DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — September 25, 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 Appropriations for the DOE Office of Science Pass Senate

Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed a spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Like the similar package from FY 2019, this appropriations package would increase funding across the Department of Energy’s (DOE) research and development (R&D) programs. Last year’s Senate appropriations requested a 5-percent increase in Office of Science funding (to $6.6 billion) and a 15-percent increase (to $936 million) for the Advanced Science Computing Research (ASCR) program and its exascale computing endeavors.

With respect to the Office of Science, its budget levels have increased each year despite the Trump administration’s call to curb non-defense spending. The Office’s final FY 2018 appropriations raised its budget to $6.3 billion in April 2018, and a congressional bipartisan statute raised caps on discretionary spending for the next two FYs this past February. This statute caused DOE budget requests to be increased as high as 4 percent, which is even further increased in the Senate’s budget request for FY 2020.

Under this request, the DOE Office of Science would see a 10-percent increase to a total budget of $7.22 billion. $169 million has been requested for quantum information science (QIS) activities, including the $25-million annual budget for research centers funded under the National Quantum Initiative. In addition, $71 million would be reserved for artificial intelligence (AI) R&D, and $500 million would honor the Trump administration’s request for exascale computing research monies, including the ASCR program.

More on the Senate’s appropriations request can be found here.


Policy Pulse

Artificial Intelligence Regulations Coming Under American AI Initiative

In February, President Trump introduced the American AI Initiative. We reported that this initiative—created via executive memo—came after the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invested $2 billion into advancing AI research after China published its own national AI strategy. The AI Initiative directs federal agencies to prioritize investments in AI R&D, much like DARPA, and also encourages collaboration with AI experts, other data and computing centers, and the private sector. Federal AI training and apprenticeship programs and an action plan will also be chartered under this initiative.

The AI Initiative also requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create technical standards for the governance, robustness, and security of AI systems and regulations. Last month, NIST and its director, Walter Copan, laid out a road map for AI standards. This plan recommends that the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) designate a member to oversee AI standards and regulatory practices. The public recently learned that this process may be soon underway.

Last week, federal chief technology officer (CTO) Michael Kratsios spoke at the Politico AI Summit. During a panel, he suggested these guidelines would be sent to federal agencies in the near future, although specifics were withheld by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The AI Initiative memo mandated that these would be released by mid-August, but Kratsios has inferred that standardization of regulations has been an arduous process. According to him, AI’s application is different between agency frameworks, saying “whether you’re the [Federal Aviation Administration] trying to regulate drones, whether you’re [the Transportation Department] trying to regulate autonomous vehicles, whether you’re the [Food and Drug Administration] trying to regulate AI-powered diagnostics, there are certain questions now that are fundamentally different around your regulatory approach because of the use of this particular technology.”

Kratsios revealed that the OSTP will be releasing a memo that will offer agencies more information on regulating this leading-edge technology. Whether that includes NIST’s recommendations is unknown at this time—more on this as it develops.


Agency Activities

TechLink Study Showcases the Positive Economic Effects of CRADAs

TechLink’s latest economic impact study surveyed U.S. businesses that created products and services under Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) between 1996 and 2018 with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center in Huntsville, Alabama; the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana; or the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing located in Dayton, Ohio. A total of 413 companies were surveyed—and results showed that $23 billion and 118,929 jobs were contributed to the American economy during that time.

As defined in the study, CRADAs were established under the Federal T2 Act of 1986 in order to authorize federal labs’ R&D collaborations with the private, academic, and nonprofit sectors. CRADAs are structurally different from contracts, grants, or other procurement methods and also provide an environment where information, technology, and resources can be shared between parties. This technology acquisition method has reduced the total cost of technology development within the Department of Defense (DoD). (We reported on the initial review process fueling this TechLink study last November.)

The full TechLink study can be read here.

Agencies Move to Secure the Infrastructure of the Internet of Things

The DOE’s office of cybersecurity, energy security, and emergency response (CESER) was authorized in June 2018 to manage the energy grid as it pertains to the national risk mission. Better explained by CESER’s assistant secretary Karen Evans, CESER aims to “protect American energy viability today, while proactively addressing emerging energy threats of the future.”

Recent cybersecurity news of concern has revolved around the internet of things (IoT). This March, Congress reintroduced the IoT Cyber Security Improvement Act, which sought to govern IoT devices under NIST recommendations and safeguards for this technology and require IoT technology vendors to report any security vulnerabilities as they are discovered. A similar bill, the SMART IoT Act, passed by the House in December 2018 further emphasizes federal accountability of IoT vendors, with the Department of Commerce reviewing the production of such devices.

CESER and other IoT-savvy agencies, including the State Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), had a presence at the recent World Wide IoT Industry Day to platform their security concerns. Evans and State energy advisor Landon Van Dyke remain concerned that IoT devices, such as solar panels and electric vehicles, can be embedded with exploits and other harmful technology that pose a direct threat to the American energy grid. “We have over 26,000 buildings around the world and all of those we need to figure out how to monitor and make more efficient, optimize and protect,” Van Dyke said. “That’s basically where the IoT networks started to really expand as we recognized that our footprint around the world needed better protection and better information.”

As neither Act has passed Congress, IoT is a technology that’s only continued to proliferate without much government regulation. More on this as additional talks ensue.

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DC Dispatch