Issue 13 (June 22)


Senate Passes Sweeping U.S. Competitiveness Legislation, Includes Endless Frontier Act

On June 8, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) (S. 1260). The 2,300 page bill was originally introduced in the spring as the Endless Frontier Act, which sought to shore up U.S. leadership in key technology areas—specifically with respect to China—and to enhance “tech transfer” for scientific research funded by the federal government. Since then, hundreds of amendments have been offered, resulting in a substantially altered package that now incorporates several additional, far-reaching bills.

The original proposal authorized $100 billion over five years specifically for a new Technology and Innovation Directorate at the National Science Foundation. The Senate-passed version now includes a total of $29 billion over five years for the directorate and also includes authorized funding increases for NSF’s budget overall (the original bill only included funding for the new directorate, which concerned many in the research community). The substantial decrease in funding to the proposed directorate is the result of several successful amendments seeking to more widely distribute funding to other federal agencies with missions related to key technological advancement, particularly the Department of Energy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Department of Defense. The massive USICA bill now includes provisions pertaining to NSF, DOE, DOD, Department of Education, Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and others.

The NSF provisions of the USICA attempt to bridge some of the divide between the Senate proposal and the NSF for the Future Act that is currently workings its way through the House (see related article). For example, the amended Senate bill includes similar language related to research capacity building for “developing universities,” including minority-serving institutions, promoting STEM education in rural areas, and supporting early-career researchers, among other provisions. However, the two bills remain far apart in their general handling of NSF funding and policy directions. It remains to be seen whether a conference between the House and Senate will be attempted or if another path forward will emerge.

COSSA will be producing an in-depth analysis of the two competing NSF bills. Check back for details.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Defense Secretary Proposes Closer DOD/University Connections Including More Social Science Research (April 21, 2008)

In celebration of COSSA’s 40th anniversary, we are diving into the decades of Washington Update archives to share articles from years past that resonate with today’s news.

“Too many mistakes have been made over the years because our government and military did not understand – or even seek to understand – the countries or cultures we were dealing with.” With those words in a speech to the Association of American Universities (AAU), Robert Gates, Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD), issued a call to academia to help the U.S. return, in Arthur Schlesinger’s words, “to the acceptance of eggheads and ideas” to meet present and future national security challenges.

Gates, a former President of Texas A&M University, indicated that it was time to enhance the Defense Department’s support for university research, much of it in the social and behavioral sciences. A proposed “Minerva Initiative” is under consideration at the Pentagon that would consist of a “consortia of universities that would promote research in specific areas” and serve as repositories of open-source documentary archives[…]

The Secretary admitted that the relationship between DOD and the social sciences and humanities “for decades has covered the spectrum from cooperative to hostile.” He made clear that the key principle of all components of the Minerva consortia “will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity.” There will be no room for “sensitive but unclassified” or other such restrictions, he pledged.

He also acknowledged that part of the difficult relations between the DOD and academe stems from the Department’s “not always doing a great job of explaining what we are doing in ways that are accessible to the uninitiated.” He commented on the current Human Terrain program, which has used anthropologists, economists, historians and sociologists to help understand the culture and societies of Iraq and Afghanistan during our current military efforts there. This program has been controversial and condemned by the American Anthropological Association. Gates defended the program and suggested it has helped initiate programs that are the “key to long-term success,” but not intuitive to a military establishment that “has long put a premium on firepower and technology.”[…]

Read more from this issue.

Eric Lander Active in First Few Weeks as OSTP Director; Community Awaits PCAST Appointments

In the first few weeks since his confirmation on May 28, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Eric Lander has been active in advocating for President Biden’s ambitious science policy agenda, most notably the proposal for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), the DARPA-like research agency proposed to be housed within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During the June 10-11 meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director of NIH, Lander presented a more thorough vision of ARPA-H’s role as a high risk, high reward vehicle to address specific societal questions. A recording of the presentation is available on the NIH website.

With Lander’s confirmation behind the Administration, the scientific community now awaits announcement of appointments to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). PCAST, which Lander will co-chair, is the nation’s highest-level advisory body related to science policy issues, advising the President and his Administration on all aspects of the STEM enterprise and ways to apply it to Administration priorities. The last Administration did not reconstitute and appointment members to PCAST until almost three years into its term. With President Biden’s laser focus on science and technology, it is expected that PCAST will be populated sometime this year. We will continue to report on new developments.

NSF Announces Research and Innovation Partnership with Canadian Counterpart

On June 15, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced its first formal partnership with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada, the major Canadian federal agency for funding natural science and engineering research. The partnership is stated to focus on emerging technologies as well as equity, diversity, and inclusion within the research enterprise. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, who has frequently cited partnerships as a priority for his tenure, stated “this partnership with our counterpart Canadian funding agency opens doorways to new possibilities for international collaboration between U.S. and Canadian researchers in areas of mutual interest and national investment, such as AI and quantum.” More information is available on the NSF website.

Department of Education Solicits Comments on New School Pulse Survey

The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has requested emergency Office of Management and Budget (OMB) clearance to conduct a School Pulse Survey that will produce information on how schools, students, and educators are responding in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The survey, which COSSA and other stakeholders have advocated for, is intended to comply with President Biden’s day-one executive order on school reopening, which requires the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), NCES’s home agency, to facilitate “the collection of data necessary to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning.” NCES began collecting this information using the existing sample for the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) 2021 School Survey, but now proposes to continue the effort as a standalone activity. This will allow NCES to continue to collect information on topics such as instructional mode offered; enrollment counts of subgroups of students using various instructional modes; learning loss mitigation strategies; safe and healthy school mitigation strategies; special education services; use of technology; use of federal relief funds; and information on staffing.

