It’s time to fund America’s investments in the future

The U.S. finds itself in a challenging moment along many dimensions. Political divisions, high prices, supply chain woes, and economic challenges from foreign competitors like China dominate our headlines. Fortunately, despite the pressures for myopic focus on the present, Congress and President Biden recently made a much-needed commitment to our nation’s ability to compete with successful passage of the CHIPS and Science Act. 

The major media focus of this legislation is its historic investment in U.S.-based development and production of cutting-edge semiconductors. This focus is understandable, given that semiconductors are a critical sector for economic and national security reasons. But the CHIPS and Science Act does much, much more than that. For example, it creates regional technology hubs that will let under-served regions of the U.S. catch up in innovation and economic growth. It establishes a new technology directorate within the vaunted National Science Foundation, empowered to take novel approaches to research and technology that will help us compete. It sets up a network of microelectronics research centers at our national laboratories. And it supercharges the talent pipeline to help the next generation of scientists and engineers achieve.

For these and other reasons, many advocates and policymakers are taking a well-earned victory lap. But while celebration is merited, it’s also important to understand that the work is not done. Unlike the CHIPs portion of the Act, the Science portion primarily provides authorizations, which are spending targets, and not actual dollars, which require appropriations through annual spending bills. This is the next major step for Congress.

Appropriators have made some progress to date in their legislative work. The House Appropriations Committee adopted all twelve of its annual spending bills in June, and six of these were subsequently adopted on the House floor. Senate appropriators have also introduced all twelve of their own bills.

But the bipartisan win of the CHIPS and Science Act notwithstanding, rancor has erupted along partisan lines over big-picture spending. The end of the fiscal year looms in a matter of weeks, and the midterms follow after that. This means many of the programs created or bolstered by CHIPS and Science will have to wait for full funding, and run the risk of being short-changed.

For instance, the new technology hubs program mentioned above, so crucial to support researchers and entrepreneurs outside the wealthy cities like Boston or San Francisco, has yet to receive funding in either the House or Senate bills. The National Science Foundation, while likely to receive some increases, may end up receiving billions less than intended in CHIPS and Science, constraining its ability to fully execute the emerging technology vision set forth by Congress. Even smaller initiatives are at risk of under-funding, such as the little-known but important Manufacturing USA, a network of innovation institutes that partner with universities, labs, and small manufacturers to enhance U.S. competitiveness.

Importantly, CHIPS and Science also authorizes robust multiyear growth for the basic science that underpins game-changing advances. The dramatic rise in public R&D spending in the decades after World War II were the backbone on which the modern U.S. economy was built, bringing broad-based prosperity to our nation. But we have spent the past fifty years retreating from that commitment, with a resultant decline in our role as the worldwide leader in innovation.

The CHIPS and Science Act provides a major reversal to this trend. After a careful review of the bill, we estimate that Chips and Science, if fully funded, would raise R&D spending by $75 billion over the next five years, likely representing a more than 10 percent net increase in the federal R&D baseline over that time. This is a major investment that would help boost federal R&D as a share of the U.S. economy and yield far-reaching dividends — but it has to be funded.

There’s an unfortunate history of Congress authorizing ambitious boosts for science only to fall short in appropriations. Congress deserves credit for getting the CHIPS and Science Act across the finish line, but legislators shouldn’t rest on their haunches. Instead, our leaders should sustain the moment they’ve started and ensure robust support for federal innovation — our future depends on it.

Ro Khanna has served as the U.S. representative from California’s 17th District since 2017. Jonathan Gruber, P.hD. is the Ford Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the co-author of Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream. Matt Hourihan is Associate Director for R&D and Advanced Industry at the Federation of American Scientists.

Tags Biden CHIPS and Science Act Research and development

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