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.”