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Bills Boosting NSF Funding Spark Concern As Congress Takes Aim at Foreign Threats

Members of Congress from both parties are rallying around bills that would boost funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), but they also contain provisions designed to shore up federally funded research from foreign interference that some say go too far. Advocates hope these provisions can be revised before coming to a full vote.

At the core of the legislative effort is S. 1260, the Endless Frontier Act,[1] which would create a new Directorate for Technology and Innovation at NSF, with a five-year appropriation of $100 billion. First introduced in the last session of Congress, a new, 160-page version was announced April 21 by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. However, a fairly unusual process has proceeded because Schumer in February “directed the chairs and members of our relevant committees to start drafting a legislative package to outcompete China and create new American jobs,” with the Endless Frontiers Act as the “centerpiece.”[2]

Of immediate interest is a version more than twice as long as the base bill, which passed the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on May 12.[3] It would broaden the requirement for institutions applying for NSF funding to include in their applications a plan for providing responsible conduct of research (RCR) training to “faculty and other senior personnel.” NSF has had an RCR training requirement since 2007, but it has only applied to students and post-doctoral researchers working on a project.

Additionally, “training and mentorship” would have to “raise awareness of potential security threats and of Federal export control, disclosure, and reporting requirements.”

The bill also calls for NSF to establish a $5 million Research Security and Policy Office, to be headed by a chief of research security. In March 2020, NSF appointed Rebecca Spyke Keiser to a new position of chief of research security strategy.

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