DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — April 3, 2019

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 2020 Budget Checkpoint: DOE Office of Science

In our last T2 Touchpoint, we reported on the Trump administration’s preliminary budget requests for fiscal year (FY) 2020. These beginning negotiations included the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, which would receive $5.5 billion under the proposed appropriations. As we wrote two weeks ago, the administration proposed the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which was saved from closure in the FY 2019 appropriations. In addition, the administration proposed additional cuts to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Fossil Energy—of $2 billion and $178 million, respectively.

Although no additional information has been released regarding revised budget requests or congressional rebuttals, additional information about the Trump request has been released in line with our continuing coverage of quantum information science (QIS).

With respect to QIS, $168 million was requested across all suboffices, with the majority divided among the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) ($51 million), Basic Energy Sciences (BES) ($53 million), and High Energy Physics (HEP) ($38 million). Each office will allocate some of its budget to create “at least one multi-disciplinary [and] multi-institutional QIS center.” While not explicitly stated, this seems to link nicely to the recent standing-up of the Quantum Coordination Office, which will coordinate QIS activities across agencies, including DOE. According to the administration request, these centers would “include work on sensors, quantum emulators/simulators and enabling technologies that will pave the path to exploit quantum computing in the longer term.”


Policy Pulse

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to Vote on Several Bills Today

An Executive Session will be held today to vote on several research bills that have been reintroduced from the previous Congress. A bill of interest to our ongoing T2 coverage includes the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act. The Act seems to be in line with the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan.

The Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act will outline how agencies can best prepare against threats of extreme space weather. A different space weather bill that cleared the House Committee last July defined the National Space Council as the coordinating entity for space weather research, forecasting, and disaster preparedness efforts with a pilot program to obtain weather data from commercial aggregators.

A webcast of the committee session is available here. A permanent link to track this Act’s journey through Congress is here.

OPM to Refresh IT Workforce Through Revamped Regulation

According to recent reports by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), a staggering number of professionals in the federal information technology (IT) sector are nearing retirement. OPM cites a survey from last March that found while 14 percent of IT professionals were over the age of 60, only 3 percent were under 30.

In tandem with initiatives like a revamped STEM workforce and education strategy in the White House, OPM is reexamining and retooling its hiring processes for tech talent at federal agencies. Currently, the OPM oversees the assessment of hiring shortages or critical personnel needs and then appoints a direct authority to correct the issue. Last May, an executive order was issued to give agency chief information officers (CIOs) more hiring authority. This week, the final regulation to implement this system will be put in place and effective May 3.


Agency Activities

AI Patents on the Rise at USPTO, But Barriers Ahead

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently released its 2019 Revised Patent Subject Matter Eligibility Guidance. According to a USPTO press release, the guidance revises what is referred to as an “abstract idea” as those ideas that are often barred from patent eligibility. Abstract ideas are now defined as “mathematical concepts, certain methods of organizing human activity, and mental processes.” Conversely, patents are more often awarded to practical applications.

Since these new guidelines were implemented, successful patent allowances for artificial intelligence (AI) have risen from 15 percent to 38 percent. In the financial sector, where AI programs can be used to improve processes, patent applications for AI-related inventions have been filed under abstract ideas. To ensure that AI is implemented in this field, the technology needs to be improved or submitted as a standalone invention so it can be classified as a practical application. With this in mind and the 2019 Guidance underway, AI as an abstract idea might not have these barriers to entry in other industries that require AI technology.

DARPA’s AI Initiative Moving Away from Machine Learning…to Human Learning

The Pentagon’s research office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has continued its AI work. We recently reported that DARPA will be following ten leading-edge technology sectors between now and next February: AI, autonomy (machine learning), communications, cybersecuritylasersmicroelectronicsQISspace, and nuclear modernization. Last Thursday, the agency announced its Grounded AI Language Acquisition (GAILA) pilot program to have machine learning programs understand the language being used, rather than quantify popular phrasings based on statistics. GAILA will focus on piloting technology that handles new data sources, topics, media, and vocabularies. Essentially, as language evolves around GAILA, it will also evolve and interpret unique situations. GAILA will be funded with $1 million for a feasibility study and proof of concept.

GAILA is part of DARPA’s AI Exploration Initiative which, as we previously reported, is designed to usher in the “third wave” of AI technology. John Launchbury, director of DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, has defined this wave as one that uses real-world phenomena to create models and processes and adapt to changing situations.

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DC Dispatch