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Committees Advance Bills Addressing Research Competitiveness, Foreign Influence

May 14, 2021

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CONTACTS
Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst

Committees in both the House and Senate marked up and advanced legislation the week of May 10 to address the United States’ global research competitiveness and foreign government influence in research.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation amended the Endless Frontier Act (S. 1260) [refer to Washington Highlights, April 23] before approving the bill by a vote of 24-4. The bill aims to bolster the United States’ global competitiveness, especially with China, through investments in innovation, technology, research and development, supply chains, and the STEM workforce. The committee approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute that was developed following bipartisan negotiations, and the committee adopted 53 of the more than 100 amendments considered during the markup.

The bill as approved by the Senate Commerce Committee added several new provisions, including:

  • Components of the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act as Sec. 505, which would allow administrators of federal research agencies to provide supplemental funding to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 to the U.S. research enterprise. The AAMC previously endorsed the RISE Act as introduced in the House and Senate [refer to Washington Highlights, Feb. 5, April 30].
  • Additional research security provisions as Title III, including the establishment of a research security and policy office within the NSF, prohibitions on participation in certain foreign government talent recruitment programs, and requirements for research conduct training for grantees.
  • Components of the Supporting Early Career Researchers Act as Sec. 212, to establish a pilot grant program at the NSF to support early-stage investigators from underrepresented communities.
  • The Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2021 as an amendment from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), to better understand and address sexual harassment in the research environment.
  • An amendment from Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) that would reduce by 35% the $100 billion proposed for a new Directorate for Technology and Innovation at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to reallocate funds as a new investment in the Department of Energy.

Following passage of the amended bill, original lead sponsor of the bill Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a press statement applauding bipartisan efforts to advance the bill. “This legislation will allow the United States to out-compete countries like China, create more good-paying American jobs and help improve our country’s economic and national security. … It is my intention for the full Senate to consider and finish this important legislation before the end of the month, where we expect strong bipartisan support,” Schumer stated.

Meanwhile, members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology marked up and approved the committee’s bipartisan alternative to the Senate proposal, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225), on May 13. The House bill also aims to bolster research conducted by the NSF by increasing annual funding by 6% each year for five years, creating a new directorate to enhance translational research, increasing the STEM workforce pipeline, and creating a Research Security and Policy office to address issues of research integrity.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), an original sponsor of the House bill, responded in a press statement noting that the Senate markup “featured a hodgepodge of amendments, many only tangentially related to strengthening American research.” Lucas added,  “I’m glad my colleagues in the Senate recognize the importance of investing in research and combating the growing threat from the Chinese Communist Party, but I believe that effort must be as focused and strategic as our adversary is on accelerating research and development.”

Also on May 12, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee marked up and approved by voice vote the Safeguarding American Innovation Act (S. 1351), with Senators Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Padilla (D-Calif.) recorded as voting ‘no.’ The AAMC previously joined other members of the higher education community in opposing provisions in the bill that would provide “excessive authority” to both the Office of Management and Budget to define research security policies and to the State Department to define rules impacting the entry of foreign scholars into the United States, and would increase burden in reducing the reporting threshold under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act from $250,000 to $50,000. [refer to Washington Highlights, July 24, 2020].

Following the markup, lead sponsor and committee ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) issued a press statement, indicating his intention for the bill to be included in the Endless Frontier Act when considered by the full Senate.

“The Endless Frontier Act makes a more than $100 billion investment in national security and technological innovation at the National Science Foundation (NSF), so we must include guardrails to ensure that the American taxpayer does not unwittingly fuel the rise of China. … Once the Safeguarding American Innovation Act is included in the Endless Frontier Act, this legislative body will be doing everything possible to make sure that American taxpayer investments in scientific innovation benefit hard-working Americans, not our global competitors,” Portman concluded.

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