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by Bennett Daviss
The National Science Foundation will be renamed, given an additional $100 billion over five years, and charged with maintaining the U.S. leadership in global technological innovation under a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The proposal also would alter the foundation’s mission from pure research alone to add a new emphasis on research that produces practical results on a timetable.
The Senate bill, called the Endless Frontiers Act, would rename the NSF as the National Science and Technology Foundation and create within it a technology directorate with its own director. The directors of the research and technology divisions would report to a single director, who could align the work of the two operations.
Much of the new foundation’s $100-million windfall would be distributed among university-based technology centers pursuing basic research in key areas. The centers would use some of the money to develop and test new products and processes that could eventually be commercialized.
In addition, the legislation would authorize the U.S. commerce department to invest in 10 to 15 new technology hubs that would be located outside current tech centers such as Boston or Silicon Valley.
The bill also calls for new investments in education, training, and understanding the social and ethical implications of new technologies.
Many in the scientific and technical community have praised the plan’s boldness and vision; others worry that tasking the foundation with invention on a schedule would erode the culture of curiosity-driven research that has led to past breakthroughs.
“NSF is the only place in the federal government tasked with promoting the progress of science, and you have to be careful when you mess with that,” says former NSF director Neil Lane. “But this bill makes clear that it’s time for bold action, and there’s not a moment to lose.”
TRENDPOST: Placing leadership and funding of technological development in a government agency reverses decades of conservative opposition to the idea of an “industrial policy,” in which the federal government picks “winners and losers” among innovative ideas.
 However, because of the central place technological innovation will hold in the U.S. and global economy’s future – and because of China’s swiftly rising eminence as a locus of technological innovation, this legislation – or, at least, key provisions in it – is  almost certain to become law and recast the National Science Foundation as a national driving intelligence of the technical economy.

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