All posts by Jyotsna Pandey

HR 748: CARES Act

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or “CARES Act,” the largest economic stimulus package in U.S. history to address economic impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. President Trump signed the measure on the same day. The $2 trillion stimulus package includes economic relief measures to help individuals, small businesses, and “severely distressed” industry sectors deal with the impacts of the outbreak. Funds are also provided to support coronavirus-related research.

The legislation provides $4.3 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support public health preparedness and response and $1.25 billion in funding for federal research agencies to support research to understand the disease.

The measure allocates $76 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF), including $75 million for Research and Related Activities “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, including to fund research grants and other necessary expenses,” and $1 million to address impacts on the grant administration process. The research allocation will support NSF’s ongoing Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism in response to coronavirus. RAPID grants fast-track time-sensitive research by allowing NSF “to receive and review proposals having a severe urgency with regard to availability of or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment as well as quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events.” NSF has invited such proposals in a recently shared Dear Colleague Letter.

Other provisions in the stimulus package include:

  • $945.5 million for the National Institutes of Health for “vaccine, therapeutic, and diagnostic research to increase our understanding of COVID-19, including underlying risks to cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions.”
  • $20 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support agency operations and National Weather Service life and property related services.
  • $60 million for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for operational adjustments associated with rescheduling missions.
  • $99.5 million for the Department of Energy Office of Science for the operation of the national laboratory scientific user facilities, including support for equipment and personnel associated with research and development efforts related to coronavirus.
  • $6 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to support agency operations during the emergency, including “research and measurement science activities to improve coronavirus testing capabilities and support development of coronavirus diagnostics.”
  • $3 million for the United States Forest Service for its research account “to re-establish scientific experiments impacted by travel restrictions, such as the Forest Inventory and Analysis program.”

Additionally, the package provides financial aid for universities that have shut down as a result of the pandemic, with some of the funding directed to support disrupted research. The Department of Education would receive $30.9 billion in “flexible funding” that will go directly to states, local school districts, and institutions of higher education “to help schools, students, teachers, and families with immediate needs related to coronavirus.” This includes $14.25 billion for higher education, at least half of which would be directed to support students “facing urgent needs related to coronavirus” and the rest would be used to “support institutions as they cope with the immediate effects of coronavirus and school closures.”

On March 19, four organizations representing major research institutions and medical schools across the country requested the White House and Congress to increase research spending at federal science agencies by 15 percent or $13 billion to deal with research disruptions. “We anticipate significant impacts on research personnel and students and their work but, given the great uncertainties about the duration of the crisis, we cannot comprehensively quantify all the costs at this time,” noted the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the American Council on Education.

This is the third bill passed by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first emergency supplemental appropriations package, enacted on March 6, allocated $8.3 billion to respond to the virus, including funds for vaccine development, support for state and local governments, and assistance for affected small businesses. The second bill, enacted on March 18, “guarantees free coronavirus testing, secures paid emergency leave, enhances Unemployment Insurance, strengthens food security initiatives, and increases federal Medicaid funding to states.”

S.3832: Endless Frontier Act

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would establish a new Directorate for Technology within the National Science Foundation (NSF) and provide the agency an additional $100 billion over 5 years.

The Endless Frontier Act (S. 3832), sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D NY) and co-sponsored by Senator Todd Young (R-IN), aims to ensure American leadership in innovation. “For over 70 years, the United States has been the unequivocal global leader in scientific and technological innovation, and as a result the people of the United States have benefitted through good-paying jobs, economic prosperity, and a higher quality of life,” the Senators wrote in the preface to the bill. “Today, however, this leadership position is being eroded and challenged by foreign competitors, some of whom are stealing intellectual property and trade secrets of the United States and aggressively investing in fundamental research and commercialization to dominate the key technology fields of the future.”

An identical version of the legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI).

The bill would rename NSF to National Science and Technology Foundation (NSTF). The Science and Technology Directorates within NSTF would each be led by a Deputy Director reporting to the NSF Director. The additional investment of $100 billion over 5 years would support research in ten key focus areas, which would be reviewed periodically and revised if “the competitive threats to the United States have shifted.” However, the bill limits the total number of key technology areas to ten.

Key technology focus areas currently listed in the legislation include:

  • artificial intelligence and machine learning;
  • high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware;
  • quantum computing and information systems;
  • robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing;
  • natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention;
  • advanced communications technology;
  • biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology;
  • cybersecurity, data storage, and data management technologies;
  • advanced energy; and
  • materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other key areas.

To advance its objectives, the Technology Directorate could partner with and provide funding to other federal research entities as well as other NSF Directorates pursuing basic research that could enable advances in the key technology areas. However, the Technology Directorate would be prohibited from taking funding from other programs at NSF.

A large portion of the new funds would be directed to university-based technology centers to conduct research to advance innovation in the ten key technology areas. The bill would authorize an additional $10 billion over five years for the Commerce Department to designate 10 to 15 regional technology hubs across the country to foster innovation and create innovation sector jobs in locations “that have clear potential and relevant assets for developing a key technology focus area but have not yet become leading technology centers.”

The legislation would also allocate funds for education and training activities, including new undergraduate scholarships, industry training programs, graduate fellowships and traineeships and post-doctoral support to create a workforce capable of advancing the key focus areas.

Many members of the scientific community have welcomed the proposal to infuse more research dollars into NSF. “These investments will help NSF catalyze innovation, support scientific leadership, and keep America globally competitive,” stated Mary Sue Coleman, President of the Association of American Universities, according to Science Insider. Others have expressed concerns, including former NSF Director Dr. Arden Bement: “I believe it would be a mistake for a technology directorate at NSF to serve as an offset to private funding for commercial innovation and entrepreneurship…Federal funding for applied technology research and development should be need-based and channeled through mission agencies.”

