The planets in the U.S. policy universe never fully lined up as predicted by one pundit over a year ago. Still, when the dust finally settled, and the CHIPS and Science bill was signed into law by President Biden on August 9, 2022, significant steps forward had been made in U.S. federally funded science.
In its original draft, the bill was intended to transform United States R & D thru the infusion of significant amounts of funding and the addition of another National Science Foundation (NSF) directorate focused primarily on maintaining American leadership in new and cutting-edge technologies.
A bicameral approach to passing the bill fell apart as soon as the Senate began to debate the bill. It had been a long time since a substantial science-related bill was open for debate on the Senate floor, so there was pent-up enthusiasm. In addition, many Senators took advantage of the bill to introduce anti-China amendments. All-in-all, Senators submitted over 600 amendments for consideration by the Senate, with about 100 actually debated and voted on.
In May 2022, the ASCB sent letters to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Chairs and ranking members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. These two committees have jurisdiction over the portions of the House version of the bill addressing areas of concern raised in our letter.
Any effort to find common ground between the House bill and the Senate bill seemed Herculean. One provision, legislation to address the international shortage of semiconductors, especially in the United States, had broad bipartisan support in Congress and ultimately served as the catalyst for successful passage of major portions of the NSF expansion bill.
Even though the semiconductor portion of the final bill is receiving most of the media attention, the rest of the bill is a significant victory for American science. The CHIPS and Science Act directs federal agencies, primarily the Department of Energy and the NSF, to review a wide range of research areas, from basic artificial photosynthesis to genomic science and the nature of the universe.
The new law establishes the new NSF Directorate of Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) as intended in the original bill. It establishes a budget for the new directorate of $4 billion for each of the first five years but does not actually provide the funding. It also gives the NSF and the National Science Board the authority to identify areas of technology focus areas. Earlier versions of the bill passed this responsibility to Congress, which concerned the ASCB.
Despite several harsh anti-China provisions in the Senate version of the bill, the CHIPS and Science Act includes more judicious provisions. The new law creates an Office of Research Security and Policy at the NSF with instructions to identify and address potential security risks to research integrity. In addition, it directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop guidance for all federal research funding agencies that prohibit participation in foreign talent recruitment programs by federal agency personnel. The guidance must also require those receiving federal research funding to disclose involvement in these talent programs. Out of concern that some scientists have been investigated for violations of research security based on ethnicity, the law also instructs agencies to provide protections against targeting, discrimination, or stigmatizing based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.
The science portion of the bill also addresses many significant issues facing the U.S. scientific community. The new law directs federal agencies to create new programs to increase the STEM pipeline and improve diversity and broader participation in science. In addition, the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) has been significantly enhanced.
About the Author:
Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: email@example.com