STEM & Innovation

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

July 11, 2019
Legislative Updates

R&D Funding
President Trump’s budget request for FY2020 includes approximately $134.1 billion for research and development, according to a new definition. In FY2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) adopted a change to the definition of development, applying a narrower definition of “experimental development.” This change was intended to harmonize the reporting of U.S. R&D funding data with the approach used by other nations. Under the new definition of R&D (applied to both FY2018 and FY2020 figures), President Trump is requesting approximately $134.1 billion for R&D for FY2020, a decrease of $1.7 billion (1.2%) from the FY2018 level. Adjusted for inflation, the President’s FY2020 R&D request represents a decrease of 5.1% below the FY2018 level. In FY2018, eight federal agencies received 96.3% of total federal R&D funding, with the Department of Defense (DOD, 38.6%) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, 27.2%) combined accounting for nearly two-thirds of all federal R&D funding. The same eight agencies account for 97.2% of the FY2020 request, with DOD accounting for 44.3% and HHS for 25.1%

STEM Opportunities Act
Recently, House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) reintroduced H.R. 2528, STEM Opportunities Act, a bill she has championed during the past three Congresses that seeks to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. Notably, this is the first time she has introduced the bill with Democrats in control of the House, and it is also the first time the bill has found a Republican cosponsor, Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK). The legislation would expand collection of demographic data on federal research grant applicants and promote the identification and dissemination of best practices for increasing diversity in STEM. It also emphasizes the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) role in supporting research and initiatives related to broadening participation.
             
The bill also instructs NSF to support research that uses the data and to back efforts to improve undergraduate STEM education and increase the diversity of faculty, including directing NSF to target grants toward computer science education within its Tribal Colleges and Universities Program. The agency is currently focusing its efforts on diversity through its INCLUDES program. To promote the use of best practices across STEM diversity efforts, the bill includes a number of directions for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:

• Collecting and disseminating guidance to universities and federal laboratories on addressing cultural and institutional barriers to recruiting, retaining, and advancing members of underrepresented groups in STEM positions.
• Requiring OSTP to issue guidance to agencies on providing flexibility to grantees who take on caregiver roles, such as for a newborn child or sick family member.
• Requiring agencies to implement recommendations from a 2016 report by OSTP and the Office of Personnel Management on reducing bias in grant application reviews, hiring procedures, and workforce policies.

National Artificial Intelligence Strategy
Senators unveiled a bipartisan bill recently that would create a centralized office overseeing a national artificial intelligence strategy and authorize $2.2 billion in research and development. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the S. 1558, Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act to create a national interagency committee to develop a 10-year plan for the public and private sectors. The intention of the bill is to ensure the U.S. remains ahead in the global race to develop artificial intelligence technologies. The bill would authorize $2.2 billion from fiscal 2020 to 2024 for A.I. research, including $1.5 billion for the Energy Department, $500 million for the National Science Foundation and $200 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Funding would be appropriated through separate legislation. The bill would also establish an artificial intelligence office that would coordinate research and development across federal agencies, to ensure consistency and reduce duplicity.

NSF Materials Research Decadal Survey
The latest National Academies decadal survey for materials research expressed a strong concern with the status of materials research at universities, where it observes equipment and facilities are inadequate. The survey broadly recommends federal agencies develop a “national strategy to ensure that university research groups and national laboratories have local access to develop, and continuing support for use of, state-of-the-art midscale instruments and laboratory infrastructure essential for the advancement of materials research.” As examples of the nation’s materials research infrastructure, the survey identifies materials growth and synthesis facilities, helium liquefiers and recovery systems, cryogen-free cooling systems, and advanced measurement instruments, as well as large facilities such as the light source user facilities at national laboratories. Linda Sapochak, the director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Materials Research (DMR), was critical of the survey as she had expected it to offer a stronger sense of what research areas merit more attention. NSF and the Department of Energy initiated the survey in 2016, and this is the third

