On Tuesday, the US House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved its version of bipartisan legislation intended to keep US advancement in the scientific field on par with China.
China is making swift progression in various technological fields, like artificial intelligence (AI), and Washington policymakers say the US government considers this advancement a significant threat to international security. The bill’s approval is further progress in the US bipartisan effort to counter China’s global influence.
No Democrat nor Republican opposed the legislation, which will now be taken to the full House of Representatives.
Both parties also expressed support for similar legislation passed by the Senate last week. According to some lawmakers, the legislative package could become one of the few significant bipartisan achievements of the current Congress.
However, the House and Senate have differing approaches to the role of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is a non-government agency that funds non-medical scientific research across the US. The Foundation developed during World War II when the US began placing greater importance on the role of science in its national security.
Both the Senate and House support the NSF’s mission and financial needs. Yet, House Science, Space and Technology Committee leaders view their version of the bill they passed on Tuesday as a means to increase federal spending on various methods of scientific research, including climate change and income inequalities, beyond that required to compete with China.
Conversely, the Senate bill aims to create a new NSF division focussed on developing cutting-edge technologies, like AI and quantum computing, to compete with China.
House lawmakers also wish to benefit a broader range of people with the legislative package by making US scientific research more accessible.
“We can’t just have scientists writing to scientists in scientific journals. . .There has to be a link to investment in technology that’s going to create jobs or make America more competitive,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.).
The Senate’s proposed budget would put approximately 52 billion USD into existing research and around 29 billion USD into new tech research and other costs. According to House aides, following Tuesday’s amendments, the House would spend 65 billion USD on existing NSF-supported research and 13 billion USD for its new directorate.
The House aides added that the House package would likely resemble its Senate counterpart in the near future.
For example, the House will likely incorporate significant government incentives to attract more semiconductor manufacturing, like silicon production, back to the US. Similarly, the Senate package features incentives amounting to around 52 billion USD to achieve the same goal.
House approach supporters are emphasising the importance of workers, end-users and others affected by scientific breakthroughs.
“The race to be the best at science and technology is a race to have good high-paying jobs,” House committee chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D., Texas) stated.
“And I want to be clear—I’m not just talking about scientists and computer programmers. I’m also talking about the electricians and pipefitters who help to build our research and computing centres. I’m talking about the technicians and custodial staff that help maintain these facilities. I’m talking about the factory workers manufacturing the next generation of green technologies right here in America.”
Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), a co-sponsor of the House legislation, noted the legislation would steadily raise NSF funding while creating further opportunities for significant scientific breakthroughs.
“In the NSF for the Future Act, we put a great deal of care into crafting a new directorate that … improves [NSF’s] ability to advance fundamental research without duplicating or seeking to replace the missions of other federal research agencies,” the congressman said.
President Biden expressed his approval for the Senate bill’s passage last week and his eagerness to sign the legislation into law.
“We are in a competition to win the 21st century, and the starting gun has gone off,” Mr Biden stated.
The Wall Street Journal. (June 15, 2021). House Panel Approves China Scientific Competitiveness Bill.