DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint —June 20, 2018

Author: 
James Cassar

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

NSF FY 2019 Budget Update: House and Senate Appropriations Bills Approved, Await Chamber Votes

We’ve previously reported on fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). In March, the NSF requested additional funding for its “10 Big Ideas,” a series of long-term research initiatives, to increase the budget from its flat $7.5 billion. In April, the NSF budget remained at that same figure, in fact decreasing $32 million from actual FY 2017 funding. Regardless of this, a brochure from the Foundation asserted that each “Big Idea” would be piloted in 2019.

Since then, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their versions of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill in May and June, respectively, and both bills are currently awaiting chamber votes. As the title suggests, this bill affects the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and governing bodies of science. Major takeaways from both versions of this bill include the following.

  • No spending cuts to facilities or research. $6.6 billion remains proposed for the NSF’s Research and Related Activities. Six research directorates and other assorted research offices would receive this funding, but neither the House nor the Senate have articulated how to split up the budget. Both legislative bodies, however, have supported NSF’s 10 Big Ideas. The House added that the NSF should “support experimental research capabilities in the mid-scale range for potential experiments and facilities that fill current research gaps, including research to support high energy laser technologies.” The Senate suggests that the pursuit of these Big Ideas—laser technologies or otherwise—should not sacrifice NSF’s core research, and proposes funding those core projects to the same levels actually honored in FY 2017. By the same token, the House suggests that research labs, centers, and facilities should be funded at the same levels as with FY 2018, while also turning their attention to high-performance computing and the physical sciences, as well as astronomy and astrophysics.
  • $67 million funding increase for NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC). The Trump administration’s FY 2019 NSF budget request suggested a 56-percent funding decrease to the MREFC—from $215 million funded in FY 2017 to $95 million. As the MREFC “is an agency-wide account [which] provides funding for the establishment of major science and engineering infrastructure,” both the House and Senate rejected this request, instead suggesting a funding increase for the second year in a row. (FY 2018 funding was proposed at $183 million, and FY 2019 funding raises that amount to around $250 million). NSF projects given attention with these MREFC appropriations include the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, along with regional class research vessels
  • Senate rejection of scholarship programs. Both the NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship and Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship programs were requested to be significantly cut in the Trump request. The Senate proposal—although matching the House proposal of $900 million to fund the Foundation’s Education and Human Resources Directorate, which oversees these scholarships—rejects these cuts (see page 134 of Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2019 linked report). 

A side-by-side comparison of language used in the House and Senate appropriations bills, including general provisions, Research and Related Activities, MREFC, and Education and Human Resources, can be viewed here.

Policy Pulse

NDAA Amendment Proposed in Senate to Prevent Chinese Spying on U.S. Intelligence

We recently reported at length about a recent amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That amendment, proposed by Wisconsin representative Mike Gallagher, would “ensure that applicants seeking such funds for educational or academic training or research verify that such funds shall not be made available to any individual who has participated in or is currently participating in a foreign talent or expert recruitment program.” This certification process was proposed considering recent news that Chinese cultural education centers encouraged theft of American research and development (R&D).

A similar sentiment has reached the Senate, where Arkansas senator Tom Cotton and Maryland senator Chris Van Hollen found their NDAA amendment entering the Senate version of the Act. According to Cotton’s official website, this amendment, would prohibit all U.S. government agencies from engaging in business with or purchasing telecommunications from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. In turn, Huawei and ZTE could not be subsidized through government grants or loans, and penalties on ZTE would be restored for violating export controls.

This amendment echoes a House bill introduced in January: the Defending U.S. Government Communications Act. This bill quotes a 2011 Department of Defense report that stated, “China’s defense industry has benefited from integration with a rapidly expanding civilian economy and science and technology sector, particularly elements that have access to foreign technology.” This claim was fortified in 2013 by the National Security Agency, which found that Huawei had shared “intimate and extensive knowledge of foreign telecommunications systems.” While the content of this seized knowledge is unknown, its ramifications in the military sector could pose threats to American national security. More on the NDAA—and its relation to a rapidly advancing China—as it continues towards bicameral approval.

National Quantum Initiative Begins to Take Shape as a Draft House Bill

We previously reported on Jake Taylor’s efforts to publish goals and strategic plans for a National Quantum Initiative. While these items will be from his Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science (QIS) in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Initiative is gaining momentum via the House Science Committee. Legislation should be introduced by the end of this month. This 10-year National Quantum Initiative would authorize specific NSF, Department of Energy (DOE), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) programs for quantum R&D, subject to separate appropriations. Keys to the Initiative’s success include the importance of public-private partnerships to secure quantum computer technology before China’s reported $10 billion R&D investment is implemented, as well as the establishment of a national coordination office to execute strategic plans discussed by Taylor’s Subcommittee.

The Initiative would augment existing QIS funding pursuits. According to DOE’s FY 2019 budget request, QIS funding—split among the Program Offices for Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, Biological and Environmental Research, Nuclear Physics, and Fusion Energy Sciences—stands at around $105 million. NSF additionally requested $30 million for a “Quantum Leap” initiative. For more on quantum computing legislation, including a Senate bill to create a military consortium on quantum computing in the Army and Navy, click here.

Agency Activities

Trump Names Head of DOE’s New Cybersecurity Office

2018’s Tech Focus centers on energy and its available technologies, R&D, and innovation. To quote the official Tech Focus page, “the energy system plays an essential role in driving our nation’s prosperity and security…energy R&D conducted at federal laboratories is crucial to meeting our nation’s energy objectives in security, economic growth, and environmental accountability.”

In line with this, President Trump named Karen Evans head of the DOE’s new cybersecurity office last week. Evans was previously chief information officer (CIO) of the Department, and will soon assume the role of Assistant Secretary of Energy for Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER). To prepare for her new position, Evans advised the Trump transition team on cybersecurity issues during the staff transition at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Evans will help the DOE proceed with its brand-new CESER office, which was funded at $146 million by the House appropriations bill for launch in FY 2019. CESER will work in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to manage the energy grid as it pertains to the national risk mission.

Trump Sets Sight on Space Force Becoming Sixth Branch of U.S. Military

While the Trump administration has already made plans to phase out funding for the International Space Station amid congressional debate, President Trump directed the Pentagon to establish a Space Force earlier this week. (The Space Force direction still requires congressional authorization to be made official, but has been whispered about since 2000.) This Space Force would act as the sixth branch of the American military, even though current space efforts are handled by the Air Force Space Command. Such a creation produces institutional stress on intelligence operations currently underway for the Air Force, as well as the other branches of the armed forces. While the Space Force’s purpose is largely unknown, former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak said the U.S. should think about setting up a force that can answer the question: “What are you going to do when you have to fight in space?”, perhaps under the Air Force until gradual adoption is encouraged.

Todd Harrison, director of the Center for Strategic International Studies’ Aerospace Security Project, further suggests this Force would staff a “cadre of space professionals. [It would] groom them and grow them to think space, space power, strategy, doctrine, and to develop more innovative operational concepts.” The military has already been partnering with commercial satellite providers to host intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in space. Whether these efforts will lead to a full-fledged military branch or subdivision of the Air Force awaits congressional deliberation.

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DC Dispatch