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Endless Frontier Act Takes on New Form, Passes Senate

After an eventful process that saw the bill molded into different variations, the Endless Frontier Act (EFA) passed the Senate on Tuesday, June 8th, as part of a larger package labeled the United States Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA, aimed at bolstering American competitiveness with China. 

Initially, EFA was a proposal to create a new $100 billion technology Directorate within the National Science Foundation (NSF). Ultimately, the version of USICA headed to the House lays out a vision for far broader investments across executive branch agencies. The bill would increase the NSF budget by roughly 150 percent over five years and create a smaller but still significant new Directorate for Technology Innovation. In addition, it would authorize new expenditures at, among others, the Department of Energy, NASA, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of State. FABBS members will be most interested in provisions related to the NSF and implications they may have for basic research funding in the behavioral and brain sciences. 

In its final version, the bill authorizes increasing the NSF budget from $8.5 billion in 2021 to $21.3 billion in 2026. Much of this increase would go to the new Directorate for Technology and Innovation, which will grow from $1.8 billion in 2022 to $9.3 billion in 2026, at which point it would account for almost 45 percent of the Foundation’s budget. Nonetheless, NSF’s existing programs would grow by over 40 percent. 

The final Senate version included important improvements to the legislation. No longer would new NSF funds be controlled by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the new Directorate would fall under the same governance structure similar to the other NSF directorates, instead of having separate presidentially appointed leadership. While the new Directorate remains much larger than existing directorates, its reduced size compared to the original proposal alleviates concerns that it may have overshadowed much of NSF’s work and reflects the need to continue investing in basic research even while funding new priorities. 

Endless Frontier Act

Total Existing NSF New Directorate Existing NSF Increase Total Increase 
2021 Enacted  $        8,487,759          
2022  $      10,800,000   $       9,000,000   $      1,800,000  6% 27% 
2023  $      12,800,000   $       9,600,000   $      3,200,000  7% 19% 
2024  $      16,600,000   $     10,300,000   $      6,300,000  7% 30% 
2025  $      19,500,000   $     11,100,000   $      8,400,000  8% 17% 
2026  $      21,300,000   $     12,000,000   $      9,300,000  8% 9% 

The bill also incorporated STEM legislation endorsed by FABBS, including: 

  • Rural STEM Education Act: directs NSF to support research on ways to improve the quality and accessibility of STEM instruction in rural schools, including through online coursework 
  • Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act: directs NSF to award grants to institutions of higher education or nonprofit organizations to expand research into sexual harassment and gender harassment in the STEM workforce, including students and trainees, and examine interventions for reducing the incidence and negative consequences of such harassment 
  • Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act: supports funding for U.S. researchers who have been impacted by the pandemic and to support the research enterprise in rebuilding from the effects of the COVID-19.  
  • Supporting Early Career Researchers Act: proposes the NSF creates a two-year fellowship program for scientists facing fewer job opportunities in academia because of the coronavirus pandemic 

While passing the Senate was a major milestone, the future of this legislation is still uncertain. It is unclear how the House of Representatives will proceed. The House may choose to pass this bill as-is. It could also choose to take a piecemeal approach, passing a standalone NSF authorization and separate bills aimed at other aspects of the USICA agenda, or it could pass a competitiveness package of its own and then negotiate with the Senate to work out any differences.  

NSF For the Future Post-Markup 

  Total Research and Related Activities Existing NSF New Directorate Existing NSF Increase Total Increase 
2021 Enacted $8,487,759,000  $6,909,769,000       
2022 $12,504,890,000  $10,025,000,000  $11,104,890,000  $1,400,000,000  31% 47% 
2023 $14,620,800,000  $11,870,000,000  $12,320,800,000  $2,300,000,000  11% 16% 
2024 $15,945,020,000  $13,050,000,000  $13,045,020,000  $2,900,000,000  6% 9% 
2025 $17,004,820,000  $14,000,000,000  $13,754,820,000  $3,250,000,000  5% 7% 
2026 $17,939,490,000  $14,800,000,000  $14,539,490,000  $3,400,000,000  6% 5% 

FABBS has endorsed the National Science Foundation for the Future Act, passed by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Tuesday June 15. This bipartisan legislation was crafted carefully and with extensive input from the scientific community and reflects the need for substantial long-term investments in curiosity-inspired basic research.  

Meanwhile, last month, President Biden released his Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request to Congress, which calls for a 20 percent increase in NSF funding. The President has also called for an investment of at least $50 billion in NSF as part of a $180 billion research and development initiative in his infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan 

The science advocacy community is grateful for the bipartisan enthusiasm for research funding from the White House and both chambers of Congress and optimistic about the future of the NSF and U.S. investment in basic research. Nevertheless, the appropriations process will ultimately determine spending levels for fiscal year 2022. FABBS has joined the scientific community in calling for ample resources to be allocated to the Appropriations Subcommittees overseeing the National Science Foundation. Despite broad support for NSF, insufficient resources may lead lawmakers to prioritize other areas.   

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