Senate Passes Bill to Authorize Funding for Technology, Science and Research, Tighten Security on Research
June 14, 2021

The Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act Tuesday on a vote of 68 to 32, a bipartisan effort to authorize funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) that also contains a range of provisions aimed at tightening security on research activities.

The massive legislative package authorizes over $250 billion for research and development, including $81 billion for the NSF—$52 billion for existing activities and $29 billion over five years for a new Directorate for Technology and Innovation. (Note that “authorizes” simply means setting funding parameters for congressional appropriators—it does not actually provide the funds.)

Among the notable policy provisions, the bill:

  • authorizes administrative flexibilities and financial support for researchers impacted by COVID-19, which ACE and other higher education associations supported;
  • authorizes appropriations for the Fulbright-Hays Program and reauthorizes the Title VI international and foreign language programs at the Department of Education (ED);
  • creates a new Research Security and Integrity Information Sharing Analysis Organization to share information about threats from foreign entities with the academic community;
  • requires institutions funded by NSF to annually submit final copies of any contracts or agreements between the institution or affiliated student or faculty groups that are directly or indirectly funded by the Chinese government;
  • prohibits NSF funds to an institution of higher education with a Confucius Institute (CI), unless that institution receives a waiver from the Department of Defense under previously passed language; and  
  • requires institutions with CIs to submit copies of their memorandums of understanding to ED for review, or lose access to non-Title IV funding.  

However, there are several problematic issues with this legislation. Of most concern, the final bill includes language regarding Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) review of conditional gifts and contracts to institutions of higher education over $1 million, which ACE and other associations have opposed, as well as a conflicting provision which would prohibit CFIUS from carrying out such reviews. It also includes a new Section 124 to the Higher Education Act which would require higher education institutions with research and development expenditures over $5 million to maintain databases of gifts and contracts from foreign entities to individual faculty and staff, and lowers the reporting threshold under Section 117 foreign gift reporting from $250,000 to $50,000.

At this time, the bill’s path in the House is unclear. Tomorrow, the House Science Committee will mark up the National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy (DOE) Science for the Future Act, which would authorize increased funding and new programs at NSF and DOE. However, it is unknown what the House will do around some of the security provisions included in the Senate bill.

Watch Sarah Spreitzer, ACE director of government relations, discuss the bill with Robin Matross Helms, our assistant vice president for learning and engagement:​