Lawmakers in the United States last year passed bipartisan legislation intended to maintain US competitiveness with countries such as China by boosting funding for science and innovation. But concerns are mounting that the US Congress will fail to deliver on its promises. From a report: The money allotted to a handful of major US science agencies that had been targeted for a budget boost is likely to fall short of the legislation’s goals by more than US$7 billion in 2024, according to a report. And overall funding for those agencies will continue to hover at a 25-year low.
“We’re leaving scientific opportunities on the table,” says Matt Hourihan, who led the analysis for the Federation of American Scientists, an advocacy group based in Washington DC. “If we drop this ball, others will be happy to pick it up.” It was precisely this fear that drove members of Congress to come together to pass the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The legislation promised one of the largest increases in US science funding in a long time, totalling some $280 billion over five years. Much of the spending mandated by the bill was focused on semiconductor research and manufacturing — areas in which other countries, particularly China, have dominated. Lawmakers also authorized investments in other science and innovation programmes, but these were not mandated, and need to be approved by Congress during an appropriations process each year.
That process has become increasingly contentious as political polarization in the United States has risen over the past few decades. Disputes about overall spending levels and funding for various social programmes have led to repeated delays in crafting the annual budget, at times forcing the government to shut down. This year is a prime example: Republicans, who control the US House of Representatives, blocked legislation that would have allowed the government to increase the federal debt limit and pay its bills, until they were able to secure an agreement with the Democrats in May to limit spending. And last month, a handful of extreme right-wing Republicans sought to close the government down as they pushed for further spending cuts.