Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., has filed companion legislation in the House to a Senate bill introduced in June that would invest $30 billion in deferred maintenance projects and infrastructure improvements at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) network of National Labs.

The Restore and Modernize Our National Labs Act would provide a big injection of Federal funding into the National Labs at the same time as researchers and scientists increasing rely on the labs’ work involving AI, quantum computing, biotechnology, high-energy physics, and batteries.

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The push in Congress to open the spigot on these and other research funding fronts will be one of the underlying themes of MerITocracy 2021 American Innovation Forum in November. The Forum will gather Capitol Hill and White House leadership, along with industry visionaries, for creative thinking at the nexus of policy and technology to help solve some of the largest problems facing the United States.

According to text of the Senate legislation introduced by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., the bill would direct $6.1 billion per year through Fiscal Year 2025 at projects “needed to address the deferred maintenance, critical infrastructure needs, and modernization of National Laboratories.”

Specific projects under that heading may include:

  • Core infrastructure;
  • Construction of research labs, administrative and support buildings, utilities, roads, power plants and other critical infrastructure;
  • Laboratory modernization; and
  • Support for “existing and emerging science missions with new and specialized requirements for world-leading scientific user facilities and computing capabilities.”

“National Labs, like Illinois’ own Argonne and Fermi National Laboratories, have pushed the boundaries of scientific discovery with unmatched dedication to their research missions,” said Sen. Durbin in a press release last month.

“But if we want to continue to be a global leader in innovation and scientific discovery, we must properly fund our labs and build the critical infrastructure needed to meet the demands of the 21st century,” the senator said. “With the Restore and Modernize Our National Labs Act, we can offer our scientists at the world-class labs, like those at Argonne and Fermi, the support they need.”

According to the bill’s sponsors, DOE National Laboratories are facing a maintenance backlog because of “decades of underfunding that puts the labs’ mission at risk.”

They said improvements to the facilities would “keep the labs’ more than 40,000 employees safe and secure, and ensure that these research facilities are equipped to fulfill their mission.”

The Senate bill awaits action in the Senate Natural Resources Committee, while the House measure has been sent to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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