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House Introduces DOE Lab Management and Tech Transfer Bill

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Greetings from D.C. As the 113th Congress heads into its last few months (and last few working days before the election), folks seem to be rushing to introduce legislation focused on Department of Energy (DOE) lab management and technology transfer. In January, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced The America INNOVATES Act (see my February column), followed in March by Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-NM) ATTAIN Act (see April column). On the House side, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) introduced related DOE legislation entitled The EINSTEIN Act in June (sorry, no column, see details via Congress.gov), and now (July), Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and friends have introduced the DOE Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act of 2014.

Although the text of the new bill was not publicly available at the time of writing this column, the proposal is identified as a "companion bill" to the Senate’s America INNOVATES Act and, as such, I suspect it will be in lockstep with the language in that bill. As Rep. Hultgren noted, “[T]hese bills [INNOVATES and his bill] would bring the United States’ national lab system into the 21st century and promote the easy transfer of federal research into the hands of the private sector, improving the public-private partnerships that are essential to bringing innovative ideas to the marketplace.”

Also, like the Senate bill, the new House companion bill gives a nod to an ITIF report released over a year ago on the issue of DOE lab management and technology commercialization. In fact, a letter of support from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is highlighted prominently on Rep. Hultgren’s website. It states that “[T]he legislation, like its companion bill in the Senate, the America INNOVATES Act, would greatly improve the capability of the DOE’s 17 National Laboratories to move ground-breaking, federally funded research into the marketplace as new products and services. … [The] Act would allow the labs more flexibility to partner with start-ups and large firms to solve research challenges and transfer lab research to market. It would also modernize the management of the labs by vertically integrating the DOE’s science and energy programs. And it provides the labs additional tools to demonstrate the commercial applications of early stage research that may be too risky for the private sector to support.”

With precious few days left in the current congressional session, and with an election looming, the chances of major legislation being successfully debated, moved out of committee, passed by the respective houses of Congress, reconciled, and placed on the President’s desk—in forms similar to how they started—lessen with every day. But one thing is clear, DOE tech transfer seems to have gotten the attention of a growing number of congressional folks, and bills that don’t make it this session can always be reintroduced next year.

[Update: The House passed H.R. 5120 on July 22.]

Rep. Hultgren’s press release and the ITIF letter of support are posted on his website. While it is too soon for the bill language to be posted (at the time of this writing), it should appear on Congress.gov shortly.

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