Congress must act now to ensure America remains a global leader
The swift development of the Covid-19 vaccine—a life-saving achievement for the ages—is a clear and present reminder of the importance of investing in science and technology. Resources allocated years ago made the creation of the mRNA vaccine possible. Similarly, investments today will ensure the U.S. is prepared for future crises and capable of competing with our global rivals in everything from advanced computing to addressing climate disruptions in the years ahead.
Lawmakers should keep this lesson in mind as they turn their attention to the 2022 appropriations process, which will set government spending and priorities for next year and years to come. Increasing funding for research and development will strengthen the foundations of American science and technology, and keep us globally competitive for generations.
The new infrastructure law, signed by President Biden in November, allocated $30 billion for science and technology, with a particular focus on spending on clean energy and climate change mitigation strategies. This investment is an important first step in boosting federal support for science and technology, but more work is needed.
Fortunately, policymakers have a strong foundation to build upon as they seek to identify research and development programs to launch or grow. Earlier this year, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act and the House National Science Foundation for the Future Act, each with bipartisan support. These two bills, along with the draft reconciliation bill, can serve as a blueprint for expanding funding in science and technology.
While the proposed spending is significant, it is still not enough to ensure the U.S. is ready to compete on the global stage to win the innovations of tomorrow. In fact, the Science & Technology Action Committee’s analysis finds the U.S. needs to double its investment in science and technology by 2026 to succeed in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Failing to act now and boost spending on science and technology will cede STEM leadership to other countries — particularly China. Policymakers now have a unique opportunity to build on the progress made through the infrastructure law and ensure America remains a global leader in STEM for a generation.
This paper highlights investments made in the infrastructure package, those that were under consideration in the reconciliation bill, and those proposed in the appropriations bill in key priority areas: climate change, pandemic preparedness and STEM education. The larger dollar figures encompass broader investments in broadband, transpiration, and science and technology-related research and infrastructure.
The infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden signed in November, includes funding provisions to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, launch clean energy projects and strengthen STEM education.
Climate Change/Clean Energy
Clean Hydrogen ($9 Billion): The bipartisan infrastructure bill authorizes and appropriates $9.5 billion for clean hydrogen, including $8 billion to establish four clean hydrogen hubs, networks of clean hydrogen producers and consumers across the country. [i]
Carbon Capture ($10 Billion): The infrastructure spending package directs $10 billion in spending on carbon capture and sequestration projects. Of the $10 billion, $3.5 billion was appropriated to direct air capture hubs that will remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, compared to the current generation of technology that sequesters CO2 from power plants and manufacturing facilities.[ii]
Advanced Nuclear Reactors ($12 Billion): Lawmakers approved $12 billion for nuclear energy with the passage of the infrastructure bill. $6 billion was appropriated towards nuclear facilities under threat of closure to ensure the low-emission energy sources can stay online. The remaining $6 billion will fund microreactors, which have many advantages in addition to their small physical footprints. Microreactors can easily accommodate spikes in demand on the grid and have distinct safeguards compared to current large-scale reactors.[iii]
Although the bulk of the infrastructure bill focuses on spending for physical structures, it does direct some expenditures on education.
Tech Training Centers ($10 million): The infrastructure bill appropriates $10 million for higher education institutions to build centers focused on training building technicians and engineers on modern technology.
Workforce Development: The new law establishes the 21st Century Energy Workforce Advisory Board, which will advise the Department of Energy on building a skilled energy workforce.[iv]
BUILD BACK BETTER RECONCILIATION BILL
Drafts of the reconciliation bill included bipartisan measures to support climate change and pandemic preparedness.
Climate Change/Clean Energy
The House bill included hundreds of billions of dollars to limit future greenhouse gas emissions, increase clean energy options and build climate-resilient communities.
Deployment of Low-Emissions Tech ($29 billion): The House bill included $29 billion to install low-emissions infrastructure nationwide, focusing on low-income and disadvantaged communities. Of $29 billion, $20 billion would go towards projects that leverage investment from the private sector, $7 billion for states and localities to deploy low-emissions technology in underserved communities and $2 billion for zero-emissions charging infrastructure, such as electric charging stations.[v]
Tax Credits for Low-Emissions Energy and Carbon Capture: The House language included tax credits to encourage companies to invest in carbon capture and sequestration, clean hydrogen nuclear energy and sustainable aviation fuels, among other priorities.[vi]
Climate Resilience ($6.7 billion): The bill contained billions of dollars of spending on climate resiliency projects, such as $2 billion for rural rental housing, $4.28 billion for employment and training in climate resiliency jobs and $441 million for tribal climate adaptation. [vii]
The draft House legislation included $3 billion in funding to plan for a future pandemic.[viii]
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ($1.4 billion): The CDC would have received $1.4 billion under this proposal, with funds going towards improving and enhancing testing and response capabilities and modernizing facilities.[ix]
Preparedness and Response ($1.3 billion): An additional $1.3 billion would have been allocated to expand global vaccine production capacity, strengthen the medical supply chain and purchase personal protective equipment for the National Strategic Stockpile.[x]
Our nation’s science and tech leadership will be determined by the next generation of scientists, engineers and skilled technical workers. The House Build Back Better draft would have allocated billions in funding to increase and enhance opportunities for these students.
