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House committee advances $7 billion regional tech hubs legislation

July 29, 2021
By: Jason Rittenberg

Earlier this week, the House science committee advanced a series of technology-focused bills, including a $7 billion authorization of regional technology hubs. This legislation completes the committee’s work to produce a companion to the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. The House and Senate legislation are not identical, however, and so the chambers will need to bring their versions into alignment. Among the key differences are that the House authorizes less funding for the program but also creates a new regional clean energy innovation program.

The House science committee’s regional technology hubs program would, like the Senate’s, call on the Department of Commerce (Commerce) to define regional technology hubs around the country and award funds in the form of strategy development and implementation grants. While both chambers have provisions to ensure geographic diversity, the House’s current version defines a minimum of 10 designated hubs, compared to the Senate’s minimum of 18.

The committee bill includes some subtle, but meaningful, differences from the Senate’s version. First, the authority is assigned to the Secretary of Commerce without specifying which sub-agency would run the program, which the Senate assigned to the Economic Development Authority in cooperation with the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Second, the Secretary would be allowed to exercise judgment in determining the right number of implementation awards and sizes to match available appropriations. Third, the implementation grants would occur in an initial and a follow-on phase, creating a critical assessment point before the hub can access further funding.

Appropriations levels between the chambers currently differ by several billion dollars. The House science committee approved $50 million in authorization for strategy grants and $6.8 billion for implementation grants. The Senate’s figures were $575 million and $9.4 billion, respectively. The House bill does reallocate some of this difference to additional activities: $100 million for a new innovation-related data initiative that would direct Commerce to improve the availability of information useful to developing regional innovation economies; and, $250 million for the regional clean energy innovation program.

The regional clean energy innovation program would provide long-term funding to consortia focused on relevant technology research, development and implementation in a region. The Department of Energy would be able to make awards of up to five years that could be renewed for up to another five years, although the consortium would need to provide a 50 percent match for years three and beyond. Activities allowed by the program include facilitating the application of clean energy technology, planning, and stakeholder engagement.

legislation, policy, dept of commerce, regions