House Passes the National Science Foundation for the Future Act and Department of Energy Science for the Future Act

Jul 5, 2021

by ASME.org

Last week, the House passed H.R. 2225, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act by a vote of 345-67, and H.R. 3593, the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act by a vote of 351-68. The National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Future Act would more than double the budget of the NSF in the next 5 years, devoting a significant portion of the funding to a new directorate that would accelerate the process of turning basic research into new technologies and products. The Department of Energy (DOE) Science for the Future Act, which would provide policy guidance for major research programs at DOE’s Office of Science. The bills now need to be conferenced with the Senate’s version, the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which passed the Senate on June 8.
 
House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) commented on the passage, saying “The United States has long been a beacon of excellence in science and engineering. We are at a time of markedly increased global competition in research and development. However, while we should be cognizant of our increasing global competition, we must not be constrained by it. To continue to lead, we must chart our own course. That starts with doubling down on the proven innovation engines we have at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science.”
 
Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) also commented on the bill’s passage, stating “The National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act provide a comprehensive approach to investing in the research, infrastructure, and STEM workers that have long driven America’s success. They also provide critical protections against research theft by foreign adversaries and spur clean energy innovation that will reduce emissions without that hurting American wallets.”

National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Future Act
The bill would increase NSF’s overall budget from the current $8.5 billion to $18.3 billion in 2026. In addition to growing the agency’s existing seven research and education directorates, the bill would create an eighth, called Science and Engineering Solutions (SES). Its budget would start at $1 billion in 2022 and grow to $5 billion by 2026.
 
In setting up the new directorate, the bill would require the NSF director to select up to five focus areas and periodically refresh the list. During the selection process, the director must consider the following "societal challenges:"
  • Climate change and environmental sustainability
  • Global competitiveness in critical technologies
  • Cybersecurity
  • National security
  • STEM education and workforce
  • Social and economic inequality 
The provision is analogous to the list of ten “key technology areas” identified in last year’s Endless Frontier Act, though it is less prescriptive about what areas the new directorate should initially address. Other provisions similarly echo the Endless Frontier Act, including one specifying that the new directorate should fund a broader array of entities than NSF typically supports, and another aiming to prevent the new directorate from siphoning funds from other parts of the agency.

A host of existing science education and workforce training programs would grow by 50% over the 5-year term of the bill. Among those, it would boost the annual number of prestigious graduate research fellowships from 2,000 to 3,000. The bill would also order a decadal study of how to strengthen precollege science education and another on how to ensure that undergraduate science and engineering majors receive the training they need to fill high-tech jobs in industry after graduation.
 
Department of Energy (DOE) Science for the Future Act
The bill intends to provide direct research funding for DOE’s Office of Science so that the department is able to fund additional energy research projects outside of the research being funded by NSF. The bill would support DOE Office of Science activities, including programs focused on materials and chemical science, bioscience, climate science, fusion energy, scientific computing, and high energy nuclear physics.
 
The bill also intends to improve STEM education and encourages efforts to align undergraduate STEM education with workforce needs. In addition to supporting STEM education, the bill provides resources for strengthening workforce development and teacher training. Specifically, the bill offers guidance for the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists program to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in STEM programs supported by DOE.
 
The bill would increase funding for the agency by $2.6 billion for a total of $11.1 billion, and grow to $14.5 billion by FY 2026. ASME endorsed this bill.
 

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