DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — June 5, 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

Science Spending Priorities Get Identified by House Appropriators

Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee rejected the Trump administration’s latest cuts to nondefense programs. While the administration’s latest budget features a chapter that prioritizes several “industries of the future,” including artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum information science (QIS), funding levels are varying across non-Department of Defense (DoD) departments. For example, four agencies—including the Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—would receive $850 million to spend on AI research. The DoD would augment this funding with $927 million allocated for both the Joint AI Center and another related project.

Each appropriations package is awaiting approval of its Senate version, but a brief summary of each version in the House is below.

  • DOE. The Committee’s report promises increases for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) despite the administration’s call to terminate the latter suboffice. ARPA-E’s budget would see a 16-percent increase to $425 million, and EERE’s budget would rise 11 percent to $2.65 billion in order to fund renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. The DOE’s Office of Science would see a 4-percent budget increase to $6.87 billion to bolster research across multiple international disciplines.
  • NSF. The Committee’s report calls for a 7-percent increase to the NSF budget, resulting in funding of $8.64 billion, and a 9-percent increase in NSF’s main research account to $7.11 billion. Major NSF projects, including the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, would continue to be funded. The telescope program would receive $46 million in funding under this appropriations package if approved.
  • NIST. NIST would be funded at $1.04 billion as the result of a 6-percent increase. Eight million dollars of this line item is required for increasing QIS infrastructure in support of the National Quantum Initiative Act.

Policy Pulse

STEM Diversity Bill Revived in the House

Texas representative Bernice Johnson reintroduced the STEM Opportunities Act in Congress to increase diversity initiatives in STEM fields. This Act was introduced in a hearing that marked the first conversation on STEM-level diversity since 2010. If signed into law, the Act would require all agencies will R&D budgets over $100 million to collect demographic data on grant applicants. This process dovetails with NSF’s INCLUDES program. The initiative began in 2013 and was launched in FY 2016 to broaden STEM participation from minorities and underrepresented demographics. That phase of INCLUDES concerned two-year “Design and Development Launch Pilot” grants to investigate diversity disparities in STEM education and workforce development. INCLUDES was championed as one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas.

The STEM Opportunities Act can be tracked here.

Inside the AI Initiative Act

In the same vein as the NQI Act, both chambers of Congress introduced the National AI Initiative. This bill, if passed, would create a centralized office to manage AI investments, research, and educational opportunities for civilian and government workforces. Under this Initiative, both the NSF and the DOE would establish up to five AI research centers and NIST would be required to support the development of measurement and standards for commercial and federal applications of AI technology.

Both House and Senate forms of the AI Initiative Act are available on Congress.gov.


Agency Activities

DOE Office of Science Confirms New Director

DOE’s new Office of Science director, Chris Fall, has been confirmed by the Senate. The confirmation is the first in a series of three for DOE leadership, with ARPA-E and Office of Nuclear Energy directors awaiting their respective confirmations. Fall previously served as President Trump’s top official at ARPA-E after positions at the Office of Naval Research and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where he served as both assistant director for defense programs and acting head of national security and international affairs. He is the Office of Science’s first director under President Trump.

NOAA Warns Against 5G Spectrum as Weather Effects Loom

In March, we reported that AI research and development can be bolstered by 5G telecommunications networks and associated technology. However, recent reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have suggested that 5G technology poses major environmental problems, including the quality of severe weather forecasts. At a recent House hearing, NOAA acting head Neil Jacobs asserted that out-of-band signal emissions—resulting from 5G signals not yet wholly regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—would cause a 77-percent data loss on weather satellites. This would reduce hurricane tracking lead time by two to three data. NOAA is proposing a more restrictive signal emissions signal limit for FCC review to reduce the possibility of crucial data loss.

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