U.S. Senate Approves Nearly $200B to Boost Tech Research

New funding approved by the U.S. Senate will go toward research and development and strengthening regional economic development, manufacturing and supply chains — if the bill survives in the House.

The U.S. Capitol Building.
The U.S. Capitol Building
Shutterstock/Colin Dewar
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U.S. Senate approves $200 billion to boost tech research. What it means for Tri-Cities
Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

(TNS)— Nearly $17 billion would be pumped into national laboratories, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, under a U.S. Senate proposal to make sure the United States is a leader in critical scientific and technical innovations.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., as the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, shepherded the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to bipartisan passage by a vote of 68-32 by the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill also must be approved by the U.S. House.

It seeks to maintain and build on U.S. science and technology leadership by authorizing nearly $200 billion in investments in research and development and strengthening regional economic development, manufacturing and supply chains.

"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," Cantwell said in her Senate floor speech kicking off debate of the bill.

The $17 billion which Cantwell advocated to be funneled to Department of Energy national laboratory research includes research areas in which PNNL excels.

The bill authorizes new funding for research at national laboratories in key technology areas by 29%, with a focus on innovation in areas with PNNL's clean and reliable energy expertise, such as energy storage and grid modernization research, and also its expertise in carbon capture, according to Cantwell's staff.

The $17 billion also could benefit the lab's research in areas like quantum computing and high performance computing, biotechnology, genomics, materials science and cybersecurity, according to the staff of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who also supported the bill and its funding for national laboratories.

"I want to ensure the technologies of the present and the future are made and developed here in Washington state," Murray said.

PNNL employs 5,000 people now, the majority of them based in Richland. It is the Tri-City area's largest single employer.

ECONOMIC BOOST


Money in the bill could also give a boost to research at the University of Washington and make major investments in industries that include the state's semiconductor and aerospace manufacturers and other technology and communications companies.

"This means more good paying jobs, more investment, and greater economic prosperity overall in Washington state to make sure we can compete in an increasingly global economy," Murray said.

The bill gained bipartisan support through its focus on keeping pace with investments by international competitors, particularly China.

The act's investment would help ensure the United States does not fall behind in technologies expected to be important to its future, such as artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, next generation wireless, and energy and disaster prevention solutions related to climate change.

"America is at our best when we are innovating, competing and exploring," Cantwell said.
Initially, the 17 DOE national labs were not included in the Innovation and Competition Act.
Work by Cantwell and others to get national labs included in the funding increase was helped by an April letter signed by Steven Ashby, director of PNNL, and 16 other lab directors.

It detailed not only the lab's leading role now in new technologies but their ability to alert policymakers to coming technical threats that could impact American lives and underpin future U.S. economic competitiveness.

EDUCATION, RESEARCH AND MANUFACTURING


In addition to money for national lab research over five years, the bill also authorizes the following:
  • More than doubling the National Science Foundation budget from $8.5 billion last year to $21 billion in fiscal 2026 and creation of an NSF directorate to speed the development and use of new technologies.
  • Increasing National Science Foundation investment in STEM education and workforce development from less than $1 billion last year to more than $4 billion per year in fiscal 2026.
  • More than $10 billion for government and industry research to develop semiconductor technologies and $39 billion to be matched by the private sector to encourage semiconductor manufacturing capacity in the United States.
  • Investing in university offices to transfer technology to commercial use, identify promising technologies and patent technology.
  • NASA support for growth in the commercial space industry and reinvigoration of America's leadership in space, with research to bring Americans to the Moon on the way to Mars.

©2021 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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