Tuesday, July 23, 2024

White House report outlines R&D infrastructure pitfalls, emphasizes need for funding

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Technology breakthroughs and U.S. leadership in research and development are hindered due to poor R&D infrastructure across the federal government, according to a new report from the White House. 

Released Thursday by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science and Technology (NSTC) subcommittee on Research and Development Infrastructure said in its report that old and “inadequate” infrastructure at the federal level is responsible for agencies’ inability to “meet their current missions.” The subcommittee pointed to a 2024 document from NASA that reported over 75% of the agency’s infrastructure and facilities are “beyond original life design” and the agency faces a $3 billion maintenance backlog.

“The challenges that the U.S. [R&D infrastructure] enterprise is experiencing are not new and reflect decades of inadequate funding due to deprioritizing and maintenance at existing facilities, developing of new facilities and decommissioning of outdated facilities,” the report states.

The subcommittee called on federal agencies to “continue to revitalize” R&D infrastructure through assessing and prioritizing investments needed for legacy facilities and future infrastructure. Doing so would serve the purpose of facilitating both domestic and international collaborations — like material exchanges and evaluating capabilities for respective mission areas — through “benchmarking activities,” according to the report. 

The NSTC also recognized the need to convene an interagency working group to exchange information regarding planning, capability gaps and collaboration opportunities. 

Significantly, the report reminds agencies that “facility closures may result in U.S. dependence on international facilities and weigh the consequences if those capabilities are no longer possessed by the United States or its allies.”

NSTC states that the U.S. does not have a “seat at the table” for setting international R&D infrastructure governance, since some international facilities charge a membership fee for access to outsiders. The report attributes the inaccessibility to limitations from the appropriations process and the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits agencies from assigning federal funds in advance or excess of the appropriations. 

The report warns that without a U.S. voice in international R&D infrastructure governance, there remains “an opening for competitors like [China] and Russia to have greater say in the governance of platforms that may require the development of novel or dual-use technology.”

OSTP did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Written by Caroline Nihill

Caroline Nihill is a reporter for FedScoop in Washington, D.C., covering federal IT. Her reporting has included the tracking of artificial intelligence governance from the White House and Congress, as well as modernization efforts across the federal government. Caroline was previously an editorial fellow for Scoop News Group, writing for FedScoop, StateScoop, CyberScoop, EdScoop and DefenseScoop. She earned her bachelor’s in media and journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after transferring from the University of Mississippi.

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