January 20, 2020, the Biden-Harris administration will take over, and among many there is an anticipation that the role of science will be strengthened. “Listen to science” is one of the first bullets listed in the Biden-Harris Build Back Better plan, a plan that centers around four key priorities: Covid19, Economic Recovery, Racial Equity, and Climate Change. Given these priorities, what can we expect when it comes to research, development and innovation?
The overall approach to research, development and innovation (R&D&I) expected by the new administration can be summed up in more spending, tougher regulations, and a government taking an active role in setting the agenda in partnership with industry. The Biden team has regularly emphasized the importance of achieving social goals, for example increased opportunities for minorities, a regional focus to ensure all of America benefits from federal efforts, and solutions supporting climate change. Biden is expected to push for significantly increased public investments in R&D&I, as well as for education and training. This includes new funding for “breakthrough technologies”, among those identified are AI and quantum computing. Other areas commonly mentioned in line for increased federal funding are advanced manufacturing, clean energy and education & training. Additionally, a focus on tech transfer, commercialization and support for start-ups and small businesses is expected, especially to support minorities and disadvantaged groups.
Three of the prioritized areas in the Build Back Better plan can give some guidance for future federal investments in R&D&I:
Life Sciences and COVID-19
Bipartisan public policies such as large investment in basic research, IP protections and technology-transfer policies introduced over the last decades have made the U.S. a world leader in life-sciences. With global competition intensifying, Biden has proposed major increases in biomedical research and development, and the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).
Covid-19 will likely continue to play a dominant role in the life sciences area for the foreseeable future. For the more immediate term, Biden-Harris have a seven-point plan:
- Ensure all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free testing
- Fix personal protective equipment (PPE) problems for good
- Provide clear, consistent, evidence-based guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic
- Effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines
- Protecting older Americans and others at high risk
- Rebuilding and expanding defenses to predict, prevent, and mitigate pandemic threats.
- Implement mask mandates nationwide
In the longer term Covid-19 has brought health security and the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) to the forefront. Research to prevent and mitigate the effects of future pandemics will be crucial. This means research to understand the causes and underlying mechanisms behind the development of a pandemic, but also research to mitigate the effects, including but not limited to zoonotic transmission, vaccine development and therapeutic methods.
Manufacturing and clean energy are both national challenges that are vital in addressing the economic recovery and to create jobs for the future. Biden has called for the development of a comprehensive manufacturing and innovation strategy which has been lacking in the past. This is an area where a regional focus comes in play to ensure that the whole country benefits from federal investments. Manufacturing USA, the flagship program for developing next generation manufacturing technologies, consists of 14 public-private partnership institutes each focusing on a specific area of advanced manufacturing. Biden has expressed an interest in developing regional technology hubs that are building on the output from the institutes, rather than creating new ones. This new federal investment would be combined with workforce development.
Education and skills development, specifically in science and engineering, is crucial for a successful innovation-powered economy. Bidens statements suggests that the administration will invest heavily in this area, with a focus on women and disadvantaged minorities. This will be combined with a more open immigration policy to meet the need for a skilled workforce. Support for increased STEM education initiatives at earlier stages, especially in computer science, can also be expected. Other proposals target the cost of universities and making them more affordable for lower income families.
The coming administration has presented an ambitious agenda for Climate Change, with investments in infrastructure, transit, the auto industry, buildings and housing, the power sector, and agriculture, with a goal of achieving net-zero U.S emissions by 2050. A prerequisite to successfully address climate change is better clean energy technologies, and it is expected that a substantial part of the proposed new 300 BUSD for R&D will be spent on clean energy projects. Areas that are highlighted in the proposal are energy/battery storage, negative emissions technologies, next generation building materials and renewable hydrogen. Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is also included indicating that fossil fuels will continue to be part of the energy mix.
In addition, Biden has called for increased funding for the 17 National Laboratories under Department of Energy which would be complemented by support for associated regional innovation ecosystems. Yet another recommendation is for the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate (ARPA-C).
“Smart cities” is an area ripe for growth, where a Biden administration could pick up from where the Obama-Biden administration left off with their signature initiatives for smart cities. Several factors support this; some city leaders pioneering smart technology and bold urban planning in their cities are contenders for top positions in the coming administration; Covid-19 has created a sense of urgency along with opportunities and emphasized the importance of using technology advancements; infrastructure is seen as a vital part of the Build Back Better plan and smart infrastructure projects that cities already have prepared and planned for could get funding support. With Covid-19 and life moving online, connectivity is becoming more of a utility and could be part of an infrastructure bill which in turn would support numerous smart city applications.
We will continue to follow the policies and priorities of the Biden-Harris administration, and as always, we welcome you to contact us for further discussions.