December 15, 2017
Capitol Update

In this issue:


ASME HIGHLIGHTS CUTTING-EDGE LASERS ON CAPITOL HILL

ASME convened a congressional staff briefing on Dec. 12th entitled, “Lasers for America: Driving Advancements in Science, National Security, Manufacturing, Health, and U.S.  Competitiveness.” The briefing followed the December 7th release of a National Academies of Sciences (NAS) study entitled “Opportunities in Intense Ultrafast Lasers: Reaching for the Brightest Light” that was conducted at the request of the Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The NAS study evaluates the current state high intensity ultrafast lasers and laser technologies, and assesses the value of future high intensity laser science programs and facilities in the U.S. and around the world. 

US investments in science and technology led to the development of the laser in 1960. Since then, the laser has become a ubiquitous tool across a broad range of applications, including cutting edge discovery science at advanced particle accelerators, the development of advanced materials for national security, and the invention of novel treatments to treat cancer and other medical conditions. Today, the worldwide laser market is valued at roughly $10.5 billion and growing annually. 

Another major breakthrough in laser technologies, again led by the United States, is the short-pulse, high-peak-power laser. This new class of laser could have transformative applications with far reaching impact, including development of small, compact particle accelerators that are a fraction of the length of contemporary accelerator systems or powerful new specialized medical treatment and scanning capabilities. 

Despite the United States’ early lead in this technology, the U.S. is at risk of losing its competitive advantage. According to the NAS study, countries in Europe and Asia are investing heavily in this foundational technology and plan to overtake the U.S. At the same time, U.S. federal investment in the research and development of high peak power lasers has been declining significantly, leaving American researchers and companies vulnerable to international competition.

ASME partnered with internationally recognized scientists and representatives from American industry at its Dec. 12th briefing to provide insights to policymakers on the current state of laser science and technology development.  Panelists discussed the key role that lasers play in U.S. innovation and economic competitiveness, and how the nation can maintain U.S. preeminence in laser technology.

The briefing was opened with comments from Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who spoke about the economic impact that laser science has had on the Rochester, NY region, and Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL), the only physicist in Congress and a passionate champion for physical sciences funding in Congress. Connie Lausten, Chair, ASME Energy Public Policy Task Force and Moderator Dr. Gregory Quarles, Chief Scientist at the Optical Society, guided discussion among the panelists, who offered laser technology expertise from across industry and academia:   

  • Dr. E. Michael Campbell, Director of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, University of Rochester
  • Dr. James Clayton, Senior Scientist, Varian Medical Systems
  • Dr. Jim Kafka, Chief Technology Officer, Spectra-Physics, a part of MKS
  • Dr. Wim Leemans, Director, Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

To read more about ASME’s Congressional briefings, please visit: https://www.asme.org/about-asme/get-involved/advocacy-government-relations and to download the report, please visit: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24939/opportunities-in-intense-ultrafast-lasers-reaching-for-the-brightest-light

If you have questions, please contact Paul Fakes, fakesp@asme.org.


TRUMP ADMINISTRATION RELEASES WITHHELD ARPA-E FUNDS

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent notice to Congress this week that the Trump administration has backed down from withholding $91 million in FY 2017 funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). A December 12th letter to energy policy and appropriations leaders in Congress confirmed that the funds were now available for obligation, as authorized by Congress. 

In September, GAO received an inquiry about the status of FY 2017 appropriations for ARPA-E.  ARPA-E officials reported that per Department of Energy instruction ARPA-E was withholding the obligation of more than $91 million of budget authority. The agency noted that direction from the Department of Energy was given in anticipation of congressional enactment of the legislative proposals in the President’s FY 2018 budget request, which called for the recession of prior-year ARPA-E funding and shuttering of the agency.

GAO concluded that this withholding violated the Impoundment Control Act, which ensures that the Executive Branch obligates funds appropriated by Congress. Agencies may only withhold budget authority from obligation if the President has transmitted a special message to Congress. GAO found that ARPA-E withheld the obligation of $91 million without the President transmitting a special message to Congress, and accordingly, violated the Impoundment Control Act.

Following GAO’s inquiries, the agency was able to ensure that funds were made available for obligation, and subsequently did not transmit a report to Congress under the Impoundment Control Act.  In the past, GAO has declined to transmit a report to Congress under similar circumstances.  The Department of Energy's recent apportionment schedule and allotment record show that all of ARPA-E's unobligated balances from previous fiscal years are currently available for obligation. GAO also communicated that ARPA-E officials orally confirmed that budget authority is now available for obligation. 

