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Senate Passes Sweeping Innovation and Competition Bill

  • 2021-06-17T15:00:00.000+0000
  • Author: Laure Fabrega

On June 8, the Senate passed a substitute amendment to S.1260, the Endless Frontiers Act by a 68-32 vote. The massive bipartisan bill aims to preserve America’s competitive edge over China and others with investments in science and technology. It has drawn interest from many industry sectors because of a $52 billion provision to provide emergency funding for semiconductor research and development, in response to the semiconductor shortage, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The U.S. ranks fifth in the world in the production of semiconductors behind China, South Korea, Europe, Taiwan and Japan. The U.S.’ production share dropped 15 percent between 2015 to 2019 while China’s increased 50 percent.

Another provision important to our industry is the creation of a Directorate for Technology and Innovation in the National Science Foundation (NSF) to strengthen U.S. leadership in critical technologies. The bill would provide $9.3 billion through FY 2026 and lists “key technology focus areas”, including “biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology” and “artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other software advances.”

The Directorate would aim to support basic and applied research through awards to researchers, entities, and consortia using diverse funding mechanisms; develop opportunities for NSF, academic institutions, and federal agencies to collaborate on research, development, and commercialization; reduce barriers to technology transfers between academia and the private sector, nonprofits, and the venture capital community; build research capacity at U.S. colleges and universities; and make awards under the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs (SBIR/STTR).

The bill would also authorize almost $8 billion through FY 2026 for the Commerce Department to establish a regional technology hub program under which it would award grants to accelerate technological innovation through workforce development, entrepreneur programing, and technology maturation. It would also authorize $1.2 billion through FY 2026 for the Manufacturing USA Program, under which 16 manufacturing innovation institutes supported by the Commerce, Defense, and Energy Departments convene manufacturers, academics, and others for research and workforce development related to advanced manufacturing.

Lastly, the bill would direct the Commerce Department to establish a supply chain resiliency and crisis response program, under which the department would work with the private sector to monitor supply chains and vulnerabilities in industries critical to national security.

A companion bill, H.R.2731 was introduced in the House but hasn’t moved through committees.