The US Congress has passed an innovation bill that would allow major increases in science funding for agencies. President Joe Biden plans to sign the bill on Aug. 9.
The CHIPS and Science legislation identifies major research areas that US funding agencies should focus on:
▸ Artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, and related advances
▸ High-performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware and software
▸ Quantum information science and technology
▸ Robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing
▸ Prevention or mitigation of natural and human-made disasters
▸ Advanced communications and immersive technologies
▸ Biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology
▸ Data storage, data management, and cybersecurity
▸ Advanced energy and industrial efficiency technologies
▸ Advanced materials science and related manufacturing technologies
Source: CHIPS and Science Act.
A relatively rare reset of basic science funding and policy, the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act is a combination of legislation that Congress and the science community have worked on for several years. It is aimed at improving US research competitiveness, primarily to keep up with China, which has vastly expanded its science and technology funding in recent years.
The bill, also called CHIPS+, would authorize major funding increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, as well as for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. But authorizing funding increases is not the same as actually providing the money—Congress must do that as part of its annual budgeting process.
CHIPS+ also includes policy guidance for agencies on issues as varied as helium shortages and sexual harassment. A large part of the bill also provides support for expanding the semiconductor industry in the US.
The legislation “will provide vital support for the chemistry community over the next several years,” says Anthony Pitagno, senior director of the American Chemical Society’s Office of Government Affairs, which has been lobbying for the legislation for several years. (ACS publishes C&EN.)
In particular, Pitagno points to support in CHIPS+ for sustainable chemistry initiatives at the NSF, NIST, and the DOE; helium conservation research at the NSF and DOE; and clean-energy technology-transfer efforts from DOE labs.
The NSF was the focus of many pieces of the bill. The legislation supports more than doubling the NSF’s current budget, from $9 billion in 2022 to $19 billion by 2027, including a 50% increase in the agency’s core research grants. The bill also would authorize up to $20 billion over 5 years to fund a new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships directorate. CHIPS+ also would increase support for the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program, which provides research support to traditionally underfunded regions of the US.
In STEM education, the bill would authorize increased investment in what the what the US identifies as Minority Serving Institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities. It also would support research on which education efforts work in rural schools and increases funding for training students in critical fields.
In addition, CHIPS+ would authorize an increase of $4 billion in funding over the next 5 years for NIST, which has a 2022 budget of $1.2 billion. That includes increases for NIST’s work to develop standards for emerging industries. It also includes a boost for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which supports R&D for small and medium businesses.
The DOE Office of Science’s budget would increase by 50% under funding authorized by the new bill. Chemistry is at the heart of what much of that funding would be spent on, including sustainable chemistry, six computational materials and chemical science R&D centers, and a materials research database.
Many universities had been concerned that the bill’s previous iterations would crack down on research security. Some of the most concerning provisions about reporting foreign funding do not appear in the bill. But it does have several measures that would impact researchers, including mandatory research security training and prohibitions on participation in foreign talent recruitment programs from countries of concern to the US, including China and Russia. It also directs the NSF to create an office focused on research security and allows agencies to ask for more detail about any foreign funding that is reported.
More efforts to combat sexual harassment in science also made it into CHIPS+. For example, the bill tells the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to issue sexual harassment policy guidelines for agencies that award research funding. It also directs the OSTP to create an interagency working group to identify policies that could help combat sexual harassment. It says the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine should address sexual harassment in its guide on responsible conduct in research and do a follow-up to its 2018 sexual harassment report.
One piece that was not included in CHIPS+ was support for changes that would improve immigration opportunities for STEM students and graduates, which is a priority for many companies and universities. “As our competitor nations reform their immigration policies to better attract talent from across the globe, Congress should streamline the path to a green card for international students who earn STEM degrees so they can enhance American innovation, job creation, and economic growth after they’ve graduated,” Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, says in a statement.