Endless Frontier Act Advances to Senate Floor

May 17, 2021

by ASME.org

Last week, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a 6+ hour markup of the new version of the Endless Frontier Act and reported the bill favorably with a 24-4 vote. The Committee debated some 200 amendments and it is expected that even more amendments will be offered when the bill is brought up before the full Senate. While the original bill would have more than doubled the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) by authorizing a $100 billion investment over the next 5 years, the Committee amended the bill to authorize an investment of only $40 billion.

The fact that the bill was able to pass out of Committee with bipartisan support shows promise for the future of this important piece of legislation, though there are several hurdles that need to be addressed before any final NSF bill is signed into law. For one, the House has stated that they will not be taking up the Endless Frontiers Act and instead held their own markup of H.R. 2225, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act last week. The two chambers will have to reconcile the two bills to create a new future for NSF.
 
Overall, the Senate bill would allocate new funding to create a new NSF directorate that would be responsible for accelerating the process of turning basic research into new technologies and products. The bill also includes a few new provisions that would further strengthen domestic R&D, including establishing a supply chain resiliency program and expanding the Manufacturing USA network of institutes.
 
The bill was reintroduced in the Senate with new additions on April 21. A statement from the bill’s sponsors reads: “The Endless Frontier Act will reinvigorate the U.S. innovation economy, support research and development throughout the country, help lead to the creation of new jobs of the future here in America, and keep the U.S. economically competitive against China and other countries. The members of Congress emphasize that without a significant and sustained increase in investment in research, education and training, technology transfer and entrepreneurship, manufacturing, and the broader U.S. innovation ecosystem across the nation, it is only a matter of time before America’s global competitors overtake the U.S. in terms of technological primacy, threatening national security and prosperity.”
 
The bill includes 10 key technology focus areas including many that align with ASME’s own technology priority areas:
  1. Robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing
  2. Biotechnology
  3. Advanced energy
  4. Artificial intelligence
  5. Advanced materials science
  6. High performance computing
  7. Quantum computing
  8. Natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation
  9. Advanced communications technology
  10. Cybersecurity 
Regarding advanced manufacturing specifically, the bill’s sponsors said that the bill intends establish “a new Supply Chain Resiliency and Crisis Response Program with the national security mission of strengthening critical technology supply chains in the U.S. and with global allies and partners. Additionally, the bill invests in U.S. manufacturing innovation and competitiveness with over $2.4 billion in funding to enhance and expand the Manufacturing USA network to ensure global leadership in the manufacturing of key technologies.”
 
The bill is expected to be debated before the full Senate this week.

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