DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — April 17, 2019

Published biweekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Touchpoint gathers updates from inside and around the technology transfer (T2) community. News is collected from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided in addition to our streamlined synopses. For more information and Touchpoint-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Budget Bulletin

FY 2020 Budget Requests Continue for NSF and NIST

More initial appropriations requests for fiscal year (FY) 2020 have been issued by more federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). So far, the Trump administration has deliberated on the FY 2020 budget for the Department of Energy (DOE), an item which we’ve included in previous Touchpoints.

NSF: The Trump budget request, if approved at its current levels, would reduce funding by 12 percent to $7.07 billion. (FY 2019 figures are relatively larger, capping out at $8.1 billion.). The majority of the request is allocated to NSF’s research activities, with $5.7 billion divided across sectors responsible for the Foundation’s “10 Big Ideas,” as well as highly competitive international research fields like artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum information science (QIS), which received $106 million under this request. This echoes a memo issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last August, which prioritized these research pools for research and development (R&D) budgets. Regarding the NSF’s position as an integral federal agency, NSF Committee Chair José Serrano said the agency will continue to work toward a bipartisan solution that ensures maximum funding, despite the administration’s desire to shrink the national deficit by also shrinking non-defense spending.

NIST: Keeping in line with the administration’s proposed cuts to non-defense agencies, NIST (currently funded at $986 million) would find its funding cut to $687 million. The steepest cuts are targeted toward NIST’s facility construction projects, a trend continuing from enacted FY 2019 numbers. NIST’s Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) account, which funds NIST’s laboratories and grant programs, will see a budget decrease to $612 million. Justification for the STRS account decrease include the prioritization of quantum systems and AI at the expense of shuttering materials work at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. As such, NIST requests an additional $10 million to expand its quantum research at the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Agency Activities

NIST Announces Expansion of Direct Hiring Authority

NIST recently announced plans to revamp its existing Alternative Personnel Management System (APMS) to include more direct hiring authorities in the general engineering and IT management sectors, among other additional positions. This action followed the President’s Management Agenda’s desire for whole-of-government modernization. Much like the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) initiative reported on in the last Touchpoint, the APMS expansion allows higher-level management to assess hiring shortages or critical personnel needs in engineering and IT fields rather than just certain scientific and engineering technicians, per the last APMS revision in 2012.

According to NIST’s notice of the change, “the expanded direct-hire authority will allow NIST to simplify and expedite hiring for managers in mission critical occupations, and, in accordance with the President’s Management Agenda, take a step towards building the workforce of the 21st century.” The notice can be read in full here.

AI Regulations Begin to Take Shape at the FDA

As the U.S. unpacks its American AI Initiative and fine-tunes its R&D infrastructure, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is attempting to begin regulating AI and machine learning (ML) technology related to medical devices. The FDA has proposed a regulatory framework that is open for public comment in order to regulate the technology as it adapts to and learns from new stimuli, often without user intervention.

According to FDA officials, the framework would ensure “a new, total product lifecycle regulatory approach that facilitates a rapid cycle of product improvement … while providing effective safeguards.” Under this framework, AI and ML medical technology manufacturers can get their new wares preapproved and avoid a costly, time-consuming recertification by the FDA. Instead, developers will have to regularly update the agency on any software or technology changes as AI and ML are both rapidly changing and evolving. Yet consumer safety is a constant the FDA wishes to maintain, as “transparency about the function and modifications of medical devices is a key aspect of their safety.”

DC Dispatch