Because this data is considered both time-sensitive and high-priority, IES is seeking an abbreviated emergency clearance process before beginning preliminary activities. However, the public has until July 12 to comment on the proposal. More information is available in the Federal Register notice. NCES will also release an additional request for public comment concurrent with data collection for the survey.

New National Academies Guidance Offers Resources for Serving Homeless Communities During Disasters and COVID-19

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN) (see COSSA’s previous coverage) has published new guidance on Addressing Disaster Vulnerability Among Homeless Populations During COVID-19. The guidance is intended to help policymakers support homeless populations before, during, and after a disaster in the context of COVID-19. According to the guidance, “Understanding the unique challenges of disaster preparedness among homeless communities and the strain on support services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is critical for effectively planning for and carrying out emergency services and sheltering for homeless populations in the context of COVID-19 and disasters.” The new resource is available as an interactive web tool and as a report on the National Academies website.

AAPSS Hosting Event on Cutting Child Poverty

The American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS) and Spotlight on Poverty & Opportunity will host a virtual discussion titled “Opportunities to Cut Child Poverty: Understanding the Data and Evidence” on Thursday, June 24 at 2:00 pm ET. The webinar will focus on what is already known about child poverty and how we know it, racial disparities in poverty levels, and what policies and investments can bring us closer to the goal of ending this problem. The speakers will also address current federal policy and proposed legislation, and the potential impact on child poverty in the U.S. More information is available here.

House Science Committee Advances NSF Legislation

On June 15, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee advanced the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Future Act (H.R. 2225). The next stop for the legislation is consideration by the full House of Representatives, which as of this writing has not been scheduled.

As previously reported, the NSF for the Future Act is sweeping legislation to reauthorization NSF through 2026. Most notably, the bill includes the establishment of a new research directorate, the Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions. COSSA issued a statement in support of the NSF for the Future Act on May 7, applauding the bill for its comprehensive approach to strengthening NSF, enhancing its budget, and preserving its role as the premier U.S. basic science agency.

The bill as advanced by the Committee includes several changes from the version originally introduced earlier in the spring, most notably to the levels of authorized funding. Amendments were passed increasing funding for the agency overall as well as altering the budget of the new directorate. For example, the original bill proposed that the budget of the new Science and Engineering Solutions (SES) Directorate grow to 33 percent of NSF’s total research budget by FY 2026; the revision slows the growth of the new directorate to 23 percent of total NSF research expenditures. This welcomed change would allow for additional funds to be authorized for other activities, including STEM education.

Additional provisions were added to address ongoing concerns about research security, especially with respect to China. New provisions include a prohibition on “malign federal talent recruitment programs,” development of research security training modules for federal grantees, and increased disclosure from universities around researchers’ foreign appointments, employment, and other activities.

Also of note, the House bill now includes the creation of a National Secure Data Service within NSF’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. The bill would authorize $9 million to establish a demonstration project to develop, refine, and test models to inform the creation of government-wide data linkage and access infrastructure for statistical activities, as recommended by the U.S. Commission on Evidence Based Policy Making.

Several additional provisions were added related to STEM education, fostering a more diverse research enterprise, and authorization of research in areas of particular interest to Committee members, such as agriculture, clean water, wildfires, and others.

The latest version of the NSF for the Future Act can be viewed on the Committee website here along with all of the passed amendments. COSSA will continue to report on the progress of H.R. 2225 and other NSF-related legislation (see related article).

HELP Committee Considers Higher Ed Reopening

On June 17, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) held a hearing to discuss the previous response and aid provided to institutions of higher education in light of COVID-19 and what these schools require moving forward to safely return to campus. The committee heard testimony from Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, Vice Provost of Enrollment Management at UCLA; Dr. Reynold Verret, President of Xavier University of Louisiana; Anthony Harris, a student at Baldwin Wallace University; and Madeline Pumariega, President of Miami Dade College.

Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) both were in agreement that it is essential for students to get back to school safely come fall. Senator Murray acknowledged how federal aid has been helpful through the pandemic in allowing students all over the country to continue their education. Senator Burr was quick to bring up concerns of a lack of accountability within higher education institutions when it comes to receiving aid from the government. It was apparent across all witness testimonies that the end of COVID-19 will not mean that student’s need for relief will end as their needs may change but they will not disappear.

Much discussion was dedicated to prior COVID-19 relief legislation such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (see previous COSSA analysis for more details). Of particular note, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) was cited numerous times as being invaluable for students and faculty at higher education institutions across the country. The witnesses who act as school administrators were asked specifically how they used HEERF funds to support students who have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. This led to a discussion of the importance of how funds have been allocated to help students not only gain access to the financial help they needed, but also the mental health services that became necessary during the pandemic.

Witnesses emphasized the importance of transparency and communication when it came to providing students, parents, and faculty members with information regarding guidelines and vaccines. There seemed to be a broad consensus from both Democrats and Republicans of the committee as well as panelists that it is not unreasonable to require vaccines in order to have a smooth and safe transition back to in-person instruction. While conversation shifted from federal aid to vaccine requirements, a common theme of the hearing revolved around the need to continue this monetary support past the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The witnesses’ testimonies and a full recording of the hearing are available on the HELP Committee website.

This article was contributed by COSSA’s summer intern, Lillian Chmielewska of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.


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