Framed by both Republicans and Democrats as a bid to make the United States more competitive with China, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) today announced an agreement to move the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) forward to reconciliation in a conference committee. The version that passed the Senate 68-32 in June put $250 billion towards a variety of science and technology initiatives, including $50 billion in funding to boost semiconductor production and billions more to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to drive research and innovation activity.
“While there are many areas of agreement on these legislative proposals between the two chambers, there are still a number of important unresolved issues,” Speaker Pelosi said in a statement. “After Senate Republicans made it clear they would block the inclusion of USICA on the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), we have decided that the best way to get an agreement will be through the conference process. Therefore, the House and Senate will immediately begin a bipartisan process of reconciling the two chambers’ legislative proposals so that we can deliver a final piece of legislation to the President’s desk as soon as possible.”
Senator Todd Young, R-IN, said passage of the bill would represent “a historic investment in emerging technologies that will ensure the United States leads the world into the future.” Sen. Young joined Sen. Schumer to introduce the bill, then known as the Endless Frontier Act, with Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) in May 2020.
The current version of the legislation would double the NSF budget and create a new Directorate of Technology and Innovation within it, and put resources towards a variety of education, training and diversity initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), smart manufacturing, and more. And a race is already on across the country to address the chip shortage, which has weighed on the economy.
While Republicans have focused primarily on framing the purpose of the legislation around boosting competitiveness with China, it has also received support from progressives for its investments in diversity and disadvantaged communities. Writing in The Hill in June, Nina Palmer, a National Security and International Policy fellow at the Center for American Progress call the Act “progressive policy”:
Progressives in the House should support and advance this $250 billion bill, which contains strong provisions that will smartly make the U.S. more competitive, through investments in communities, innovation, improving racial and gender justice and income equality. The bill authorizes the most extensive investment in U.S. innovation infrastructure in a generation, building technology hubs in disadvantaged areas, increasing federal funding for both fundamental and applied research, increasing STEM scholarships and modernizing U.S. technology policymaking. The bill introduces measures to combat systemic sexism in the scientific community and targets minority-serving institutions (MSIs) for additional grants, scholarships and support. The bill also makes strides in recognizing and funding climate change mitigation measures, including clean energy development and conservation mechanisms. Most notably, it expands the definition of STEM to include energy and environmental studies, which will refocus a range of federal policies on these fields. The bill also prioritizes clean technologies for inclusion in the regional technology hub program.
In the Senate passed version of the legislation, STEM education and workforce development would grow to $4 billion a year by 2026, $10 billion would go toward regional technology hubs, in addition to additional support to other federal agencies conducting scientific research and development.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.