DC on T2

Capitol Corner — June 2019

Published monthly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective content, Capitol Corner focuses on one notable news item pertaining to the T2 community. The focus stems from agency publications, news sites and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided. For more information and Corner-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

In the latest T2 Touchpoint, we reported that this year’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has entered Congress. We covered that the House version of the bill contained an amendment including the Securing American Science and Technology Act. This Act is accompanied with a list of foreign nations or entities posing a threat to critical American research and development (R&D) activities, as well as a push for both House and Senate Committees on Armed Services to list Chinese and Russian academic institutions that may pose threats to national security research.

Last year’s NDAA was met with an extensive Capitol Corner, in which we discussed Wisconsin representative Mike Gallagher’s proposed amendment (and its criticisms), which echoes the Act from this year’s iteration. Instead of revisiting similar avenues, our discussion of the NDAA for fiscal year (FY) 2020 will focus on major T2-relevant themes pervading both the House and Senate baseline drafts of the Act, including prospective amendments. (Note: Draft bill and chairman’s mark will be used interchangeably in this column.)

Space Force. Last June, we extensively deliberated on the potential costs, both financial and infrastructural, of the Trump administration’s proposed Space Force. Although it was not written into either the House or the Senate NDAA, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, alongside representatives Jim Cooper and Mike D. Rogers, have begun to architect a bipartisan amendment to the chairman’s mark. 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. This particular provision seems to creep up in drafts of yearly NDAAs, but never makes it into law. According to Kevin Fahey, Assistant Secretary of Defense for acquisition, ““Every year I get an NDAA with acquisition reform…I can’t remember the last time I saw financial management reform or comptroller reform.” Both the House and Senate chairmen’s marks have 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, is 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 has been 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.

The House and Senate versions of the NDAA can be read here.

DC on T2