Rep. Khanna Leading Charge on $900B Tech R&D Bill

A group of Democratic House members led by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., this week introduced the 21st Century Jobs Act which would give the Federal government a major role in research and development support for a host of emerging technologies.

The legislation introduced on Oct. 27 would create a Federal Institute of Technology (FIT) that would lead research and development (R&D) for emerging technologies like advanced manufacturing, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and cybersecurity. If the bill becomes law, FIT would receive $900 billion in R&D funding and would have roughly 30 locations nationwide.

Along with Rep. Khanna, the bill is cosponsored by Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-Calif., Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Dwight Evans, D-Pa., Jim Himes, D-Conn., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Darren Soto, D-Fla., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Along with the creation of the FIT, the 21st Century Jobs Package also includes:

More Funding for Public School STEM Instruction

The bill would make computer science (CS) a mandated component of any public-school curriculum for all K-12 students. The legislation would back that up with an $8 billion grant administered by the Department of Education to help states implement the new standards, train and certify educators at the local and higher educational levels, acquire educational materials, and build out technical infrastructure, including equipment. The bill’s end goal is to create 100,000 new CS K-12 teachers at a cost of $5 billion per year. The legislation also includes $1 billion for state colleges and universities to increase their CS education graduate faculty by 10,000 – marking a ten-fold increase from present levels.

STEM Scholarships for Students Left Behind

Rep. Khanna explained that when it comes to earning STEM bachelor’s degrees, Black, Latinx, Indigenous and rural students are underrepresented in college, and the legislation would provide funds to close both the race and rural/non-rural STEM gap. The Department of Education would be tapped again to administer the SMART Students Everywhere Grants.  Those would dole out 50,000 annual scholarships worth up to $10,000 for racial and ethnic minority students and students from rural communities studying STEM in undergraduate, graduate, or certificate programs

Khanna said that aspect of the legislation will be accomplished by “reviving, focusing, and improving” the now-defunct SMART grants – a smaller scholarship program for students studying STEM that ended in 2010.

Incentives to Keep Software Jobs in “Places Left Behind”

The bill includes incentives for contractors who sell software to the Federal government to locate part of their workforce in rural America and disadvantaged minority areas. Khanna explained that the legislation will give “more favorable consideration” to government bids where at least 10 percent of the computer programming for the software is completed in America’s rural and disadvantaged minority areas. The goal of the program is to incentivize companies to open software development locations in areas “left behind” to create good-paying tech jobs.

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs