DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — September 5, 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

NSF Holds Meeting to Assess Division-Specific Budget Strain

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Mathematical and Physical Science (MPS) Advisory Committee recently met to discuss NSF divisions most impacted by rising facilities and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. As we’ve previously reported, NSF budget appropriations have largely hovered around their budgetary numbers from previous fiscal years (FY). In response to this, the National Science Board (NSB) released a study on the rising facilities costs that would necessitate a budget increase. With that said, the NSB issued its analysis to Congress in May, and FY 2019 appropriations for the NSF were updated the following month, with no major consideration to the NSB findings. (However, pending spending bills do promise better monetary results.)

Although MPS is receiving a 10-percent budget increase in FY 2018, facility O&M costs will only rise. Last FY, the Astronomical Sciences Division spent 62 percent of its budget on facilities, and the Physics Division spent 35 percent. With NSF projects, including the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), leaning heavily on facility storage, facility costs would impede the Astronomical Sciences’ budget so much that LSST research may not be able to be awarded by as soon as FY 2020.

At this time, facility construction funds are filtered through the NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account, which saw a $67 -million funding increase in the last round of FY 2019 appropriations drafts. Each division that receives a constructed facility must bear the weight of these O&M costs. NSF is currently drafting a budget proposal that would shift some of the management responsibility back to NSF, yet NSF Director France Córdova explained that proper execution of this change relies on wholesale funding increases. An NSF portfolio review completed in 2010 did forecast self-described “pessimistic budget scenarios” for the next decade, but final appropriations rest on final chamber votes. We will update as soon as these results, and this budget proposal, are released.

Possible Government Shutdown Looms as More End-of-FY Spending Bills Enter Congress

Although President Trump announced the possibility of a government shutdown on Wednesday, this closure would not include vetoing several end-of-fiscal year appropriations bills. To keep federal agencies open, Congress must approve four minibus appropriations packages before the end of the FY (September 30). Such a shutdown would follow January’s 69-hour closure, which ended with the signing of a short-term spending bill.

Minibuses of interest include a spending bill introduced in Congress Wednesday that has provisions for the Department of Energy (DOE). (2018’s FLC Tech Focus centers on energy and its available technologies, R&D, and innovation.). The bill appropriates $162.5 million until FY 2021 to be used for energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE) program direction, $28.5 million for energy cybersecurity program direction, $80 million for nuclear energy program direction, and $33.3 million for program direction of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Among other provisions, the DOE section also appropriates $33 million to the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, which gives the Department authority to fund projects that “avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases; and employ new or significantly improved technologies as compared to commercial technologies.”

A full summary of the pending omnibuses currently circulating Capitol Hill is available here.

Policy Pulse

House Bill Continues Rally Against Foreign Technological Intervention

As part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) deliberation process, amendments were introduced in Congress that would prohibit all U.S. government agencies from engaging in business with or purchasing telecommunications assets from Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE. We previously reported that these companies were under American scrutiny for violating export controls, among other illegal activity, including seizure of American telecommunications technology.

While the final version of the NDAA included this provision, the House passed a bill that would further bar American collaboration with foreign or “questionable” contractors in the interest of national security. (This follows not only legislation against Huawei and ZTE, but another move to ban the Russian technology firm Kaspersky from government networks.) Although passed in the House, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) top cyber official Chris Krebs has suggested that the scope of the bill be broadened, as the language currently prohibits contractors who have already have access to U.S. government networks and does not account for preventive measures.

Senate deliberations have not yet begun, so Krebs’ scope push might cause revisions as debate continues.

Agency Activities

New Pentagon AI Project Seeks to Automate Lab Hypotheses and Discoveries

For over 60 years, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been assisting more than 250 research and development (R&D) programs to advance mission-critical technologies. DARPA recently announced plans to fund a new artificial intelligence (AI) initiative. The Automating Scientific Knowledge Extraction (ASKE) program is the inaugural project announced under DARPA’s AI Exploration program, which seeks to usher in the “third wave” of AI technology. Whereas the “first wave” concerned itself with rule-based AI (where an AI program uses logic and rules to start processes) and the “second wave” with statistical learning AI (where a program uses statistics to start processes), the “third wave” seeks to further AI advancement in contextual adaptation. In a webcast, John Launchbury, director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, defined this wave as one that uses real-world phenomena to create models and processes and adapt to changing situations.

Although in its proposal-gathering stage, ASKE seeks to be the pioneering example of third-wave AI. Contextual model-based AI could take lab discoveries and scientific study results and verify them against “fragile economic, political, social, or environmental events,” as stated in DARPA’s solicitation announcement. According to DARPA, ASKE has the potential to take in research and automatically update models to account for new studies by locating new scientific results, dissecting them for information, comparing them against existing sources, and generating new, future-proof models.

DARPA will be funding ASKE for $1 million across two development phases starting later this month.

USPTO Begins New PTAB Leadership Push

Despite whispers that the Restoring America’s Leadership in Innovation Act would prompt the closure of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Director Andrei Iancu confirmed that the Office is the process of finding new leadership for the PTAB. (We previously reported that the PTAB, under this new Act, would potentially be replaced by the Board and Patent Appeals and Interferences for inventors to appeal and challenge patent examinations.)

PTAB Chief Judge David Ruschke has been reassigned as USPTO Senior Advisor to Patents, in a position that coordinates between the Office of the Commissioner for Patents and the PTAB. Iancu confirmed that Scott Boalick will serve as Acting Chief Administrative Patent Judge and Jacqueline Bonilla will serve as Acting Deputy Chief Administrative Patent Judge while USPTO reorganizes the Board.

The Restoring America’s Leadership in Innovation Act has not received more legislative traction at this time. Additional information on Mr. Boalick and Ms. Bonilla is available at the USPTO website.

DC Dispatch