The following are brief highlights of important U.S. S&T legislative and policy developments from the past 30 days.
Department of Energy Announces Public Access Policy for Scholarly Publications
On 4 August, the U.S. Department of Energy announced its plan for public access to peer-reviewed papers based on DOE-funded research. Effective 1 October, the policy mandates public access to accepted peer-reviewed manuscripts or published journal articles within 12 months of publication. The policy applies to papers based on unclassified or otherwise unrestricted research by DOE and national laboratory employees, contractors and grantees.
In support of its policy, DOE also launched a web repository named the Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science (PAGES). The DOE policy also opens the door to collaboration with publishers either directly or through the publisher consortium’s proposed Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS), which is backed by IEEE.
DOE is the first federal agency to release its public access plan in response to a directive from the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy issued in 2013. The National Institutes of Health also had a pre-existing public access policy. Announcements from other federal research-intensive departments and agencies are expected over the next several months.
In related news, the DOE’s Office of Science recently released a directive to researchers on digital data management. For more information, see: https://www.energy.gov/science/office-science-funding
White House Launches U.S. Digital Service
On 11 August, the White House announced the launch of the U.S. Digital Service, a team of digital and technology experts whose mission is to improve and simplify the digital experience that people and businesses have with the federal government. Their role will encompass:
- Establishing standards to bring the government’s digital services in line with the best private sector services;
- Identifying common technology patterns that will help agencies scale their digital services effectively;
- Collaborating with agencies to identify and address gaps in their capacity to design, develop, deploy and operate excellent citizen-facing services; and
- Providing accountability to ensure agencies see results.
The new Digital Service will be headed by Mikey Dickerson, recruited from the private sector last year to help address problems with the implementation of HealthCare.gov. Dickerson will also serve as Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer.
Along with the announcement, the White House also invited public comment on the Digital Services Playbook, a compendium of best practices for effective delivery of digital services, and the TechFAR Handbook, a guide to leveraging private sector resources consistent with the requirements of the Federal Acquisition Regulations.
For more information, see: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/11/delivering-customer-focused-government-through-smarter-it-1
Crowdsourcing Ideas to Accelerate American Innovation
On 28 July, the White House National Economic Council and the President’s Office of Science and Technology jointly announced a request for information (RFI) soliciting public input on how to accelerate economic growth and prosperity, as part of an on-going process to update the Administration’s Strategy for American Innovation.
The RFI outlines 25 questions in broad categories related to innovation trends, R&D priorities, skilled workforce development, manufacturing and entrepreneurship, regional innovation ecosystems, intellectual property and novel government tools.
See the request for information on-line at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/07/29/2014-17761/strategy-for-american-innovation
American COMPETES Reauthorization Bill Introduced in the Senate
Just before departing for the congressional August recess, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and five Democratic co-sponsors from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Space and Transportation introduced the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014 (S. 2757), legislation that would reauthorize key federal civilian S&T programs for the next five years. Current authorizations under the original America COMPETES Act’s previous reauthorization expire
At 150 pages, the bill is a trimmed down version of its predecessors and focuses on setting funding ceilings for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill would authorize an increase in NIST’s FY 2015 budget to $912.7 million, with 6.7 percent increases in subsequent years through FY 2019. NSF’s budget would grow to $7.6 billion in FY 2019, with similar 6.7 percent annual increases thereafter.
In contrast to House Republican efforts to trim NSFï¿½s social sciences budget, the Senate bill affirms the importance of federal support for research in the social, behavioral and economic sciences. The bill also:
- Reauthorizes NSF STEM workforce and K-12 education programs, as well as STEM education programs at NASA and NOAA
- Outlines a process for reducing the costs and administrative burdens associated with doing federal research
- Modifies and expands federal authority for research prize competitions
- Reinforces the importance of federal (and federal contractor) attendance and participation in relevant scientific and technology conferences and trade events.
- Reauthorizes federal investments and loan guarantees to support regional innovation programs
- Mandates a study administered through the Department of Commerce on the current and projected state of the U.S. STEM workforce
- Directs the President to develop a national strategic plan for advanced manufacturing; and
- Strengthens management of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
The original America COMPETES legislation was enacted in 2007 with strong bipartisan support and set a goal of doubling civilian S&T expenditures in the DOE Office of Science, NIST and NSF. The doubling goal was never realized and bipartisan support for the COMPETES legislation has faded as budget politics have helped drive a partisan divide in Congress.
With the House and Senate taking significantly different approaches toward the reauthorization of America COMPETES, the Senate bill’s prospects are highly uncertain. The House has largely abandoned efforts to move its combined bills, and instead is focused on single agency authorizations. The House passed by voice vote a separate NIST reauthorization bill (H.R. 5025) prior to the recess, which only covers NIST’s expenditures through the FY2014-2015 fiscal years. With Congress in session only 12 legislative days before the November elections, any action is not likely to occur until the anticipated post-election ï¿½lame duckï¿½ session.
