DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint —June 6, 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

FY 2019 DOE Budget Currently Under Review and Amendment, Promised Increased Funding

The House of Representatives will meet today to deliberate the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which concerns funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) and other science-minded agencies in fiscal year (FY) 2019. At press time the DOE’s Office of Science, which saw $6.3 billion allocated for proposed spending in FY 2018, would see a $340 million increase in funding under this Act. In the Senate, proposed funding has topped off at $390 million. (A House amendment proposed by Illinois representatives Bill Foster and Randy Hultgren, alongside Colorado’s Jared Polis, sought to match the Senate budget proposal.  This would be the second consecutive annual budget increase for the Office of Science, which saw an $869 million increase from FY 2017 totals.

Reasons for continued federal investment in the Office of Science include the funding of several construction projects for major research facilities, such as upgrades integral to completing the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE), a leading-edge project piloted to “search for new subatomic phenomena and potentially transform our understanding of neutrinos and their role in the universe.” Other priorities with increased funding include advancing American adoption and federal implementation of exascale computing and quantum information science (QIS). Increased funding would also ensure that the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) would be reopened after a lengthy hiatus, and restore funding levels to match those in the DOE Science and Innovation Act, which was introduced last month to detail research program office policies and current projects for the Office of Science.

Policy Pulse

Inside Three New—and Approved—House DOE Science Bills

Last month, the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology approved three DOE science bills by voice vote. This legislative trio provides congressional backing to DOE science programs. The three bills mark continued moves toward more bipartisan efforts to advance American science. Each follows April’s Senate authorization of funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Science Division (ESD)—a last-minute, bipartisan decision. A description of each approved legislation is below.

  1. DOE Science and Innovation Act of 2018—As explained above, this Act gives the DOE’s Office of Science policy details as they pertain to specific program offices and current construction projects. The affected program offices include Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics. In total, these program offices support a $6 billion research portfolio. This bill authorizes the budget for the Office of Science and its program offices for both FY 2018 and 2019. The FY 2019 figures are equal to what has been proposed in the House appropriations discussed above. In addition, the Act includes schedule deadlines and funding authorizations for several ongoing DOE national laboratory construction projects, including $50 million for the ITER fusion energy project. ITER is a multinational collaborative effort to build the world’s largest tokamak, a device to create large-scale, carbon-free energy sources and to be the first to maintain long-term fusion potential.
  2. Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) Act—We previously reported that President Trump desired to eliminate ARPA-E, a want that was eventually squashed by a 15-percent budget increase for FY 2017. Despite the budget boost, committee Republicans didn’t approve the last reauthorization bill for the agency. This reversed stance underscores the move toward bipartisan scientific legislation, but Republican concerns include that the ARPA-E replicates functions undertaken by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), as well as funding for ongoing, already funded federal projects. To alleviate this criticism, the Act directs ARPA-E to coordinate with other DOE programs, like the EERE, to avoid duplication of effort. ARPA-E will also be required to develop vision roadmaps and be evaluated by the National Academies, as it was last year.
  3. National Innovation Modernization by Laboratory Empowerment (NIMBLE) Act—This Act authorizes DOE laboratory direction to approve public-private partnership agreements valued at less than $1 million. The NIMBLE Act is brisker than the other two bills approved by voice vote, and simply exists to reduce the turnaround time for partnership agreements to be formalized.


International Space Station’s Future Continues to Be Up to Debate

In February, the Trump administration announced plans to stop government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025, instead transitioning ISS operations and infrastructure to the private sector. Two debates have been held—the second was held today—by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to decide the ISS’s future. The first hearing found Florida senator Bill Nelson claiming that “abandoning this incredible orbiting laboratory where they are doing research, when we are on the cusp of a new era of space exploration, would be irresponsible at best and probably disastrous.” To echo Nelson’s concerns, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin explained that an audit of ISS transition plans will soon be released. Current findings—including “scant commercial interest shown in the station over its nearly 20 years of operation”—have cast doubt on the station’s commercial potential. NASA also could not vacate the ISS by 2025, as research projects currently being performed will not be complete by then. (It’s also worth noting that NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier said the 2025 departure date was the administration’s decision, not the agency’s.) The second hearing will highlight more of these issues, but given recent funding authorizations for NASA across party lines, the future of the ISS isn’t set in stone.

Agency Activities

NIST Advisory Committee Focused on Quantum Science and Artificial Intelligence This Week

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) held its monthly meeting this week in Gaithersburg to discuss the agency’s role in advancing national QIS and artificial intelligence (AI) research and development (R&D). In a preview of the two-day agenda, Jake Taylor explained how NIST and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would work to boost QIS R&D. One way is through interagency coordination of QIS R&D through the National Science and Technology Council. Previous attempts to do this have reached as far back as the Bush administration, but Taylor emphasizes this agency-first approach could easily translate to “whole-of-government” efforts. More details will become available as his Subcommittee on QIS continues to publish its goals and strategic plans for a National Quantum Initiative.

Other panels of interest held this week include “NIST Programs and Vision in AI,” in which NIST Information Technology Laboratory Director Chuck Romine connected a 1956 Dartmouth University research project on AI with contemporary advances in the field, such as machine learning and its implementation at NIST, ensuring all appropriate laboratories are trained in and given a platform for this technology. NIST Engineering Laboratory Program Manager Elena Messina also updated attendees on NIST’s intimacy with “Robotic Systems for Smart Manufacturing,” as well as its role in the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) collaborative partnership.

A full list of events and speakers, as well as their respective presentation materials, can be viewed here.

Executive Office Report Reveals Agencies’ Vulnerability to Cyberattacks

A recent report by the Executive Office of the President of the United States, titled the “Federal Cybersecurity Risk Determination Report and Action Plan,” was issued as part of a 2017 executive order to investigate if government technology is modernized alongside agencies’ cybersecurity efforts. Findings were overwhelmingly negative—as three-quarters of federal cybersecurity programs are currently “at risk” or “at high risk,” and the depth of agency cybersecurity was not above the chief information officer level. Other findings include that 27 percent of agencies can detect data breaches, while 40 percent can detect when a hacker copies data caches, and 38 percent of agencies couldn’t even identify that a breach had already occurred.

To increase these percentages in subsequent reports, the Executive Office lists four main priorities as part of its Action Plan: 1) increasing cybersecurity awareness among federal employees; 2) standardizing IT and cybersecurity tools across government; 3) consolidating agency cyber operations to improve detection and response to cyber incidents; and 4) making agencies and agency leadership more accountable for cybersecurity.

DC Dispatch