What Biden proposes for science and innovation

August 20, 2020
By: Jason Rittenberg

[Update Oct. 1] Editor’s note: On Sept. 23, the Biden campaign announced a “Small Business and Entrepreneurship Advisory Council.” A description has been added to the “Small Business” section of this article.

The Democratic Party officially nominated Joe Biden as their candidate for president this week. Despite just taking this first step into the general election, the former vice president has already announced numerous policy proposals. Using statements from the campaign website as a resource, the following is an overview of his science and innovation proposals.

The Biden campaign currently presents these proposals without any formal indication of prioritization. Clearly, the volume of policies suggests that acting on all of them would be challenging. SSTI will provide updates if Biden releases additional plans or provides a better indication of his priorities within these existing proposals.

The Republican Party is expected to re-nominate Donald Trump as their presidential candidate next week. SSTI will cover what we know about his campaign’s plans for science and innovation in a future article.

This article covers Biden’s proposals on the following topics: higher education, immigration, infrastructure, Opportunity Zones, research and development, small business, and workforce development.


Higher Education

Biden’s proposals for higher education primarily revolve around improving the affordability of achieving a degree or credential, including:

  • Reduce the direct costs of higher education to individuals by —
    • Providing two years of debt-free community college, allowing “every hard-working individual” not to pay tuition;
    • Allowing financial aid to go toward costs beyond tuition and fees to help reduce barriers to completing a degree;
    • Making public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000;
    • Doubling the maximum value of Pell grants and tie future increases to inflation;
    • Expanding student loan forgiveness options through income-based repayment programs and for public servants; and,
  • Provide grants to states that reduce the time needed to acquire degrees and credentials.



Biden’s platform indicates that he would change many current immigration policies. His most relevant proposals for regional innovation economies include:

  • Allow the number of work-based visas to vary based on economic conditions;
  • Exempt recent Ph.D. graduates in STEM fields from visa caps; and,
  • Create a new visa category for large- and mid-sized cities and counties that want to attract immigrants to support local population growth.



The campaign’s primary infrastructure proposal related to innovation economies is a $20 billion investment in rural broadband and also pledges to expand broadband or 5G to every American. Other proposals would expand investments related to specific sectors (particularly clean energy and smart transportation) that may create new and expanded opportunities for technologies and startups in those fields.


Opportunity Zones

The campaign recognizes that the current implementation of Opportunity Zones (OZ) has a limited ability to generate social impacts and plans to launch a commission to study changes to the program. At this time, they envision those changes including mandatory impact reporting and offering a further incentive to projects that go beyond meeting the OZ’s statutory requirements and attempt to invest in socially-beneficial projects.


Research and Development

The campaign’s proposals include many references to expanded R&D. Much of this investment is described in the “Made in America” plan to expand support for manufacturing and innovation. Here, Biden proposes a new, $300 billion investment in R&D. In other proposals, R&D is mentioned in the context of research to benefit farmers and as a core part of Biden’s climate initiatives. A summary of major R&D-related proposals include the following:

  • New National Institutes of Health, an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), and Advanced Research Projects Agency on Climate (ARPA-C);
  • “Breakthrough” R&D initiatives in key technologies, such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology;
  • Increasing R&D at many federal agencies and grants made for extramural research;
  • A “scaled-up” version of the Small Business Innovation (SBIR) program;
  • Research lab, manufacturing equipment and business park investments for educational institutions and their partners;
  • Strengthening national labs and the “regional innovation ecosystems and economies” they support;
  • Taxpayers will benefit from federally-funded R&D that yields profitable inventions by strengthening federal royalty rights;
  • Employers receiving federal funds will give employees notice of technology and automation changes, offer new jobs to existing employees, and provide skills training;
  • More than 50 communities will be chosen as technology hubs that will “build on” Manufacturing USA, combining new federal R&D investment with workforce development and business participation; and,
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) will see new R&D support, including:
    • At least 200 new centers of excellence to “serve as research incubators;”
    • Additional resources for research labs and related infrastructure at these institutions; and,
    • Any federal R&D award to universities with an endowment greater than $1 billion will form a “meaningful partnership” with, and provide at least a 10 percent subcontract to, an HBCU, TCU or MSI.


Small Business

While Biden has not yet released an official statement describing planned support for small businesses — at least, not beyond changes he would make to the Paycheck Protection Program — many of the campaign’s proposals touch on new capital and services that he would make available to small- and mid-sized companies. Policies proposed by the campaign include the following:

  • Implement a new and expanded State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) —
    • One part of the plan, the “Women’s Agenda,” proposes to double the original program (to $3 billion), and
    • Another part, “Racial Economic Equity,” proposes a $10 billion SSBCI focused venture capital investment in minority-owned companies and companies in lower-income areas;
  • Provide a 4x increase in funding to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership;
  • Create a national network of free incubators and innovation hubs co-located with Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), libraries, community colleges, HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs;
  • Revisit recent changes made to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA); and,
  • Expand rural capital access, including to cover the costs of implementing new agriculture technologies and by expanding the Community Facilities program and licensing new Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs).

[Update Oct. 1] The Biden campaign announced a “Small Business and Entrepreneurship Advisory Council,” which is described primarily as relating to outreach but may play a role in helping a possible transition team with policy priorities. The 28-member council is comprised primarily of business owners and current or former elected officials. Members include Senate small business committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin, House small business Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez, former SBA administrators Karen Mills and Maria Contreras-Sweet, and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.


Workforce Development

The campaign’s proposals for workforce and skills development heavily revolve around a $50 billion investment in community college-business partnerships and apprenticeship initiatives. Among the more specific policies are the following:

  • Universal access to individual career services;
  • Make unemployment insurance cover the duration of training programs “while unemployment rates are elevated;”
  • Investments in skill development around digital, statistical and technology fields;
  • Support for high school- and community college-business partnerships leading to high-demand credentials;
  • Establish a business development program at every public community college;
  • Expand apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs; and,
  • Implement new professional graduate programs and career pipelines at HBCUs, TCUs and MSIs.
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