Despite the strains of election year politics and partisan gridlock, several notable S&T measures on a variety of subjects ranging from space exploration to energy-water nexus have been introduced and are slowly working their way through Congress.
NASA Reauthorization Moves in House
On 9 April, the House Science Subcommittee on Space approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4412) with unanimous bipartisan support. The bill updates aligns NASA funding with the funding levels agreed to in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. The Subcommittee also approved a bipartisan amendment that reaffirms Congress’s commitment to space exploration, both human and robotic, and makes clear that a human mission to Mars is the goal for NASA’s human spaceflight program with biennial reports for what progress has been made toward that goal.
H.R. 4412 supports a stepping stone approach to exploration in a go-as-you-can-afford-to-pay manner and calls for development of an exploration roadmap. It supports the development on the Space Launch System and the Orion Crew Vehicle to push the boundaries of human exploration, and focuses NASA’s efforts to develop a capability to access low Earth orbit and the International Space Station so that America can once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.
According to sponsors, the bill also supports a healthy science directorate that reflects the input from the scientific community and an aeronautics research directorate that contributes to the nation’s aerospace economy.
Managing the Internet Domain Name System
On 9 April, the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology voted to report the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act of 2014 (H.R. 4342), legislation by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) that responds to the 14 March announcement by the National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA) of its intent to transition its oversight of the Internet domain name system’s root zone functions, performed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), to the global multi-stakeholder community.
The DotCom Act would requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to refrain from relinquishing the responsibilities of NTIA over the Internet DNS functions until the Government Accountability Office is able to provide a report on the consequences of any proposals submitted to NTIA to transition oversight of the IANA functions away from the Department of Commerce. The report must detail the role of NTIA with respect to DNS; discussion and analysis of the implications of relinquishing its role; NTIA’s criteria for evaluating submitted proposals; detailed analysis of the proposals received by NTIA; discussion of the processes and criteria used by NTIA and other agencies for evaluating the proposals; and evaluation of whether acceptance of the proposals would raise national security concerns.
Update [23 May 2014]: On 23 May, the House voted 245-177 on an amendment to attach the DOTCOM Act to annual defense authorization legislation (HR 4435), which then passed the House by a 325 to 98 vote.
Senate Bill Seeks to Revitalize U.S. Manufacturing
On 9 April, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed The Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2013 (S. 1468), which seeks to strengthen collaborations between the government and the manufacturing sector. S. 1468 would authorize creation of a network of regional hubs that would solve common manufacturing problems for businesses and researchers in that field. The legislation now awaits action by the full Senate.
The bill aligns Congress with an Obama Administration initiative that is already underway. The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), within the U.S. Department of Commerce, has already begun creating regional hubs. The first hub created is a pilot project in Youngstown, Ohio, and it operates with the support of federal seed money and funding from a number of businesses, organizations, and universities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Additional hubs have been announced for Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; and Raleigh, NC.
Enhancing Management of Federal Activities Related to Energy-Water Nexus
In late January, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced bipartisan legislation recognizing the important connection between energy and water.
Vast amounts of water are used every day to produce vital fuels and to cool power plants in the United States. Without this water supply most of our electricity would stop flowing and our economy and other essential functions would come to a complete stop. At the same time, a great deal of electricity is needed to treat, transport and convey water across the country not only to support economic growth and well-being but also to sustain basic life. These inseparable links of water for energy and energy for water comprise the energy-water nexus.
The Nexus of Energy and Water for Sustainability (NEWS) Act of 2014 (S. 1971) would create a committee within the National Science and Technology Committee (NSTC) to coordinate and streamline federal activities related to the management of this energy-water nexus. The new committee would be established by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the NSTC and would be co-chaired by the secretaries of Energy and Interior. The committee would identify energy-water nexus activities across the federal government; enhance the coordination of research and development activities; improve relevant data collection and dissemination capabilities; and promote public-private collaboration.
The bill also calls for the Office of Management and Budget to submit to the relevant congressional committees a so-called cross-cut budget soon after enactment of this act. The cross-cut budget will detail various expenditures across the federal government related to energy-water activities and will greatly assist in our coordination and streamlining efforts.
According to Sen. Murkowski, this bill facilitates better interagency cooperation and provides for a national platform to these important energy-water interrelations.