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Senate Approves Bipartisan Research Competitiveness Bill

June 11, 2021

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Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst

The U.S. Senate approved passage of the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA), which includes the Endless Frontier Act and other legislation, (S. 1260) by a vote of 68-32 on June 8.The passage followed nearly two weeks of floor debate on the $250 billion package to enhance the United States’ global research competitiveness, support domestic manufacturing, and address foreign government influence in research.

Prior to final passage, the Senate approved, also by a vote of 68-32, a substitute amendment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to combine the Senate Commerce Committee-passed version of the Endless Frontiers Act with new provisions from several other Senate committees to broaden the competitiveness scope of the package. The final substitute amendment also incorporated eight stand-alone amendments approved during floor consideration of the bill [refer to Washington Highlights, June 4].

The final package maintained previously adopted language to address research security in higher education, provisions about which the AAMC and other higher education associations previously raised concerns [refer to Washington Highlights, May 21]. These provisions include a modified version of the Safeguarding American Innovation Act (Section Title IV, Subtitle D) and conflicting text on whether to establish a requirement for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to review any proposed gifts and contracts of $1 million or more to U.S. research institutions (Section 3138 and Section 5212). The bill also includes provisions aimed at addressing the security of identifiable information in biomedical research, including genetic information. The bill would require the National Institutes of Health to work with other relevant agencies to develop a related risk assessment framework for grantees and provide relevant updates to data access and sharing policies (Sections 6102-6104).

USICA would also lower the reporting threshold under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act (HEA, P.L. 89-329) from $250,000 to $50,000 for gifts and contracts from foreign entities to institutions of higher education (Section 6124). This provision would also add a new section to the HEA to require research universities with more than $5 million of annual research expenditures to set up a searchable database of foreign gifts and contracts received by research faculty and staff on their campuses.

The final bill would authorize approximately $120 billion over five years to several of the nation’s research and development (R&D) agencies, including $81 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the development of a new NSF Directorate for Technology and Innovation and $17.5 billion over five years for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The bill also contains supplemental funding for specific Commerce Department programs and includes components of the Supporting Early Career Researchers Act (Section 2212) to support early-stage investigators from underrepresented communities and the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2021 (Section 2521) to better understand and address sexual harassment in the research environment.

Meanwhile, several House committees have begun consideration of separate pieces of legislation to bolster R&D funding and address competitiveness, including the bipartisan National Science Foundation for the Future Act (H.R. 2225), which the House Science Committee is expected to mark up on June 15 [refer to Washington Highlights, May 14]. The House and Senate would need to reconcile differences in the House bills and the Senate-passed USICA before delivering a final package to the president’s desk.

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