Tech Issues Prominent in President Biden’s Address to Congress

Numerous tech-related issues were front and center in President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, as he delivered pitches backing up his infrastructure-themed American Jobs Plan issued in late March, the American Families Plan unveiled this week, and a preliminary Fiscal Year 2022 budget wish-list made public on April 9.

Among the tech-related issues that saw the light of day in the speech, according to the text of the President’s remarks:

Research and Development Funding

“We’re in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century,” President Biden said of his proposals to expand Federal R&D funding, including engineering a big boost in research spending by the National Science Foundation (NSF). “We will see more technological change in the next 10 years – than we saw in the last 50 years,” he predicted.

The American Jobs Plan proposes $180 billion of new R&D-related funding, including $50 billion to fund a new technology directorate at NSF that also would target AI, computing, communications, semiconductor, and biotech categories. At the same time, the

Endless Frontier Act which has gathered bipartisan support in the Senate would send $100 billion over five years to a new NSF technology directorate to fund R&D in similar areas.

“Scientific breakthroughs took us to the Moon and now to Mars, discovered vaccines, and gave us the Internet and so much more,” the President said, adding, “These are the investments we make together, as one country, and that only government can make.”

Also getting real estate in the address to Congress was the White House’s proposal to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) for health-related areas to be run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). President Biden compared the health-related ARPA proposal to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which he credited with “breakthroughs to enhance our national security – which led to the internet and GPS and so much more.”

Cyber Defense

Other Federal investment areas mentioned in the speech include power grid modernization to guard against cyberattacks and other threats, as detailed in the American Jobs Plan.

Further on the cybersecurity front, President Biden said the U.S. has “responded in a direct and proportionate way to Russia’s interference in our elections and cyberattacks on our government and businesses.”

And he sounded a note of international cooperation on cybersecurity, saying that “no one nation can deal with all the crises of our time alone – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to mass migration, cybersecurity, climate change – and as we’re experiencing now, pandemics.”

Veterans’ Health Care

“We’re making one of the largest one-time investments ever in improving health care for veterans,” the President said in his speech to Congress.

The American Jobs Plan proposes $18 billion of spending to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, and the FY2022 budget proposal targets $4.8 billion for IT modernization at VA and $2.7 billion for the agency’s ongoing electronic health records modernization project.

Broadband Expansion

“It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed internet, including 35% of rural Americans who still don’t have it,” President Biden said, speaking of the broadband expansion proposal in the American Jobs Plan.

The White House is proposing to spend $100 billion to fund broadband service expansion to underserved and unserved areas of the U.S. At the same time, Republican legislators have floated a plan that would direct $65 billion to the same purpose. Neither proposal is long on specifics about how those service expansions might be achieved.

Industry Reaction

Industry and interest groups liked the prominence of the tech issues in Biden’s address.`

“President Biden’s 100 Day Address demonstrated just how fervent his belief in America’s primacy really is,” said Matthew T. Cornelius, Executive Director at the Alliance for Digital Innovation. “This is especially true in his commitment to America’s technological leadership and our ability to combat the ever-escalating series of threats – especially cybersecurity attacks – against the government and our country’s businesses.”

“We applaud the President’s vision to invest significantly in high tech R&D, onshore on critical IT supply chain capabilities, and accelerate his ‘Made in America’ priorities,” he said. “In addition, it is hard to recall a speech before Congress where a President spoke more times and at more length about improving cybersecurity and deterring bad actors from abroad. Our hope is that in these days following this passionate speech, that the Biden White House takes necessary and important steps to secure America’s digital infrastructure and partner closely with these leading American tech companies he championed so strongly to help us win the future.”

Information Technology Industry Council CEO Jason Oxman said President Biden “crucially highlighted the importance of digital infrastructure, R&D, and a skilled and diverse workforce for America’s continued leadership and innovation,” including discrete areas such as AI and chip making.

“Moreover, the American Family Plan’s investments in expanding affordability, educational pathways, and programs at community colleges, HBCUs, and Minority Serving Institutions will be key to preparing a new generation of diverse, skilled tech workers for opportunities now and in the future,” he said. “The tech industry remains committed to working with President Biden and the U.S. Congress to ensure that efforts to facilitate U.S. economic growth and competitiveness are advanced.”

“We were heartened to hear President Biden reiterate his commitment to seeking $100 billion in his infrastructure plan to ensure that every American has access to robust broadband, including the 35% of rural America that has no access at all,” said Thomas Ferree, CEO at broadband advocacy group Connected Nation.

“Not only will such an investment create jobs and keep America competitive globally; it will also ensure that every American, regardless of where they live, can pursue an education, receive healthcare, and participate in the economy,” he said. “Thankfully, this is a true bipartisan issue where common ground can be found—and we’re confident that Republicans and Democrats will come together to make this investment a reality and close the Digital Divide once and for all.”

John Curran
About John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk SLG's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.