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Bill would reform NSF and plant innovation hubs nationwide

The Endless Frontier Act would rename and add a directorate to the agency. It also would fix the uneven distribution of jobs and capital concentrated now in just a few cities.
Sarina Neote
June 17, 2020

The Endless Frontier Act, introduced in both the House and the Senate at the end of May, would transform the United States' national strategy for investing in science and technology. It also would fix the uneven distribution of innovation jobs across the country, which has concentrated investment and resulting wealth in a handful of cities.

On May 28, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., unveiled the bipartisan, bicameral Endless Frontier Act to reform (and rename) the National Science Foundation, establish a regional technology hub program, and require a strategy and report on economic security, science, research and innovation. This legislation also would authorize Congress to pump up to $100 billion into the agency over five years if it so chooses.

The bill emphasizes that the federal government must address the uneven geographical distribution of innovation jobs, saying: “More than 90 percent of the nation’s innovation sector employment growth in the last 15 years was generated in just 5 major cities.”

According to a report in December by the Brookings Institution, those five major cities — Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and San Diego — are well established as innovation hubs and continue to attract skilled workers and capital at the expense of other regions of the country.

The act would establish, with $10 billion from the Department of Commerce, 10 to 15 regional hubs that would serve as large-scale, platform labs for innovation. This would change the job market for many Americans, redistribute skilled workers and spread the positive economic impact of innovation.

If the legislation becomes law, the NSF would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation, and the agency, whose mission has historically been to invest in curiosity-driven research, would gain a new technology directorate headed by its own deputy director. Though the National Science Board would continue to provide oversight for the agency, the new technology directorate would have its own board appointed by Congress.

If passed, the act would distribute innovation capacity across the country and focus on new lines of funding and program development for science education to push the U.S.’s innovation sector forward.

Sarina Neote

Sarina Neote is ASBMB's science policy manager.

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