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Opinion: There’s still a chance to deliver historic science funding in 2022 

January 22, 2022 | Keith R. Yamamoto and Mary Wooley

BY KEITH R. YAMAMOTO AND MARY WOOLLEY, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS  — Originally Published in The Hill on 01/07/22 03:31 PM EST

As Congressional leaders and President Biden restart the process of enacting a domestic agenda that can pass a divided Congress, focusing on our nation’s science and technology future — a set of critical investments and related policies that enjoy broad bipartisan support — is a good place to start. In fact, it could be an opportunity to use an old-fashioned, but effective legislative strategy: the bipartisan appropriations process.  

Without question, there’s no shortage of support for science and technology on both sides of the aisle but over the years, that support has failed to translate into a national priority. Until now. The stark challenges of COVID-19, climate change and slipping global competitiveness have created a once-in-a-generation course correction opportunity for U.S. science and technology investment.    

Next year’s appropriations process offers a chance for affirmative investments in research and development. These investments will serve as building blocks to strengthen the foundations of American science and technology and help keep us globally competitive for generations. And these popular provisions stand a good chance of bringing both parties to the negotiating table.  

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Biden signed into law in November, allocated $30 billion for clean energy and climate change mitigation strategies — an example of how the two parties can work together to address our biggest challenges through science and technology. Swift completion of this year’s appropriations process, coupled with a solid commitment to building upon these science and technology investments next year will put us on track toward global competitiveness and new economic opportunities for future generations.    

Fortunately, Congress has already begun the hard work of identifying and developing science and technology programs in need of funding. The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act and the National Science Foundation for the Future Act passed the Senate and House, respectively, with bipartisan support. Further, the draft reconciliation bill includes targeted research and development provisions that reflect the bipartisan interest in bolstering our nation’s science and technology capabilities and, as one-time investments, could be used to jumpstart a sustained strengthening of our nation’s science and technology capacity through the appropriations process. We must not let this moment slip away.   

A top priority for lawmakers across the political spectrum is an investment in our nation’s most valuable and powerful commodity — our people. Specifically, the next generation of scientists, engineers and skilled technical workers, whose work will lead the attack on the twin threats of climate change and pandemic, as well as hazards we can’t even imagine now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the coming decade, the United States will require one million more STEM professionals than we’re currently projected to produce.   

The infrastructure bill laid the groundwork for expenditures on STEM education, including workforce development with the creation of the 21st Century Energy Workforce Advisory Board, as well as funds for technology training centers at colleges and universities. It was an excellent start‚ but still, more is necessary. We must build and enhance opportunities for STEM students.    

Increasing allocations to The National Science Foundation, which funds nearly a third of basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities, would simultaneously support vital research in areas ranging from the environment to medicine while also developing the next generation of scientists and engineers.    

Improving research capacity and infrastructure at historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions would help to expand the STEM workforce and bring new voices and perspectives to science and technology. Opening these doors, now only slightly ajar, would ripple across communities and enhance the economic prospects of millions.   

The costs of not increasing spending on science and technology are stark. We’re losing ground and quickly ceding our competitive advantage to other nations. For decades, the U.S. has been on a downward trend in federal research and development investment relative to our GDP, while other nations — particularly China — are rapidly ascending. If we are to maintain our global leadership position, federal science and technology spending must reach at least 1.4 percent of GDP within five years, roughly double what it is now, according to Science and Technology Action Committee projections. Bolstering America’s position on the world stage is something all policymakers — no matter their party — can get behind.    

It’s time for Congress to act decisively and boldly on a science agenda and move forward with bipartisan focus. It’s possible that the urgent need for investment combined with bipartisan support for many of these programs could catalyze at least a partial return to a predictable annual appropriations cycle. We certainly hope so. We must put science and technology at the top of the political agenda this year. What happens next will define America’s future. This is not hyperbole. It’s science.   

Keith R. Yamamoto (@kryamamaoto) is the vice chancellor for science policy and strategy at the University of California, San Francisco. Mary Woolley (@MaryWoolleyRA) is the president and CEO of Research America. They are two co-chairs of the Science & Technology Action Committee.

The Science & Technology Action Committee (STAC) is a group of 25 non-profit, academic, foundation, and corporate leaders working to dramatically strengthen U.S. science and technology. The Committee is co-chaired by: Bill Novelli, Professor Emeritus and founder of Business for Impact at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP, Sudip Parikh, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Executive Publisher of the Science Family of Journals, Mary Woolley, President & CEO of Research!America, and Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at UCSF and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).