DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — September 19, 2018

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

DOE Spending Bill Update: FY 2019 Appropriations Made Final, Now Await Trump’s Signature

Earlier this month, we reported on some of the minibus appropriations packages for fiscal year (FY) 2019 to prevent a government shutdown. One minibus focuses on provisions for the Department of Energy (DOE). (2018’s FLC Tech Focus centers on energy and its available technologies, research and development [R&D], and innovation.). As announced by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the final FY 2019 minibus conference report allocated $44.6 billion to support the DOE and its programs, as well as infrastructure projects piloted by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. If President Trump approves the package, the DOE will have received a timely appropriation for the first time in 20 years and be protected from further government shutdowns if stopgap funding eludes the department. (This is due to a bill signed in February that raises caps of FY 2018 and 2019 government spending.)

FY 2019 budget levels being proposed include the following (the full list is available here.) The Senate and House bills largely reject the Trump request for wholesale budget reductions.

  • DOE Office of Science. The Office of Science has seen a 5-percent increase in this request, totaling almost $6.6 billion in FY 2019 figures. Each sub-office will also see increases. The Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, with its focus on exascale computing, will see a 15-percent budget increase to $936 million if the appropriations are approved.
  • Applied Energy Research Office. Congress is aiming to boost the budget of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) by 4 percent to $366 million, which is an all-time high. (Keep in mind that the Trump administration has previously proposed to slash most of these offices, which oversee DOE applied R&D programs.). In addition, funding for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) will potentially increase by 2 percent to nearly $2.4 billion. To quote the conference report, these agencies, if boosted in funding, will allow DOE to “maintain a diverse portfolio of early-, mid-, and late-stage research, development, and market transformation activities."

The conference report from the Senate Appropriations Committee is available here, along with the full minibus text and budgetary breakdown.

TMF Update: Lawmakers Face Last Chance to Increase Funding for FY 2019

Last month, we reported that the Senate Appropriations Committee was unconvinced that the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF)—which awarded portions of its $100 million budget to several special projects in June—would see additional funding in FY 2019. In August, the issue with the TMF lies in its lack of transparency related to proposals and the criteria for and efficacy of funded projects.

Earlier this month, Congress held a conference regarding the Financial Services and General Government minibus. As written, the appropriations bill, which passed the House, allocated $150 million to the TMF; however, the issue of transparency on TMF project data and results still remained, leading the Senate to veto the appropriation in July. While the next vote is scheduled for September 25, funding will be capped at the original $100-million figure if no agreement on the provision is made.

Our September Capitol Corner will delve deeper into the TMF, the three projects currently funded (including a DOE-related initiative), and its potential future in the wake of this vote.

Policy Pulse

House Passes National Quantum Initiative Act, Now Awaits Senate Vote

The House recently passed its version of the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA). The NQIA, which received unanimous and bipartisan support, creates a 10-year federal program to advance quantum information science (QIS) and also will charter a National Quantum Coordination Office. The Office will operate within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to facilitate interagency coordination of QIS R&D through DOE basic research centers. The Coordination Office will also establish DOE national research centers (via a $125-million endowment), and authorize the creation of research and education centers for the National Science Foundation (NSF), as well as give the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) $80 million to improve QIS initiatives. This bill will also ramp up initiatives for a stronger quantum workforce pipeline and developing QIS best practices. The full text of the bill is available here.

The NQIA still awaits Senate vote. Previous bill incarnations have been revised in the Senate to adjust funding levels for NSF research centers, reduce NIST funding authorizations, and other provisions. A previous version of the bill was advanced by voice vote in August, and this new bipartisan-approved iteration will be open for floor consideration at a later date.

Congress Passes DOE Research and Innovation Act, Awaits Presidential Consideration

The House and Senate have both passed the DOE Research and Innovation Act, which will establish policies for science and energy R&D programs while also reforming national laboratory management and technology transfer programs. If signed by President Trump, the Act will fully authorize the DOE Office of Science for the first time and define its primary research program offices and other major programs. DOE will also be directed to conduct and support cross-office R&D, demonstration, and commercialization efforts. The Department will prioritize activities using a planning, evaluation, and technical assessment framework for setting strategies that adapt to market dynamics and ensure R&D integrity and independence.

The full text of the bill is available here.

Agency Activities

USPTO Investigates Use of Quantum Computing and AI to Streamline Patent Applications

While the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) begins a leadership transition, it has begun to investigate the possibility of using quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI) to decrease the processing time of patent applications.

For a patent application to be approved, a patent examiner must search for an application’s relation to “prior art,” which prevents new patents that infringe on a previous patent or mention of an invention in printed publications or public knowledge more than 12 months before the new application. The dizzying list of rules that the concept of prior art must follow can cause an examiner’s search to significantly slow down the patent filing process—especially when new applicants describe their inventions using new vocabulary that evades standard keyword searches.

Using AI technology like machine learning and natural language processing (NLP), the USPTO is investigating next-generation solutions to the prior art problem. The agency is looking for a plugin or widget that would work alongside existing USPTO search functionality, which is public-facing and relatively robust. As the USPTO’s solution will need a public element, transparent solutions with future-facing components will be given more consideration as source selection begins.

DC Dispatch