DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — December 11, 2019

T2 Touchpoint News

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.

Policy Pulse

PCAST Holds Kickoff Meeting to Set Priorities

We reported that President Trump signed an executive order that reestablished the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in late October. To quote our previous coverage, “PCAST will advise the White House regarding science and technology (S&T) activities across agencies. When PCAST was active during the Obama administration, several studies were conducted and sent to the White House for further deliberation. PCAST has been active in every presidency since George H.W. Bush, who formed the first PCAST in 1990.”

PCAST held its first meeting of the new session at half-strength. PCAST anticipates a membership of 16 S&T leaders, but only 7 members were sworn in at the time they convened. (Two other members are awaiting their announcements, while the remaining seven have yet to be appointed.) Nonetheless, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegemeier claimed PCAST will immediately produce actionable near-term policy recommendations rather than reports chartered in previous councils. Droegemeier also outlined three “priority workstreams”: 1) establishing a five-year plan around the four Industries of the Future; 2) streamlining STEM workforce development, and 3) uniting national laboratories and other federal labs under the American research and development (R&D) enterprise.

This PCAST iteration will also include close interaction with a 20-person subcommittee made up of students, postdoctoral researchers and other early-career scientists, as well as regular liaisons with the National Science Board (NSB).

Senate Releases Investigation of Chinese Talent Recruitment Programs

In July 2018, the House suggested that foreign talent recruitment programs at American universities lose congressional funding sources. According to Texas representative Mac Thornberry, these programs could use American intelligence to exploit domestic R&D. This sentiment has echoed since Thornberry’s remarks in fiscal year (FY) 2019’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included provisions to curb the theft of American research items; Droegemeier’s “Letter to the United States Research Community” and previously introduced legislation like the Defending U.S. Government Communications Act. (For more information, please refer to our Capitol Corner column from this past September.)

This ongoing discussion has continued in the Senate. An investigations subcommittee recently issued a report that analyzed longstanding foreign recruitment contracts and case studies of suspicious program participants. Alongside these studies, the subcommittee recommends 14 provisions for reforming these programs and associated grant application processes. One substantial recommendation was to assess the importance of open information sharing with non-American researchers.

Agency Activities

VA Department Overhauls Financial Management System

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced plans to modernize its financial management system, alongside similar modernization initiatives for its electronic health records system. (In March 2018, we reported the White House’s Office of American Innovation announced similar technology modernization efforts for widespread health record digitization.) Like the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) projects currently funded, VA’s financial management system has aims to streamline agency and customer experience. However, the timeline for its completion—as well as its rapidly increasing budget—have concerned stakeholders.

In 2016, the agency launched the Financial Management Business Transformation (FMBT) program with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to deploy a state-of-the-art financial system costing $887 million by 2025. USDA exited the joint deal the following year, causing an increased cost exceeding $2.5 billion and adding five years to the deployment timeline. The VA department launched another financial management upgrade in 2006 that failed before it could be completed. VA chief financial officer and assistant management secretary Jon Rychalski forecasts that this system’s future will be better visualized by the end of 2020.

Pentagon Announces Initial 5G Experiments

While China harnesses the 6G telecommunications band, American researchers have been wrestling with the power of 5G telecommunications technology and weigh its implications for severe weather forecasting. Since these initial discussions, the Pentagon has begun experimenting with applications of 5G technologies. The Department of Defense (DoD) has entered into an other transaction agreement (OTA) with the National Spectrum Consortium (NSC) to develop spectrum access technology and spectrum sharing efforts at Hill Air Force Base. At the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Georgia, efforts will focus on 5G smart warehouse and asset management. In addition to these DoD-sanctioned activities, the department has issued a handful of draft proposals for 5G development projects.

According to NSC vice chair Howard Watson, 5G technologies will dramatically modify military agency goals, as well as non-defense operations. He argues the NSC will bolster development workflows between the private and public sectors. “Again, this really allows the federal government to reach companies that maybe would not traditionally care to do business with the government,” he said. “So the government gets a better sense of what’s in the realm of the possible and that small company opens doors and opportunities to collaborate with others.”

DC Dispatch