May 31, 2019
Legislative Updates

R&D Funding

President Trump’s budget request for FY2020 includes approximately $134.1 billion for research and development, according to a new definition. In FY2018, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) adopted a change to the definition of development, applying a narrower definition of “experimental development.” This change was intended to harmonize the reporting of U.S. R&D funding data with the approach used by other nations. Under the new definition of R&D (applied to both FY2018 and FY2020 figures), President Trump is requesting approximately $134.1 billion for R&D for FY2020, a decrease of $1.7 billion (1.2%) from the FY2018 level. Adjusted for inflation, the President’s FY2020 R&D request represents a decrease of 5.1% below the FY2018 level. In FY2018, eight federal agencies received 96.3% of total federal R&D funding, with the Department of Defense (DOD, 38.6%) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, 27.2%) combined accounting for nearly two-thirds of all federal R&D funding. The same eight agencies account for 97.2% of the FY2020 request, with DOD accounting for 44.3% and HHS for 25.1%

STEM Opportunities Act

Recently, House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) reintroduced H.R. 2528, STEM Opportunities Act, a bill she has championed during the past three Congresses that seeks to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. Notably, this is the first time she has introduced the bill with Democrats in control of the House, and it is also the first time the bill has found a Republican cosponsor, Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK). The legislation would expand collection of demographic data on federal research grant applicants and promote the identification and dissemination of best practices for increasing diversity in STEM. It also emphasizes the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) role in supporting research and initiatives related to broadening participation.

The bill also instructs NSF to support research that uses the data and to back efforts to improve undergraduate STEM education and increase the diversity of faculty, including directing NSF to target grants toward computer science education within its Tribal Colleges and Universities Program. The agency is currently focusing its efforts on diversity through its INCLUDES program. To promote the use of best practices across STEM diversity efforts, the bill includes a number of directions for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:

  • Collecting and disseminating guidance to universities and federal laboratories on addressing cultural and institutional barriers to recruiting, retaining, and advancing members of underrepresented groups in STEM positions.
  • Requiring OSTP to issue guidance to agencies on providing flexibility to grantees who take on caregiver roles, such as for a newborn child or sick family member.
  • Requiring agencies to implement recommendations from a 2016 report by OSTP and the Office of Personnel Management on reducing bias in grant application reviews, hiring procedures, and workforce policies.

National Artificial Intelligence Strategy

Senators unveiled a bipartisan bill recently that would create a centralized office overseeing a national artificial intelligence strategy and authorize $2.2 billion in research and development. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the S. 1558, Artificial Intelligence Initiative Act to create a national interagency committee to develop a 10-year plan for the public and private sectors. The intention of the bill is to ensure the U.S. remains ahead in the global race to develop artificial intelligence technologies. The bill would authorize $2.2 billion from fiscal 2020 to 2024 for A.I. research, including $1.5 billion for the Energy Department, $500 million for the National Science Foundation and $200 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Funding would be appropriated through separate legislation. The bill would also establish an artificial intelligence office that would coordinate research and development across federal agencies, to ensure consistency and reduce duplicity.

NSF Materials Research Decadal Survey

The latest National Academies decadal survey for materials research expressed a strong concern with the status of materials research at universities, where it observes equipment and facilities are inadequate. The survey broadly recommends federal agencies develop a “national strategy to ensure that university research groups and national laboratories have local access to develop, and continuing support for use of, state-of-the-art midscale instruments and laboratory infrastructure essential for the advancement of materials research.” As examples of the nation’s materials research infrastructure, the survey identifies materials growth and synthesis facilities, helium liquefiers and recovery systems, cryogen-free cooling systems, and advanced measurement instruments, as well as large facilities such as the light source user facilities at national laboratories. Linda Sapochak, the director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Materials Research (DMR), was critical of the survey as she had expected it to offer a stronger sense of what research areas merit more attention. NSF and the Department of Energy initiated the survey in 2016, and this is the third such review of the materials research field, following ones released in 1989 and 2007.

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.