Congress has been given a golden opportunity to improve both the quantity and quality of innovation in our society. The U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act would dramatically enhance the impact that federal research dollars have on American society by making new investments in the most promising research and by expanding research investments to truly cover the entire country.  

Introduced last year by Sens. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSenate Democrats ‘deeply disappointed’ in Biden administration’s decision to keep Trump-era rule Congress overrides DC voters, keeps sales of marijuana illegal in District Senate averts shutdown, passes .6B in Ukraine aid MORE (D-N.Y.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungGOP senators press Biden to rescind pro-labor construction order Numbers don’t lie: America’s most resilient jobs are venture-backed Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE (R-Ind.), along with Reps. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHere’s who stands to win from high gas prices The Memo: GOP tussles with Biden as gas prices soar Pelosi leading congressional delegation to Israel, Germany, UK MORE (D-Calif.) and Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherSunday shows preview: US deploys troops, briefs lawmakers amid Russia-Ukraine tensions Anti-Trump group targeting top Republicans on Jan. 6 anniversary Congress zooms in on cybersecurity after banner year of attacks MORE (R-Wis.) – with an impressively bipartisan list of co-sponsors – USICA represents a major new investment in American innovation. While the CHIPS Act and new research spending have captured most of the headlines, three other sections of the bill deserve attention and may, in the long run, prove to be at least as beneficial to the country. 

America’s research universities have always been very good at producing new ideas, which is why federal support for basic research is so important. But America is less good at moving those brilliant ideas out of the lab and into the economy. The “Valley of Death” between discovery and the market remains vast. 

USCIA seeks to bridge the valley by investing in technology transfer programs at NSF and NIST. The bill provides strong support for the already successful Manufacturing USA program which promotes innovation and manufacturing throughout the US. The bill also creates new regional hubs to bring ideas and research to parts of the country that have not, historically, directly benefited as much from these investments. 

Its authors deliberately designed USICA to spread research dollars more fairly across the country.  Currently there are brilliant researchers, entrepreneurs, and engineers in every state and region —but federal research dollars are concentrated in a few metropolitan areas. This is not only unfair, but also inefficient.  

We certainly want to continue to invest in Austin, Boston, and San Jose, which are world-leading centers of excellence that our allies and adversaries envy. But Memphis, Minneapolis, and Muncie have brilliant people too. Locally driven innovation can bring the resources needed to better utilize the ideas, expertise, and experts of the entire country. 

USICA’s regional technology hubs and strengthened Manufacturing USA Institutes will also spread opportunities and investments to populations whose talents we are currently underutilizing and undervaluing. Innovation is a team sport. USICA will let more Americans on to the field. 

Lastly, USICA will make significant new investments in research — but will do so by targeting the most promising research fields. All research is important because you never know where the next big idea, discovery, or technology will come from. USICA knows this, which is why it establishes a new technology directory without taking funds from existing research centers. 

Rather, USICA’s Directorate for Technology and Innovation at the NSF will focus new research dollars on cutting-edge fields like medical technology, high performance computing, robotics, and advanced energy systems. These are the most likely fields to produce ideas leading to new products, treatments, companies, and even industries. All research is important, but not all research is receiving the same attention from our allies and adversaries. The targeted approach for research funding will allow key technology areas to thrive.   

Through USICA, leading legislators from both parties have created a bill that will improve technology transfer out of our universities and into society, will encourage innovation and innovators more equitably across the country, and will make new, targeted investments in the most promising fields of research — all of which makes this bill very exciting. 

Chances to make real improvements in society don’t come along very often. Congress needs to seize the opportunity in USICA now before it slips away. 

Rebecca Taylor is vice president of government relations for IEEE-USA. It is a unit of IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization. IEEE-USA supports over 150,000 engineering, computing and technology professionals who are U.S. members of IEEE. 

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