T2 Touchpoint — September 11, 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

Congress Returns from Recess to Deliberate Year-End Appropriations

Fiscal year (FY) 2020 will begin on October 1. As such, Congress has reconvened and will first discuss finalized budgetary levels for agencies awaiting appropriations. To help matters, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 should help science funding levels remain increased. Under this Act, to quote our previous coverage, “the federal debt will be suspended through July 2021, revises discretionary spending caps through Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 for both defense and non-defense accounts…this Act will need to be the gold standard for how the federal budget is allocated.” At this time, no overarching strategy has been released beside a potential stopgap omnibus to avoid shutdowns of key agencies.

Another budget proposal has currently been left on the Senate floor. In May, the House revisited efforts to restore the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). If reopened, the OTA would help develop research and development (R&D) efforts in leading-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and, according to an Appropriations Committee memo, quantum information science (QIS). Yet no concrete plans have been put in motion to resuscitate the OTA at this time. More on year-end budgetary happenings as they develop.

White House R&D Priorities Memo Outlines Budget Priorities

At the end of August, the White House released its annual R&D budget priorities memorandum for FY 2021. The memo is characterized by defining what the Trump administration calls the “Second Bold Era” in science and technology (S&T). Such an era promises “unprecedented knowledge, access to data and computing resources, ubiquitous and instant communication, and technologies that allow us to peer into the inner workings of atomic particles as well as the vastness of the universe…[but also] new and extraordinary threats which must be confronted thoughtfully and effectively.” For the U.S. to remain a technological superpower in this Era, American research ecosystems will need to also protect ideas and research outcomes.

The memo outlines five R&D budgetary priorities that require federal agencies to “coordinate, collaborate, and partner with one another and with the other sectors of the S&T enterprise to maximize success.” T2-relevant focus areas are detailed below.

  1. American Security: R&D is emphasized in maintaining and developing advanced military capabilities, including hypersonic weapons and space security systems, as well as reinforcing critical infrastructure resilience via the guidelines outlined in the 2019 National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan. Additional provisions for microelectronics storage and semiconductor advancement, as well as critical mineral extraction and refining, were included.
  2. American Leadership in Industries of the Future: The Trump administration defines these industries of the future (IotF) as many that we’ve been covering in DC Perspective: AI, QIS, and quantum computing. Other initiatives for leadership and advancement include advanced communications networks for civilian and military transportation, as well as furthering industrial and manufacturing technologies via the internet of things (IoT).
  3. American Energy and Environment Leadership: As often discussed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), early-stage energy R&D will harness the potential of clean energy sources, including nuclear and renewable sources. The White House has emphasized private-sector interaction to encourage late-stage R&D in these focus areas. Research in ocean activity and earth system predictability (e.g., weather) should be cross-agency affairs, as well.

The White House R&D memo can be read in full here.


Policy Pulse

National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee Signed into Law Via Executive Order

In the last T2 Touchpoint, we reported that the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded several “conceptualization grants” for QIS projects under the National Quantum Initiative (NQI). Last Friday, the NQI Advisory Committee was signed into law as part of another NQI instruction. The Committee will consist of the OSTP Director, currently Kelvin Droegemeier, and up to 22 members appointed by the Secretary of Energy. Each member should be qualified to discuss QIS and its relationship to overarching R&D activities, including T2 and commercial application. The Committee will convene biannually to solicit information about QIS from the research community, academia, and the private sector to improve policy concerns.

President Trump’s executive order can be read in full here.


Agency Activities

Joint AI Center Begins Development of AI-Fueled Cybersecurity Protocols

Last July, the Department of Defense (DoD) Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and its DIU Experimental (DIUx) subdivision announced the formation of a Joint AI Center (JAIC). As we reported last October, the JAIC was designed to match technology with people and resources, foster stronger industry partnerships, spearhead AI talent acquisition and development, and align AI technology with the National Defense Strategy.

As one of its first initiatives, the JAIC has partnered with the National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. Cyber Command, and the private cybersecurity sector to standardize data collection within the Pentagon. Such a reorganization and homogenization effort would safeguard the DoD against potential threats and also, by using AI technology, train military networks to spot them before humans do.

This effort, which would standardize the data collection and storage processes of over a dozen cybersecurity vendors, follows concurrent JAIC plans to launch AI-based enterprise cloud solutions and other activities to enhance combat operations using AI.  

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DC Dispatch