Chair Cantwell Statement on Senate Passage of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act and NASA Authorization

June 8, 2021

The legislation marks a major commitment to investing in U.S. research, development, and innovation, with the core of the bill advancing out of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee 

Full list of transcripts and videos of Cantwell’s Senate floor speeches below

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today released the following statement after the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act by a final vote of 68-32.

“America is at our best when we are innovating, competing and exploring,” Chair Cantwell said. “Today’s Senate vote is a major step towards building the R&D capacity we need to seize the promise of an Information Age. This bipartisan vote is a huge boost to our innovation ecosystem that will help us keep pace with our competitors.”

Chair Cantwell led the bipartisan process in the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that culminated in a 24-4 bipartisan vote, and then managed the bill on the floor of the United States Senate.

The bill is a bold initiative to advance United States’ leadership in scientific and technological innovation through investments in the discovery and development of technologies critical to U.S. national security and economic competitiveness. It would authorize new resources to ensure America does not fall behind in technologies of the future like artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, next generation wireless, composites, and the advanced energy and disaster prevention solutions related to climate change. It would also direct the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and other leading federal agencies to coordinate on science and technology in these areas.

The bipartisan legislation draws on concepts learned from the University of Washington’s Center for Commercialization to support translating research into American industries, domestic manufacturing, and the development of a diverse STEM workforce. Chair Cantwell also fought to include aggressive measures to increase diversity and representation in STEM fields, which led to a new, Senate-confirmed Chief Diversity Officer at the National Science Foundation (NSF). To tap into the nation’s diverse talent pools and drive innovation in regional economies, the bill would ensure that research and development funds are made available across the entire country, reserving 20% of NSF funds for building research and STEM capacity in the 28 states and territories that have traditionally received limited NSF support and participate in the “Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research” (EPSCoR).

“If we’re not making the investments here in science and technology and innovation, not only are we missing opportunities in our own country, we are missing opportunities around the globe,” Chair Cantwell said in her floor speech kicking off debate of the bill. She further explained, referencing the comments from NSF Director, that “in this next decade and decades to come, we need innovation everywhere, tied to opportunity everywhere.”

The landmark legislation also incorporates an authorizing bill for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to support growth in the commercial space industry and reinvigorate America’s leadership in space while carefully stewarding taxpayer dollars.

Cantwell explained, “We also set important policy for NASA, while authorizing the resources needed to protect against programmatic risks and make sure our missions are safe and successful.” 

Key provisions of the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA) will invest to expand U.S. innovation leadership:

Authorize new investments in Federal research and development

  • USICA will authorize more than a doubling of the National Science Foundation budget over five years, from $8.5 billion in FY2020 to $21.3 billion in FY2026.
  • Within that doubling, USICA will authorize a 40% increase in funding for NSF’s core basic and fundamental research activities, from $8.5 billion in FY2020 to $12 billion in FY2026.
  • The funding increase will also include $29B over five years for a new NSF Directorate for Technology and Innovation, to strengthen U.S. leadership in key technology areas.
  • USICA will improve national security by authorizing $17.5 billion over five years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), doubling the agency budget.
  • USICA will authorize new funding for the Department of Energy research at the National Laboratories and user facilities in key technology areas by 29%, with a focus on innovation in areas like energy storage, grid modernization, and carbon capture.

The bill will grow domestic semiconductor manufacturing capacity and take action to protect other critical U.S. supply chains

  • The USICA will appropriate $39 billion in private-sector matched funds to encourage domestic semiconductor manufacturing capacity, consistent with the “CHIPS Act” in the FY21 National Defense Authorization.
  • USICA will appropriate more than $10 billion for government/industry research, to collaboratively develop the next generation of semiconductor technologies in the United States.
  • The bill will establish a Department of Commerce supply chain resiliency program, bringing together government, industry, and international partners to identify and plan for supply chain gaps before they occur.

Enhance technology transfer and commercialization efforts, increasing the return on our R&D investment and focusing technology research in areas of critical national importance

  • USICA will create a first-of-its-kind NSF technology directorate to accelerate the development and translation of new technologies within the United States.
  • The technology directorate will, for the first time, invest in university technology transfer offices, to identify promising technologies and protect research products through domestic and international patenting.
  • The technology directorate will invest in new DARPA-like technology projects within NSF, working with universities and the private sector to rapidly demonstrate revolutionary technology advances.
  • USICA will direct NSF, the Department of Energy, and other leading agencies to annually review, identify, and coordinate on science and technology areas critical to long-term U.S. competitiveness.
  • USICA will identify well-known technology competition areas, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing, next generation wireless, biotechnology, advanced energy technologies, composites, and natural disaster prevention.
  • USICA will authorize an expanded NSF Research Security Office and a new private sector organization to help universities identify and respond to improper foreign exploitation of Federally-funded research.

Invest in creating a diverse and geographically-distributed STEM, research, innovation, and manufacturing workforce

  • USICA will authorize new NSF investment in STEM education and workforce development, from less than $1B in FY2020 to more than $4 billion per year in FY2026.
  • USICA will create a Senate-confirmed position within NSF, focused specifically on metric-driven approaches to improving the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM.
  • USICA will authorize funds for new and existing programs to address STEM workforce gaps, increasing educational capacity at the nation’s institutions, undergraduate research experiences, community college scholarships, apprenticeships, graduate fellowships, and traineeships.
  • USICA will dedicate 20% of all NSF funds to states and jurisdictions that participate in the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which builds research and STEM capacity in areas that traditionally receive less than .75% of NSF’s annual budget.
  • USICA will authorize a new $10 billion dollar Department of Commerce program to build locally-driven regional technology hubs that attract private sector investment and develop the local workforce.
  • USICA will authorize a tripling of the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership, from $150M to $480M annually, to support small- and medium-sized manufacturers with cybersecurity, workforce training, and supply chain resiliency.

Authorize NASA research activities and require best-practices for missions that will bring Americans to the Moon, on the way to Mars

  • USICA will authorize NASA exploration, aeronautics, and science missions for FY2021, making it U.S. policy to encourage the development of commercial sector operations in low-Earth orbit.
  • USICA will authorize $10B to maintain competition and safety in the Human Lander System program through at least FY2026, consistent with best practice in other commercial space programs.

Senator Cantwell has previously spoken about the Endless Frontier Act on the Senate floor: