Both Democrats and Republicans look to boost research agency budgets and maintain US leadership
Legislators from both major parties in the United States are gearing up to increase funding for government research agencies through a slew of bills introduced to both chambers of Congress.
On 24 March, Democrats introduced legislation to both the House of Representatives and the Senate that would increase the budgets across research agencies by five per cent each year, on top of inflation.
“For years, I have said that the most important investment we can make in our future is in biomedical and scientific research,” said Dick Durbin, who is sponsoring the American Cures Act and the American Innovation Act in the Senate.
Between them, the bills would increase research budgets at nine agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
Bill Foster, who is sponsoring the American Innovation Act in the House, said: “We need to make sure our scientists have the resources they need to perform their work at the highest levels and help us maintain our role as global leaders in research and innovation.”
Republicans have announced their own legislative plan for long-term investment in basic research, tying it to the challenge from China to American leadership in R&D. Frank Lucas, the senior Republican on the House science committee, introduced a bill on 23 March that would double US investment in basic research over ten years.
The Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act, which is co-sponsored by 15 other Republicans, has a focus on clean energy and development of technologies such as artificial intelligence and supercomputing. Lucas said American science and technology leadership “is being challenged now by the Chinese Communist Party”, which is investing more in research than the United States.
“Doubling our investment in basic and early-stage research is unquestionably what’s needed for a clean economy that stays ahead of foreign competition,” Lucas added.
Big plans for NSF
A separate, bipartisan bill from members of the House science committee that would expand the National Science Foundation was introduced on 26 March. The bill would create a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions at the NSF, whose budget would grow from $1 billion in 2022 to over $5 billion in 2026.
Chair of the House science committee Eddie Bernice Johnson said that “to fully realise the potential of science to benefit society, we must fund more research on the questions that matter to the American people”, and that competitiveness with China “will not be possible if we do not unleash our nation’s [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] talent on the full range of challenges we face”.
The bill is an alternative to the Endless Frontiers Act—legislation originally introduced in 2020 that would establish a technology directorate at the NSF focused on key technologies and funded with $100 billion over five years. Senate leader Chuck Schumer has prioritised the Endless Frontiers Act in his legislative programme, promising a vote during the spring.
Appeal for relief funds
As legislators forge ahead with bills to increase research investment, the research community is appealing for immediate action to provide relief from the impact of Covid-19. Over 100 organisations signed a 24 March letter appealing to US president Joe Biden to support a bill that would provide $25bn in relief for research disrupted by the pandemic.
“Beyond the immediate damaging financial losses at the local, state, and federal levels, the long-term repercussions of interrupted research mean that future scientific innovations and discoveries will be squandered or severely delayed,” wrote the signatories.