Read the full GAO letter and report at:  https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/688941.pdf


NASA OPENS $2 MILLION THIRD PHASE OF 3D-PRINTED HABITAT COMPETITION

NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge seeks ways to create or develop the technologies needed to create such habitats on-site, and challenges citizen inventors to lead the way.  The On-Site Habitat Competition (Phase 3) – focuses on the 3D-Printing fabrication of a scaled habitat design, using indigenous materials combined with or without recyclables.

The now-open Phase 3 offers a $2 million total prize purse. Phase 3 also has five levels of competition. Interested teams may register through Feb. 15, 2018.

Learn more about the challenge, its sponsors and how to enter by visiting: https://www.bradley.edu/challenge/


NIST IDENTIFIES FOUR STRATEGIC PRIORITY AREAS WORKING WITH VCAT

As part of NIST’s long term strategic planning, the agency has identified four strategic priority areas – bioeconomy, artificial intelligence & data science, refining the quantum system of units (quantum SI), and internet of things (IoT).

At the last public meeting held in Gaithersburg, MD, discussions were around the early planning of the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) to obtain their feedback on the new priority areas. VCAT, chartered by the Secretary of Commerce, makes recommendations regarding general policy for NIST within the framework of applicable national policies set forth by Congress and the President. VCAT’s advice helps to ensure that NIST allocates its resources, particularly if they are decreasing, to continue important metrology work that often entails a long-term agency commitment. 

Additional information, including meeting minutes and upcoming February 7-8, 2018 meeting agenda can be found at: https://www.nist.gov/director/vcat 


AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH ROLE IN BIOENERGY AND FOOD PRODUCTION

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee recently convened a hearing to examine federal agriculture research issues, including the scope, value, and impact of agricultural research in areas such as energy, food production, and advancing public health.

Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) opened the hearing, noting that the state of Virginia depends heavily on agriculture research. Agriculture remains the largest private industry in Virginia, with an economic impact of $70 billion annually, supporting more than 334,000 jobs.

The Committee received testimony from a variety of perspectives to explain the value and impacts of agriculture research, including information on industry research efforts and practices, and academic perspectives on cutting edge innovative efforts to more efficiently increase and improve crop yields.

For example, Stephen P. Moose, Professor of Maize Breeding and Genetics, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, leads a research, education, and outreach program focused on genomic applications to crop improvement, in particular “big grasses.” Sequences plant genomes and building variations into these genomes using breeding and biotechnology approaches is important work that can enhance not only food production, but also energy production through bioenergy. Stephen Higgs, Associate Vice President for Research and Director, Biosecurity Research Institute of Kansas State University, testified that his institute is “leading through research and education to protect agriculture and the public from biological threats.”

An archived webcast and full witness testimony is available: https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/subcommittee-research-and-technology-hearing-putting-food-table-review


ADVANCING THE INTERNET OF THINGS IN RURAL AMERICA

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, convened a hearing titled “Advancing the Internet of Things in Rural America,” to examine the benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) in rural communities, and the infrastructure needs necessary to advance the IoT market to ensure rural America has access to products and devices that are driving the digital economy.

Mr. Michael Adcock, Executive Director, Telehealth Center University of Mississippi Medical Center explained the benefits such a telehealth which is not available to patients without access to high speed internet across America. As technology and healthcare services expand to meet patients where they live, broadband coverage must improve to make this care accessible.

Witnesses Mr. David Armitage, Founder and CEO of Cartasite, expressed how the industrial IoT utilizes remote sensors to deliver data to the Cloud servers where algorithms sift through the telemetry to identify actionable insights that streamline business response. Cartasite also uses realtime vehicle monitoring technology to help oil field workers get home safely.  Companies such as Anadarko Petroleum, Encana, and ConocoPhillips can leverage this IoT data to optimize deployment of field workers, resulting in fewer crashes and less traffic, fuel consumption, and emissions but operating in remote areas and reaping such benefits requires enhanced cellular coverage.

Even Tim Hassinger, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Lindsay Corporation – a leading manufacturer of center pivot and lateral move agricultural irrigation systems, said that IoT can support farmers that need to be online by providing them commodity price information, changes in weather conditions, and real time data on soil and moisture conditions. IoT can also  store and analyze data to increase sustainability and productivity. Farmers are working with companies to leverage big data and to know when, where and how much to irrigate – maximizing yields increasing a farmers’ profits by an average of $40 per acre.

Witness testimony, opening statements and video of the hearing is available: https://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2017/11/committee-announces-hearing-to-examine-benefits-of-the-internet-of-things

ASME Government Relations
1828 L Street, NW, Suite 810
Washington, DC 20036
Website: http://www.asme.org/about-asme/advocacy-government-relations