100 Days of Science

by Jamie Vernon | Apr 27, 2021


This week we will mark the 100th day of the Biden presidency, which presents the opportunity to assess the impact the new administration has on the research enterprise. As with any transition of leadership in the federal government, the scientific community uniquely experiences changes in federal research priorities and policies. The scientific workforce is particularly sensitive to adjustments to levels of funding for research and education programs. Sigma Xi actively monitors these changes and strives to inform senior government officials and its members about their impact on the conduct of scientific research.  

The Biden administration has expressed strong support for science. Prior to the election, candidate Biden stated that his administration would “listen to the scientists” and his initial actions have shown that to be the case. President Biden quickly moved to appoint Anthony Fauci as chief medical advisor to lead a team of experts in overseeing the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has largely proven to be successful based on recent reports that more than 200 million vaccinations have been administered to Americans in the past three months; cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus have dramatically fallen; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is cautiously advising businesses and schools to open. Science was also the basis for the United States to return to the Paris climate agreement and for the president’s decision to rejoin the World Health Organization. This commitment to the use of science in decision-making promises to improve the outcomes for the U.S. and the world.  

The new administration has taken several steps to strengthen the federal research enterprise. On his first day in office, Biden announced a diverse and talented group to assume top scientific leadership positions within the federal government and that he would elevate the science advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to a Cabinet level position. On January 27, the administration made a commitment to end political manipulation of scientific evidence by releasing a memorandum on scientific integrity. President Biden’s first proposed budget, unveiled on April 9, calls for major funding increases to research and development programs across non-defense agencies, including an increase of $9 billion to the National Institutes of Health, $1.7 billion added to the National Science Foundation, an additional $400 million to the Department of Energy Office of Science, and increases for other research departments and agencies. The administration puts additional focus on the nation’s aging highways, railways, and bridges in its $2 trillion infrastructure package, which heavily invests in building scientific and engineering capacity.

While these developments represent only a fraction of the actions taken, the administration has clearly demonstrated significant support for science and engineering. However, questions remain about how the new investments in research and development will be managed. There have been discussions about establishing multiple research units based on the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Joining the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E, NIH would use $6.5 billion of its budget increase to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health to focus on cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. There is also a proposal for an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate to develop a more aggressive global warming mitigation and adaptation strategy. The National Science Foundation is exploring a new technology directorate to achieve the nation’s innovation goals. Details about these proposals will be provided through forthcoming legislation and executive actions.

Sigma Xi is closely following the progress of several bills that are making their way through Congress, including the following:

Endless Frontier Act 
The Endless Frontier Act was reintroduced last week in the Senate by a bipartisan group from the House and Senate. The bill adds a technology directorate to the National Science Foundation with a recommended budget of $100 billion over five years and creates a Commerce Department initiative to establish “technology hubs” in regions that are not already leading R&D centers.

National Science Foundation for the Future Act
This bipartisan bill, submitted by the House Science Committee, would add a directorate focused more broadly on societal science issues and double NSF’s budget over the next five years. The committee considers the bill to be an alternative to the Endless Frontier Act.

Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act (SALSTA)
Submitted by House Republicans on March 23, the act would authorize a doubling of basic research funding over the next decade at the Energy Department, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a wide range of specific mandates for each of those agencies and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act (RISE Act)
The bipartisan RISE Act would provide $25 billion to help restore our nation’s research capacity to its pre-pandemic strength, prevent setbacks against the formidable challenges our nation faces, and further the goal of a robust, diverse, and inclusive STEM workforce.

COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act
The bill, passed by the Senate on April 22 with a bipartisan vote of 94-1, is written to address the rise in hate crimes and violence against the AAPI community. The measure creates a Justice Department position to focus on this issue and increase state and local hate crime reporting. 

To learn more about plans for the future of U.S. innovation, join tomorrow’s meeting of the Congressional Subcommittee on Research and Technology featuring testimony by National Science Board Chair Ellen Ochoa and NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan at: https://t.co/sxBYv169mH.

I am confident that the scientific community will continue to thrive under the Biden administration. However, it will be important to remain engaged to understand how any proposed changes to the system will affect our members and their ability to conduct research with excellence and with the ultimate goal of improving the human condition. 

Please let us know about any research-related policies or legislation we should be following. Feel free to share your thoughts about the administration’s science policy initiatives by contacting me at executiveoffice@sigmaxi.org.


Jamie L. Vernon
Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO

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