STEM & Innovation

The latest news and legislative activity affecting science, education, R&D and high-tech innovation for startups and entrepreneurs

April 30, 2019
Legislative Updates

Science Budget Proposals

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are ramping up the pace of their hearings on President Trump's FY2020 budget request, which proposes cuts to a range of STEM education programs while favoring those tied to career and technical education. President Trump proposes across-the-board cuts to science programs, including:

  • NSF: Cut $1 billion, or 12 percent, compared to FY2019 under the proposal, with cuts spread relatively evenly across the agency’s research directorates.
  • DOE: Cut the Office of Science budget by 16 percent to just above FY2017 levels and slash funding for the department’s applied energy offices.
  • NOAA: Cut NOAA’s weather, climate, and oceans research programs by 40 percent to $335 million.
  • NASA: Cut NASA’s Science Mission Directorate by 9 percent with the cuts falling hardest on the Astrophysics and Earth Science Divisions.


Tech Transfer

On April 24, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter Copan announced a 125+ page document outlining the administration’s thoughts regarding the movement of federal R&D into market use as a “discussion guide, not a policy document.” The guidance recommends government-use licensing and government “march in” rights, the latter being a right the government retains for all licensed technologies but has never exercised in the 39-year history of the Stevenson-Wydler and Bayh-Dole acts governing federal intramural and extramural tech transfer, respectively. It also includes 15 findings grouped across strategies intended to:

  • Reduce unnecessary restrictions or barriers for moving federally funded R&D to market and use;
  • Create new opportunities for private sector engagement of federal technologies, facilities and lab personnel;
  • Reduce public confusion and inconsistent interpretations of existing tech transfer law and regulations by and across agencies; and,
  • Improve the government’s future capacity to promulgate rules and changes to intramural R&D, consistent with existing authority within the Bayh-Dole Act governing extramural federal research investments.


Other less controversial guidance topics include:

  • Granting agencies the authority to extend information protection in Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) beyond five years;
  • Expanding authority allowing all federal agencies greater flexibility and speed in executing newer partnerships agreement tools such as the Department of Energy’s Agreements for Commercializing Technology and to enable translational R&D collaboration;
  • Allowing all federal agencies to establish nonprofit foundations to accept private funds to advance technology commercialization;
  • Expanding real property outleasing authority to all federal agencies, which could permit locating more commercialization centers, incubators and research parks within greater proximity to federal research installations;
  • Enabling the use of awarded federal extramural R&D funds to be used for intellectual property protection;
  • Implementing technology entrepreneurship programs within federal R&D agencies; and,
  • Allowing federal scientists and technologists to take sabbaticals or paid/unpaid leave for technology commercialization purposes for terms up to three years.


NASA to the Moon

Since 1969, 12 men have walked on the moon’s surface, leaving boot prints in the fine slate dust. Since the last lunar mission in 1972, president after president has promised to put an American astronaut back on the moon. With the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on the horizon, the Trump administration is in a frenzy to actually achieve that elusive goal. NASA has said that it wants to put a human back on the moon by 2028, and unlike the Apollo program, this won’t be an in-house effort. NASA has asked American aerospace companies to submit designs for transportation systems that could be launched and tested, without a crew, as early as 2024. Applications were due in late March, and the winners stand to receive contracts worth from $300,000 to $9 million. Potential participants include longtime NASA contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman; the quirky-billionaire-owned SpaceX and Blue Origin; and smaller, more obscure companies.

February 17, 2019
Legislative Updates

New Leadership

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has taken the reigns of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where she is planning more in-depth hearings on major NASA programs like plans to construct a lunar outpost orbiting the moon. She plans to hear from more rank and file officials at NASA to get a better picture of agency operations. Her Ranking Member on the Committee is Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), who is also new to this leadership position as the former chairman retired. Meanwhile, in the other chamber, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) is the new chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, taking over from Senator John Thune (R-SD), who is now Senate Majority Whip. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) succeeds Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who lost his seat in the November election. Chairman Wicker said he plans to advance bills to update policies governing NASA and commercial space activities. Both of these committees oversee several science agencies, including NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

White House Science Priorities

Protecting U.S. research and innovations from scientific espionage and intellectual property theft are top priorities of the new Director of OSTP, Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier. He spoke to the American Association for the Advance of Science’s annual meeting last week, his first public address since becoming director on February 11 (a position that was left open a record 712 days). His focus on securing U.S. scientific labs from IP theft aligns with the Department of Justice’s work in pursuing hackers associated with the Chinese Ministry of State in global campaigns targeting confidential business information. Droegemeier said despite nearly two years without a leader, his role in the Trump administration is supported by people working hard on important things and making a difference at the White House.

NASA

Contract obligations at NASA have increased each year since FY2015. NASA is the federal government’s second-largest research and development spender since FY2014. The DoD is the only agency with more R&D obligations, but NASA’s R&D spending surpasses that of all individual DoD bureaus. Even though the NASA FY2019 budget request sought about $1.1 billion less than it did in FY2018, contract spending keeps climbing, especially at the end of the year. In fiscal 2017 and 2018, 32 percent of contract obligations at NASA were made in the third quarter, more than in any other. NASA spending to date is higher so far in FY2019 than it was at the same point in FY2018: $5.5 billion to date compared with $5.3 billion. NASA’s top five contractors won 44 percent of the agency’s FY2018 contract obligations. Small businesses, on the other hand, won just 16 percent of NASA’s obligations during the same period.

Education

Public schools serving low-income students could see a $100 billion boost in funding for buildings and technology infrastructure via legislation (H.R. 865) introduced by 152 Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate. Infrastructure is also a top priority for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) said any such package needed to include funding for schools. While Democrats see infrastructure as an issue that can gain bipartisan support, most Republican lawmakers say states and localities should be responsible for financing the upkeep of school buildings. When Scott introduced a similar bill in 2017, it failed to attract any Republican co-sponsors. Chairman Scott has also championed STEM education and teacher training and will lead efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act throughout the year stretching into 2020.

December 21, 2018
Legislative Updates

The White House recently released a five-year strategic plan to promote STEM education. The report focuses on advancing STEM literacy and work-based learning among all Americans and emphasizes the need for education programs to foster greater inclusivity. The report outlines three goals: preparing the STEM workforce for jobs of the future, increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce, and expanding STEM literacy across the population. It also emphasizes the importance of non-traditional post-secondary STEM degree programs, such as two-year degrees and apprenticeships. The report does not include any budgetary information or establish any quantitative goals for the priorities it identifies. The administration initiated deep cuts for several programs that support STEM education however, most of which were rejected by Congress. Nevertheless, the report has received initial praise from incoming Science, Space and Technology Chairwoman Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

Also, the House and Senate passed the National Quantum Initiative Act which directs the Department of Energy Office of Science to create between two and five quantum information science research centers and recommends a budget of up to $25 million annually for each over five years.

On November 28, 2018, G2G attended a briefing in the Senate sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). The panelists discussed a new report from the National Academics of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which finds that students learn best when they have opportunities to engage in hands-on science investigations and engineering design. Overall the panel was very engaged on how to bring hands-on science and engineering classes to the next level.  There is a lot of room here for public/private partnerships to form and grow not only to teach our students but to assist teachers.