Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Fact Check

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President Joe Biden is calling for substantial investments in research as part of his plan to “build back better” from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Official White House photo/Lawrence Jackson

President Joe Biden proposes spending $250 billion on the U.S. research enterprise over the next several years as part of a plan to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, create jobs, and outinnovate the rest of the world.

A fact sheet issued in advance of Biden’s speech today in Pittsburgh names a host of federal research agencies that would receive pieces of that largesse but provides few details. It targets $180 billion specifically for “R&D and the technologies of the future,” along with an additional $70 billion in research-related areas ranging from combating pandemics to bolstering innovation in rural areas. Several of the new programs appear to dovetail with legislation having similar goals that has recently been introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate, often with bipartisan support.

ScienceInsider will be following this story. Here are highlights of what we know so far about the president’s plan.

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $50 billion, some of which would go to a new technology directorate. NSF’s current budget is $8.5 billion, and the fact sheet doesn’t specify a length of time for the new investment. By comparison, last week a bipartisan group of legislators on the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation calling for NSF to receive $72 billion over the next 5 years, with $13 billion of that going to a new directorate dubbed Science and Engineering Solutions. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–NY) introduced the Endless Frontier Act, which would give NSF $100 billion over 5 years and create a technology directorate. A new version, also with bipartisan support, is expected to be introduced next month.
  • Some $40 billion would be spent to upgrade the nation’s research facilities, presumably both federal labs and those at universities around the country. Although the proposal refers to facilities supported by several federal agencies, the only one mentioned by name is the Department of Energy, which operates a network of 17 national laboratories. One-half of the money would go to minority-serving institutions, including the more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Biden also calls for a new national climate research lab “affiliated with an HBCU.”
  • Minority-serving institutions would also get $10 billion more in research dollars, and an additional $15 billion for up to 200 “centers of excellence.” The centers would serve both as “incubators” for startup companies and as a place to train students across all fields of science and engineering, including fellowships for graduate students.
  • Some $35 billion would be spent to develop technologies “that address the climate crisis and position the United States as the global leader in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs.” Some $15 billion would go to climate-related demonstration projects, ranging from carbon capture to quantum computing, and $5 billion specifically for research. The plan also calls for a new entity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate, presumably within the Department of Energy.
  • Some $30 billion in Biden’s plan represents “additional funding for R&D that spurs innovation and job creation, including in rural areas.” This investment appears to have goals similar to a bill introduced last week by two leading Democratic senators, Dick Durbin (IL) and Chris Coons (DE), that would authorize a multibillion-dollar program at NSF for “innovation centers” located in metropolitan areas with fewer than 500,000 people. The bill, which has a House counterpart, would specifically exclude nine “established tech hubs,” a reference to Silicon Valley; Boston; Austin, Texas; and other high-tech powerhouses.
  • The $1-billion-a-year National Institute of Standards and Technology would receive $14 billion over an unspecified time to further its mission. In particular, the plan asks the Department of Commerce agency to use the money to “bring together industry, academia, and government to advance technologies and capabilities critical to future competitiveness.” Biden would also quadruple the size of the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships, a $150 million program that serves small and medium-size companies making a range of high-tech products.

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