The top Republican on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Tuesday introduced comprehensive legislation targeting what he views as “two fundamental challenges” to the United States’ strength and global competitiveness going forward: climate change and foreign countries’ potential to outpace the nation in science and technology.
The Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act, authored by Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., mandates the development of a national S&T strategy with improved coordination between federal agencies and enhanced investments in America’s research funding and facilities. Co-sponsored by 11 House Republicans, the 232-page bill proposes to double basic research funding over the next decade at the Energy Department, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Science and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“If China surpasses us in critical technologies like quantum information science, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing it will have significant implications for our national security, for our economic competitiveness, and for our way of life,” Lucas said in statement. “The United States must go on the offensive to maintain our scientific and technological leadership.”
Lucas’ view reflects growing concerns—backed by several recent expert studies—that the nation could be doing more to secure its technological advantage against adversaries. The United States hasn’t produced a scheme comparable to the “Made in China 2025” plan, for example, which lays out the nation’s strategic intent to eclipse the U.S. and others as the international leader in emerging technology development and manufacturing. Lucas also notes that China increased public research and development by 56% between 2011 and 2016—and in that same period, the U.S.’ investments fell by 12%.
“That is a recipe for decline, economically and strategically,” Lucas said in a summary of the bill.
Broken into eight sections, the bill offers a range of proposals and regulation reforms to help the nation adapt to climate change and boost its competitiveness across the global technological landscape. It calls for the Office of Science and Technology Policy director and the National Science and Technology Council to collectively create a “comprehensive national science and technology strategy” that sets priorities for the following four years. The president is also required to “submit to Congress each year a comprehensive report” on the national strategy that incorporates the nation’s near-, medium- and long-term research priorities. Further, the bill also authorizes a quadrennial review of the country’s S&T-focused efforts.
The Energy Department would also obtain increased research funding, facility upgrades, deliberate enhancements in computational research and the establishment of a quantum science network under the bill. The quantum network would “operate as a national user facility” and ultimately “support the research, development and demonstration of quantum computing.”
Energy recently pledged its own investment of up to $625 million, which will support the launch of up to five multidisciplinary quantum information science research centers between now and 2025. Lucas’ legislation also directs NOAA and Energy to collaboratively conduct climate and atmospheric science modeling and research. And on top of many other directions geared toward both agencies, the bill also calls for new upgrades and research at NOAA to improve weather forecasting and an assessment of how the agency can work with other federal counterparts to tap into relevant supercomputing resources.
For NIST, Lucas notes that the legislation “prioritizes critical research for industries of the future,” such as quantum information science, cybersecurity, materials research, the internet of things, and beyond. The bill also aims to introduce new NIST research facilities and improve existing ones. And it pushes for an increase in U.S. leadership in international standards development. Under the act, NSF would also see increased investments, as well as an external review of its management and organizational structure to help “[build] a foundation for the 21st century.” The bill also includes numerous proposals to boost technology transfer—including establishing an interagency working group that’s hyper-focused on exactly that—as well as plans to improve America’s STEM workforce pipeline. And the new legislation also includes a section on “Antarctic Science and Conservation Modernization,” which among other things aims to address the strategic importance of the region and the impacts of rising tourism and commercial endeavors there.
Lucas repeatedly articulated his aims to thoroughly address issues that accommodate the changing climate, though the bill mentions the word “climate” twice in its entirety, and it does not directly state how much new funding will be allocated to specifically reduce emissions that contribute to climate disruptions. The legislation does not go as far as a separate climate-focused draft bill that Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced Tuesday, which ultimately aims to “[put] the nation on the path to a net-zero greenhouse gas economy by 2050.” Still, Lucas’ bill does direct Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency to develop “transformative science and technology solutions to address energy, environmental, economic, and national security challenges” and calls for a range of increased weather-related research and tech development.
“As a farmer and rancher, I have seen firsthand the impact of the changing climate. Our continued economic growth requires us to address it. But we have to do so in a way that doesn’t raise energy prices and hurt American families and businesses,” Lucas said. “We need to invest in research that produces next generation technologies, ensuring America is the leader in producing cleaner and more affordable energy for the world.”