Emerging technologies

The Biden administration has released two major science and technology policy documents this month: a National Defense Science and Technology Strategy and a National Standards Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technology.

Senate Democrats have announced a legislative push that resuscitates and expands on provisions omitted from last year’s CHIPS and Science Act that address the U.S.–China rivalry. They expect their effort will include proposals for targeted R&D funding and new controls aimed at preventing China from exploiting U.S. technological advances.

Science agencies are releasing details of President Biden’s fiscal year 2024 budget request, which prioritizes research related to emerging technologies and climate change and includes a new emphasis on fusion energy.

Funding for Defense Department R&D, prototyping, and testing activities has continued along its recent steep upward trend and is now double its level six years ago. This year, budgets have significantly expanded for special innovation initiatives as well as priority R&D areas such as microelectronics and biomanufacturing.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s base budget rose 16% to $1.24 billion for fiscal year 2023, not counting one-time supplemental funds and congressional earmarks. The agency is also administering billions of dollars the CHIPS and Science Act has provided for semiconductor manufacturing and R&D initiatives.

Major science and technology provisions in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act cover issues such as intelligence agencies’ adoption of emerging technology, biomanufacturing, the technological rivalry between the U.S. and China, and research capacity-building at minority-serving institutions.

The CHIPS and Science Act prescribes the mission of the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships that the National Science Foundation created early this year, establishing priority focus areas and authorizing new programs supporting technology commercialization, regional innovation, and workforce development.

A month into fiscal year 2023, federal science agencies are facing a budget situation more complicated than any they have encountered in recent memory. While some programs are busy handling an influx of money from special spending legislation, others face uncertainties surrounding stopgap funding and whether Congress will meet targets set out in the CHIPS and Science Act.

With the launch of a new milestone-based funding program for commercial ventures, the U.S. is implementing a shift in its fusion energy policy that has been brewing for nearly two years. However, questions remain about how public programs will mesh with private investment, and what role the international ITER megaproject will play.

Over the last several years, Congress has passed multi-pronged policy initiatives and provided billions of dollars in funding to spur the deployment of “advanced” nuclear reactors, and a sprawling array of projects are now in progress.