June 08, 2021

Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation With Key Brown Provisions to Make Historic Investments in Science, Technology & Innovation, Allow U.S. To Better Compete With China

Brown Secures Key Provisions to Help Bolster American Manufacturing and Innovation & Give U.S. Businesses the Tools to Compete

Today, the U.S. Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which included key provisions from U.S. Senator Brown (D-OH) to make a once-in-a-generation investment in American science, technology and innovation to help the U.S. preserve its competitive edge.

“Our competitors like China spend billions propping up state-owned enterprises and subsidizing research and development, and they also take our ideas and use them to compete – and sometimes cheat – against American workers and businesses,” said Brown. “This is an important, bipartisan step to ensure the technologies that will drive the next generation of economic growth and manufacturing – from semiconductors to hydrogen buses to the next generation jet engine – will be developed in America, and put Ohioans to work at good paying jobs.”

This landmark legislation includes the following key provisions:

Strong Buy America Provisions for Taxpayer-Funded Infrastructure Projects

This legislation includes a bipartisan bill that Brown authored with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) – the Build America, Buy America Act – to apply Buy America rules to all taxpayer-funded infrastructure and public works projects. This bipartisan bill passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this month. 

Currently, Buy America rules have not been fully implemented with respect to all federal programs that provide taxpayer-funded dollars for the construction of infrastructure. When Chinese- or Russian- made steel and other products are used instead of American products, it steals jobs from U.S. workers. This legislation would implement Buy America rules across the board – ensuring that American taxpayer dollars are used to buy American-made iron, steel, and manufactured products for any federally funded infrastructure projects.

Previously, Brown introduced bipartisan legislation to apply Buy America rules to all taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects, and led the fight to restore Buy America provisions to water and sewer infrastructure projects as well. Brown has applauded the strong Buy America requirements in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, and helped develop the extensive Buy America requirements in Senate Democrats’ infrastructure proposals

Tough New Tools to Crack Down on China’s Cheating

As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Brown worked with Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA) on a provision to take on China’s theft of trade secrets from U.S. firms. TheirMeeting the China Challenge Act of 2021 would address critical concerns about China in the national security and financial services arena, including urging intensified use of existing sanctions authorities against Chinese violators on the following issues: Hong Kong, human rights, cyber espionage, illicit trade with North Korea, and fentanyl production and distribution. The legislation also provides for broad new mandatory sanctions on Chinese actors engaged in cyberattacks against the U.S.

This provision also underscores the need for effective implementation of new anti-money laundering and corporate transparency laws to combat China’s abuses of anonymous shell companies, provides for a review of export controls on items that could be used to support human rights abuses in China, and urges firms to adopt a corporate code of conduct for operating in China. It also mandates new Congressional reporting requirements on a range of issues, including on the extent to which Chinese state-owned enterprises engaged in malign behavior have recently received U.S. taxpayer-funded assistance, to inform future policymaking.

More specifically, the Meeting the China Challenge Act of 2021 will include:

  1. Provisions urging intensified use of existing sanctions authorities with respect to the People’s Republic of China;
  2. New mandatory sanctions to combat cyber-attacks on United States Government or private sector networks;
  3. New mandatory sanctions to combat theft of trade secrets and intellectual property of United States persons and firms;
  4. A review of export controls on items with critical capabilities that enable human rights abuses;
  5. Establishment of an interagency task force to address Chinese market manipulation in the United States;
  6. A report on domestic shortfalls of industrial resources, materials, and critical technology items essential to the national defense;
  7. Reports on exposure of the United States to the financial system of the People’s Republic of China, on Chinese state-owned enterprises, and on China’s development of alternative financial messaging services; and 
  8. Reports on investment reciprocity between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, and on exposure of the United States to China’s financial system.

Provision to Expand National Network of Manufacturing Institutes

This legislation will include a bill authored by Sen. Brown and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), which would build on the success of their bipartisan 2014 legislation, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act. This 2014 bill created a network of 15 manufacturing innovation hubs around the country. This network was modeled after the first manufacturing institute, “America Makes,” in Youngstown, which President Obama directed the Department of Defense to create in 2012. This effort was one of the biggest steps the U.S. had taken to make our manufacturing industry more competitive.

