Legislative Update: House Passes Energy Science Bill - Two STEM Bills Now Law

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Greetings from D.C. While the first few days of the current administration and congressional term have been focused on issues like immigration, health care and, just recently, the coming 2018 budget (more on that when details are released), there has been some legislative action on bills more directly related to federal science and technology (S&T).

In late January, the House passed the Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act (HR 589), designed “to establish Department of Energy policy for science and energy research and development programs, and reform National Laboratory management and technology transfer programs, and for other purposes.” The current bill includes language from a number of bills that passed the House in the last session but didn’t make it to the finish line—notably the original House version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (which did not make it into the American Innovation and Competiveness Act [AICA] – see the January column), and the DOE Lab Modernization and Tech Transfer Act.

Language of particular interest to the tech transfer community can be found in Title I of the new bill (drawn from the DOE Lab Modernization and Tech Transfer Act). Three provisions relate directly to tech transfer. First, DOE labs are authorized to utilize technology transfer funds for early-stage and pre-commercial technology demonstration activities. Second, the DOE is directed to issue a report on improving its ability to transfer new energy technologies to the private sector. Third, the bill authorizes and extends the Agreements for Commercializing Technology pilot program, which provides the labs with increased authority to negotiate contract terms such as intellectual property rights, payment structures, performance guarantees, and multiparty collaborations.

Unlike recent bills coming out of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (e.g., last year’s COMPETES bill), this particular bill appears to have bipartisan support. On the passage of the bill, Chairman Smith noted that “[T]his bipartisan, bicameral legislation will enable the development of next generation technology and promote innovation and economic growth.  I thank Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson and my colleagues on the Science Committee … for their help writing this legislation.” Ranking Member Johnson was quoted as saying “[I] would like to thank Chairman Smith and his staff for working closely with us and our Senate counterparts to find common ground on a wide range of areas that will be critical to ensuring our nation’s competitiveness and our clean energy future.”

Two other bills of potential interest to the federal S&T community were signed into law recently. On February 28, President Trump signed the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act (PL 115-6), which encourages National Science Foundation (NSF) entrepreneurial programs “to recruit and support women to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and into the commercial world,” and the INSPIRE Women Act (PL 115-7), which directs NASA “to encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and pursue careers in aerospace …” As one might expect from the subject matter, both of these narrowly defined bills had broad bipartisan support.

Gary can be reached at gkjones.ctr@federallabs.org.

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