Cantwell Delivers Remarks on Legislation to Boost America’s Competitiveness

February 4, 2022

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, February 2, about the importance of passing legislation to increase America’s investment in R&D, semiconductors, manufacturing, and our workforce to grow the economy and boost America’s competitiveness across the globe.  Sen. Cantwell was a leader in passing the bipartisan United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) last year.

“[B]etween 1996 and 2015, federally funded research led to over $1 trillion in economic growth and millions of new jobs. So, we know that when we invest that we see a big return in our economy. What we know though, is however, R&D investment is at its lowest point in nearly 45 years, as measured as a percentage of GDP. That's where we've been going. And the rest of the world isn't waiting. 

“Overall, US R&D spending places us ninth, globally behind advanced economies like South Korea, Japan and Germany, and far below the fifth place ranking that we held in the 90s. 

“So this is why we need to do something. And that's why we passed what was called the United States Innovation and Competition Act last year, and why we encouraged our colleagues to take it up. There is a competition for global leadership in technology in a range of areas, semiconductors, manufacturing, artificial intelligence, low Earth orbit satellites, and there are countries that are very eager to make investments to try to capture those jobs that I mentioned come as a result of investment in technology. 

“We know that we tried to solve this problem before -- or that is -- to stay competitive. We passed an America COMPETES Act in 2007. And we passed one in 2010. And we were trying to stay competitive with changing economies and the information age that we now live in. These acts were intended to double the key research accounts at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

“But unfortunately, the appropriations authorized did not materialize. In large part, we had a 2008 recession and subsequent fiscal sequestration. And we reduced the NSF and DOE budgets. So we had the right idea. We had a year or so of activity that really tried to get us on the right track. And then fiscal issues put us behind. 

“So job openings today, and the opportunities for us to grow our economy by making this investment are just monumental. And that is why we hope that this is a bipartisan effort by the Senate, and ultimately a bipartisan effort by the house to come together to make the investments to help fill these jobs of the future. 

“Job openings in computer science occupations are expected to exceed 1 million in the next few years, nearly 400,000 just in the area of cybersecurity alone. The Wall Street Journal reported that planned growth in the US semiconductor industry will require up to 90,000 more workers by 2025, 90,000 more workers just in that one sector, and these are very well paying jobs. 

“According to the National Science Board, the only way that the United States can fill the gaps in these STEM workers is to double the number of women in STEM workforce and double the number of other underrepresented minorities in these jobs. And that is exactly what we're trying to do with this legislation. 

“Our manufacturing sector, which we have a very large manufacturing sector in the Northwest driven by aerospace, but also other forms of transportation. And it also includes small and medium sized manufacturing. But one organization estimated that it will take up to $250 billion dollars over 10 years to help us upgrade our existing infrastructure in manufacturing and equipment to be competitive.

“So that means we must do our part. Many of these industries will do their part. But on the R&D side, we must continue to do our part. 

“Other countries are investing heavily in the semiconductor advanced manufacturing facilities which are very, very expensive to build. We just heard of a major announcement by Intel a few weeks ago about their investment in the state of Ohio. These facilities can cost $30 billion over 10 years, including 20 billion in just the capital expenses. Other countries are making huge investments to help [make it cheaper to] build foundries, anywhere from 30 to 50% of the investment in Asia. 

“So as a result, over the last several decades, the United States has lost a big share of what they had in the semiconductor manufacturing chip sector, going from about 37% of the market for production from the US down to 12% today. So the United States must respond. And we must continue to make investments in these sectors. 

“My colleagues, as we had this floor debate, will remember we talked about a $52 billion investment, an enormous amount of money. But I asked my colleagues who helped us to get this legislation, and those who weren't with us at that moment, to consider this information. 

“The semiconductor shortage cost vehicle manufacturers just in 2021, $210 billion. One year, our shortage cost us $210 billion. 

“So I think making this investment in chip production in the United States is critical. It's time we try again, with our House colleagues. It's time that we engage in a bipartisan legislative process to get this legislation to the President's desk. I know the House will consider many amendments on Friday when they're supposed to take up this bill.

“We in the Commerce Committee had over 230 amendments filed, we approved 130 amendments. We had a six hour markup. We had healthy debate on amendments. And then the Senate proceeded to an open floor debate and hundreds of amendments were filed here on the Senate floor. So I encourage our colleagues in the House to have their amendments to consider these ideas and come to an effort with us to get this legislation passed. 

“We know that this would be the largest five year commitment to public R&D in our nation's history. We need it for the job growth, we need it to stay competitive. 

“This legislation would also make a $15 billion investment in growing, diversifying that STEM workforce. As I said, given the large amount of job openings in this sector, we're not going to find the people to take them unless we are diversifying our workforce. This would establish a Senate confirmed position on improving STEM diversity and make sure that NSF and the investments we would make would help us not only assure diversity, but geographic diversity within the United States. 

“This legislation would also create first of a kind, NSF, National Science Foundation tech directorate to help accelerate the development and translation of new technologies within the United States to the future and helping those jobs grow more quickly. Now, I know a lot of people, probably at the beginning, thought if NSF was already doing a good job or DOE was already doing a good job, why do we have to do something different?

“Well, the issue is the United States is producing a lot of R&D. And that R&D is being used by other people, it's actually documented public information that ends up getting used and translated by somebody else hungrier, faster moving on opportunity, and thereby getting translated. So this bill addresses that. This bill, with the creation of a tech directorate, it is about accelerating the R&D that we do and turning it into real manufacturing at a faster rate. 

“We call this tech transfer. And if you have any kind of university in your state, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And these universities play a key role in tech transfer. In fact, tech transfer in this realm of university has been responsible for about 4 million jobs over the last 20 years, I think it is last 20 years. So these are big investments. They have supported over 4 million jobs.

“So USICA would make an investment of 17 billion in the Department of Energy and authorize a tripling of the manufacturing extension partnership to help with those manufacturing opportunities. And also make an investment in tech hubs to help create private sector investment in the same kind of workforce opportunities for the future.

“As I mentioned Madam President, the announcement by Intel in Ohio to build new a new foundry. And the expensive cost of building a new foundry was interesting news, because it wasn't in the same places that investments and chip fabrication has been done so far. And yet, the CEO of the company said, if we pass this legislation, there could be 100 billion in investment.

“That's important because we have to understand how important chip fabrication is and semiconductors are to the information age that we live in today, how important it is that we not lose market share any lower than 12%. And we actually start going back in the other direction, so that we can grow these jobs in the future.

“So I just want to emphasize there is a lot to agree on with our House colleagues. Both bills call for a $52 billion investment in semiconductor industry.  Both bills call for major investment, about 160 billion, in critical R&D agencies like the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. Both bills recognize the need to invest in creating tech hubs and making investments in the domestic supply chain. Both bills call for growing diversity of our STEM workforce to meet workforce gaps.

“Both bills attempt to address disparities in our trade and research policy that I was just mentioning, trying to not let people just grab the R&D the United States does and translate that but make sure that we have strong laws and preventing intellectual property theft that occurs and making investments in American businesses. And we know that there are other provisions that we will be able to agree on as well.

“So with our investment in R&D reaching a 45 year low, now is the time to grow our economy. Madam President, I hope our colleagues in the House will join in a bipartisan effort. We stand ready in the Senate to join a serious discussion to get this legislation onto the President's desk and grow these jobs, very important economic opportunity for the United States and continue our leadership.”