WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Legislative Hearing on the Endless Frontier Act,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. The hearing will address potential actions to strengthen the U.S. innovation ecosystem, including increasing National Science Foundation research funding; growing and diversifying the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pipeline; improving technology transfer; and investing in regional innovation centers. Witnesses will also have the opportunity to discuss other opportunities to strengthen U.S. innovation policy.
- The Honorable Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Regents Professor, University of Oklahoma, and former Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and former Acting Director, National Science Foundation
- Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda, Provost, University of Notre Dame
- Dr. David Shaw, Provost and Executive Vice President, Mississippi State University
- Ms. Linden Rhoads, General Manager, The W Fund
- Dr. Gary Butler, CEO, Camgian
- Mr. Bill Bonvillian, Senior Director, MIT Office of Open Learning; Lecturer
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
10:00 a.m. EDT
Full Committee (Hybrid)
This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
Chair Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Opening Statement at Senate Commerce Committee Hearing entitled, “Legislative Hearing on the Endless Frontier Act”
Witnesses: The Honorable Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Regents Professor, University of Oklahoma, and former Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and former Acting Director, National Science Foundation,
Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda, Provost, University of Notre Dame,
Dr. David Shaw, Provost and Executive Vice President, Mississippi State University,
Ms. Linden Rhoads, General Manager, The W Fund,
Dr. Gary Butler, CEO, Camgian,
Mr. Bill Bonvillian, Senior Director, MIT Office of Open Learning, Lecturer
Cantwell: Well good morning everyone. Today we have an exciting hearing, I believe, on the future of America's competitiveness when it comes to research and development. And how we move forward on research and development to tech transfer and the most successful strategies of that. We're honored to have a very distinguished panel in front of us and joining us virtually. The Honorable Kelvin Droegemeier, Regents Professor, University of Oklahoma, and former Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and former Acting Director of NSF for Norman Oklahoma, welcome. Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda, Provost of the University of Notre Dame, thank you so much for joining us here and for your work on so many fronts, but particularly on lead and making our homes and children safer, we so appreciate that. Dr. Shaw, Provost and Executive Vice President Mississippi State University, welcome to you and thank you, we look forward to hearing your comments. We put the provosts in the middle, so okay, you can you can you can be global and specific at the same time, so we appreciate that. I think the provost are like the most important person on the university campus, everybody wants to get a message in to the provost, what are you going to focus on, so we appreciate it.
We're joined virtually by Linden Rhodes, General Manager of The W Fund, Seattle, and Linden, so appreciate you joining us today. I'm so excited for everyone to hear your testimony and the success that the University of Washington has done on tech transfer by being innovative over the last decade. We're joined by Dr. Gary Butler, Chief Executive Officer of Camgian in Starkville, Mississippi, and it's been great to have a few moments to hear about your success in the AI field and look forward to more comments. And Dr. Bill Bonvillian who is also joining us remote from MIT, the Office of Open Learning, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Senior Director. I'm sure he has a lot to say about this legislation that has been previewed a year ago, the Endless Frontier Act and I think is still being worked on by our colleagues. But nonetheless, is the stimulus for a very big debate about America's competitiveness as it relates to research and development, and as I said, commercialization and the tech transfer process. So no doubt, even without that it would be a good time to dust off this discussion, and clearly with our history as a committee on America COMPETES and COMPETES Act, we can see a little bit of retrospective of how well, or how well we didn't do, on authorizations and appropriations trying to do similar things, basically build the ecosystem that R&D and tech transfer is in the United States of America.
So today we're here to talk about America's competitiveness and that business competition. And as I mentioned, we have a talented list of witnesses here. We know that we, importantly, do federal funded research and between 1996 and 2015, federally funded research led to over 1 trillion in economic growth, and millions of new jobs. Now, I don't know if we're like a VC, you know, they're like 1 in 13 has to hit. No, but we know that federally funded research, when it comes to even the original R&D done, that was then commercialized with Mozilla, out of the University of Illinois was a big enough success with the internet technology, by just some research on how to connect every computer with, you know hypertext links. Unbelievable, unleashing, so it shouldn't be lost on anyone that sometimes R&D, you just never know what the big breakthrough is going to be.
Today federal investment in research and development is at its lowest point in 45 years when measured against GDP. It has been essentially flat over the past two decades with adjustments for inflation and this comes as international competition is increasing, and other nations are ready to challenge our position on the world's innovation stage. So, since 2000 global R&D spending has risen more than 200%. To me, you have to take that into consideration with where we are. While the United States has certainly contributed to that growth. we only spend about 2.8% of GDP on research and development, less than some of the big economies, like Germany, Japan and South Korea. So, Congress has looked at this issue before, as I mentioned the COMPETES Act of 2017 and 2010, we authorized $80 billion in spending across multiple science agencies. And while COMPETES was successful in launching various initiatives, I believe the Advanced Research Project, ARPA-E program which for me, being a member of the DOE committee and being the home to a very prominent PNNL National Laboratory, I can tell you those monies went to good use, and helped us in growing very important, what I would say, solutions to some of our thorniest problems, whether that's investments in battery technology, how to get intermittent power onto the grid, leadership and cybersecurity detection on so many nuclear weapons front, so, anyway, lots of great work being done there. Even today, NSF has not fully achieved that funding level, though, that we imagined in America COMPETES so Senator Wicker and other members of the committee, I think one of the fundamental questions for us is what our committee can do to bolster the confidence of our appropriation allies that these are the right levels of investment and should be adhered to. And so, I hope that we can do that.
So I know that many of the witnesses today Mr. Droegemeier, Mr. Bonvillian, will point these important issues out. But, I really love the underlying theme in a lot of the testimony in front of us, both about decentralization and how universities play such a key role in, I think, a distributed network of R&D that already exists in the United States and we should be playing off of that. But also, Mr. Droegemeier and Dr. Miranda, you know, the need for collaboration and the ways to build better aspects of collaboration within these communities and these frameworks because as one noted author said, “collaboration is the next phase of innovation.” You can have all the innovation in an information age and all the information, but if you don't collaborate it to get it implemented, then you're not going to innovate. So, I hope that we can keep moving forward. We know that women and minorities are underrepresented in this area, Dr. Miranda will help address this today, that we need to do more in STEM. In 2019 women made up 48% of workers, but only 27% of STEM workers. And, as noted, COVID made that challenging, because many of these women were also the caregivers in their families. So how can you be a caregiver and a researcher at the same time? Very complicated. And one research paper said that women’s research has fallen 19% during the pandemic, so we know that we've been very affected by this.
So, I want to point out that, you know, Washington, Seattle, is probably one of the leading innovation centers in the United States, but I also think that they are becoming students of innovation itself. That is, I think there is an NSF grant the University of Washington is looking at at some of the successes Rose-Hulman has made in what I would call “fee-for-service innovation,” that they have figured out how to create an engineering and customer-based service-oriented success. And, as we're going to hear from the University of Washington today, how you take an already very plump research budget and get more out of it by changing the tech transfer system that we have at universities. So, a lot to digest today on this front. And so I look very much forward to hearing the discussion from our witnesses and from our colleagues today.
I just want to point out, there are a few things that I do personally think that we need to be concerned about. We definitely need to make sure, doing the R&D without the STEM workforce will be a mistake. We need the workforce. The best research can't be implemented if we don't have the workforce and clearly, we're still at a shortage on the workforce. Second, I want to make sure that we continue to think of ourselves as a capitalist country, in how there's nothing better to put the right money on the right research than when capital is on the line. I can tell you this from aerospace and in other forms of computer science, as we compete against other nations. The fact that we have capital markets funding the investment creates a level of due diligence that gets us to success. So I'm not saying that any of this is a planned economy strategy, but to the degree that we veer off towards that, I'm going to bring us back to something that really capitalizes on America's capitalism because that has driven more success, and more innovation, I believe. So, thank you so much, and we'll look forward to hearing the witnesses. So with that, Ranking Member Wicker.
Ranking Member Roger Wicker
Thank you, Senator Cantwell, for that very comprehensive opening statement, I welcome our witnesses and guests today as the committee considers the concept of the Endless Frontier Act as well as our nation’s innovation ecosystem.
