At a Feb. 27 House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing, representatives largely criticized the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal for cuts to investments in research and development (R&D), but praised funding increases to “industries of the future” like artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum information science (QIS).

“The administration claimed that this proposal represents a six percent increase for R&D. This is a creative use of math that has not fooled us,” said Chairwoman Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. “This budget proposal is only six percent better than last year’s even worse proposal. And, fortunately, Congress rejected last year’s proposal and appropriated for R&D increases.”

She explained that the R&D funding proposals represent a nine percent cut to current appropriations, even with the large increases to industries of the future. She also raised concerns with NASA’s cuts to research and education and cuts to non-defense R&D at the Department of Energy, including the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy.

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“At the National Science Foundation, large increases for AI and quantum science, which of course I support, are more than offset by cuts to other areas of research,” Johnson said as an example.

Ranking Member Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., conversely praised the president’s prioritization of American leadership in key tech areas.

“The president’s FY2021 budget request includes bold proposals for ensuring America’s leadership in priority areas including artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and space exploration,” he said. Lucas went on to praise the White House’s goal to double the nation’s investment in AI and QIS over the next two years.

OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier testified in front of the committee and took the opportunity to praise the Joint Committee on Research Environments (JCORE) progress on research security. He spent the last few months meeting the academic leaders and allies abroad on the challenges of maintaining a secure yet open research environment.

“The JCORE subcommittee on research security is engaging every sector of our scientific community to protect our research enterprise while also ensuring the openness that it needs to thrive,” Droegemeier said.

He also showed support for the Securing American Science and Technology Act of 2019, introduced in May 2019 by members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

“This act tasks OSTP with creating an interagency working group … and also work with the National Academies to stand up a set of roundtables to basically have conversations addressing these important issues,” he explained. “We are in a different environment today with countries, in particular China, that really do not hide their intentions about undermining our research enterprise … The key here is to make sure that we put in policies that focus on addressing those issues while not unduly tying our own hands or increasing the administrative workloads.”

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.