DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — May 15, 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 Request: National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has received its initial budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Last October we reported that NNSA funding would be confirmed at $15.2 billion for FY 2019. These preliminary FY 2020 figures would increase the Administration’s budget to $16.5 billion. The escalation is due to increases in NNSA’s Weapons Activities and Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation line items, which would receive funding levels of $12.4 and $2 billion dollars, respectively.

The Weapons Activities budget increase follows both international nuclear developments and aging infrastructure despite increased workloads. According to NNSA administration Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who spoke on the NNSA’s appropriations needs in April, “We face the most complex and demanding global security environments since the end of the Cold War.”

With respect to Weapons Activities research and development (R&D), NNSA’s Science program would receive $587 million to help build its new Scorpius X-ray system to assess the long-term effects of plutonium. The Engineering budget would increase to $234 million, with $40 million allocated for NNSA’s brand-new Stockpile Responsiveness Program. In addition, NNSA’s Advanced Simulation and Computing program would receive $840 million to further pursue exascale computing. (See the Agency Activities section below for more recent exascale efforts.)

More details on this request are available here.

Efforts to Restore OTA Continue—A Year Later

Last May, the House Appropriations Committee convened to approve a routine legislative appropriations bill. We reported that the bill recommended a $126 million investment in the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which was founded “to support their legislative, oversight, and representational functions by providing nonpartisan and confidential research and policy analysis.” Part of the CRS appropriations were to restore the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). Our previous coverage indicated that the OTA was a congressional office from 1972 to 1995, during which it produced more than 700 scientific studies to propose and enact technological regulation.

This year, the Committee reconvened, again addressing the future of the dormant office. According to Illinois’ Sean Casten and California’s Mark Takano, the OTA would foster proper regulation and advancement in leading-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI). Casten and Takano wrote in an op-ed that “as we consider the use of technologies such as AI, facial recognition, quantum computing, and emerging energy storage and generation in both the private and public sectors, it is increasingly important that Congress have unbiased assessments of what is on the horizon … the OTA’s role is to chart the way forward by generating new knowledge that answers those questions and fills those gaps.” The revised bill recommends the allocation of $6 million to restore the OTA. The bill’s text concurs with Casten and Takano, as “a re-opened OTA will play an important role in providing accurate, professional, and unbiased information about technological developments and policy options for addressing the issues those developments raise. In that role, OTA will complement the work of the Government Accountability Office in the area of science and technology.”

A webcast of the appropriations hearing can be viewed here, and a full committee print of the proceedings is available here.

Policy Pulse

New Executive Order Introduces New Cyber Workforce Initiatives

President Trump recently signed an executive order to strengthen the American cyber workforce. In a White House statement, Trump stated that 300,000 cybersecurity vacancies exist in the U.S. job market, which weakens critical infrastructural and defense initiatives amid international competition. The executive order establishes the following programs:

  • A President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition will be held for both military and civilian personnel to “identify, challenge, and reward the United States Government’s best cybersecurity practitioners and teams across offensive and defensive cybersecurity disciplines” and award a $25,000 cash prize.
  • The Trump administration will create a federal rotational program that will shuffle cybersecurity personnel between agencies to bolster whole-of-government knowledge transfer. This order echoes the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act, which recently passed the Senate.
  • The executive order also will encourage interagency adoption of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) framework. The NICE framework (NIST Special Publication 800-181) organizes cybersecurity work and labor categories into defined specialty areas and work roles.

Agency Activities

DARPA’s New Software Automation Initiative to Deploy New Systems and Upgrades Faster

The Pentagon’s research office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), continues its research efforts. DARPA’s Automated Rapid Certification of Software program will encourage the development of technology that will automatically detect security criteria for a system and determine its variance from the required threshold. This pilot program would reduce expensive certification costs and help deploy new systems or legacy system upgrades faster, as it combines shared components from different software systems to assess their security posture.

More information on the Automated Rapid Certification of Software is available here.

DOE’s Exascale Computer to Launch by 2021

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced plans to build the world’s most powerful exascale computer. We reported that Florida State University scientists used the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) MagLab in 2016 to improve the building blocks of quantum computers.

DOE’s Frontier computer was developed in partnership with Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, AMD, and supercomputer company Cray Inc. Frontier is slated to process a quintillion calculations per second—which is faster than the top 160 fastest supercomputers combined—and also possesses a network bandwidth that could download over 100,000 high-definition full-length videos in one second. Frontier will be open for both public- and private-sector data.

Frontier follows March’s DOE announcement of Aurora, the first American exascale computer, to be completed in 2021 at Argonne National Laboratory.

DC Dispatch