House Moves Slate of Targeted S&T Bills
In addition to NIST reauthorization legislation, the House of Representatives rapidly approved five bills forwarded by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology during July. Four were passed by voice vote:
The STEM Education At of 2014 (H.R. 5031), legislation by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) that reauthorizes federal STEM education programs through FY 2015, and expands program definitions to include computer science as a STEM qualified field.
The Department of Energy Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act of 2014 (H.R.5120), a bill by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) to provide federal laboratories with greater flexibility to partner with the private sector.
The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2014 (H.R. 1786), legislation by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) reauthorizing federal research programs that seek to mitigate damage from windstorms, including hurricanes and tornadoes.
The Research and Development Efficiency Act (H.R. 5056), legislation by Rep. Larry Buchshon (R-IN) that would establish a working group to review federal regulations affecting research universities in order to harmonize, streamline and eliminate duplicative Federal regulations and reporting requirements.
In addition, the House voted 346 to 41 to pass The International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2014 (H.R. 5029), bipartisan legislation by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), which would create an organization under the National Science and Technology Council “with the responsibility to identify and coordinate international science and technology cooperation that can strengthen the United States science and technology enterprise, improve economic and national security, and support United States foreign policy goals.”
NIST Announces Workshop on Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity
Registration is currently open for a workshop on the Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Security organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and being held on 29-30 Oct. 2014 at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The purpose of the Cybersecurity Framework Workshop is to gather input to help NIST understand stakeholder awareness of, and initial experiences with, the framework and related activities to support its use. The target audience is critical infrastructure owners and operators and cybersecurity staff, specifically those who have operational, managerial and policy experience and responsibilities for cybersecurity, technology and/or standards development for critical infrastructure companies.
The voluntary framework was released in February 2014 as directed by the President in Executive Order 13636, Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. It is based on existing standards, guidelines and practices and provides guidance for reducing cybersecurity risk for organizations within the critical infrastructure, such as in the energy or banking industries. The framework was developed in a year-long process in which NIST served as a convener for industry, academia and government stakeholders.
In advance of the October meeting, NIST plans to issue a Request for Information to learn how companies and organizations are learning about and using the framework. NIST will seek input from individual critical infrastructure owners and operators of all sizes, as well as their representatives from sector and professional associations; federal agencies; state, local, territorial and tribal governments; standards development organizations; industry and consumer groups; and solution providers and other stakeholders.
Science Committee Hearing Looks at U.S. Progress/Plans on Fusion Energy
An 11 July hearing by the House Science Subcommittee on Energy explored the status of the U.S. fusion energy program, which they dubbed ï¿½The World’s Most Complex Energy Project.ï¿½ A particular spotlight was put on U.S. participation in the International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor (ITER), a multi-national collaboration to develop and operate a research facility capable of maintain a burning plasma reaction capable of a peak output of 500 MW thermal power with 50 MW power input.
In June, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report concluding that the estimated cost of the United States’ commitment to the ITER project has grown by almost $3 billion and the schedule for completion has been delayed up to 20 years, largely due to factors beyond U.S. control.
Despite the challenges, the hearing was notably upbeat with strong bipartisan support for the ITER program. Full committee chair, Lamar Smith (R-TX) commented that ï¿½Fusion energy is the sort of high-risk, high-reward research that will benefit future generations if we are bold enough to pursue it,ï¿½
In hearing testimony, Patricia Dehmer; DoE’s Deputy Director for Science Programs, and Ned Sauthoff, Director, of the US ITER Project, both acknowledged the challenges posed by the multinational management structure of the ITER program and stressed DOE’s active engagement in seeking management reforms. Sauthoff also reviewed the progress made on construction of ITER buildings and infrastructure in southern France and highlighted the U.S. contributions to ITER, over 80% of which involves funding spent in 40 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to support various U.S. fabrication projects.
Hearing Examines Breakthrough Nanotechnology Opportunities for America
A 29 July hearing by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, explored the potential for nanotechnology to drive U.S. innovation and economic growth. ï¿½Just as electricity, telecommunications, and the combustion engine fundamentally altered American economics in the ï¿½second industrial revolution,’ nanotechnology is poised to drive the next surge of economic growth across all sectors,ï¿½ according to Chairman Lee Terry (R-NE).
Dr. Christian Binek, Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,told the subcommittee that ï¿½nanotechnology is expected to make major contributions in fields such as; information technology, medical applications, energy, water supply with strong correlation to the energy problem, smart materials, and manufacturing. It is perhaps one of the major transformative powers of nanotechnology that many of these traditionally separated fields will merge.ï¿½ Dr. James Tour used his testimony to urge Congress to take steps to help retain foreign technical talent and to encourage industry support for nanotechnology-related R&D. Professor Milan Mrksich of Northwestern University outlined other obstacles to realizing these benefits posed by nanotechnology, including the need for continued investment in fundamental research, effective regulation of nano-materials, and prompt processing and protection on nano-related intellectual property. James Phillips, CEO of NanoMesh, Inc., emphasized the hypercompetitive nature of today’s global manufacturing and noted that a number of U.S. policies and practices were designed for a different era and serve to limit American innovation in today’s context.