent,” she said to show her support for the language. “And I think this amendment is carefully worded to weigh the risks and benefits.”

The Senate bill contains similar wording aimed at the four nations and calls on the president’s science advisor to develop and enact rules that would require all federal agencies to pass such a ban. Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), the top Republican on the science committee’s research subcommittee, said the committee hopes a pending House bill approving Department of Defense programs will include a similar government-wide ban.

The House of Representatives NSF bill is now being put up for discussion, where Democratic leaders might decide to add additional items before they are put to the vote. Once passed, it must be brought into line with the Senate’s sweeping bill.

Here’s what the House Bill says about three other key issues in the ongoing debate about strengthening the NSF.

Overall spending level

The bill authorizes Congress to spend a total of $ 78 billion on NSF over the next 5 years. If followed by appropriators, it would increase the NSF’s current budget from $ 8.5 billion to $ 17.9 billion by 2026.

Within those sums, the new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions would receive a total of $ 13.2 billion, starting at $ 1.4 billion next year and rising to $ 3.4 billion by 2026. These numbers provide what Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) called “faster” acceleration but without the “drop-off” of funding included in an earlier version of the bill. That previous bill would have totaled $ 73 billion for the bill NSF allocated (5 billion less than today’s version) and 5 billion US dollars for the new directorate in 2026 (1.6 billion US dollars more than the current bill). In total, the six existing research directorates of NSF would make 80% of the total receive all additional funding, addressing the concerns of academics that the new directorate could stifle the growth of traditional disciplinary programs.

The responsibility of the new management

Legislators see the new directorate as an opportunity for the NSF to expand its much-admired ability to fund the best research ideas to address pressing societal issues such as environmental sustainability, training a skilled technological workforce, and reducing social and economic inequality. This is in contrast to what the committee sees as the Senate’s narrower focus on advancing 10 key technologies, including artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and advanced communications. At the same time, the House Bill now includes provisions for a network of regional technology institutes that are very similar to a number of programs that the Senate bill would create within the new directorate. Both bills would support large research centers run by partners from academia, government, industry and the non-profit sector, as well as facilities for testing prototypes of the new technologies, support for universities trying to convert research results into new businesses, and training for scientists who want to develop their entrepreneurial skills.

Geographical diversity in funding

This is where the two bodies differ most in their approach. The House Bill expresses its support for the idea of ​​redistributing wealth, that is, channeling a greater proportion of NSF dollars to regions that have traditionally not done well in their grant competitions. These have-nots include states outside the country’s east and west coasts, as well as those that lack large metropolitan areas and high-tech hubs. To improve the geographic dispersion of funding, the House Bill empowers the NSF to run performance-based competitions that serve a wider range of academic institutions, particularly those outside the top 100 recipients of NSF funding, those with relatively small research portfolios, and those who high percentage of minority students.

In contrast, the Senate bill prescribes increasing geographic diversity through two mechanisms. The first says that 20% of the total budget of the NSF – and that of the new directorate – would go to an existing program for non-have states, the so-called Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. EPSCoR now receives around 2% of the NSF budget. The Senate’s second mandate is for institutions in these states to receive 20% of the NSF’s funds, which are given through their normal programs that provide competitive grants.

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