Bill to Address Chip Shortage Is Only the Beginning, Senator Says

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a hearing to examine United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a hearing to examine United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said more legislation is necessary to keep pace with adversaries.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, thinks the CHIPS for America Act is only a jumping off point for regaining U.S. leadership in semiconductor manufacturing—which support not only products like cars, but also emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence that leaders say may be critical for national security—and that she sees “follow on opportunities coming.” 

The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act was enacted in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, and lawmakers are looking to President Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure plan or the recently introduced Endless Frontier Act to potentially fund its provisions. Ernst, speaking during a Monday webinar on artificial intelligence hosted by the Brookings Institution, said the CHIPS Act goes as far as possible right now, but more work will be needed on semiconductors. 

“Just like anything, technology advances very rapidly, legislation, not so much,” Ernst said. “But we will continue working in this area and doing what we can as we can.” 

Ernst made her remarks on a panel that also featured commissioners from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its massive final report to Congress and the president in March. Gilman Louie, an NSCAI commissioner and former head of venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, explained that without semiconductors, the U.S. won’t be able to have the kind of secure AI needed to stay ahead of adversaries. 

“Without semiconductors, without those chips, we can’t power up the intelligence that we need to have superior AI,” Louie said. “To go deeper, faster than our adversary, to think ahead of our adversaries requires a huge amount of compute, and unfortunately as we made our supply chains more efficient, our dependency on imported semiconductors grew, and has grown to a point where it is now a national security risk.”

NSCAI’s final report presented a national strategy for AI, but Louie emphasized the U.S. needs a national strategy for microelectronics, too. The NSCAI report called for such a strategy that would maintain a U.S. lead of two generations over China. The U.S. also needs to invest in research for microelectronics, Louie said. 

Both Louie and Ernst commended the Biden administration for recognizing the importance of emerging technologies for national security, but Ernst said she’s looking for the administration to help set “clear goals” when it comes to innovation. 

These goals might come through legislation, according to Ernst, and a pair of recent bills introduced in the Senate would implement more of NSCAI’s recommendations, which Ernst said has been critical in helping Congress and agencies set targets and work together better. 

“We really need to take these recommendations, continue rolling them forward, whether it is through independent legislation, or whether it is through the National Defense Authorization Act,” Ernst said. “But we do need to do it.” 

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