Sigma Xi Speaks: U.S. Science and Technology on the Precipice of Change

by Jamie Vernon | Jul 27, 2021

Jamie Vernon

Earlier this year, I reported on the Endless Frontier Act, which was legislation winding its way through Congress that would result in a dramatic influx of research funding to create a new Directorate for Technology and Innovation in the National Science Foundation (NSF) and increase the overall NSF budget. The bill has since been integrated into the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which was passed by the Senate in June.

The Endless Frontier Act provisions included $29 billion over five years to the new directorate and an increase in the overall annual budget of the NSF from $8.5 billion to $12 billion over the same period. It would establish a regional technology hub program; require a strategy and report on economic security, science, research, innovation, manufacturing, and job creation; and establish a critical supply chain resiliency program.

The USICA, which increases the total investment in science and technology to more than $200 billion over the next five years and includes national security measures, is a response to growing challenges to U.S. competitiveness on the global stage. As China and other nations continue to increase their investments in innovation, the U.S. has been slow to adapt to this new environment. This legislation could position the U.S. to advance in highly competitive technology markets including semiconductor manufacturing, artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotechnology.

While much attention has been focused on technology, the increase in the traditional NSF budget would also be a significant development. The NSF budget has remained near or below $8 billion since 1990. The new $12 billion budget represents a renewed commitment by the U.S. to its core system of innovation, including support for academic research. This system has proven effective for decades and makes sense to preserve and expand to ensure long term technological advancement.     

The focus on science and technology has not been limited to the Senate. The House of Representatives advanced two complementary bills, as alternatives to the USICA. The National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act were both passed by the House in late June. These two bills represent a substantial increase in funding for scientific research and technology development. However, they differ based on the scale and focus of funding for basic and applied research. For example, the NSF for the Future Act would create an NSF Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions (SES) with a ramping budget up to $3.4 billion in 2026, expand education and research on STEM, and increase NSF funding to $11 billion in the first year and up to $14.5 billion over the next five years.

I applaud the efforts of Congress to invest in the research enterprise. Scientific inquiry is fundamental to economic competitiveness and improving the human condition. Investment in research ensures that new questions will be answered, and new solutions will emerge. As with any legislation, I expect that the House and Senate will negotiate a bill that will look quite different from the original bills. However, my hope is that the final product will underscore the importance of science and technology and provide adequate support to meet the needs and expectations of the nation, while allowing for American research to remain a cooperative and inclusive endeavor. Our role in this process, as members of Sigma Xi, is to offer our support to the champions of science in Congress and to encourage them to continue this journey toward new and exciting frontiers.

Feel free to share your thoughts about these bills or how you plan to help improve or advance them by emailing


Jamie Vernon signature
Jamie L. Vernon
Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO

comments powered by Disqus

Blog Categories