DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — October 16, 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 Roundup: DoD S&T and NIST

Several fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request packages have passed through the House and Senate committees. These figures may fluctuate in the coming weeks as FY 2019 spending levels are being maintained to avoid a government shutdown in November.

Department of Defense (DoD) Science and Technology (S&T): In March, the Trump administration requested $104 billion to fund the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) portfolio. This is a significant increase from FY 2017, when the agency’s S&T funding stood at $75 billion.

FY 2019 funding for Basic Research is around $2.5 billion. The House proposed a 1% decrease (a loss of $2.5 million), while the Senate proposed a 4% increase to $2.6 billion. The Basic Research department, to quote former director Robin Staffin, remains the “pacemaker of technological progress” as a bridge between academic and public sector research opportunities. Some other line items of note include a 4% budget increase to $3.6 billion for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and a $164 million investment in DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): We previously reported that NIST would have its budget significantly cut by nearly $300 million per the Trump administration request; yet the House and Senate have both proposed an increase from NIST’s current $986 million budget.  

Quantum research has been given a boost in both congressional requests, with the House recommending that $38 million be directed to quantum information science (QIS) activities. The Senate proposes $40 million for this purpose, citing NIST’s “commendable” Quantum Economic Development Consortium. The Consortium will “perform pre-competitive R&D activities that support the development of such technologies.” More on this NIST development will follow in October’s Capitol Corner. Artificial intelligence (AI) funding has seen similar increases in these requests, with the House suggesting funding of $4 million over FY 2019 levels and the Senate suggesting $8 million.

More ongoing FY 2020 appropriations discussions and data can be found here.

Policy Pulse

Recent Report Urges for Scientific Integrity Free from Government Intervention

A report by the Brennan Center’s National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy indicates that the relationship between federal science activities and the government lacks integrity. The Task Force was founded to combat “the erosion in recent years of critical norms and practices, built up over time, that ensure government officials use their power primarily to further the public interest, not partisan or personal interests.” The Task Force is comprised of a bipartisan mix of former White House advisers, congressional members, federal and state executives, and other high-ranking officials and civilians.

As this is a bipartisan report, it is important to illustrate that this is a bipartisan issue. Scientific data has been tampered with or retrofitted to match political ideals since the George W. Bush administration. Recent infrastructural changes—like shuffling priorities and workforces at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—raise concerns about government intervention in crucial research. While the Brennan Center acknowledges an Obama-era executive order urging better scientific integrity, the work founded there remains unfinished. The report notes that Obama’s scientific integrity standards have not yet been put in place, and also the right government officials reserve to interpret scientific findings as they see fit for their policymaking decisions. Despite this, the Brennan report encourages safeguards that ensure that “accurate, nonpolitical, government-supported research and analysis should be protected.”

The Brennan Center’s Proposals for Reform can be read in its entirety here.

Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act to Replace Compromised Tech

The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Reform Committee recently introduced the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act in the latest move against Huawei and ZTE, among other overseas telecommunications manufacturers. (To get up to speed on this issue, our September Capitol Corner column tracks this issue from as far back as January 2018.)

This bill would enforce efforts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to replace rural and small telecommunications networks that may have featured these compromised technologies. The FCC would devote as much as $1 billion to the cause while also ensuring these network revitalizations follow the bans and restrictions placed on these companies’ interactions with the U.S. Government.

The Act’s journey through Congress can be tracked here.

Agency Activities

GSA Releases More Info on AI Center of Excellence

We’ve previously reported on the DoD Defense Innovation Unit’s Joint AI Center (JAIC), which was founded “to match technology with people and resources, foster stronger industry partnerships, spearhead AI talent acquisition and development, and align AI technology with the National Defense Strategy.” In line with these goals, the General Services Administration (GSA) has revealed details about its sixth Center of Excellence (CoE), which is targeting many of the same areas as the JAIC.

GSA started its CoE initiative in 2017 to help agencies streamline their IT services, with an increased focus on customer experience improvement. (Related to this: The GSA received $15 million in February 2019 from the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) to modernize 88 legacy applications.) While no policy or mission statements were made, GSA Technology Transformation Service head Anil Cheriyan outlined some vague roadmaps. Under this CoE—and provided government regulation of the technology continues—AI could be used to streamline Social Security payments and improve how federal loans are dispersed to students and farmers, among other improvements.

More on GSA’s AI developments can be found here.

DC Dispatch