Their new provision will provide funding to support existing institutes and create 15 new institutes – steps that will help ensure American industry continues to out-innovate the rest of the world. Specifically, this legislation will: 

  1. Expand the program to create at least 15 more Manufacturing USA institutes, by authorizing $2.4 billion for fiscal year 2021 through fiscal year 2025 for the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to carry out the program;
  2. Promote more direct collaboration with minority serving institutions, ensuring that our nation utilizes the talent and skill of its entire workforce; and by directing the Secretary of Commerce to coordinate with existing and new institutes, to integrate Minority-Serving Institutions as active members of the institutes;
  3. Integrate the Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) – which provides critical assistance to small- and medium- sized manufacturers – with the Manufacturing USA institutes so that small- and medium- sized manufacturers can better participate; and
  4. Establish a new Worker Advisory Council for the Manufacturing USA Program to better bring together labor and industry – by directing the Secretary of Commerce to coordinate with the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Energy, and the Secretary of Education, to establish an advisory council for the Manufacturing USA Program on the development and dissemination of techniques, policies, and investments for high-road labor practices, worker adaptation and success with technological change, and increased worker participation across the Manufacturing USA Network.

Funding and Support to Address the Global Semiconductor Shortage Facing Auto Manufacturers

This legislation invests in American workers and our nation’s long-term competitiveness by shoring up critical industries like semiconductors, which are facing a global shortage. All sectors of the economy need access to semiconductor chips, however the need is particularly significant for the domestic auto industry. Today’s cars include high-end electronic components that improve vehicle efficiency and safety, and these electronic components rely upon semiconductors to function.

This bill includes nearly $50 billion for the CHIPS Act, which would provide emergency supplemental appropriations to fund the chip provisions that were included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Brown and Portman have been working to secure solutions for the semiconductor crisis for months, having written to Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council in February, urging the administration to support efforts to secure the necessary funding to swiftly implement the semiconductor-related provisions in the most recent NDAA, to boost semiconductor manufacturing and incentivize the domestic production of semiconductors in the future.

Investments to Ensure Workers and Communities are Paid Prevailing Wages

This legislation includes important provisions to ensure companies are investing in their workers and communities by paying a prevailing wage. This applies to CHIPS Act semiconductor production, clean technology projects, and any construction projects funded by assistance through R&D programs

The Davis-Bacon Act requires that contractors and subcontractors must pay their laborers and mechanics no less than the locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits for corresponding work on similar projects in the area. This provision directs the Department of Labor to determine locally prevailing wage rates. The Davis-Bacon Act’s prevailing wage provisions also apply to projects in which federal agencies assist with construction through grants, loans, loan guarantees, and insurance.

Important R&D Provisions to Support Scientific Communities & Promote U.S. Innovation

This legislation includes the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act, which Brown cosponsored. This provision would authorize nearly $25 billion in support to U.S. researchers who have been impacted by the pandemic. Although coronavirus-related research is a current federal government priority, other research has been delayed due to closures of campuses and laboratories. The people who comprise the research workforce – graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, and technical support staff – face financial and other hardships from the disruption of their research activities. The RISE Act will provide necessary relief to preserve the current scientific workforce and ensure that the U.S. is prepared to continue our global scientific leadership once this crisis ends.

This bill also includes the Supporting Early Career Researchers Act. Brown cosponsored this bill to authorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a two-year pilot program to award grants to highly qualified early-career investigators to conduct at independent research institutions of higher education for up to two years. This will help prevent the loss of research talent due to job market disruptions caused by the economic decline during and after the pandemic. 

The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act was also included in the bill. Brown cosponsored this legislation to help improve the understanding of factors contributing to sexual harassment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, examine impacts of harassment on individuals and policies to reduce it, and spur interagency efforts to mitigate this harassment. American innovation in science and technology is made stronger when everyone is able to participate free from discrimination or harassment. This legislation takes important steps toward ensuring more inclusive, safe, and equitable opportunities are afforded to scholars in STEM fields, which were already underrepresented by women and especially women of color, well before the pandemic.