Investments in science and technology drive economic growth with job creation. America leads the world in science and technology because of our strong innovation ecosystem, which includes roles for government, institutions of higher learning, and industry as the Chair just pointed out. Maintaining our edge against rising global competition requires continued support for all components of the nation’s science and technology enterprise. China, in particular, is quickly becoming a self-reliant technology power, threatening America’s global dominance in advanced industries and technology.
Today’s hearing is an opportunity for witnesses to discuss how Congress can advance the innovation ecosystem to ensure the United States remains a leader in science and technology.
Basic research fuels technology development and innovation for every industrial sector. Today’s hearing will consider one approach to strengthen technology investments through the yet to be introduced, Endless Frontier Act.
The major structural changes to the National Science Foundation (NSF) contemplated in this legislation should not detract from the agency’s core mission of advancing basic scientific knowledge. TNSF is the world-wide gold standard for basic research agencies. With 236 Nobel Prizes won by NSF funded researchers.
Congress should ensure that we avoid duplicating the R&D missions of other Federal agencies – dozens of which invest in basic and applied research and technology development. Whatever we enact should contain sufficient guardrails to protect the NSF’s core mission and coordinate properly with other departments and agencies.
It appears the intent behind this legislation is to help America compete with China. But let me suggest that we will not beat China by copying its strategy. China is betting that an ambitious, top-down program of applied research and investment along with subsidies for technology companies will produce global dominance in key technology areas yielding both civil and military uses. Strategic investments in technologies and supply chains are important, but we will not win by simply throwing money at the problem. We could actually end up doing harm if recipients of funding through this concept lack the capacity and capability to conduct R&D activities that are actually useful.
We also need to guard the fruits of our R&D system by preventing China from stealing American research and technology. So far as I can tell, the proposed bill does not include any provisions to bolster research security and integrity, particularly at our universities. So we are going to need to address that.
Competing with China means leveraging the talent, expertise, and capabilities found across our entire nation. Presently, about half of all federal research funding in science and technology ends up at only six states. Unfortunately, this uneven distribution has changed little over the decades. Since we have not actually seen complete bill language it is not clear to me that the Endless Frontier Act will go far enough to change this paradigm. Future strength of our innovation sector requires that we provide opportunities for all Americans, regardless of where they may live, work, or attend school.
The distinguished chair just mentioned disparities and opportunities for young women, I think one of our distinguished witnesses will mention disparities and opportunities for African American college students at the undergraduate and graduate level.
Today, I have the privilege of introducing two Mississippians who have important perspectives on the scientific ecosystem. Dr. David Shaw is Provost and Executive Director of Mississippi State University. For decades he has been at the forefront of the nexus between federal research, universities, and economic development. I look forward to hearing his insights on how to grow STEM talent in underrepresented states and ensure an equitable distribution of science funding across states and institutions.
Dr. Gary Butler is CEO of Camgian (CAM-gee-ehn), a leading technology company in Mississippi. Camgian builds and sells products to the government and private sector based on cutting-edge research. Dr. Butler can provide insights on the important role industry plays in bridging the valley of death that exists between research and commercialization.
Madam Chair, it is my understanding that the Endless Frontier Act is part of a larger China package envisioned by the leadership. I hope we can continue the committee’s bipartisan tradition of considering consensus science and technology-related legislation. It is worth asking whether President Biden’s recent $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal would spend hundreds of billions of dollars for many of the new or modified programs that would be authorized in an Endless Frontier Act. Authorization and appropriations of course should be done in a bipartisan way.
I would urge my colleagues to work with me to build consensus on this China proposal in a deliberative manner and make sure we get it right.
Thank you very much Madam Chair, this is a very important hearing, and I look forward to a great discussion.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Bill BonvillianSenior DirectorMIT Office of Open Learning
Dr. David ShawProvost and Executive Vice PresidentMississippi State University
Dr. Gary D. ButlerCEOCamgian
Ms. Linden RhoadsGeneral ManagerThe W Fund
Dr. Marie Lynn MirandaProvostUniversity of Notre Dame
The Honorable Dr. Kelvin DroegemeierRegents ProfessorUniversity of Oklahoma