Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, IEEE-USA’s Congressional (virtual) Visits Day (CvVD) was a huge success. On 14 April, 189 U.S. IEEE members from 28 states, representing 125 different Congressional Districts, participated in more than 200 legislative meetings to discuss policy issues of concern to technology professionals.
All of our meetings this year were held remotely. As we have all learned over the past year, virtual meetings can be difficult. Unlike in-person meetings, it can be harder to create a real connection and have a real conversation over the internet. On the other hand, virtual meetings made it easy for IEEE members to participate from across the country, including teams from the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii. This reduced the costs and time commitment for CvVD volunteers, and allowed nearly three times as many IEEE members to join us as we had in 2019.
Which was good because we have a lot to talk about.
While the different teams of volunteers focused their meetings on issues that were uniquely important to their states and local communities, most meetings addressed three issues: R&D funding, the Endless Frontier Act, and the PRO Act.
In two of these cases, Congress is pursuing initiatives consistent with IEEE-USA’s recommendations. The third is troubling, and requires more work.
Since the CvVD, there has been little formal action on the FY 2022 budget. President Biden’s first budget will be released on 27 May, marking the beginning of this year’s budget season. But even without formal action, Congress has signaled that it wants to dramatically increase federal spending on research. Leaders in both chambers have emphasized the importance of federally funded research, and President Biden made R&D a focal point of his State of the Union address. Research funding has been included in a number of legislative proposals, including President Biden’s infrastructure plan.
IEEE-USA expects to see solid increases in most budgets when the President’s plan is released and believes those increases will be reflected in the final appropriations bills passed at the end of the year.
Endless Frontier Act
The bipartisan Endless Frontier Act is one of the bills promoting research and is currently among the highest-profile and fastest moving bills in Congress. Renamed the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), the bill is due for a vote in the Senate the week of 24 May. The House Science Committee is expected to pass a companion bill before Memorial Day. While there is still considerable disagreement over details, there is strong support in both Chambers for the three key provisions supported by IEEE members: creating a new Technology Directorate within the NSF, focused research funds for that directorate, and promoting technology transfer.
IEEE-USA expects all three provisions to survive in the final bill, which should pass later this year.
The picture is not as clear for the PRO-Act. The bill passed the House months before the CvVD. The Senate has done or said little about the PRO-Act legislation. It remains unclear when, or if, the bill will be debated. Hill sources have indicated that Senate leaders remain reluctant to amend the bill. If and when the Senate does take it up, IEEE members will need to push hard to fix the bill’s flaws.
IEEE-USA will continue to work with leading Senators to secure an exemption from the ABC test in the PRO-Act for technology consultants.
Beyond legislative support, IEEE-USA has received excellent feedback from legislators and staff on their meetings with IEEE members. CvVD participants are reminded to follow-up with the staff they spoke with to remind them of your ASKs. IEEE members who could not join us for the CvVD are encouraged to contact their legislators anytime to express their support for federal research spending, the USICA (formerly Endless Frontier Act), and for reforms to the PRO-Act.
Questions about any of IEEE-USA’s efforts in Washington can be directed to IEEE-USA’s Director of Government Relations, Russ Harrison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.