During the first few months of the 117th Congress, there’s been a lot of action on science and technology policy, with implications for the United States’ security and global competitiveness. A flurry of activity in the last month alone reflects this reality, with no more prominent example than ongoing consideration of the Senate’s Endless Frontier Act and the House’s NSF for the Future Act. In addition to an update on these two proposals, this legislative roundup outlines more than a dozen new bills relevant to technology policy, particularly with respect to emerging tech, that were introduced in the last month. Enjoy the read!
The Endless Frontier Act and the NSF for the Future Act
The Senate continues its consideration of the Endless Frontier Act, introduced by Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Young (R-IN). Originally designed to establish a new National Science Foundation Technology Directorate and authorize $100 billion to support innovations in key emerging technology areas, the bill now tops out at more than 1400 pages, provides nearly $200 billion in funding and includes a host of new provisions related to the U.S. research and development ecosystem, funding for semiconductor manufacturing support, and research security. The new bill, the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, was offered in the form of a “substitute amendment” that, if passed, will replace the underlying Endless Frontier Act text. Major highlights include:
- $52 billion in emergency appropriations to support semiconductor manufacturing and research incentives authorized by the CHIPS for America Act;
- Incorporation of independent STEM workforce proposals such as the AI Scholarship-for-Service Act and the Rural STEM Education Act;
- A number of research security provisions, including:
- The establishment of an independent organization to provide research security support to nonprofit research institutions and small- and medium-sized businesses; and
- The Safeguarding American Innovation Act;
- Inclusion of the Strategic Competition Act, a bill approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that bolsters U.S. investment in international alliances, with a focus on fostering technology partnerships and countering malign Chinese political and economic influence;
- Adoption of provisions approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to catalog and expand AI adoption within U.S. government agencies;
- Authorization of sanctions against China for illicit cyber activities, technology transfer and economic espionage;
- Reporting requirements related to domestic shortfalls in critical technology items and China’s development of dual-use technologies;
- Reporting requirements for the National Institutes of Health and NIH-grantees to address concerns around foreign influence;
- Authorization of grants for STEM post-secondary and K-12 education programming.
On Tuesday, Senator Schumer filed a cloture motion, initiating the procedural process for teeing up a final vote on the bill. However, some Republicans have indicated their desire for more debate before a vote on final passage occurs.
For its part, the House Science Committee has steadily advanced its alternative proposal, the NSF for the Future Act. The bipartisan proposal would also seek to bolster NSF activities in technology areas that are core to U.S. competitiveness, but in a more measured way than the Senate bill. It would steadily increase NSF’s authorized appropriations to over $18 billion by Fiscal Year 2026, more than doubling its funding relative to current levels. The bill also establishes a new directorate to support translating basic research into commercial applications and creates a research security and policy office to coordinate research security efforts across NSF and conduct threat-related outreach to academia and the private sector.
In addition to ongoing activity related to the Endless Frontier Act and NSF for the Future Act, members in both chambers have introduced more than a dozen new bills with implications for the U.S. S&T enterprise, including proposals on international technology standards, research security, immigration and the adoption of AI technology.
S. 1498, Technology Standards Task Force Act
On April 29, Senators Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Portman (R-OH) introduced the Technology Standards Task Force Act to ensure U.S. leadership in the emerging technology standards-setting process. The bipartisan bill directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an Emerging Technology Standards-Setting Task Force charged with developing a strategy for promoting the development of international standards consistent with U.S. security and values.
S. 1419, Protecting Critical Boards and Electronics Through Transparency and Enduring Reinvestment (PCBETTER) Act
On April 28, Senator Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Protecting Critical Boards and Electronics Through Transparency and Enduring Reinvestment (PCBETTER) Act, to address concerns related to printed circuit board security vulnerabilities. The bill establishes an “Electronics Supply Chain Fund” to support the “construction, expansion or modernization of facilities to develop or manufacture semiconductors, microelectronics, advanced electronic packaging, and printed circuit boards.” The bill also requires that providers of Department of Defense systems disclose whether any printed circuit boards in the systems were manufactured or assembled–either partially or entirely–in China, Russia, North Korea or Iran. Finally, the bill directs DOD to conduct security vulnerability testing of systems using printed circuit boards.
S. 1409, Stop Theft of Intellectual Property Act
On April 28, Senator Grassley (R-IA) introduced the Stop Theft of Intellectual Property Act, a bipartisan bill to make foreign nationals deportable or inadmissible if they are found to have violated laws related to export controls, economic espionage or the theft or misappropriation of trade secrets. The bill also requires the Homeland Security and Justice departments to report to Congress on individuals deemed to be inadmissible or deportable and the research institutions with which the individuals were associated.
