DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — February 20, 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

Trump Authorizes Science Agency Research Funding for FY 2019

The recent government shutdown—the longest recorded in American history—caused several science agencies to cease research activities for 35 days. Furthermore, most federal employees (a figure close to 90 percent) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were furloughed as a result. At the NSF, over 100 grant review panels scheduled to review 2,000 proposals were rescheduled, with reviews of 13,000 additional university research grant applications also postponed. NIST also had to pause groundwork on the Quantum Economic Development Consortium authorized under the National Quantum Initiative.

While this backlog seems insurmountable, the shutdown aftermath did result in fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations delegated to these affected agencies. President Trump recently signed the 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which increases or maintains research funding for NASA, the NSF, and NIST, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where half its workforce worked without pay to monitor essential government services as part of the National Weather Service (NWS).

T2-specific accounts of note will receive the following budget hikes or maintenance:

  • NSF activities will be boosted by a 4-percent increase in overall funding to $8 billion, with $6.5 billion of that figure allocated for research facilities. The Appropriations Act also authorizes continued funding for the NSF’s research and development (R&D) of high-powered telescopes.
  • Despite an overall drop in funding by 18 percent, NIST will maintain its R&D program funding level at $725 million. The decrease pertains to the agency’s facilities construction budget, which received proposed cutbacks as early as last July. NIST’s construction budget will now return to its normal amount after FY 2018’s accelerated renovation of NIST campus buildings in Maryland and Colorado.

Another Stopgap Funding Bill Passes Both House and Senate with Billions Dedicated to Government-wide IT Programs

Like the science-minded funding bill above, both parts of Congress passed bills to fund several agencies through the end of FY 2019. The bills, available in full here, set aside nearly $20 billion to advance information technology (IT) and cybersecurity programs across several agencies.

Some of the items include $820 million allotted to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate and $1.35 billion given to the DHS’s newly renamed Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). (One of CISA’s initiatives is to combat Chinese tech theft, a policy decision we’ve covered at length.)

The Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) would also see a $25 million increase under this legislation, which echoes appropriations discussed in Congress during the shutdown. Several other agencies would receive hikes in IT funding under this bill if passed, including agencies with projects granted through the TMF like the Department of Agriculture (USDA) ($42 million), the General Services Administration (GSA) ($55 million), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ($280 million).

The full text on each bill can be read here.


Policy Pulse

U.S. Energy Innovation Calls for Smarter, Increased R&D Investment

In our previous T2 Touchpoint, we previewed a hearing held by the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee to discuss a Trump administration-proposed decrease of Department of Energy (DOE) funding despite a need for increased R&D in energy innovation projects.

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet endorsed a call for triple energy R&D funding, perhaps by way of “new, dedicated funding streams.” Grumet cited a recent report by the Energy Futures Initiative, which claimed U.S. innovation dollars are designed to fund fuels rather than their application to evolving energy systems and possible solutions. He thus suggested a whole-of-process approach to R&D investments, from fundamental research to commercial scale or lab-to-market demonstration.

Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski also suggested that energy R&D also consider the importance of clean energy over traditional energy methods like fossil fuels. Murkowski stated her support for technologies like nuclear energy storage and carbon capture.

The full webcast of the Committee hearing can be viewed here.


Agency Activities

New TMF Projects Receive Funding—with More to Come

As we reported above, the decision to fund the TMF with an additional $25 million is an ongoing one. (We also previously quoted the Office of Management and Budget [OMB], which said “the [Trump] administration believes that any additional funding would be well-utilized and will continue working with the Congress to demonstrate the taxpayer value generated by the TMF.”)

The TMF is something we’ve tracked since its infancy, and as the TMF enters its second phase of funding projects, new agencies have received green lights on new IT modernization efforts. When we reported on the TMF last September, the USDA had received $10 million to update its public-facing Farmers.gov Customer Experience portal; HUD was granted $20 million to kickstart an agency-wide migration to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform; and the DOE received $15 million to move all agency email to the cloud. At the time of that report, $55 million remained in the TMF.

The HUD project has been funded a quarter of the way, with an estimated $8 million in projected maintenance cost savings to be paid back to the TMF. (Agencies have five years to repay their project loans.) USDA has spent $1.4 million to begin its project and, although the DOE has received $4 million to start the email migration, no spending has been recorded.

The second phase of funding, which now includes a seventh project announced earlier this month, has reduced the TMF balance to $35.8 million. A brief summary of each IT project is below. No funding has yet exchanged hands.

  1. The GSA will receive $15 million to begin the modernization of 88 legacy applications.
  2. The USDA will receive its second TMF award of $5 million to adopt an agency-wide shared services cloud model.
  3. The Department of Labor will receive $5 million to digitize its visa application process.
  4. The latest project funds the GSA with an additional $20.7 million to build NewPay to streamline payroll and work scheduling.

 

If recent appropriations negotiations are signed, the TMF may receive additional funding, increasing its availability for the next phase of projects.

White House Debuts the American Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative

The Trump administration’s latest IT modernization initiative, which follows the Pentagon’s Cloud Strategy reveal, is the American AI Initiative. At this time, the Initiative does not guarantee program funding or specific policy direction, while attempting to remove some of the R&D stress placed on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In September, DARPA allocated a sum of $2 billion to advancing AI research in response to China’s AI strategy published months earlier.

In a White House memo, the administration outlined the Initiative’s approach to ensuring American dominance in leading AI R&D and practical application. The approach features five key areas:

  1. Federal agencies are directed to prioritize investments in AI R&D.
  2. Federal agencies are directed to collaborate with AI experts and to share data, models, and computing power to drive R&D opportunities built by both the public and private sectors. This dovetails into the recently passed OPEN Government Data Act, which mandates that open government data be machine-readable.
  3. NIST is required to create technical standards for the governance, robustness, and security of AI systems and regulations.
  4. Federal agencies are directed to establish AI training and apprenticeship programs in order to create a future-proof workforce.
  5. Federal agencies are directed to collaborate on an action plan to ensure American advantage in AI resources and their R&D in line with national and economic security.

 

The full AI initiative memo can be read here.

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DC Dispatch