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Bipartisan bill seeks to counter China on emerging technology with $100 billion

The money would fund university and private sector research in the technologies of tomorrow

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., with lawmakers from both parties, wants to remake U.S. research and development spending to counter China.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., with lawmakers from both parties, wants to remake U.S. research and development spending to counter China. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Bipartisan lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Wednesday announced sweeping legislation that would overhaul the government’s approach to emerging technology with the aim of countering a push by China for innovation dominance this century.

The bicameral legislation would rechristen the National Science Foundation as the National Science and Technology Foundation and authorize $100 billion for a new directorate within the agency to fund research and development in 10 areas of emerging technology the lawmakers believe “will define global competitiveness” in the coming decades.

The fields of technology covered under the legislation range from familiar topics — artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics and automation and advanced telecommunications — to more obscure ones like biotechnology and genomics, quantum computing and semiconductors, according to a summary of the legislation. 

The newly created directorate would be authorized to use the $100 billion to increase funding for partnerships between research universities and the private sector and educational benefits including undergraduate scholarships, industry training programs and post-doctoral support.

[Pentagon AI chief says the technology could help spot future pandemics earlier]

The agency could also use the funding to “facilitate and accelerate the transfer of new technologies from the lab to the marketplace, including expanding access to investment capital” and coordinate with state officials and private companies to build “regional innovation ecosystems,” according to the summary.

The bill would authorize an additional $10 billion for the Commerce Department to designate 10 new regional technology hubs and help state and local officials “connect disadvantaged populations and places to new job and business opportunities developing key technologies.”

Schumer, D-N.Y., and the other lawmakers backing the legislation — Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. — describe it as a push to reverse eroding American leadership in innovation that could be further exacerbated by the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown the science and technology gap between the United States and the rest of the world is closing fast and that threatens our long-term health, economic competitiveness, and national security,” Schumer said in a statement. “America cannot afford to continue our decades-long underinvestment and expect to lead the world.”

Young accused the Chinese government of using the moment to get ahead of other countries “by virtue of being the first to emerge on the other side of this pandemic.”

“Instead of allowing Beijing to threaten our values and interests, now is the time for America to invest in ourselves and give the world a clear alternative,” Young said in a statement.

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