The America COMPETES Act, introduced by House Democrats late Tuesday, is a companion to a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June 2021, though the House version lacks Republican support. The bill is designed to increase domestic technological advancement and innovation in order to make the U.S. more competitive with China, and includes $45 billion to ease supply chain disruptions and $52 billion for domestic semiconductor fabrication.
The legislation also contains several provisions establishing and funding diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
The bill sets aside $2 million a year for a Department of Energy (DOE) program intended to “increase the number and the diversity, equity, and inclusion of highly skilled science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals working in Department of Energy mission-relevant disciplines.” The secretary of Energy must also submit a plan to Congress for “broadening participation of underrepresented groups.”
In addition, the legislation includes a provision establishing a grant-making program through the National Science Foundation (NSF) dubbed the “NSF INCLUDES Initiative” that funds higher education efforts to broaden “participation in STEM studies and careers of groups historically underrepresented in such studies and careers.”
The bill appropriates $8 million each year from 2022 to 2026 to fund another NSF grant-making initiative providing funding for universities and colleges to increase diversity among their faculty and recruit “underrepresented minority groups in academic STEM careers.” A similar provision sets aside $15 million a year to increase diversity among undergraduates in STEM fields.
The NSF is also instructed to create a program funding aimed at increasing “diversity in tech research” that awards grants to universities for efforts “including research related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the technology sector,” according to the legislation.
The NSF’s Fostering STEM Research Diversity and Capacity Program, which is appropriated $600 million over the next four years, awards grants to eligible institutions to study how to engage and retain STEM students from “diverse backgrounds,” according to the bill.
It includes a provision codifying the position of chief diversity officer within the NSF, and appropriates $5 million over the next four years for the office. The post is tasked with matters related to diversity and inclusion, and is responsible for increasing representation from “minority-serving institutions,” tribal colleges and historically black colleges and universities.
The legislation also requires at least 5% of funding for state apprenticeship agencies to go towards “supporting and expanding diversity” in occupations suitable for apprenticeship.
The diversity provisions have attracted strong bipartisan support, with certain Republicans viewing them as a means to increase competitiveness with China by expanding America’s pool of STEM talent, according to a House Science Republican aide.
Many of the diversity initiatives were also drawn from bills that previously passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, including the DOE Science for the Future Act and the National Science Foundation for the Future Act.
However, despite the Senate’s version of the bill passing with over a dozen Republicans on board, the House version appears to be more contentious. Oklahoma Republican Rep. Frank Lucas, ranking member of the House Science Committee, released a statement late Tuesday excoriating House Democrats for including “poison pills” in the legislation fracturing bipartisan support.
“Instead of focusing on strong consensus policies, she’s filled her package with poison pills with no bipartisan support. There was no need to make this partisan, but it seems that the Speaker can’t resist taking good policy and making it controversial,” Lucas said. “At first glance, this bill actually weakens our ability to deal with the malign influence from China. We cannot afford to play politics while the Chinese Communist Party threatens our economic and national security.”
Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers voiced similar concerns, calling the bill “another attempt to outspend the CCP with duplicative, multi-billion-dollar command and control programs that will diminish our global competitiveness, fail to solve the supply chain crisis, and make inflation worse.”