DC Perspective

T2 Brief - March 9, 2018

An overview of recent technology transfer-related events, federal agencies’ R&D program updates, and the latest legislation and policy news from FLC Program Manager Tobin McGregor.

T2 Events Update

In preparation for this year’s FLC national meeting in Philadelphia on April 24 and 25, the FLC Nominating Committee announced the national and regional candidates for FLC officer positions. The national positions include Recording Secretary, Financial Officer, and three Members-at-Large; the regional positions are for both Regional Coordinators and Deputy Regional Coordinators in three regions: Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Far West.

On February 21, the Fed Tech Lab Program organized an event entitled “Leveraging External Entrepreneurship to Commercialize Federal Technologies.” The event highlighted the success stories of businesses aided by Fed Tech, which was founded in 2013 as part of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps to commercialize inventions from the $140 billion invested each year in federally funded research institutions. Presenters Ben Solomon (CEO of Hyperion Technologies, LLC and Managing Partner of the Fed Tech Lab Program) and Jongwon Park (Chief Strategy Officer at EYL, Inc.) illustrated how Fed Tech’s rigorous customer discovery and business model optimizes go-to-market strategies for entrepreneurs. The speakers emphasized the unique technology licensing issues that arise in this cooperative approach to founding start-ups using federal laboratory inventions.

The first Technology Showcase between NC IDEA, the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, and the FLC took place on February 23 at Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. The event brought together faculty, students, local entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors, and other key stakeholders to explore commercialization opportunities related to SBIR, STTR, CRADAs, federal contracting, and other focus areas in industries such as biomedical and health sciences, blockchain technologies, big data, and alternative energy, among others.

From March 5–9, USPACOM and TechConnect cosponsored the 2018 Pacific Operational Science (POST) Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. The event united S&T thought leaders to brainstorm and collaborate on innovative methods geared toward transitioning “technology into capability” with Indo-Asia-Pacific warfighters and partners from organizations such as U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Army Pacific, and eight others. The groups were united in the belief that S&T is a critical enabler for improving operational effectiveness and efficiency in a vast, diverse, and complex area of responsibility.

Upcoming events include a March 12–16 Membrane Technology Conference and Exposition and the March 13–15 9th annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. The former is dedicated to finding ways to enhance water reliability, quality, wastewater treatment, and bioreactor applications via membrane technology, part of the FLC’s Tech Focus on water innovation. The latter is an annual conference to gather subject-matter experts in different technical disciplines and professional communities to collaborate on innovative solutions for America’s energy challenges. Industry insiders, thought leaders, and decision makers convene to experience the latest technological advancements, attend seminars on accelerating technologies and commercialization, network with entrepreneurs and researchers, and find new ways to move technologies from the lab to the market.

FY19 Budget Facts

As previously reported in our Capital Corner and T2 Touchpoint articles, President Trump’s budget request for FY19 includes $90B for DoD RDT&E, a generous increase compared to FY18’s $83B and FY17’s $72B. According to a GSA administrator, the increase will “improve our government’s security posture and empower agencies to more efficiently and effectively accomplish their critical missions.” A GSA report pinpointed two appropriations directly related to T2: the Technology Modernization Fund ($210M) and the IT Dashboard and other IT reporting management funding ($20.5M).

These increases are balanced by decreases in other areas, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership. NIST, which develops compliance standards on everything from cybersecurity to digital authentication to information sharing for both industry and government, would receive $629M, $316M lower than FY18’s $945M, and reduce its workforce by 400 employees (~15%). The decision was defended in the Department of Commerce’s brief, which stated that given the reductions, NIST will “maintain its core capabilities in measurement science, continuing to provide the measurements and standards that accelerate innovation.” The cuts resemble last year’s, which ultimately were not upheld by Congress.

Agency R&D Programs News

Mike Griffin was confirmed as the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering on February 15. At his confirmation hearing, Griffin stressed the need for the DoD to improve its ability to transition projects rapidly from R&D into successful acquisition programs. To this point, Griffin said, “We don’t suffer from lack of innovation, we suffer from the inability to get [innovative technologies] into operational systems,” and noted that as undersecretary, he’d aim to formalize the role of transition offices, encourage a greater toleration for risk in technology development, and spotlight high-importance fields of hypersonics, directed energy weapons, microelectronics, and missile defense. Other issues Griffin addressed included continuing DoD investment in science, research, and “driving the development of technology options to meet warfighter needs”; assessing the current quality, technical capabilities, and mission performance of labs to find areas for improvement or reduction; and the DoD’s role in encouraging STEM education in U.S. higher learning to combat the “graying” of the field and increased competition from competitive foreign powers.

On the legislative front, Daniel Lipinksi (D–IL, 3rd District), who introduced H.Res 739 (Supporting the goals and ideals of Engineers Week), introduced H.R. 5086 (Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act of 2018) on February 26. The bill would require the Director of the National Science Foundation to develop an Innovation Corps course to support commercialization-ready innovation companies. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, as well as the Committee on Small Business. H.R. 4986 (RAY BAUM’s Act), though only tangentially related to T2, passed the House on March 7. The monumental legislation reauthorizes the FCC, paves the way for the next generation of telecommunications technology, enhances rural connectivity, and other measures. Related to the RAY BAUM’S Act, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a March hearing on “Oversight of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration” to discuss the role of wireless communications providers given ever-increasing consumer demand. 

On March 6, the House Subcommittee on Energy (under the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology) held a hearing entitled “The Future of U.S. Fusion Energy Research.” One of the four witnesses was Dr. Mark Herrmann, Director of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, an FLC partner. In his testimony, Dr. Herrmann acknowledged that while the U.S. is still the leader in high-energy-density science, other world powers are catching up, and that President Trump’s FY19 budget request—$75M against the proposed minimum of $213M—for the Internal Confinement Fusion (ICF) program of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is insufficient and would hinder America’s leadership in the field.

In a hearing conducted by the House Subcommittee on Space, the NASA budget request for FY19 ($19.8B) was discussed, as were its applications. Chairman Brian Babin (R-Texas) said that the figures demonstrate the “committee’s commitment to NASA’s long-term goals” and helps to codify the goals into law. The budget proposal ends direct funding of the International Space Station in 2025, thus indicating confidence in the private sector’s role in space exploration.

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