Lawmakers look to retool NSF for tech

Seal of The National Science Foundation Shutterstock image credit: JHVEPhoto 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is looking to add a technology-focused directorate to the National Science Foundation -- funded with $100 billion over five years -- to accelerate research into artificial intelligence, supercomputing, robotics, quantum computing, cybersecurity and more.

The agency would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation under legislation announced May 27, and a new deputy director would be added to oversee technology research in 10 areas.

In addition to academic research, the new technology directorate would support scholarships to students from undergraduate to postdoctoral levels, creating testing and manufacturing facilities, developing technology transfer acceleration programs and oversee 10 regional technology hubs with an eye to creating centers of research, development and manufacture in key technologies. The regional hubs program would be funded with an additional $10 billion on top of the funding for the planned technology directorate.

Currently, NSF is funded at $8.2 billion, and the Trump Administration was looking to cut 5% of that in its 2021 budget proposal, bringing the agency to $7.7 billion. While the 2021 plans include ramping up funding for programs supporting AI and quantum computing, the new bill proposes a dramatic escalation in tech research spending.

The bill, the Endless Frontier Act, was proposed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.).

The legislation and the $110 billion price tag are part of a push to try to keep pace with China as a government sponsor of technology research.

"The country that wins the race in key technologies -- such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, advanced communications, and advanced manufacturing -- will be the superpower of the future," the bill states.

"Particularly at a moment when so many folks are in need of stable employment, Congress should do everything in our power to develop sustainable industries across our country that will be here to stay, or else risk losing our competitive edge to China," Khanna said in a statement.

Young warned that China is looking to leverage its management of the COVID-19 pandemic into a position of global supremacy, and the U.S. risks being left behind. "Instead of allowing Beijing to threaten our values and interests, now is the time for America to invest in ourselves and give the world a clear alternative," Young said.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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