NSF Establishes New Technology Directorate
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the creation of its first new research directorate in over 30 years, the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP). The new Directorate will support “use-inspired” research with the goal of “fostering innovation and technology ecosystems, establishing translation pathways, and partnering across sectors to engage the nation’s diverse talent.” In addition to new investments, the directorate will transfer several existing NSF programs into TIP, including the NSF Lab-to-Market Platform comprising the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps), Partnerships for Innovation, and America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF , as well as the NSF Convergence Accelerator. Dr. Erwin Gianchandani, who has been leading planning efforts for TIP at NSF and was previously deputy assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), was named the inaugural Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships.
A major question still to be answered as the new directorate finds its footing is at what level it will be funded and how that funding will affect NSF’s other research directorates, including the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE). The directorate was originally proposed in the Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request (see COSSA’s analysis for more details) and endorsed in Congress’s FY 2022 appropriation package. Initial proposals called for major new investments in NSF to support TIP’s activities. However, Congress did not pass dedicated funding for the new entity for FY 2022, instead directing NSF to fund it within the amounts appropriated to the Research and Related Agencies (R&RA) account—the budget line for existing NSF directorates, including SBE—which received a smaller than anticipated increase in FY 2022.
It is important to note, though, that the report accompanying the omnibus maintains longstanding language that “NSF is directed to allocate no less than the fiscal year 2021 enacted levels to maintain its core research levels…” This language, which first appeared several years ago when social science funding was being singled out for cuts, is intended to safeguard other programs within R&RA from becoming the bank for new activities. However, it remains to be seen how this language will be interpreted by the agency given the smaller final appropriation.
Further complicating the picture are ongoing negotiations in Congress over innovation and competitiveness legislation that will incorporate the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and the House’s America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521). Both bills called for the establishment of a new directorate but differed in their overall approaches. It is unclear whether or to what extent any enacted legislation resulting from these negotiations will have on the direction of the TIP directorate.