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Massive House innovation bill would fund semiconductor incentives, create tech hubs, NSF directorate

January 27, 2022
By: Jason Rittenberg

Earlier this week, House Democrats released its version of a wide-ranging innovation policy bill. This legislation includes authorization for Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs — a program SSTI’s Dan Berglund testified about before the House science committee last June. The bill also would establish a new directorate within the National Science Foundation (NSF), reauthorize the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy (Energy) Office of Science, and fund incentives for U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturing.

The America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (COMPETES), is the long-awaited response to the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act (USICA). While the bills align across many sections, the House version includes additional components (particularly changes to immigration law) that have not passed the Senate.

COMPETES includes $50 billion in funding for semiconductor manufacturing loans and incentives and another $2 billion for related R&D. These programs were proposed under the CHIPS Act and authorized by the FY 2021 defense bill but have yet to be funded. These are the only sections of either the COMPETES or USICA bills that include appropriations.

The legislation’s new and expanded authorities include many provisions that will be of interest to tech-based economic development practitioners, such as the following:

  • Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs — Establishes a five-year program at the Department of Commerce to: (a) fund regional innovation strategy development; (b) designate hubs around the country; and, (c) provide a total of $6.8 billion in implementation grant funding.
  • NSF Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions — Supports translational R&D that addresses societal challenges (such as environmental sustainability and cybersecurity) through Technology Research Institutes, capacity-building grants, scholarships and more.
  • Manufacturing Extension Partnership Pilot — Creates a new program allowing NIST to make additional grants to MEP centers with the goal of supporting employee training or ownership, strengthening supply chains, and assisting manufacturers in the adoption of advanced technologies.
  • Clean energy innovation programs — Expands on authorities for Energy to operate an incubator network, university prize competition, entrepreneurial fellowships and employee leave programs at National Labs, and a small business voucher program.
  • Immigration options for entrepreneurs and STEM graduates — The House bill includes the creation of a startup visa and allows admission of immigrant and non-immigrant entrepreneurs, as well as visas for doctoral STEM graduates. These provisions appear to be similar to those included in past iterations of the Startup Act, which is bipartisan legislation that SSTI has long supported.

These are just a few of the policies contained within the 2,912-page House bill (also available: a 109-page detailed summary, and a 20-page “fact sheet”).

The outlook for the COMPETES/USICA legislation is unclear. Many of the proposals are broadly popular in Congress: the Senate passed USICA with bipartisan support; the House passed the NSF for the Future Act with bipartisan support; and, the House science committee advanced multiple bills — including the regional technology hubs authorization — unanimously. However, the America COMPETES proposal does not seem to enjoy the same bipartisan consensus.

Once, and if, the House passes the bill on the floor, the chambers will move to conference America COMPETES with USICA. The resultant legislation will then need to pass both chambers again before being submitted to the president.

legislation, innovation, congress, semiconductors, nsf, dept of energy, immigration