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What a second Trump administration might mean for science and innovation

September 10, 2020
By: Jason Rittenberg

[Update Oct. 1] Editor’s note: On Sept. 25, the Trump campaign released a new document, “The Platinum Plan,” containing proposals described as “President Trump’s promise to Black America.” Our original story has been updated to reflect new proposals stated in this plan.

In advance of the Republican National Convention, the Donald Trump reelection campaign released a second term agenda. This plan contains 50 items, most of which are goals (e.g., “Create one million new small businesses”), but some provide insight to more specific policy actions that the administration could pursue. Combining the relevant items from this plan with the White House’s actions over the past term, we can identify possible implications of a second Trump administration for science and innovation.

If the Trump campaign releases more detailed plans for a second term, SSTI will provide updates.

As organized in SSTI’s coverage of Joe Biden’s plan, this overview of Trump’s proposals is broken down into the following topics: higher education, immigration, infrastructure, Opportunity Zones, research and development, small business, and workforce development.


Higher Education

The Trump campaign plan does not include items specific to higher education, except to say that illegal immigrants would be blocked from receiving free tuition.

[Update Oct. 1] The campaign’s “Platinum Plan” promises increases for Pell grants and seems to indicate that these would be made available for vocational programs (the phrasing, “allow for vocational employment and second change home comers” is unclear), which would align with the administration’s position on Pell grants (see below).

Last spring, the administration published a memo on how to reform higher education. The bulk of the proposals outlined in the memo relate to making education more cost-effective for workers. More specifically, under these reforms, accreditation would need to emphasize student outcomes, “market-driven” programs to support non-traditional partners would be tested, Pell Grants would be expanded to include costs of short-term programs, and timelines for credential completion would be accelerated. The memo also proposes placing limits on student borrowing, condensing income-based repayment plans into one, 12.5 percent option, and expanding the public service loan forgiveness option to all students after 180 months.



The campaign plan has six items related to ending illegal immigration and limiting legal immigration. Most of these do not appear directly related to policies that encourage immigration for STEM graduates or entrepreneurs. One, “prohibit American companies from replacing United State citizens with lower-cost foreign workers,” could be a reference to further or continued H-1B restrictions.

The Trump administration has been active in executing policies related to immigration. This has included ending waivers that would allow immigrant entrepreneurs to enter the country legally and placing new restrictions on the use of H-1B visas. The White House previously released a proposal for a new, “merit-based” immigration process, although it is not clear if this proposal would be a priority for a next term.



The campaign plan includes building the “world’s greatest infrastructure system,” but does not clarify if or how new technologies or research infrastructure may factor into these plans. In addressing internet access, one of the goals is to “win the race to 5G” as part of providing national, wireless internet access. The plan does not mention broadband investment or otherwise address internet access apart from 5G.

[Update Oct. 1] The campaign’s “Platinum Plan” proposes making a $20 billion investment in broadband and internet access.

The administration’s prioritization of infrastructure, particularly as related to regional science and innovation economies, is difficult to assess. Over the course of the first term, the White House released several plans for infrastructure investment; the most detailed of which was a 2018 plan for Congress to authorize a $1.5 trillion investment. While not proposing any programs specifically aimed at internet access or technology development, this proposal would have allowed rural and “transformative” projects to include broadband infrastructure, and one of seven uses of a $100 billion incentive grant program would be to implement new technologies. The administration’s budgets also present a mixed record for R&D infrastructure, as they have proposed fully-funding some federal laboratories and research facilities while dramatically reducing those same types of investments at other agencies.


Opportunity Zones

OZs have become a high-profile policy for the White House. The campaign plan pledges to expand the incentive, and OZs were one of a relatively small number of policies specifically cited during the Republican convention. The administration’s prioritization can also be seen in the integration of OZs into many other programs at agencies including the EDA, Department of Education, Department of Transportation and Small Business Administration.

[Update Oct. 1] The campaign’s “Platinum Plan” indicates that OZs may be expanded to include “benefits for local hires."


Research and Development

Trump’s second agenda plan does not specifically reference R&D but does include several goals that would likely entail this sort of investment. One example is a goal to “launch Space Force, establish a permanent manned presence on the Moon and send the first manned mission to Mars,” which would seem to require expanding NASA’s and Department of Defense’s R&D budgets. Within the foreign policy part of the plan, the campaign has a goal to build a “great” cybersecurity defense system and a missile defense system, which, again, will require more research. A policy proposal, which may relate to R&D or commercialization efforts, would allow 100 percent expense deductions for “essential industries like pharmaceuticals and robotics who bring back their manufacturing” to the U.S.

[Update Oct. 1] The “Platinum Plan” proposes to connect “minority institutions” with federal scientific and engineering research and development.

The administration’s budgets have not been supportive of expanding federal R&D investment. For example, the proposed FY 2021 budget would cut basic research by 6 percent and applied research by 12 percent across the federal government. Topically, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has directed agencies to emphasize research in security, future technology, energy and health, with a particular emphasis on artificial intelligence, quantum computing and the bioeconomy. Both OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget have stated support for increasing the commercial application of federal research but, by pulling federal research investments back from the later stages of development, want this effort more fully placed on the shoulders of industry.


Small Business

Trump’s second term plan includes several items related to small and new businesses. Broadly, the campaign’s stated goals are to create 10 million new jobs in 10 months and to create one million new businesses. The policies related to business growth and investment are primarily tied to tax benefits. However, the nature of these tax policies are not entirely clear. There are proposals for “Made in America” tax credits, cutting taxes — which may include capital gains taxes — and the previously-mentioned OZ expansion and expensing benefits for reshoring certain jobs. While not tied to small businesses alone, one proposal would bar companies who “outsource to China” from receiving federal contracts.

[Update Oct. 1] The “Platinum Plan” proposes to “increase opportunities” through Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs); it is not clear how this proposal relates to the administration’s requests to end funding for the CDFI Fund in its annual budget requests. The plan also suggests making the Minority Business Development Agency permanent and promoting its leader to the assistant secretary level.

These proposals seem to be consistent with the administration’s budget proposals over the past several years. Each Trump budget would have removed much of the federal government’s small business support that is not related to tax policy, including eliminating the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program. Related to tax policy, the administration actively supported 2017’s tax legislation, which focused on reducing taxes.


Workforce Development

The campaign’s plan does not include any items directly related to workforce development. There are multiple statements about creating jobs, reshoring jobs and protecting jobs, but no references to new training, education or other means of improving workers’ opportunities.

Previous administration budgets have placed significant emphasis on apprenticeship programs. Many of the proposals in the higher education memo, discussed above, could also lead to improved education access for workers.

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