House China Competitiveness Bill Has Little to Say About Space

House China Competitiveness Bill Has Little to Say About Space

The House bill to parallel the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to ensure U.S. competitiveness with China has finally been introduced. The Senate version passed last summer incorporating other measures including a NASA authorization act and legislation related to space traffic management. They are not included in this House bill.

Last year, hopes were high for the “Endless Frontier Act” to invest in research and development to keep the United States ahead of China.

As often happens, a lot changed in order to get enough Senate votes for it to pass. Intended to create a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation, the bill morphed into a mammoth 2,276-page piece of legislation that also added money for the Department of Energy and its national labs, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, technology programs at the Department of Commerce, and tens of billions of dollars for domestic semiconductor manufacturing capacity.

Renamed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), it also included a NASA Authorization Act that recommended $10 billion over 5 years for a second Human Landing System for the Artemis program and Senator Wicker’s Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency  (SPACE) Act to support work at the Department of Commerce for Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management.

Democrats and Republicans agree on the need for the United States to be better positioned in science and technology to counter China, but, as they say, the devil is in the details. The bill passed the Senate 68-32 with 48 Democrats, 19 Republicans, and one Independent voting in the affirmative and 31 Republicans and one Independent against.

Meanwhile, the House was focused on trying to pass other legislation and it ended up on the back burner. Now the House is ready to act with the introduction of a significantly revised version of H.R. 4521. Legislation with that number was just approved by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee last week as the Bioeconomy Research and Development Act. The revised version is entitled the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength, or America COMPETES Act.

From a space policy perspective the important point is that the NASA authorizaton act and SPACE Act are not included.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Chairwoman, House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

NASA is barely mentioned in the 2,912 page text that incorporates 12 additional bills considered by House SS&T, many of which already have passed the House: H.R. 3593, the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act; H.R. 4609, the National Institute of Standards and Technology for the Future Act of 2021; H.R. 2225, the National Science Foundation for the Future Act; H.R. 204, the STEM Opportunities Act;  H.R. 210, the Rural STEM Education Research Act; H.R. 2027, the MSI STEM Achievement Act; H.R. 2695, the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act; H.R. 144, the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act; H.R. 3858, the National Science and Technology Strategy Act of 2021; H.R. 4606, the Energizing Technology Transfer Act; H.R. 4588, the Regional Innovation Act of 2021; and H.R. 6291, the Microelectronics Research for Energy Innovation Act.

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said the new bill will “bolster our nation’s competitiveness and reaffirm our global leadership in innovation and technology. These transformative investments in science and innovation will help us to revitalize our research infrastructure, create STEM opportunities for all, build clean energy solutions, address the climate crisis, reinforce our national security, enhance our semiconductor manufacturing capabilities, and so much more.”

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma), Ranking Member, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Republicans don’t agree. Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) lambasted the bill as “a partisan package cobbled together by Democratic leadership with no Republican input.” By combining “competitiveness bills with partisan poison pills, H.R. 4521 undoes more than a year of bipartisan work by the House Science Committee to develop and pass comprehensive legislation to double investment in basic research.”

The schism is also at the top leadership levels. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said he is proud of the bill, which he calls the “Make It In America” plan. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said it is “a toothless bill that does more to appease [Democrats’] corporate allies than it does to strengthen America’s security.”

Whatever its ultimate fate, as written the bill has almost nothing to do with NASA or space traffic managment. It does, however, direct the Department of Energy to engage in space radiation research for human exploration and “cosmic frontier” studies of  dark energy and dark matter. It also has provisions about engaging with China on negotiating norms of behavior in space.

Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.

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