Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, signs the Chips and Science Act at a ceremony last week. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty
The US National Science Foundation and other research firms could see major infusions of cash, thanks to the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, passed by Congress last week. Two years in the making, this groundbreaking legislation promises one of the largest funding increases in years for science. But it remains unclear whether Congress will eventually deliver the money pledged.
The legislation aims to boost domestic production of semiconductors – or chips – that are critical to electronics. Currently, the United States produces only 12% of the world’s chips, and Congress has vowed to reduce reliance on other countries to improve national security and grow the domestic labor market.
CHIPS and Science authorizes the billion-dollar budget increases over the next five years to federal research agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. By investing in these agencies, lawmakers aim to promote scientific and technological innovation in the United States.
When Congress approved CHIPS and Science, it felt like “a great breath of fresh air,” said Deborah Altenburg, associate vice president for research policy and government affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in Washington DC. But, she adds, “It’s just one step, too.”
Most raises represent authorizations to spend a certain amount – not budget appropriations, which provide funding. So every year Congress will have to decide whether to deliver the promised amounts as it approves credit bills that determine annual spending for the federal agencies.
Beyond basic research
CHIPS and Science grants the NSF one of the largest cash advances it has seen in its 72-year history. The bill authorizes the agency to spend $81 billion through fiscal year 2027, roughly doubling its budget. See the article : Investment in Israel High-Tech Startups Plummet by 31% in Q2. “The bill shows tremendous support not only for science, but also for NSF and our mission,” said Amanda Hallberg Greenwell, chief of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs at the NSF in Alexandria, Virginia.
A quarter of the total amount will support a department the agency set up this year: the Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Directorate (TIP). TIP, one of eight directorates in the NSF, aims to accelerate the process of moving certain technologies, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, from the lab to the market. It marks a commitment to applied science at an agency that has traditionally focused on basic science.
Ultimately, TIP will help bridge the “valley of death” that separates basic research from the applications it produces, said Tobin Smith, senior vice president for science policy and global affairs at the Association of American Universities in Washington DC.
The remaining $61 billion going to the NSF will support core activities including expanding basic research, funding science education and expanding research capabilities. It will build research capacity through grants to institutions that primarily serve students who are underrepresented in science and will increase investment in academic institutions in states and territories that receive less federal research funding.
Likewise, the DOE will receive nearly $70 billion, most of which will go to its Office of Science. The funding will support areas of the natural sciences – such as fusion and nuclear physics – in national labs, universities and private companies. Like the NSF, the agency will increase awards to colleges and universities in geographic locations with minimal federal research funding.
The path to the current CHIPS and Science Act began in 2020, when a version was introduced as the Endless Frontier Act. To see also : Live poster session returns today on Biomedical Science Research Day. It proposed increasing the NSF budget to $100 billion over five years to fund a new technology directorate to compete with China.
“Historically, the US has been very strong in basic research, largely driven by the NSF,” said Jacob Feldgoise, a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington DC think tank. “But in recent decades, we have lagged [behind] China when it comes to translating that research into commercial products that make money and drive economic growth.”
But the bill came in for criticism, in part because it funneled so much applied science money into the NSF, and some scientists feared basic research would suffer. In 2021, the Senate agreed to a smaller budget increase for the NSF, along with money for other agencies.
Earlier this year, the House passed several legislation called the America COMPETES Act, which aimed to improve domestic science and technology to solve challenges such as climate change and social inequality, as well as increase competitiveness.
The final bill reflects the goals of both pieces of legislation and has won support from both Democrats and Republicans. “This has been passed on on a bipartisan basis at a time when there isn’t much agreement in Washington,” Altenburg said. “So that’s a really big problem.”