Top bipartisan group relaunches $110 billion technology bill

Senate Majority Leader Schumer leads bipartisan, bicameral effort to boost U.S. spending on research, development and technology

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reintroduces his bipartisan bill to overhaul the National Science Foundation. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reintroduces his bipartisan bill to overhaul the National Science Foundation. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 21, 2021 at 3:21pm

A group of top lawmakers of both parties in both chambers of Congress on Wednesday reintroduced legislation that aims to spend $110 billion on vital technologies to sustain American leadership and spur competitiveness against China.

The draft bill, known as the Endless Frontier Act, championed by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., is matched by a companion bill in the House by Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.

“This legislation will enhance American competitiveness with China and other countries by investing in American innovation, building up regions across the country to lead in the innovation economy, creating good-paying American manufacturing and high-tech jobs, and strengthening America’s research, development, and manufacturing capabilities,” Schumer said in a statement.

“The era of endless wars is coming to a close and, in its place, we are set to embark upon a 21st century full of mass investment in scientific discovery & technological innovation,” Khanna said in a statement. “This bicameral, bipartisan legislation is the first step on making that future a reality for our country."

Schumer said the Senate would take up the bill in the coming weeks alongside other legislation intended to address U.S. technology competitiveness vis-a-vis China.

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Unlike political rancor that accompanies most domestic spending legislation, bills targeting spending on U.S. technology, research and development appear to have broad bipartisan support in both chambers. The unity is undergirded by a shared sense that China is an adversary that intends to dethrone American leadership through gaining an upper hand on advanced technologies.

The White House also welcomed the bill's introduction and said it would work with lawmakers to shape the bill. "The President shares the co-sponsors’ commitment to making a bold investment in American innovation—including large increases in funding at the National Science Foundation to support both R&D and commercialization, and new funding to support regional economic development so what is discovered in America can be made in America, " said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, in a statement.

Congress and the Biden administration are grappling with multiple technology areas where China appears to have either gained an upper hand, as in 5G, or is on the cusp of claiming global leadership with its goal of reaching the No. 1 spot in artificial intelligence by 2030.

The legislation has the backing of several tech groups including the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and BSA The Software Alliance.

The bill would create a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation, which would be renamed as the National Science and Technology Foundation.

The new directorate would get $100 billion over a five-year period for research on artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, robotics, automation, and other areas.

[Senators press spy agencies to focus on China’s technological advances]

Another $10 billion would be set aside for 10 regional technology hubs with the goal of expanding research and employment stemming from such investment in areas beyond the typical tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, or cities on the East Coast including Boston, and places in Virginia.

“Technological growth in jobs should not be limited to a few centers in America, and this bill attempts to spread it to other communities as well,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “It's long past time for the United States to make the next wave of investments to fix dangerous weak spots in our economy and preserve our place as the world leader in science and technology, which then leads to millions of good paying jobs in this country.”

The directorate also would fund undergraduate and graduate scholarships, training programs, and community-college programs. The program also would focus on increasing federal research grants to historically Black colleges, and other minority institutions.

The 10 areas of technology focus outlined in the bill include:

  • Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other software advances.
  • High performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware.
  • Quantum computing and information systems.
  • Robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing.
  • Natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation.
  • Advanced communications technology.
  • Biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology.
  • Cybersecurity, data storage, and data management technologies.
  • Advanced energy, batteries, and industrial efficiency.
  • Advanced materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other focus areas.

Other lawmakers who have backed the bill include, Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Chris Coons, D-Del., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.

The bill’s House sponsors include Reps. Susan Wild, D-Pa., Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y, Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J.