‘Old Faithful’ Delivers for HBCUs and MSIs

There are few things one can depend on Congress to accomplish anymore, but one is the passage of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill, which approves the activities of the various agencies and programs with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), is viewed as a “must pass” bill on Capitol Hill.

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

The understanding that the overall bill must be passed and signed into law brings members of Congress together to reach compromises on the major components of the bill.  It also allows for extraneous provisions and legislative troublemaking.

In 2021, the bill was loaded with a host of anti-China provisions, including a requirement that the DoD publish a list of talent programs at U.S. universities run by foreign governments. It also required that federally funded investigators “disclose all current and pending support and the sources of such support” when grant applications are submitted.

In the closing days of the 117th Congress, the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2023 passed and was sent to President Biden to be signed into law. One of the bill’s provisions that took advantage of the bill’s “must pass” status was a bi-partisan requirement to create a new program within the DoD. This new program would help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) improve research and achieve “very high research activity status,” often referred to as R1 status.

The provision, sponsored by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), was a central component of their bill, the HBCU RISE Act, which they had introduced in April 2022.

Their NDAA provision creates a pilot program within the DoD that will increase research capacity at R2 HBCUs and MSIs with the goal of helping them achieve R1 status. The program will provide funds for a wide range of activities including faculty professional development, trainee stipends, new lab equipment, faculty retention, and the construction, rehabilitation, or retrofitting of facilities.

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: kwilson@ascb.org