America COMPETES Act of 2022 promotes informal STEM education and intersection of science and society

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521) on a vote of 222–210. This bill contains major policy provisions and authorizes funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as well as a number of other issues related to competitiveness.

Vote totals on America COMPETES Act of 2022
Final vote total for H.R. 4521 (America COMPETES Act of 2022)

The bill incorporates many of the elements of last year’s NSF for the Future Act that ASTC had supported earlier.

Although we’re still working to understand all the details of this nearly 3,000-page legislation, there are a number of elements that are of particular interest to our community:

Related to the National Science Foundation (NSF)

  • Authorizes a near-doubling of the NSF budget over the next five years, as well as dramatic increases for the DOE Office of Science and NIST.
  • Establishes a new Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions “to advance research and development solutions to address societal and national challenges for the benefit of all Americans.” The bill explicitly asks for the new directorate to incorporate “education and training for students and researchers on engaging with end users and the public” and to set “set up formal avenues for public input” to ensure that ethical, legal, and societal considerations are integrated into priority-setting.” (Section 10308)
  • Calls for NSF to support research on programming that engages PreK-8 students through informal STEM opportunities “that are designed to encourage interest, engagement, and skills development for students in STEM. (Section 10304)
  • Asks the NSF Director to engage an independent evaluator to “assess how the Broader Impacts review criterion is applied across the Foundation and make recommendations for improving the effectiveness” in meeting its goals and to award grants to support activities to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and availability of resources for implementing Broader Impacts review criterion.(Section 10306)
  • Includes a Sense of Congress that incorporating ethical, social, safety, and security considerations in the research design and review process would help mitigate potential harms before they happen. (Section 10306)
  • Calls upon NSF to include a requirement for an ethics statement in grant proposals that would provide a place to identify potential risks to society from the proposed research and how those risks could be mitigated, including through appropriate partnerships and collaborations—and to establish a related competitive grants program to assess potential ethical and societal implications of NSF research and to develop and verify approaches to mitigate these risks. (Section 10306)
  • In supporting climate change research, explicitly includes opportunities for training climate change researchers and others on community engagement and science communication and “the development of effective strategies for public and community engagement in all stages of the research and development process.”
  • Explicitly calls for NSF to continue to “support databases, tools, methods, and other activities that secure and improve existing physical and digital biological research collections,” improve their accessibility, and to facilitate the transfer of significant collections, including to museums and universities. It also asks NSF to establish an Action Center for Biological Collections to facilitate coordination and data sharing among cutting of practice for research, education, workforce training, evaluation, and business model development.
  • Calls for the creation of no fewer than three multidisciplinary NSF Centers for Transformative Education Research and Translation to support research and development on widespread and sustained implementation of STEM education innovations. (Section 10304)
  • Waives the cost-sharing requirement on the Major Research Instrumentation Program and for teaching fellowships within the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program for five years. This amendment was offered by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY).
  • Authorizes a funding program to nonprofits that would support hands-on STEM learning opportunities, including via after-school activities, while prioritizing serving students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches. This amendment was offered by Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV).

Other provisions

  • The Department of Energy is requested to increase collaboration between teachers and scientists to support the development of a scientific workforce and to take steps to broaden participation to increase diversity in disciplines relevant to the Department. (Section 10111)
  • Establishes a National Engineering Biology Research and Development Initiative within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy “to advance societal well-being, national security, sustainability and economic productivity and competitiveness.” The initiative will include consideration of “improving the understanding of engineering biology of the scientific and lay public and supporting greater evidence-based public discourse about its benefits and risks.” And that “public input and outreach are integrated into the Initiative by the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions through mechanisms such as workshops, consensus conferences, and educational events.” (Section 10403)
  • Each Federal science agency is asked to implement a 2-year pilot orientation activity for program officers and members of standing review committee to educate reviewers on research related to implicit bias and efforts to minimize its impact. (Section 10505)
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson speaks about America COMPETES Act of 2022
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson speaks about America COMPETES Act of 2022

The COMPETES Act also provides funding to support domestic semiconductor research, development, and manufacturing—and has a number of additional provisions related to sexual harassment in science, immigration, supply chain, marine mammal protection, and much more.

The legislation will ultimately need to be reconciled with a related Senate bill. Last year, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) on a vote of 68–32.

Additional Information

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