Over the past year, there have been significant policy advances related to the US bioeconomy—the part of the economy driven by the life sciences and biotech, and enabled by engineering, computing, and information science.1 The bioeconomy includes a wide range of products and processes, from mRNA vaccines and drought-resistant crops to microbial fertilizers and bioindustrial fermentation. Rapid advances in biotechnology tools and capabilities have expanded the possibilities for bio-based products, and the U.S. government is looking for ways that it can best support this burgeoning sector of the economy. In addition to several reports and recommendations from outside experts and committees,23 action within federal government agencies has been spurred by the September 2022 Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy (EO 14081) and by the CHIPS and Science Act signed into law in August 2022.
Two key areas of discussion for federal government policy on the bioeconomy are:
- Measurement and Language: How should the U.S. government quantify, measure, and track the size and shape of the bioeconomy? What “counts” as part of the bioeconomy?
- Financial and Economic Tools: How can government funding be most effective at seeding long-term growth in the bioeconomy? What criteria should be used to prioritize?
To generate ideas and support discussion related to bioeconomy policy, FAS hosted two half-day, multi-stakeholder, discussion-based workshops on December 5 and December 7, 2022, focused on these topics. Each workshop included representatives and experts from academia, industry, non-governmental organizations, and the U.S. government.
Key Insights and Ideas about Measurement and Language
Discussion at the December 5, 2022 workshop focused on measurement and language for the bioeconomy. Panels and break-out sessions raised several key themes as well as specific ideas that the U.S. government should pursue. Key themes included:
- Simple economic metrics (e.g. those captured by NAICS or NAPCS) by themselves may not be adequate to capture the value of the bioeconomy. We should develop metrics that better capture meaningful endpoints such as sustainability, equity, or security.
- Success of US government actions on the bioeconomy will be measured by how well they establish the U.S. as a leader in this sector, not only by economic indicators, but also by the extent to which non-U.S. companies and governments adopt U.S. metrics, terminology, investment approaches, standards, and practices.
Specific recommendations for the U.S. government included:
- Update NAICS and NAPCS in a way that is analogous to the way other types of technologies with cross-sectoral economic contributions are tracked, such as semiconductors and communications technologies.
- Develop a shared resource (e.g. a website or “dashboard”) that provides up to date economic data on the bioeconomy as well as any other metrics that are developed.
- Improve incentives for the bioeconomy by pursuing government subsidies; using federal procurement to support bio-based products and processes; and streamlining and harmonizing processes throughout the bioeconomy policy landscape (including risk assessment and regulation).
- Secure supply chains for the bioeconomy by improving incentives to keep companies in the U.S. and by working to define the critical bioeconomy infrastructure (i.e. key components, products, and capabilities) and develop plans for strategic reserves.
Key Insights and Ideas about Financial and Economic Tools
The December 7, 2022 workshop focused on government-based financial and economic tools and how they can best support the bioeconomy. Speakers provided context by describing the ways that the U.S. government is already planning to support regional biomanufacturing infrastructure through the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engine program and through the Department of Commerce’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Workshop participants also generated a range of specific ideas, including investment in networks of biomanufacturing infrastructure, direct government investment (e.g. tax incentives, subsidies, procurement, and improved grant opportunities) as well as development of resources and education to support small companies. Diverse workforce development was also identified as a critical factor, with an emphasis on programs and partnerships for technical programs and community colleges rather than Ph.D.-level education. The discussions revealed two overarching themes:
- There is a need for investments in a wide diversity of scale-up facilities and infrastructure for bio-based products.
- Investments will need to be sustained over time. Because biomanufacturing is rapidly advancing, ongoing funding will be needed to ensure that the facilities that are built and workforce development programs that are established now will be able to change and adapt in the future.
As the U.S. government ramps up its activities in the bioeconomy, it will be important to keep the conversation going. Executive Order 14081 outlined specific actions related to the bioeconomy that federal agencies are working to complete; in many cases, these will require public input. The Office of Science and Technology Policy has already released two public Requests for Information, one to ask for feedback on the structure and activities of an overarching National Biomanufacturing and Biotechnology Initiative and the other focusing on challenges to the U.S. biotechnology regulatory system. Though the date to submit comments on these two requests is already past, there will be other opportunities to provide input to the federal government in the coming months. FAS will continue to track these developments, convene experts and stakeholders to support policy decision making, and contribute to the discussion.
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