Khanna introduces $900 billion bill to expand jobs in science, technology
Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna's bill would support research and development in emerging technologies. File photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Fremont, introduced a bill aimed at expanding job opportunities in science and technology.

The 21st Century Jobs Act would allocate $900 billion over 10 years for research and development in emerging technologies, such as climate science, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing.

It would further create a Federal Institute of Technology with 30 centers placed in locations that currently lack prominent technology facilities.

“Funding for research and development in science and technology is concentrated in a small number of geographic regions,” the bill states. “…The private sector has a limited ability or desire to invest outside of such centers, which limits the potential for growth in science and technology, including the availability of employment opportunities in such industries.”

Khanna previously explained many Americans do not want to leave their rural communities to pursue a career in science or technology.

“What we need to do is allow them to preserve their way of life and bring these jobs (to them),” he said. “There are cost advantages to have these jobs not just located in the Bay Area, and the talent is everywhere. If we are deliberate, we can make this work.”

The bill, introduced last week,  also invests in teachers and students. Eight billion of the allotted funding would be used to create a grant fund, overseen by the Department of Education, to help states acquire educational materials and train educators at the local and higher educational levels. It would additionally set up an extensive scholarship program for minorities or students from rural communities to study science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

The legislation received an endorsement from Jared Bernstein. Bernstein previously served as the chief economist for former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Rep. Khanna is proposing a way to get the U.S. back in the long-neglected business of forward-looking research and development,” he said. “We’ve got tremendous international catch-up to do in this space, and this proposal is the first I’ve seen that’s scaled to the magnitude of the challenge.”

Federally-funded research and development has declined since 2000, according to a recent report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, a federal agency within the National Science Foundation.

“Other nations, particularly China, are rapidly developing their science and technology capacity,” it states. “The changing global landscape affects the position of the United States relative to the other major global players… Increasingly, the United States is seen globally as an important leader rather than the uncontested leader.”

During a House Budget Committee hearing last month, lawmakers discussed concerns that emerging technologies could exacerbate income equality. Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, said he feared the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) would leave behind workers who lacked an advanced education or specialized skills.

Susan Athey, an economics of technology professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, testified at the hearing and told the committee new technologies could expand access to health care, educational opportunities and government services. But she said government and universities have a crucial role to play to ensure that potential is reached.

“AI, of course, also creates challenges, contributing to an era where workers transition more frequently and require more reskilling throughout their careers,” Athey said. “We need to ensure that our institutions are prepared to meet this reality.”

Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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