Congress unanimously passes law for research and innovation

New law strengthens economic competitiveness

December 19, 2016

BOULDER, Colo. — By voting unanimously this month to pass the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, Congress has strengthened U.S. science and provided a major boost to the nation's economy and national security.

"Scientific research is the critical foundation of economic competitiveness," said Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). "This bipartisan legislation will propel advances in research and strengthen collaborations between scientists and private industry, creating jobs and providing far-ranging benefits for the nation in the years to come."

Congress passes new law to bolster research: UCAR President Antonio Busalacchi
UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

Busalacchi noted that federal investments in atmospheric research alone have spawned a multibillion private weather industry, providing critical forecasts to business leaders and local officials and helping to save lives from tornadoes, floods, and other disasters.

The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which maximizes opportunities for basic research, won unanimous passage last week in the House and Senate. It was sponsored by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan), along with John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida).

The bill encourages scientific entrepreneurship; provides incentives for private sector innovation; promotes improvements in manufacturing; strengthens national security; and promotes diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. It most directly focuses on programs in the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Key provisions include:

Maximizing basic research

  • Merit review: Reaffirms the appropriateness of NSF intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria used to evaluate grant proposals.
  • EPSCoR: Updates NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to continue promoting groundbreaking research in states that receive relatively little federal research money.

Leveraging the private sector

  • Incentivizes private-sector innovation: Updates prize competition authority to encourage greater participation in federal prize competitions.
  • Expands opportunities for public involvement: Permits federal science agencies to use crowdsourcing as a tool to conduct agency projects.

Improving manufacturing

  • Encourages improved manufacturing: Adjusts the federal cost-share ratio and implements new accountability and oversight provisions within NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program.

Promoting innovation and technology transfer

  • Bolsters scientific entrepreneurship: Authorizes the successful I-Corps program to help scientists move their research from the laboratory to the marketplace.
  • Reaffirms importance of commercialization: Directs NSF to continue awarding translational research grants and strengthen public-private cooperation.

Supporting STEM

  • Scientific community input: Establishes a STEM Advisory Panel composed of academic and industry representatives to provide recommendations on federal STEM programs.
  • Diversity in STEM fields: Creates a working group to study ways to improve inclusion of women and underrepresented individuals in STEM fields.

The legislation also includes provisions to strengthen national security and foster more communication between science and national security agencies. It reduces paperwork burdens and promotes transparency by requiring public notices of grants to justify the project's expenditures and confirm that they align with NSF priorities.

"Congress's unanimous support of scientific research and innovation is an important step for securing our nation's future, " Busalacchi said. "At UCAR we look forward to working with NSF and other federal agencies, the research community, and the private sector to advance research in support of society."

 


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The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.