DC Perspective

T2 Brief — April 13, 2018

Author: 
Tobin McGregor

Published bi-weekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Brief provides an overview of recent technology transfer-related events, federal agencies’ R&D program updates, and the latest legislation and policy news from FLC Program Manager Tobin McGregor. For more information and Brief-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.                                               

T2 News and Events from Around the Capitol

On April 11-12, attendees of the Department of the Navy’s third Annual SBIR/STTR Primes Summit discussed advances in and challenges with small business innovation research as it pertains to naval readiness, modernization, and cost reduction. Strengthening industrial base capabilities; modernizing naval fleets and forces; expanding university, lab, and manufacturing partnerships; and catalyzing innovation delivery to warfighters were among the many topics of interest. The Summit followed the 18th Annual Forum for SBIR/STTR Transition (FST), which brought together over 80 companies to showcase their products, key military decision-makers, and representatives of the defense industrial base to connect “SBIR/STTR-funded technologies with warfighters, government acquisition and technical personnel, large primes, system integrators,” as well as other potential partners and collaborators. Panels reviewed innovative technology partnerships, technology transfer, government contracting, and other topics related to the FST’s theme of “Tomorrow’s Technology, Today.” Two SBIR Program Directors from both the Naval Air Warfare Center and the Naval Surface Warfare Center are invited speakers at the FLC’s SBIR Workshop on April 19, which will review the financial support SBIR grants afford inventors and start-ups. 

Also on April 19, the Unleashing American Innovation Symposium will unite subject-matter experts from diverse disciplines—including government, the private sector, and academia—to dive headfirst into the most urgent questions regarding America’s status as the world leader in innovation. What barriers inhibit progress? How can the U.S. maintain its standing with increased competition from China and other global powers? Is the $150 billion from taxpayer-funded research and development (R&D) being used effectively and efficiently?

Thought leaders will convene to discuss models, approaches, and best practices to expand industry access to federal R&D, as well as the economic, societal, and security benefits that a more open exchange would offer. The three-panel discussions are divided into federal, industry, and university contexts to provide specialized perspectives on methods for converting federally funded R&D and intellectual property into new products, companies, and industries. In addition to panels, the symposium features lecturers such as Wilbur L. Ross, Secretary of Commerce, who will address strategies to accelerate American leadership.

The event is organized by NIST and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.


Reviewing Final FY18 Appropriations

On March 23, President Trump signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill into law. Despite the President’s requests for budget cuts to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Department’s final FY18 appropriations increased funding by $869 million to a total of $6.3 billion. The President’s desire to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), a move which was criticized by Senate appropriators and endorsed by House appropriators, ultimately did not come to fruition. Rather, ARPA-E received a 15-percent increase over FY17 funding, bringing the agency’s budget to $353 million, the highest since its formation in 2009. 

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) received an increase of 11 percent, raising its budget to $2.3 billion. The allotment not only supports R&D for major renewable-energy avenues, but also vehicle engineering, building construction, and additive-manufacturing initiatives. Despite a 2016 Gallup Poll that indicated Americans’ opposition to nuclear energy, the budget for the Office of Nuclear Energy was raised 19 percent to $1.2 billion, within which funding for R&D programs is also increasing 19 percent to $669 million. A complementary increase of 38 percent (to $159 million) was made to nuclear energy enabling technologies, with no less than $30 million allocated to “support development of advanced reactor technologies and high-priority crosscutting research and development areas.” 

The attention and funding given to energy research is recognized as an important area for technology transfer, as reflected in the FLC’s four-part webinar on energy R&D. The series, a joint collaboration with the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC), delved into renewable, nonrenewable and transmission energies, as well as insights into energy storage solutions, marketing resources, and federal laboratories’ R&D programs. The series is a product of the FLC’s 2017 Tech Focus on energy and the role federal laboratories have in transforming energy systems to fulfill demands while ensuring energy security, economic growth, and environmental preservation.


Legislation

The Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act of 2018 (H.R. 5086) was ordered to be reported on March 22. The bill updates the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps). The bill would create “additional entrepreneurship training to small businesses as they advance toward commercialization” to support the I-Corps’ endorsement of “networking and information sharing to ensure that innovators across the country can learn from their peers and remain competitive.”

“The federal government invests billions of dollars in research and development annually. I‑Corps is a modest investment that leads to a big return on federally funded research by significantly increasing rates of research commercialization, economic activity, and job creation,” Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) said. “Just as the creation of the I-Corps program addressed an unmet need and helped scientist-entrepreneurs bring their ideas closer to market, the Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act will fill an additional skills gap and empower more aspiring job creators to access the private capital they need to be commercially successful.” The emphasis on worldwide R&D competition, especially from China, is largely believed to be responsible for the NSF’s 5-percent budget increase in FY18. The organization requested additional funding for its “10 Big Ideas,” which include “Harnessing the Data Revolution” and “Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure,” both of which pertain to tech transfer.

The American Leadership in Space Technology and Advanced Rocketry (ALSTAR) Act (H.R. 5345) was introduced by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), Vice Chairman of the Space Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who said that “This bill will ensure the long-term stability of the rocket propulsion industry through better coordination and collaboration between all relevant stakeholders. With Marshall leading the charge to explore and develop new rocket propulsion technology in conjunction with its partners, NASA can inspire the next generation to look to the stars and aspire to do the impossible.” The bill was introduced on March 20 and ordered to be reported on March 22 by a voice vote. The ALSTAR Act accompanies a 6.9-percent increase in funding for NASA in FY18 for a total of $6.6 billion.

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DC Perspective