As 2020 approaches the finish line, Congressional funding negotiations are intensifying to both keep the federal government’s lights on and secure COVID-19 relief for individuals and businesses. Alongside those crucial efforts the House and Senate have advanced major legislation on artificial intelligence policy in the final weeks of the 116th Congress.
Legislators have continued to introduce new measures relevant to AI and emerging technology policy, laying down potential markers for priorities in the 117th Congress. Additionally, December has seen a resolution outlining a U.S. AI strategy and significant AI provisions in the one bill that, year after year, is considered a must-pass.
Our final legislative roundup of the year highlights action on AI in the last two months.
Conference Report for H.R. 6395, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021
On December 8, the House approved a conference agreement for the FY2021 NDAA by a vote of 335 to 78. The Senate followed on December 11, approving the text 84 to 13. The agreement includes a number of provisions on AI policy. It elevates the Director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to report directly to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. It also establishes a National Artificial Intelligence Initiative to support U.S. leadership in AI by:
- Creating a National AI Initiative Office in the White House, an interagency committee to coordinate AI activities, and an advisory committee of experts to counsel senior officials on AI policy;
- Establishing a task force to oversee development of a national AI research computing resource;
- Authorizing billions of dollars for AI research through the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The bill is now with President Trump, who has raised several objections and accordingly issued several veto threats.
H.Res.1250, Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives with respect to the principles that should guide the national artificial intelligence strategy of the United States
On December 8, the House unanimously adopted H.Res.1250, a resolution introduced by Representatives Hurd and Kelly outlining a national AI strategy. It establishes as guiding principles the importance of global leadership; a prepared workforce; national security; effective research and development; and ethics, fairness, reduced bias and privacy of AI systems. The resolution:
- Expresses support for the United States taking a global leadership role in the development and deployment of AI;
- Calls for greater investments in STEM education and workforce preparation, including efforts to improve diversity in STEM fields;
- Supports an alliance-centered approach to ensuring national security, including the coordination of export controls relevant to AI;
- Encourages U.S. government collaboration with academia and industry to develop reliable AI systems for national security applications;
- Promotes greater investments in AI research and development; and
- Notes the importance of research to reduce AI bias and ensure the development of ethical AI systems.
This resolution stems from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s national AI initiative project, carried out in partnership with Representatives Hurd and Kelly. CSET co-authored “Artificial Intelligence and National Security,” a report that informed national security elements of the final resolution.
S. 4972, Rural STEM Education Act
On December 8, Senators Wicker and Jacky Rosen introduced S. 4972, the Rural STEM Education Act. The bipartisan legislation directs the National Science Foundation to award grants for research on:
- Barriers preventing rural students from accessing quality STEM education;
- Innovative approaches for bolstering and sustaining rural STEM education; and
- The use of online learning for STEM education in rural areas.
The bill directs the National Academy of Sciences to assess federal STEM education programs in rural areas, including access to broadband connectivity, and requires the Government Accountability Office to review the efficacy of federal STEM programs in serving rural populations. It also directs the Commerce Department to carry out a competition awarding prizes to researchers developing creating technologies that support greater broadband connectivity in rural communities
H.R. 8777, CCP Visa Disclosure Act
On November 18, Representative Greg Steube introduced H.R. 8777, the CCP Visa Disclosure Act, which requires individuals applying for F, M and J visas — and any associated spouses or children — to disclose funding received from the Government of China, the Chinese Communist Party or any entity controlled by either group. The bill also requires individuals who have already been granted an F, M or J visa and later receives funds from the Government of China or the CCP to report such funds within 90 days.
H.R. 8764, Stop China’s IP Theft Act
On November 17, Representative Debbie Lesko introduced H.R. 8764, the Stop China’s IP Theft Act. This bill would establish U.S. policy prohibiting the entrance of leaders of the CCP until China ceases theft of U.S. intellectual property. It prohibits visas to senior officials in the CCP– including the Politburo, the Central Committee, and each delegate to the 19th National Congress of the CCP — spouses and children of such officials, members of China’s cabinet and active-duty members of the People’s Liberation Army.
H.R. 8763, Seeding Enterprises in the Microelectronics Industry Act
On November 17, Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Chris Stewart introduced H.R. 8763, the Seeding Enterprises in the Microelectronics Industry (SEMI) Act. This bipartisan bill would authorize $15 million for the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to distribute as seed funding in support of microelectronics and computing technology research. It specifically calls for research into overcoming physical limits on transistors, electrical interconnects and memory elements, along with long-term advancements in computing capabilities. The bill is a standalone version of provisions incorporated into H.R. 7856, the Fiscal Year 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, approved by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this year.
S. 4901, Ensuring American Leadership Over International Standards Act
On November 16, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Rob Portman introduced S. 4901, the Ensuring American Leadership Over International Standards Act. This bipartisan bill directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to commission an independent study on China’s efforts to influence international standards for the development of emerging technologies. It mandates an assessment of China’s growing influence within international standards bodies in the past ten years, an examination of China’s previous engagement in standards setting and how it may foretell China’s efforts to come, and recommendations for the United States to address any concerns resulting from China’s activities. Provisions from this bill are included in the FY2021 NDAA, which passed the House on December 8 and the Senate on December 11.
H.R. 8745, Innovation Centers Acceleration Act
On November 12, Representative Joseph Morelle introduced H.R. 8745, the Innovation Centers Acceleration Act. The bill would establish nine metropolitan areas as “innovation centers” and authorize $80 billion in federal support for innovation, science and technology and research activities in core innovation sectors, including the semiconductor industry, software and computer manufacturing and data processing, hosting and related services. Eligible metropolitan areas must be larger than 500,000 people, but not be one of the top nine existing tech hubs. The bill establishes a committee composed of voting representatives from various federal agencies and non-voting members from labor organizations or research institutes. The committee is directed to award innovation center status to metropolitan areas based on STEM spending and other measures, and evaluate the program over its nine years. Senator Coons introduced similar legislation in the Senate in September 2020.