The U.S. House passed two bills, H.R. 2225 and H.R. 3593, this week as part of the U.S. government's broader efforts to invest in America's tech prowess. Now the bills will head to the U.S. Senate, which separately passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (S.1260) earlier this month to achieve very similar goals.
This legislative tangle is supposed to help the U.S. maintain its leadership of the global semiconductor industry and mitigate the effects of future chip shortages. U.S. President Joe Biden has supported these efforts, yet the bills themselves have changed dramatically as they've made their way through the House and Senate.
H.R. 2225 approves funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) through 2026. It also expands the NSF's duties related to STEM education as well as research into the climate system, the "food-energy-water" system, and "our ability to predict extreme events and natural hazards, including pandemics," moving forward.
H.R. 3593 supports the Department of Energy's Office of Science with what House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) characterized as "significant, steady, and sustainable growth for the Office's wide-ranging research, from climate science to quantum science, and everything in between."
S.1260 authorized similar investments but also tasked the Office of Science and Technology Policy with developing strategies "to improve national competitiveness in science, research, and innovation to support the national security strategy." It also included direct support for the semiconductor industry via this requirement:
"The Department of Commerce shall (1) establish a supply chain resiliency and crisis response program to address supply chain gaps and vulnerabilities in critical industries, (2) designate regional technology hubs to facilitate activities that support regional economic development that diffuses innovation around the United States, and (3) award grants to facilitate development and implementation of comprehensive regional technology strategies."
Lobbying groups like the Semiconductors in America Coalition (SIAC) lauded S.1260's passing on June 8, which makes sense given its obvious financial motivations, and the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) called on the House to pass the bill as well. But the House has instead opted for distinct bills like H.R. 2225 and H.R. 3593.
Johnson explained her (and much of the House Science Committee's) issues with S.1260 in an article for Issues in Science and Technology published in April:
"In charting a course for the future of US science and innovation, science policy makers must attend both to the contributions of other areas of research, and to the complicated social and economic aspects of emerging technologies that we have seen so starkly in the rise of the gig economy, and the consequences of pervasive social technologies. I also came to understand that competition with China, while it may be a rallying cry for politicians, is not inspirational to students and scholars eager to use their scientific talent to solve real problems in their own backyards."
Johnson also said the NSF's efforts to encourage innovation must be inclusive "across types of institutions, across demographics, across geographic regions, across fields of scholarship, and across perspectives." The measures laid out in S.1260 aren't that inclusive, she said, and instead favor the top research institutions.
All of which means the House and the Senate have a common goal in preserving and promoting American innovation. They differ in how they want to achieve that goal and, perhaps to the semiconductor industry's chagrin, how they believe the federal government should distribute funds related to these efforts.