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By Adria Schwarber
The Biden administration released its first R&D priorities memorandum on August 27, providing guidance to federal agencies as they draft their budget plans for fiscal year 2023. The last several administrations have released such memoranda annually, detailing how R&D programs are expected to mesh with the president’s larger policy agenda.
As is usual, the memo is signed by the heads of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, who will guide the preparation of the president’s budget request, which is due to be submitted to Congress in February.
The memo identifies goals such as improving preparedness for pandemics and other major risks, better characterizing and mitigating the impacts of climate change, and using R&D programs to promote social equity. It also reinforces the administration’s goal of leveraging innovation to bolster the supply chains for critical technologies and promote domestic manufacturing.
According to the memo, the administration is committed to the principle of “invent it here; make it here,” whereby the products of federally funded R&D are manufactured domestically. This priority has already been implemented in a new Department of Energy policy requiring its funding recipients to “substantially manufacture” resulting inventions in the US, which has faced criticism that it could impose burdens that would hamper product commercialization.
The memo also carries forward certain Trump administration priorities, such as promoting “critical and emerging” technologies, specifically listing artificial intelligence, quantum information science, advanced communications, microelectronics, high-performance computing, biotechnology, robotics, and space technologies. It further states, “Agencies should coordinate to leverage these technologies to ensure the sharing and use of the vast troves of federal government datasets to enable large-scale data analysis, and high-fidelity, high-resolution modeling and simulation to address critical challenges in public health, climate science, and disaster resilience.”
In addition, the memo includes extensive direction on R&D efforts that agencies should pursue to support the administration’s climate change mitigation goals, which center around the US achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Agencies are directed to support all stages of clean energy technology development, from research through deployment, including by procuring “promising innovative climate technologies exiting the federal R&D pipeline to increase their marketability.”
For climate research, the memo directs agencies to advance understanding of the economic and societal impacts of climate change, develop carbon inventories and baselines through expanded observational networks, and improve modeling of local and regional climate and extreme weather. Agencies are further instructed to use social science research and directly engage the public to ensure energy innovation and climate adaptation efforts incorporate the views of affected communities and advance the goals of economic and environmental justice.
The memo also emphasizes that equity considerations should inform actions across the entire federal R&D enterprise, directing agencies to “prioritize R&D investments in programs with strong potential to advance equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically disadvantaged, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
As an example, the memo states that “open science and other participatory modes of research” can help such communities engage in the scientific enterprise. It also maintains that open-science practices can help build public trust in science.
To broaden participation in the STEM workforce, the memo discusses a new “Models of Equitable STEM Excellence” initiative that will highlight effective diversity, equity, and inclusion practices that work at scale. It also places an emphasis on supporting research and workforce development activities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions.
The author is a science policy analyst for FYI.
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Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine