DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint —August 8, 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

OMB Releases FY 2020 R&D Budget Priorities Memorandum

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released its annual Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies. The memo outlined the Trump administration’s budget priorities for research and development (R&D) for fiscal year (FY) 2020. These priority areas include the following. (The full list can be accessed here.)

  • American Leadership in AI, QIS, and Strategic Computing: We’ve reported at length regarding R&D development in artificial intelligence (AI), quantum information systems (QIS), and strategic computing. The OMB and OSTP suggest that agencies should prioritize investment in these areas. With the introduction of both a National Quantum Initiative and a quantum consortium, QIS has already seen strides in cross-agency investment.
  • American Space Exploration and Commercialization: Space is another frontier that has received extended coverage in Touchpoints and beyond, including an extended look at Trump’s proposed Space Force. This memo focuses on space investments such as long-duration space flight, in-space manufacturing and cryogenic fuel storage, as well as an increased focus on flight tests to promote industrial baselines for commercial activity in space and on celestial bodies, while also ensuring that these technologies and tools have added functionality on Earth.
  • American Energy Dominance: In line with this year’s FLC Tech Focus, boosting American sources of clean, affordable, and reliable energy begins with the investment in, and subsequent adoption of, next-generation energy technologies. While the memo lists no examples, it places an emphasis on the private sector, as well as collaboration with industry and academia, to pilot these breakthroughs.

The memorandum also includes several R&D priority practices, which include the following.

  • Educating and Training a Workforce for the 21st Century Economy:  We’ve reported on the importance of maintaining American dominance in R&D by promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in line with other nations like China, with FY 2019 budget requests and the President’s Management Agenda matching this aim. This practice promotes STEM education and training in all socioeconomic sectors of the U.S., including urban and rural areas.
  • Transferring Technology from Laboratory to Marketplace: Another Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal highlighted in the Management Agenda underscored the importance of lab-to-market interactions. This memo suggests that agencies focus on basic and early-stage applied research, expand research efforts in the private sector to accelerate lab-to-market technology transfer, and prioritize lab-to-market initiatives, such as identifying more efficient administrative approaches to technology transfer.

Policy Pulse

Technology Modernization Fund May Not See Additional Funding for FY 2019

Although the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) awarded its first agencies portions of its $100 million budget for special projects in June, lawmakers are unconvinced that the TMF might not be worthy of additional funding for FY 2019. Senate Appropriations Committee member James Lankford said there is no current data or results on TMF-funded programs and that “we’re not going to allocate $210 million to something yet if we don’t know if it’s working.” Senator Jerry Moran agreed—even as an original sponsor of the Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGTA), which developed the TMF—asking the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and General Services Administration (GSA) for more transparency before funding can be expanded. Despite his agreement, Moran understands the necessity of the TMF in promoting advancements in American security, economic competitiveness, communications, health care, and privacy.

The GSA responded to Moran, confirming that “GSA, along with OMB, will continue to work closely with all relevant congressional stakeholders to ensure the maximum level of transparency related to TMF proposals and funded projects,” adding that the Agency “will ensure that the program is carried out in the best interest of taxpayers.”

House Science Committee Panel Explores Machine Learning at DOE

The latest House Science Committee hearings have focused on advanced computing technologies. The first hearing concerned AI, and the second concerned machine learning and other big data processing techniques, particularly as explored by the Department of Energy (DOE). In line with our FLC Tech Focus area, highlights from the second hearing are below.

As defined by Katherine Yelick, associate laboratory director for computing sciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, machine learning “requires three things: large amounts of data, fast computers, and good algorithms,” infrastructure that DOE already has. These tools can be used in interdisciplinary contexts when applied properly, including a project to map the human brain. Expanding the accessibility of machine learning—akin to ensuring the availability of telescopes in astronomy—will free up resources so researchers can focus on other labor-intensive tasks.

A growing trend in our coverage is the importance of maintaining America’s first-place seat as an R&D superpower. This thread continued at this hearing when Yelick recalled a recent visit to China, where she saw some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. To ensure continued U.S. prosperity in scientific advancement and prosperity, agencies need to take more risks in the projects they fund and pursue.

The full recap of this second hearing is available here, with the full webcast available here.

Agency Activities

Meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier to Lead White House Science Office

Earlier this month, President Trump announced his nomination for director of the White House OSTP, ending a 600-day vacancy. Kelvin Droegemeier comes from the University of Oklahoma (OU), where he served as the vice president for research and has contributed extensively to science policy at national, state, and professional levels. Droegemeier has deep ties to the National Science Foundation (NSF), winning a five-year NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1987 to better connect science to societal needs. During this time, Droegemeier helped establish OU’s Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms through NSF’s Science and Technology Center, as well as the university’s Environmental Computing Applications System and Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere.

Droegemeier also served on the National Science Board (NSB) under President George W. Bush. A selection of his NSB task forces includes those on research cost-sharing and mid-scale research facilities, as well as STEM workforce characterization. Since 2009, Droegemeier has also developed and implemented OU’s research strategy roadmap.

More resume points and information are available here.

Inside the STRIDES Initiative at NIH

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently introduced the Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability Initiative (STRIDES), which aims to build public-private partnerships for advanced cloud services and tools. The first partnership unveiled under STRIDES is with Google Cloud, which will leverage cloud storage, computing, and machine learning technologies to enhance the NIH Data Commons to better share biomedical data in the cloud. This announcement follows similar initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to boost data analytics in the fight against insurance fraud and opioid abuse, as well as a previous push to digitize patient data and health records via the White House’s Office of American Innovation.

DC Dispatch