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The federal government supports scientific and technological advancement directly by funding and performing research and development and indirectly by creating and maintaining policies that encourage private sector efforts. Additionally, the federal government regulates many aspects of science and technology (S&T) activities. Federal S&T support has led to scientific breakthroughs and new technologies ranging from jet aircraft and the internet to communications satellites and defenses against disease.

Many science and technology policy issues that may come before the 118th Congress represent areas of continuing Member interest. Examples include cross-cutting issues that affect scientific and technological progress, agricultural research, climate change, Defense Department research, earth science, space, and water. Other issues represent new or rapidly transforming areas such as biotechnology, energy, information technology and social media, financial technology, and telecommunications. Some of these S&T issue areas are described briefly below.

Cross-Cutting Issues: Issues that cut across multiple S&T disciplines include federal R&D funding, interagency S&T coordination, the adequacy of the domestic science and engineering workforce, the role of patents and other intellectual property policies, and tax incentives.

Agriculture: The federal government funds billions of dollars of agricultural research annually. The 118th Congress may consider issues related to funding this research, as well as specific issues related to climate change science at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Climate Change: S&T considerations permeate deliberations on climate change and may be grouped into five interrelated topics: climate change-related science and the ocean-climate nexus; clean energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment; climate change and infrastructure; S&T for adaptation and resilience to climate change; and carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration.

Biotechnology and Biomedical Research: Recent advances in biotechnology and biomedical research hold the promise of longer and healthier lives and moreproductive industry while raising policy challenges. Some issues that the 118th Congress may face include those relating to the bioeconomy; the National Institutes of Health; oversight of engineering biology; regulation of laboratory-developed tests; monitoring of environmental DNA and RNA; and the convergence of biotechnology, digital data, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Defense: The Department of Defense (DOD) relies on a robust research and development effort to develop new military systems and improve existing systems. Issues that may come before the 118th Congress regarding DOD’s S&T activities include budgetary concerns and the effectiveness of programs to transition R&D results into fielded products and how DOD encourages innovation.

Energy: Energy-related S&T issues that may come before the 118th Congress include biofuels, offshore energy technologies, and hydrogen pipelines.
Earth Science: Earth-science-related issues that may come before the 118th Congress include those raised by the National Spatial Data Infrastructure system and the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system.

Financial Technology: Financial technology, or fintech, refers to a broad set of technologies being deployed across a variety of financial industries and activities, including those related to cryptocurrency, investor applications, and consumer finance applications.

Information Technology and Social Media: The rapid pace of advancements in information technologies presents several issues for congressional policymakers, including those related to artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, social media platforms, big tech and online platforms, immersive technologies, and law enforcement access to platforms and its use of facial recognition technology and social media.

Space and Aviation: Congress has historically had a strong interest in space policy and aviation issues. Issues that may come before the 118th Congress include the funding and oversight of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, issues related to the commercialization of space, Earth-observing satellites, and advanced air mobility technologies.

Telecommunications: Telecommunication technologies present several issues for policymakers in the 118th Congress, including those related to 5G technologies, broadband deployment and the digital divide, undersea cables, federal spectrum auctions and allocations, and Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration spectrum programs.

Water: Water research and technology topics include issues relating to water data and aquatic ecosystem information, water infrastructure and water use, and water quality.

https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R47373 [56 pages]

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