U.S. House backs higher spending levels for NSF and DOE science

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It was a good day for science in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In back-to-back votes last night, members overwhelmingly approved two bills that would authorize massive spending increases at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science. One calls for more than doubling NSF’s current annual budget of $8.5 billion to $17.9 billion by 2026, and the other would give the Office of Science a 63% boost, to $11.1 billion, over the same 5-year period.

The votes were nearly identical: 345 to 67 for NSF (H.R. 2225), and 351 to 68 for DOE (H.R. 3593). Every Democrat voted in favor, while Republicans backed each bill by a two-to-one margin. Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats found common ground in seeing NSF and DOE research as a way to help the country compete successfully against China, although Republicans emphasized the threat from Asia whereas Democrats cited scientific opportunities as the impetus for more spending.

“The Chinese Communist Party is hot on our heels and would love nothing more than to supplant us as the global leader in science and technology,” said Representative Randy Weber (R–TX), calling the additional spending “the most efficient way to kick-start our technological growth and support American jobs.” In contrast, Representative Bill Foster (D–IL), said a bigger budget would allow NSF “to fund a larger fraction of its meritorious proposals, which is the single biggest thing we can do” to strengthen the U.S. research enterprise.

The two House bills represent a slimmer alternative to the sprawling—and more costly—package that the Senate passed on 8 June to address the growing scientific, economic, and military threat of China. Both bodies voted to authorize hefty increases to NSF and DOE, and NSF would get a new technology directorate to spur commercialization. But the House version concentrates on bolstering research and lacks provisions in the Senate bill relating to research security and the geographic distribution of funding that many science lobbyists find troubling.

The next step for Congress is to reconcile these competing visions in a process that could take months. Separate legislation relating to U.S. foreign policy now moving through the House is likely to be added to the mix before House and Senate conferees begin negotiations.

Even if both bodies agree on a final bill that is signed into law by President Joe Biden, the additional funding for research is not guaranteed. Actual spending levels for NSF and DOE will be determined each year by Congress’s appropriations committees. But by authorizing major increases, the House and Senate bills give appropriators plenty of room, and political cover, for providing the agencies with more funding.


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