On Friday, February 4, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 4521, the America COMPETES Act of 2022, a sprawling bill that creates or reauthorizes scientific research programs and infrastructure at several federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF). The COMPETES bill encompasses the previously-passed NSF for the Future Act (NSFFA, H.R. 2225), which the House approved last June, plus numerous additional provisions that seek to address several issues that fall under the umbrella of global competitiveness—semiconductors, advanced manufacturing, supply chain resiliency, research security and the like.

NSF emblem on a buildingMany of the new provisions mirrored sections of the Senate-passed U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act (USICA, S. 1260), which was also approved in June. Congressional leaders are hoping that with COMPETES and USICA having so many provisions in common it will be an easier task to reconcile any differences between the two measures when a House-Senate conference meets to negotiate a final bill. However, unlike USICA, which was approved on a strongly bi-partisan basis (with 19 Republican senators voting in favor), COMPETES passed on essentially a party-line vote—likely due to the inclusion of some environment and labor provisions that the opposition found controversial.

The NSF sections in COMPETES contain several components that are beneficial to social scientists as well as researchers more broadly:

  • Authorizes a more than doubling of the NSF budget over 5 years (to $17.9 billion in 2026);
  • Creates a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions focused on convergent and translational research;
  • Requires grantees to have Data Management plans; supports development of open data repositories;
  • Explicitly directs NSF to solicit proposals from SBE disciplines for cross-cutting and inter-disciplinary programs, including mid-scale infrastructure;
  • Ensures that SBE disciplines will be represented on review panels for such proposals;
  • Prioritizes research in climate change (including human-environmental interactions) and causes, consequences, prevention and response to violence;
  • Increase STEM participation by tackling issues such as implicit bias in grant review; sexual harassment in STEM; increasing diversity among STEM faculty; promote flexibility for researchers with caregiving responsibilities.

The provisions concerning SBE participation in convergence research and on those relevant review panels closely tracked comments that PAA submitted to the House Science Committee in 2020 as it began preliminary drafting of the bill that would eventually be introduced.

The next step to advance these measures is to convene a House-Senate conference committee to negotiate a compromise final measure that can garner final approval in both chambers. It is unclear how quickly the committee will form, nor how long it will take to complete negotiations. However, a final measure is expected to be enacted at some point this year. PAA will continue to advocate for inclusion of the SBE-related language in the final version, as well as other provisions that benefit our discipline.