S.3997: Safeguarding American Innovation Act

As highlighted in an April 2019 editorial in BioScience, U.S. lawmakers are increasingly concerned about foreign threats to the U.S. scientific research enterprise, including threats to national security and the theft of intellectual property. Policymakers in Congress and federal agencies continue to explore how to maintain an open and collaborative scientific environment that simultaneously prevents foreign interests from stealing U.S. research. The most recent proposal from Congress comes in the form of bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The Safeguarding American Innovation Act (S. 3997) was introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, to “help stop foreign governments, particularly China, from stealing American taxpayer-funded research and intellectual property developed at U.S. colleges and universities.” The bill has bipartisan support – with eight Republican and five Democratic co-sponsors. According to Senator Portman, the bill would “help us stop foreign governments from stealing our research and innovation while also increasing transparency to ensure that taxpayers know when colleges and universities accept significant foreign funding.”

If enacted, the legislation would punish individuals with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for intentionally failing to disclose foreign support on federal grant applications. The bill would require the State Department’s exchange program sponsors to “have safeguards against unauthorized access to sensitive technologies and report to State if an exchange visitor will have access to sensitive technologies.” Another provision would allow the State Department to reject visa applications from foreign nationals “when it is contrary to U.S. national security and economic security interests of the United States.”

The bill would mandate a standardized grant process and authorize the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal grant-making agencies to oversee research security. In addition, the reporting threshold for U.S. institutions receiving foreign gifts would be lowered from $250,000 to $50,000 and the Department of Education would be given authority to punish schools that fail to appropriately report such gifts.

Some in the research community are concerned that the legislation could restrict collaborative science. According to Science Insider, the Association of American Universities, a 66-member coalition of research institutions, said in a statement that “key provisions in the bill are overly broad and will only serve to harm American science without improving national security… We appreciate that Senators Portman and Carper have changed language in certain sections of the bill in response to concerns raised by our universities, but the breadth of the current bill language could still block talented students and scholars from coming to the U.S., where they advance our science and economic interests.”

This is not the first measure proposed by lawmakers to deal with academic espionage. Last year, lawmakers in both chambers introduced legislation intended to address foreign threats to the U.S. research enterprise.

HR 7308: RISE Act

On June 24, 2020, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced bipartisan legislation to provide emergency relief appropriations for federal science agencies to support the research community during the ongoing public health crisis.

The Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act (H.R. 7308), sponsored by Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Fred Upton (R-MI), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), would authorize approximately $26 billion in supplemental funding for federal research agencies to be awarded to research universities, independent institutions, and national laboratories to address the COVID-19 related disruption to federally funded research.

The $26 billion in relief funding would be allocated to federal departments and agencies as follows:

  • $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health
  • $3 billion for the National Science Foundation
  • $2 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • $5 billion for the Department of Energy, of which $3 billion would be available for the Office of Science
  • $300 million for the U.S. Geological Survey within Department of the Interior
  • $3 billion for the Department of Defense
  • $650 million for the Department of Commerce, of which $350 million would be directed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and $300 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • $380 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • $200 million for the Department of Education
  • $200 million for the Environmental Protection Agency

The measure would also provide temporary regulatory flexibility until universities and nonprofit research institutes can safely reopen federally-funded research laboratories, allowing graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, technical support staff, and other research personnel to continue to receive salaries while research activities have been disrupted. According to Representative DeGette, these funds could enable researchers “to complete work that was disrupted by COVID-19, or extend the training or employment of researchers on an existing research project for up to two years because of the disruption of the job market.”

“These researchers are essential to our nation’s public health, national security, economic growth and international competitiveness,” stated the lawmakers. “Preserving our scientific infrastructure and protecting our innovation pipeline will help ensure U.S. leadership in the world and help us better respond to future pandemics.”

Provisions included in the RISE Act are consistent with recommendations made earlier this year by higher education and scientific societies and coalitions, including the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Council on Education. These provisions were also endorsed by 181 Representatives and 33 Senators.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is among more than 250 higher education, research, industry groups, and associations that have endorsed H.R. 7308 so far.

HR 5552: Migratory Bird Protection Act of 2020

If enacted, this bill would prohibit the incidental taking (e.g., capturing or killing) of migratory birds by commercial activities unless the activity is authorized under a permit or is identified as posing de minimis risk to migratory birds.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the term “take” means “to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect,” with “incidental” take referring to an unintentional taking.

The bill directs USFWS to regulate such incidental taking, including by (1) issuing general permits for certain industries, (2) creating a mitigation fee for any incidental taking of migratory birds, and (3) identifying categories of de minimis risk activities that are exempt from liability for the taking of migratory birds.

In addition, the USFWS would be required to establish and maintain a research program: (1) to evaluate the impacts of commercial activities on birds, (2) to evaluate the effectiveness of best management practices and technologies to avoid or minimize such impacts, and (3) to develop new or improved best management practices and technologies.

HR 5685: Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act of 2020

The legislation would create a long-term strategy for investment in basic research and infrastructure to safeguard American scientific leadership and address climate change.  It aims to tackle two challenges: competition for global scientific leadership that the US is facing from China, which has expanded public R&D funding by more than 50 percent between 2011 and 2016, and climate change. 

The bill would double federal investments in basic research over the next ten years at the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  The bill would also authorize investments in research infrastructure and support “an increase in key programs to grow the American pipeline of STEM-capable workers.”