Republican Lawmakers Push for Billions in Boosts to Science Agency Budgets


Their re-introduced bill also calls for a national S&T strategy—and new requirements, including a supply chain-tracking database.

House Republicans proposed doubling U.S. investments in research funding across multiple federal agencies, the creation of a coordinated national science and technology strategy and many other government-centered moves they positioned as ultimately meant to promote innovation and security—via a 265-page piece of legislation. 

The Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act, or SALSTA, was introduced Tuesday by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., with more than a dozen original co-sponsors.

Similar legislation under the same name was put forth and prioritized by Lucas during his tenure as ranking member in the last Congressional session, and elements of that one did make it into other bills that eventually passed. But this latest version of SALSTA also incorporates new sections targeting research integrity, and the establishment of a National Supply Chain Database.

“Shoring up domestic supply chains, particularly for critical minerals, isn’t a new priority, but the need to do so became more urgent with supply chain disruptions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” a member of legislative staff who helped craft the bill told Nextgov in an email Tuesday.

During that correspondence and in a prior press briefing, that individual and others involved in the bill’s making reflected on some of its inclusions—and what might come next.

“While SALSTA is a comprehensive proposal for investing in American [research and development], there are quite a few sections that can be introduced as individual bills, and we expect to see that soon on critical minerals, advanced recycling, and fusion energy, among others,” the official said. “Those all have solid bipartisan potential.”

If passed, the act would authorize to be appropriated a doubling of basic research funding over the next decade at the Energy Department, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to a framework accompanying the legislation, that would look roughly like investments in programs moving from: $7.4 billion to $15 billion at DOE; $8.5 billion to $16.2 billion at NSF; $1 billion to $1.9 billion at NIST; and $600 million to $1.2 billion at NOAA.

SALSTA also includes sections with a wide range of specific mandates for each of those agencies and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

Together with the National Science and Technology Council, OSTP would be required to create and submit to Congress a “cross-cutting strategy for Science and Technology” every four years, the framework noted, “as is already done for national defense, homeland security, and energy.” 

Among the other proposals, the bill would direct the Energy Department to establish a program for achieving computing systems with capabilities that go beyond exascale, the next era of computing—and to facilitate access to quantum computing hardware and clouds. Improvements to data integration and technology transfer would be pursued by NOAA and the NSF would gain support to develop new tools promoting reproducibility in science and data repositories. The bill also intends to catalyze needed upgrades to NIST’s facilities and infrastructure.

“America’s global leadership has always been driven by our scientific and technological superiority. But that leadership is being challenged now by the Chinese Communist Party,” Lucas said in a statement. “Communist leadership in China is investing more in research than the U.S. and aggressively pursuing technological supremacy through foreign acquisitions, forced technology transfers, and, frequently, cyber espionage.”

Expressing similar sentiment, legislative officials also offered context on the sections included on research integrity and supply chain security, which were not in the initially introduced version of SALSTA. 

A centerpiece of the bill’s new title on research integrity is its incorporation of statutes prohibiting the federal workforce participating in foreign talent recruitment programs, the staff noted, adding that certain agencies already abide by such proposed policies. The legislation also would require NSF to establish an Office of Research Security Policy and NIST to produce cybersecurity standards and guidance tailored specifically to research institutes and universities.

“Research theft spans academia, private industry, and the federal government, and the growth of state-sponsored cyberattacks is absolutely indicative of the extent of this problem. For instance, just this summer the Justice Department indicted two state-sponsored hackers for targeting COVID vaccine research,” the legislative official told Nextgov. “SALSTA focuses on securing taxpayer-funded research and ensuring federal researchers have no conflicts of interest because of inappropriate contracts with foreign governments.”

The legislation also addresses the security of critical materials, or metals and non-metals deemed essential to the economy, yet whose supply may be at-risk or disrupted. They might underpin electric car batteries, smartphones or health care equipment that the nation increasingly depends on. 

If the bill becomes law, there’d be more resources for research in this realm. Further, NIST would be required to design and manage a National Supply Chain Database that, according to the bill’s text, would “assist the Federal government and industry sectors in minimizing disruptions to the United States supply chain by having an assessment of [U.S.] manufacturers’ capabilities” when it comes to such forms of matter.

“China dominates the critical minerals market and controls the vast majority of the global supply, and we can’t continue to depend on the Chinese Communist Party for imports of these materials,” the official said. “Investing in research on critical minerals mining techniques and identifying alternative materials is necessary for both our continued economic growth and our international competitiveness.”

SALSTA also suggests the U.S. address and adapt to climate change through technology-driven studies and innovation.

“The reality is that Democrats hold very slim majorities in the House and Senate, so any progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving clean energy will have to come from bipartisan efforts like SALSTA. Imposing mandates from the Green New Deal and trying to force an immediate end to the use of fossil fuels isn’t going to go anywhere,” the official said. “Where there is room for consensus is on greater investments in research and technology, and that means provisions in this bill have a solid chance of moving forward.”

The legislation was referred to the House Science, Space, and Technology; Judiciary; and Small Business Committees upon introduction.