H.R. 3012, The Higher Education Research Protection Act
On May 7, Representative Barr (R-KY) introduced the Higher Education Research Protection Act. This bill would establish 56 new special agent positions—one for each field office—within the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office of Private Sector tasked with investigating espionage and technology transfer operations targeting U.S. universities and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
S. 1565, Supporting STEM Learning Opportunities Act
On May 11, Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Capito (R-WV) introduced the Supporting STEM Learning Opportunities Act. The bipartisan bill authorizes $25 million for the National Science Foundation to award grants to nonprofit institutions serving K-12 students in order to support hands-on STEM learning opportunities. The bill stipulates that grants are to be prioritized for programs working with underserved populations.
H.R. 3136, Zero Foreign Influence in Education Act
On May 12, Representative Brooks (R-AL) introduced the Zero Foreign Influence in Education Act. This bill would amend provisions in the Higher Education Act of 1965 related to university reporting of foreign gifts. Specifically, the bill would required that universities report:
- All foreign gifts, regardless of dollar amount;
- The source of such gifts; and
- The department or project receiving foreign gifts that come with restrictions or conditions.
H.R. 3284, Next Generation Computing Research and Development Act
On May 17, Representative Obernolte (R-CA) introduced the Next Generation Computing Research and Development Act, to support advanced computing research at the Department of Energy. The bill directs DOE to establish a number of programs to promote computing breakthroughs, including programs to:
- Research, develop and demonstrate advanced computational capabilities relevant to developing new energy technologies;
- Develop computing systems with capabilities beyond exascale computing systems and maintain foundational research in mathematics and computer science relevant to the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning; and
- Support research on energy efficient computing technologies relevant to AI/ML.
The bill also directs DOE to establish partnerships between national labs and universities to support development of a computational science workforce and provide support to the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship Program.
On May 19, Representative Hartzler (R-MO) and Senator Cruz (R-TX) introduced the Protecting America from Spies Act. The bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to deem inadmissible any individual who is currently, or was previously, engaged in espionage and technology transfer activity. The INA currently only explicitly states that individuals thought likely to engage in future espionage are deemed inadmissible.
S. 1705, The Artificial Intelligence Capabilities and Transparency (AICT) Act
On May 19, Senators Heinrich (D-NM) and Portman (R-OH) introduced the Artificial Intelligence Capabilities and Transparency Act of 2021. Intended to implement recommendations from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence’s final report, the bill:
- Establishes a Chief Digital Recruiting Officer within the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence;
- Creates a pilot program for an AI Development and Prototype Fund to “support operational prototyping and speed the transition of AI-enabled applications;”
- Directs DOD to establish a plan for the development of a modern digital ecosystem to support the fielding of new AI technologies at the tactical level;
- Directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a process for certifying organizations deemed qualified to assess the civil liberties and civil rights implications of AI technologies; and
- Requires DOD and the intelligence community to establish criteria outlining when AI applications should undergo testing and assessment by NIST-designated organizations.
S. 1776, A bill to implement recommendations relating to military training on emerging technologies.
On May 20, Senators Portman (R-OH) and Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the Artificial Intelligence for the Military (AIM) Act. This bipartisan bill directs the Department of Defense to establish a program on AI and computational thinking in junior military officer training and incorporate programs on military-relevant emerging technologies into professional military education, and senior civilian and military leader training. The bill also directs DOD to establish a process for coding appropriate billets to fill with emerging technology-qualified officers and qualifying officers for such billets.
On May 20, Representative Gallagher (R-WI) and Senator Cotton (R-AR) introduced the Chinese Communist Party Influence Transparency Act. The Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) currently exempts individuals from registering with the U.S. government as foreign agents if they are engaging solely in the “furtherance of the bona bide trade or commerce of such foreign principal” or if they have separately registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. This bill would eliminate these exemptions for individuals representing Chinese businesses.
H.R. 3426, To authorize the establishment of a Technology Partnership among democratic countries, and for other purposes.
On May 20, Representatives Moulton (D-MA), Kinzinger (R-IL) and Keating (D-MA) introduced a bill to authorize a technology partnership among democratic countries. While text is not yet available, the bipartisan bill appears to be similar to the Democracy Technology Partnership Act, introduced in the Senate earlier this year. The Senate bill notes that undemocratic countries are gaining a foothold in technology leadership internationally, and states as policy that the United States will advance multilateral technology leadership in line with democratic values. The bill tasks the Department of State with establishing an interagency Technology Partnership Office headed by a Special Ambassador for Technology. This person is charged with initiating an International Technology Partnership to align the U.S. and its allies on technology policy and security issues, including supply chain resiliency, digital infrastructure and academic cooperation. The bill also authorizes a $5 billion International Technology Partnership Fund to support joint research activities and technology investments in third-party markets.