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President Signs America COMPETES Reauthorization


Greetings from D.C. The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act was signed into law in early January (P.L. 111-358). The reauthorization continues the programs of the original legislation for three years, including continuing the NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NIST on a path to doubling their funding (now over 10 years rather than 7 years as provided in the original authorization); initiatives to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education; and other competitiveness-related efforts.

In addition to the agency funding and STEM programs, several provisions in the law will be of particular interest to those in the federal tech transfer community as they directly call out technology transfer and/or amend Stevenson-Wydler (the foundation legislation for federal technology transfer). Among these are:

  • Section 105 of the Act authorizes agencies to develop programs to "award prizes competitively to stimulate innovation that has the potential to advance the mission of the respective agency."
  • Section 520 focuses on academic tech transfer specifically and outlines public reporting requirements (for institutions receiving a threshold level of federal funding) regarding their "general approach to and mechanisms for transfer of technology and the commercialization of research results…"
  • Section 601 formally establishes the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the Department of Commerce (an office already in operation), with the mission to "foster innovation and the commercialization of new technologies, products, processes, and services with the goal of promoting productivity and economic growth in the United States." This mission includes developing policies supporting commercialization of the results of federally funded R&D.
  • Section 603 establishes a "regional innovation program to encourage and support the development of regional innovation strategies, including regional innovation clusters and science and research parks." It is interesting to note that federal labs are eligible for funding under this provision.
  • Section 604 directs the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a comprehensive study on the competitiveness and innovation capacity of the U.S. This broadly defined analysis of U.S. economic and innovative competitiveness will include a focus on various government policies supporting the overarching "U.S. competitiveness" goal. Among the many issues to be covered in this study is "[T]he effectiveness of the Federal Government and Federally funded research and development centers in supporting and promoting technology commercialization and technology transfer."

While reauthorization is encouraging, the next step—funding for those initiatives requiring it—is not a done deal. That will depend on what Congress does with the FY2011 and beyond budgets (at the time this column was written, a continuing resolution for FY2011 was in effect until March 4). Given the new Congress’ spotlight on government spending—combined with the fact that the new leadership of the House committee where the bill originated is on record with strong concerns over the level of funding and other aspects of the bill—full funding for the bill is far from certain.

You can find the final bill language at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:H.R.5116:.

Gary can be reached at gkjones@federallabs.org.

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