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Capitol Corner — December 2019

Capitol Corner - December 2019

2019 End-of-Year Recap

Rather than close the year with a selection of December news items, let’s recap the 2019 entries in the Capitol Corner that advanced ongoing coverage of leading-edge technologies, foreign intervention in American research and development (R&D), and government legislation and memos, among other happenings.

January: The House Oversight IT Subcommittee’s End—and FITARA’s Future

To begin 2019, Virginia representative Gerry Connolly announced that the House Oversight IT Subcommittee would close and soon resume operations as part of the Government Operations Subcommittee. According to Connolly’s official biography, he will serve as chairman of the consolidated subcommittee, which maintains “legislative jurisdiction over the federal civil service [and] management of government operations and activities,” in addition to overseeing “federal IT security, acquisition policy, and management.” Connolly’s new role was accompanied by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appointments of 15 Democratic members to the Oversight and Reform Committee, under which the Government Operations Subcommittee resides.

Connolly’s work with the original House Oversight IT Subcommittee included the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). FITARA requires several (but not all) federal agencies to provide the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with a comprehensive inventory of data centers, strategies to consolidate and optimize them to ensure maximum cost savings, and quarterly progress reports on their changes. After FITARA was passed in 2014, adoption of its processes was slow; by FITARA’s second phase-in of agency instruction, only 59% of the FITARA recommendations had been implemented by the affected agencies as of March 2018.

When speaking on the now-transformed Government Operations Subcommittee, Connolly mentioned the FITARA scorecard. Agencies under FITARA’s jurisdiction are graded on their IT modernization initiatives as they relate to software license management, chief information officer (CIO) reporting structure, and cybersecurity solutions, among other factors. To receive an A in any of the aforementioned IT zones, an agency must ensure the following: updated and comprehensively inventoried software licenses; employ a CIO who oversees a specific working capital fund for IT modernization, and follow agency-wide cybersecurity solutions in line with the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA).

February: Droegemeier’s Three Policy Pillars

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) confirmed its director, Kelvin Droegemeier, in February. Droegemeier was confirmed by President Trump to lead OSTP in August 2018. We reported that he served on a variety of R&D task forces under President George W. Bush. Each of these coalitions—including those on research cost-sharing and mid-scale research facilities—align with R&D initiatives he described in his first address as agency director. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), he formed a list of policy priorities, several of which are in line with his R&D-centric career.

Remarks centered around three central policy pillars, which tie into our previous coverage. This Capitol Corner will report on those pillars and link to our ongoing coverage of where the U.S.—at both the agency and national levels—is working toward these goals in recent months. These pillars are to recontextualize R&D ecosystems, charter Alpha Institutes to begin innovative public-private partnerships, and ensure that American research environments are safe, secure, and, welcoming.

March: Unpacking the National Space Weather Strategy Action Plan

The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and its Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released their updated National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan. This version of the Strategy revises the version released in 2015; new versions are published on a set schedule as technology and society advances.

The 2015 iteration of the Strategy concerned six strategic goals tying into 2003’s response to extraterrestrial weather. In summary, these goals sought to help the public and private sectors work together to understand the magnitude and frequency of these weather events and respond accordingly, while also implementing emergency and routine preparedness efforts between each significant occurrence. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) emphasis on accurate modeling and forecasting continued here, as well as a focus on international cooperation to ensure maximum global safety and awareness. The Action Plan was separately released to elaborate on how each strategic goal would be accomplished scientifically and infrastructurally. In the lead-up to this year’s version, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a request for information pertaining to how it could improve the Strategy and Action Plan, including its prioritization of forecasting and predicting future space weather. Comments were closed last May.

The latest Strategy and Action Plan reorganizes the strategic goals into objectives that revise and reinforce OSTP’s mission of protecting against space weather, and also ensure that forecasting models and readiness efforts are well-tested, evaluated, and understood.

April: The OMB Releases a Memo to Push for a “21st-Century Government”

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a memo to further define the Trump management agenda’s push for a “21st-century government.” The agenda includes CAP Goal 5, “Sharing Quality Services,” which seeks to “establish a strategic government-wide framework for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of administrative services by 2020.” To do this, federal agencies will share technologies, with certain core services being housed in a single location to eliminate costs and wasted resources. If successful, performance will be monitored by OMB and the General Services Administration (GSA) using private-sector solutions to assess the efficacy of targeted solutions.

In conjunction with CAP Goal 5’s performance monitoring goal, all 24 agencies governed under the CFO Act will need to reach mutual agreement on what mission services can be shared based on targeted delivery benchmarks. The memo also instructs all CFO Act agencies to appoint a Senior Accountable Point-of-Contact (SAPOC) to support shared service strategies by next month. Data-driven assessments will be performed by these agencies, GSA, and OMB to gauge the maturity of each agency’s processes to determine what capabilities can be centralized without interruption to daily operations.