National Science Foundation ($3.5 billion): The National Science Foundation, which funds nearly a third of basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities,[xi] would have received $668 million for new and existing research awards, scholarships and fellowships, and $400 million for renovation of training facilities and mid-scale research infrastructure.
Minority-Serving Higher Education and Expanded R&D Capacity ($4.5 billion): The bill provided substantial funding to improve research capacity and R&D infrastructure at historically black colleges, tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions. This includes $3 billion for a Department of Ed. grant program to allow the maintenance of existing facilities, construction of new labs, faculty and researcher hiring, and establishment of new research centers. Specifically, USDA would have received $1.1 billion for construction and modernization of agricultural research facilities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) scholarships, National Science Foundation would have received $300 million to support research capacity and facilities, and the National Institutes of Health would have received $75 million.
Funding for Medical Students: Policymakers were considering including additional funding for medical school scholarships and fellowships, as well as for graduate medical education at teaching health centers and children’s and veteran’s hospitals in the Build Back Better Act.[xii]
The FY 2022 appropriations bills produced by the House would set federal R&D spending at an estimated $169 billion. [xiii]The Senate proposal, which so far is strictly a Democratic bill and unlikely to reflect the final package, would set federal R&D spending at an estimated $171 billion. Both numbers come in slightly below the $172 billion requested by the White House.[xv][xiv]
A new analysis published by AAAS suggests that the current slate of legislation could yield basic and applied research increases of $9 billion, representing the largest annual boost for federal research funding in several years as well as the largest increase for nondefense R&D overall since the space race.[xv]
Multiple agencies and programs committed to monitoring climate change and mitigating its effects would receive significant increases in the proposed 2022 budgets.
Carbon Capture: Funding for carbon capture and sequestration projects would increase by $140 million to $368 million with the Biden administration’s plan. The House and Senate would fund the program at $336 million and $382 million, respectively.
High-Potential Research: ARPA-E, an agency modeled after DARPA that partners with outside groups on high-potential energy projects, would see its funding increase 17% to $500 million under plans endorsed by President Biden and the Senate, and 40.5% to $600 million with the House plan.
Climate Research: NASA Earth Science, which oversees satellite missions providing data on climate change and severe weather, would receive 12.5% more funding under proposals from the House and President Biden, bringing its total budget to $2.25 billion. Under the Senate appropriations plan, the program would receive $2.23 billion, an 11.5% increase. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate research budget would increase 62.6% under the President’s proposed budget to $295 million. The House proposal recommends a 40% boost to $253 million and the Senate 29% to $233 million.
Climate Resiliency: The U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources program, which monitors and assesses waterways nationwide, would see a $25-35 million (10-13%) increase under the proposals being considered.
Health, Healthcare and Pandemic Preparedness
Lawmakers are weighing several plans for pandemic preparedness, as well as other issues.
National Institutes of Health: President Biden requested $52 billion for the National Institutes of Health, a 21% increase to its budget, while the House passed a $49 billion appropriation, which includes funding for ARPA-H, and the Senate $48 billion, with opioid-related research and the study of climate impacts on human health among the major priorities. All three proposals include funding for ARPA-H, a new agency that would focus on biomedical research.
CDC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would have its budget increased 22% (to $9.5 billion) under President Biden’s request, 35% under the House proposal (to $10.5 billion) and 23.8% under the Senate’s plan ($9.7 billion).
Biomedical Threats: Each proposal allocates $823 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a 38% increase over 2021 levels. BARDA oversees pandemic preparedness and other biomedical threats.
National Science Foundation Education Program: The President requested $1.28 billion for National Science Foundation’s education program, which funds research activities for teachers at all levels and fellowships and scholarships for advanced students. The House allocated $1.27 billion for the program, a 32% increase over the previous year, and the Senate $1.1 billion, a 13.6% increase.
Making science and technology investments a priority in 2022 will help the country to achieve many of its critical, long-term goals, including climate change and pandemic preparedness, developing the next generation of leaders and more. Crucially, it also ensures the U.S. will be prepared to compete with other nations, such as China, that are aggressively increasing government investment in science and technology.
Making this a 2022 focus isn’t enough though. If the current trajectory is sustained, federal R&D could reach an estimated $232 billion by 2026, or an estimated .84% of GDP. While aggressive, this growth would nevertheless fall $155 billion short of the funds the Science and Technology Action Committee estimates will be needed in 2026 to ensure American global competitiveness.
The Action Committee’s projections indicate that federal science and technology spending must reach 1.4% of GDP, roughly double what it is now, for the U.S. to remain a global leader.
Other nations continue to invest heavily in science and technology. Policymakers must act now to ensure American strength for generations to come.
[xiii] https://www.aaas.org/news/fy-2022-rd-appropriations-dashboard(Note: The AAAS dashboard provided all the figures for this section.)