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Innovation bills pass Congress at end of session

January 07, 2021

Near the end of 2020, Congress passed the FY 2021 defense authorization (overriding a presidential veto) and folded multiple policy bills into the joint appropriations and coronavirus relief bill. This legislation includes new authorizations for semiconductor research facilities, clean and renewable energy innovation, and new studies of assets for critical research areas.

Innovation-related policies within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2021 include the following:

  • The law contains significant portions of the CHIPS Act, including permission for the Secretary of Commerce to establish a National Semiconductor Technology Center and a Manufacturing USA center focused on semiconductors, and a Department of Defense-led semiconductor research network. Note that all of these are subject to the availability of appropriations.
  • There are several minor adjustments to Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), the most significant of which appears to be direction to the Department of Defense to use more full contracts, rather than temporary contracts, for awardees.
  • The bill unifies rules related to disclosures of current R&D funding across federal agencies.
  • The existing pilot program supporting the defense industrial base has been expanded to include the defense innovation base, which will allow innovative, non-manufacturing companies to participate.
  • The secretary is authorized to coordinate national security partnerships with higher education, companies and venture capitalists to advance security technologies.

New authorizations included in the FY 2021 appropriations and coronavirus relief bill include the following:

  • Reauthorization for many Department of Energy activities. The House’s language defining an array of new innovation programs was dropped from the final bill, but the version that passed still allows the department to create small business vouchers, regional innovation hubs and energy accelerators.
  • Permission for the Department of Agriculture to participate in the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility, established in Kansas.
  • Expanded opportunities to fund environment innovation by modifying the Clean Air Act to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to fund projects related to carbon capture technologies and to permit technology prize competitions.

The legislation requires studies of America’s technological readiness in many sectors, including artificial intelligence, internet of things, and blockchain.

dept of defense, clean energy, dept of energy, nist