The OMB’s memo introduces both the Shared Services Governance Board (SSGB) and the Business Standards Council (BSC). The SSGB is chaired by the GSA and another rotating member in order to recommend shared services and oversee the implementation of others. The BSC will employ standards from the Federal Integrated Business Framework (FIBF) to identify a common set of capabilities for mission support functions. According to the GSA, the FIBF “enables the federal government to better coordinate and document common business needs across agencies and focus on outcomes, data, processes and performance.”

May: A Touchpoint on the White House and the GSA’s Federal Data Strategy

In May, we awaited finalization of the White House and GSA’s Federal Data Strategy. We reported that this final version, which has since been delayed past its August deadline, will include data governance principles and strategic goals over 5-year and 10-year milestones. The Strategy’s mission is to “fully leverage the value of federal data for mission, service, and the public good by guiding the Federal Government in practicing ethical governance, conscious design, and learning culture.” A push to develop this strategy stems from the latest President’s Management Agenda and its cross-agency priority (CAP) goal to leverage data as a strategic asset.

The history of this Strategy is brief, but it can be summarized as a study in consolidating and reducing the number of principles and objectives identified and enforced. According to Data.gov, 10 draft principles for data governance initially published last June received almost 100 comments regarding the length and word choices for principles’ categories. (Originally, principles were organized under “stewardship,” “quality,” and “continuous improvement.” Feedback caused these headings to be replaced with “ethical governance,” “conscious design,” and “learning culture.”)

The ten draft principles are as follows:

  1. Exercise Responsibility: Practice effective data stewardship and governance by maintaining modern data security practices, protecting individual privacy, and maintaining promised confidentiality.
  2. Uphold Ethics: Consider, monitor, and assess the implications of federal data practices for the public, and provide sufficient checks and balances to protect and serve the public interest.
  3. Promote Transparency: Articulate purposes for acquiring, using, and disseminating data, and comprehensively document processes and products to inform data users.
  4. Integrate Intentionality: Create, acquire, use, and disseminate data deliberately and thoughtfully, considering quality, consistency, privacy, value, reuse, and interoperability from the start.
  5. Ensure Relevance: Validate that data are high quality, useful, understandable, timely, and needed.
  6. Create Value: Coordinate and prioritize data needs and uses, harness data from multiple sources, and acquire new data only when necessary.
  7. Demonstrate Responsiveness: Improve data sharing and access with ongoing input from users and other stakeholders.
  8. Prioritize Best Practices: Model, assess, and continuously update best practices throughout the data life cycle.
  9. Invest in Learning: Promote a culture of continuous and collaborative learning with data and about data.
  10. Practice Accountability: Audit data practices, document and learn from results, and make changes as needed based on findings.

June: 2020’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and Its Relevance to Technology Transfer

In June, we focused on major tech transfer-relevant themes pervading both the House and Senate baseline drafts of the Act (also referred to as “chairman’s marks”), including prospective amendments.

Space Force. The amendment, if introduced, would install a four-star general to command the Force and also decrease the number of personnel transferred from other Department of Defense (DoD) agencies to this extraterrestrial arm. The Senate previously rejected the Space Force and does not seem to have plans to follow the House Committee’s lead.

Acquisition reform. Both the House and Senate chairmen’s marks had acquisition strategies, with the former focusing on software acquisition streamlined through chartered training programs and a pathway generated by the Secretary of Defense. The Senate, on the other hand, was attempting to pilot “alpha contracting teams” comprised of private industry partners and government stakeholders to develop cutting-edge software and hardware solutions. In name and focus, alpha contracting teams mirror Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director Kelvin Droegemeier’s Alpha Institutes vision, which would “pursue absolutely transformational ideas on the biggest challenges that face humanity today, like space exploration, climate change, eradicating disease and making it possible for people to live longer and healthier lives.”

House’s push for artificial intelligence (AI). The House chairman’s mark was drafted with the intent of “embracing new technologies and making sure we have enough money to fund things like AI and hypersonics and cyber, which are really the future of warfare,” according to Adam Smith’s remarks at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The NDAA doubles the funding requested for the Joint AI Center to enhance current initiatives in AI and machine-learning R&D.

July: Introducing the Pentagon’s Digital Modernization Strategy

The Pentagon issued its Digital Modernization Strategy to jump start the DoD’s IT transformation process this month. In a press release, DoD chief information officer (CIO) Dana Deasy said “this strategy outlines how the department will increase agility and remain competitive within a constantly evolving digital global threat landscape…our ultimate goal is to ensure our men and women in uniform maintain strategic advantage on the battlefield.” The Modernization Strategy also effectively updates the DoD’s Information Resource Management (IRM) Strategic Plan from 2015, which enabled the Department to integrate IT with “organizational planning, budget, procurement, financial management, human resources management, and program decisions” and was a requirement chartered by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The Digital Modernization Strategy threads together four DoD CIO priorities—cybersecurity; AI; cloud; and command, control, and communications (C3)—and four digital modernization goals—to innovate for competitive advantage, optimize for efficiencies and improved capability, evolve cybersecurity for an agile and resilient defense posture, and cultivate talent for a ready digital workforce. It is designed to best allow Deasy to have direct oversight over an expansive IT budget of $46.4 billion. The DoD’s IT budget helps command “roughly ten thousand operational systems, thousands of data centers, tens of thousands of servers, millions of computers and IT devices, and hundreds of thousands of commercial mobile devices” and will be under this Strategy’s jurisdiction until 2023.

