House proposes billions for tech
WASHINGTON - In recent weeks, House appropriators have approved hundreds of billions of dollars in government funding for fiscal 2021, culminating in the Appropriations Committee's July 15 approval of legislation that would provide nearly $51 billion for the Homeland Security Department.
With all 12 of the annual appropriations bills now approved by the committee, Congress is primed to spend heavily on a wide range of technologies. Appropriators set aside funds for cybersecurity on the eve of this November's elections, rural broadband for unconnected and hard-to-reach Americans, STEM education for the country's youth, and research into quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
Here are some highlights:
Most of the technology funding set aside for the Homeland Security Department would go to border security and cybersecurity operations. The draft legislation, which does not yet have a bill number, invests in U.S. Customs and Border Protection's surveillance technology and the resources available to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, which is the federal government's prime coordinating agency for cybersecurity.
The bill would provide $531 million for CBP to purchase non-intrusive imaging technology for use at customs points, border security technology and tools for use at ports of entry. Of that, $45 million is set aside for "innovative technology," according to the Appropriations Committee.
CISA would receive $2.25 billion in total, nearly $500 million more than the Trump administration requested for fiscal 2021. Much of the funding would go toward sustaining investments made in prior years, appropriators said. But it also includes $33 million for cybersecurity education and training initiatives, $52 million for cybersecurity mission systems and $28 million to address cyber vulnerabilities in management systems and supply chains.
The bill would also provide CISA with $19 million for the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which the agency uses to help coordinate with cybersecurity and election security officials in various states and levels of government.
Legislation providing more than $71 billion for the departments of Commerce and Justice along with the government's scientific agencies would invest in a future science workforce and scientific research designed to give the United States a competitive edge.
The bill would provide just over $1 billion for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is tasked with testing new technologies and setting standards for their use. Of the total, around $800 million is set aside for research, about $35 million more than the agency was awarded in fiscal 2020. The Appropriations Committee said the funds should be used to "help advance U.S. competitiveness, economic growth, cybersecurity and other important efforts."
Appropriators said the bill's $23 billion allocation for NASA is aimed primarily at furthering investments into human space exploration, which also means investing in future astronauts. The bill sets aside $126 million of NASA's total for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education - funds the White House had proposed cutting.
The National Science Foundation would receive nearly $9 billion in funding, up $270 million from the enacted level in fiscal 2020.
"These funds will foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness," the committee said, "including funding for research on artificial intelligence, quantum information science, advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience, and STEM education."
Financial Services-General Government
Appropriators are seeking to use the nearly $25 billion legislation funding the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to assist in antitrust investigations of Silicon Valley and to understand where rural Americans lack internet access.
The bill boosts the FTC's budget by $10 million, for a total of $341 million, to aid its antitrust enforcement work amid ongoing investigations by federal and state regulators into major technology firms such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. A committee press release singles out antitrust enforcement and consumer protection work as justification for the increase.
Democrats and Republicans alike have called for greater antitrust enforcement of companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. The chief executives of all four companies are slated to testify before the House Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee on July 27.
The draft funding bill would also increase spending levels for the Federal Communications Commission by $37 million above the fiscal 2020 enacted level, bringing the total to $376 million. The agency is funded entirely through fees, but Congress still oversees its budget. Appropriators directed the FCC to use the additional funding to improve broadband mapping, which would give federal regulators a better understanding of where Americans lack internet access.
The $24 billion legislation that funds the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration might not be the obvious home for technology funding. But the fiscal 2021 version of the bill includes more than a billion dollars to increase high-speed internet service in rural, underserved areas where staying connected is crucial for farmers' livelihoods.
The $1 billion in the legislation marks an increase of $435 million over fiscal 2020, according to the committee, and reflects appropriators' goals of providing "economic development opportunities and improved education and healthcare services" for rural Americans.
With lawmakers, cybersecurity experts and government officials all in agreement that the country's energy infrastructure is at increasing risk from cyberattacks, the nearly $50 billion legislation funding the Energy Department boosts funds for cybersecurity.
The bill provides $160 million, a slight increase over fiscal 2020, for "efforts to secure the nation's energy infrastructure against all hazards, reduce the risks of and impacts from cybersecurity events, and assist with restoration activities," the committee said.
The $197 billion legislation funding the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would provide $85 million in STEM grants, a $20 million boost over the fiscal 2020 enacted level.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the bill also provides $50 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to "modernize public health data surveillance and analytics at CDC, State and local health departments, and the National Center for Health Statistics," according to the committee.
In order to keep pace with the rise of automated vehicles, appropriators included $3 million in legislation for the Highly Automated Systems Safety Center of Excellence, an office within the Transportation agency tasked with making sure self-driving cars are safe.
The Transportation Department would also receive $100 million for the Magnetic Levitation Technology Deployment Program, an ongoing nationwide competition designed to test the large-scale feasibility of "MagLev" technology, which uses magnets to power high-speed trains.