August: DOE Amends Research and Innovation Act to Support Early-Stage Research

On August 27, the Department of Energy (DOE) published a policy amendment to the Federal Register. This amendment, titled “Inclusion of Early Stage Technology Demonstration in Authorized Technology Transfer Activities,” revised its policy to be linked to the DOE Research and Innovation Act, which includes a provision to support early-stage and precommercial technology demonstrations. “Inclusion” amended the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to allow T2 funds for use in these early tech demos, modifying rules which only permitted T2 fund use for intellectual property (IP) activities. More broadly, the Federal Register lumps the original funding limits into three categories: obtaining, maintaining, licensing, and assigning IP rights; increasing the potential for technology transfer, and providing widespread notice of T2 opportunities.

The DOE Research and Innovation Act was signed into law in October 2018. Its Laboratory and Technology Transfer pillar provides authority to “the directors of the National Laboratories to use funds authorized to support technology transfer within the Department to carry out early stage and precommercial technology demonstration activities to remove technology barriers that limit private sector interest and demonstrate potential commercial applications of any research and technologies arising from National Laboratory activities.” Accordingly, the revised Energy Policy Act “welcomes information on the early stage and precommercial technology demonstration activities that may be enabled at the DOE National Laboratories through the use of funds available for technology transfer.”

September: White House Releases Letter to U.S. Research Community

On September 16, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director Kelvin Droegemeier published a “Letter to the United States Research Community.” In this two-page letter, Droegemeier summarized much of what the R&D memo from August aimed for American R&D superpower. “Over the past several years, some nations have exhibited increasingly sophisticated efforts to exploit, influence, and undermine our research activities and environments…United States policies and practices must evolve thoughtfully and appropriately.”

Droegemeier’s first thoughtful and appropriate evolution was to establish the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE). JCORE was chartered by the OSTP as well as the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The NSTC has been responsible for leading-edge developments, including those related to space weather monitoring and artificial intelligence (AI) public-private research partnerships. As such, JCORE includes members from various science agencies, including National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Jim Bridenstine and National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Córdova. JCORE also consists of four subcommittees: research security, safe and inclusive research environments, research rigor and integrity, and coordinating administrative research requirements. Each subcommittee is informed by cross-agency interactions between Congress, the National Academies, and the private sector.

October: NIST Begins Developing Its Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C)

Early in October, Senate appropriators suggested that $40 million in funds for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) be allocated toward quantum information science (QIS) activities, including its new Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C).

In September 2018, NIST announced that it entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with SRI International to stand up and expand the QED-C. According to NIST Director Walter G. Copan, QED-C is intended to “effectively align resources and quantum research and development efforts between federal, academic and industry partners to ensure America’s position at the forefront of scientific discovery and development.” This CRADA ensures participation and funding from both the government and the private sector in order to stand up a QIS-ready workforce, coordinate effectively between the public and private sectors, accelerate development efforts through use cases, and more efficiently and quickly share intellectual property, technology forecasts, and supply chains.

According to SRI’s value proposition, the QED-C will update the QIS supply chain for increased research and industrial productivity. This is due to Consortium members being from all sectors—academia, standards development organizations (SDOs), professional societies, the investment community, and select international partnerships. Confirmed corporate partners include AT&T, Boeing, Google, IBM, and Intel, among others. All intellectual property developed within the Consortium will be fully owned by those who develop it as well.

November: NAPA Assesses America’s Roadmap to Streamlining Science & Technology Policy

Last year, Congress directed the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to collaborate with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to create a report that:  1) evaluated resources the legislative branch utilizes to enact science and technology (S&T) policy; 2) discussed the possibility of resurrecting the concept of a nonpartisan entity for S&T issue resolution, like the defunct Office of Technology Assessment (OTA); and 3) finally addressed whether such a resurrection would duplicate present or future congressional S&T policy decisions.

NAPA chose to combine the first and second option to “Enhance Existing Entities and Create Office of the Congressional S&T Advisor.” Under this recommendation, the CRS would expand and enhance its current initiatives to consult and resolve S&T policy issues and pathways. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will also continue standing up its new Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) mission office. STAA was created in February to conduct technology assessments, audit S&T programs for their effectiveness and cost control, as well as use engineering best practices to tie together their independent measures of the cost control, schedule efficiency, and technological readiness of these initiatives.

NAPA also encouraged creation of the Office of the Congressional S&T Advisor (OCSTA), which would support recruiting S&T advisors in Congress to perform policy oversight as well as horizon scanning. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines horizon scanning as “a technique for detecting early signs of potentially important developments through a systematic examination of potential threats and opportunities, with emphasis on new technology and its effects on the issue at hand.”

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