January 26, 2018
Capitol Update

In this issue:


The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released its Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 report. It explains that while the U.S. remains the leader in science and technology, China is rapidly catching up in a number of important ways. Since 2000, China has increased R&D spending at an accelerated rate, roughly 18 percent a year, focusing on development over basic and applied research. By contrast, U.S. R&D investment has only averaged 4 percent growth per year, and has declined precipitously in key areas, including renewable and nuclear energy technologies.

R&D spending in the U.S. totals $495.1 billion in 2015 with $355 billion of that total from business investment.  U.S. R&D investment has averaged 1.4 percent growth over the last seven years, slightly behind inflation adjusted GDP growth. The trend reflects a path of decline in the federally funded R&D-to-GDP ratio since 2010, and the lingering effects of global economic recession on R&D investment.  The fall in U.S. public R&D investment between 2011 and 2014 resulted from steep declines in renewables (26 percent) and nuclear energy (32 percent).  In renewables, solar funding plunged 71 percent to $0.1 billion.  Bright spots of public R&D investment in renewable energy included expenditures on biofuels, which rose 41 percent to reach $0.5 billion, and funding for energy efficiency technologies, which rose 40 percent to reach $1.3 billion. 

By comparison, China’s R&D spending totaled $408.8 billion in 2015 with a R&D-to-GDP ratio of 2.1 percent, bringing China to second place in global performance by surpassing European Union investment of $386 billion.  China’s rapid growth also applies to its workforce and citations in technical papers. As NSF Head France Cordova summed up, “We are involved in a global race for knowledge. We may be the innovation leader today, but other countries are rapidly gaining ground.”

Internationally, the science and technology scene is highly collaborative, with countries focusing their research efforts on different areas. The report notes that the US, EU, and Japan are focusing their efforts more on the medical and biological sciences, while India and China are focused on engineering.

This year’s report includes detailed analysis of early state private financing of sustainable energy technologies, generation capacity, patents and public R&D expenditures in sustainable energy technologies. The United States attracted the most venture capital and private equity investment in early-stage sustainable energy of any country ($3.5 billion in 2016).  However, China attracted $2.2 billion, a record high and huge jump from the $0.5 billion investment in 2015. China leads the world in attracting later-stage private investment in sustainable energy technologies with a global share of 33 percent, followed by the EU (25 percent) and the United States (18 percent). 

The full report is available at: https://nsf.gov/nsb/sei/index.jsp


In November 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submitted a proposal to overrule a 2016 regulation implemented by the Obama administration exempting glider kit trucks from Phase 2 emissions standards. Following the recent close of public opinion submission, the agency must now decide whether or not to move forward with this decision.

Under the proposed legislation, any engine built with one non-new part would cease to fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction. Response to this announcement has been primarily negative, with critics such as state regulators and fuel-efficient truck and engine manufacturers angry because this change will undermine federal air quality standards and energy efficiency incentives. However, glider kit makers welcomed the change. Joe Rajkovacz, Director of Government Affairs and Communication with Western States Trucking Association surmised, “This might be one of those rare victories for small businesses against government intrusion, unwarranted government intrusion into the marketplace based on ideology.”

View the EPA proposal here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-11-16/pdf/2017-24884.pdf


On January 22, President Trump announced his decision to impose tariffs on imported solar equipment. The tariffs amount to 30 percent in the first year, but fall to 15 percent by the fourth year. While these tariffs are steep, they are not as high as the US International Trade Commission’s 35 percent recommendation. China currently holds the monopoly on solar power, selling solar materials to the U.S. at a low price, allowing a growing number of families to install solar panels. However, U.S.-based companies such as Suniva and SolarWorld dislike the current business model, as without the tariffs, it hinders their ability to develop and market this technology at an affordable price. Suniva spokesman Mark Paustenbach explained, “A robust tariff will allow Suniva to restart its factories and rehire employees.”

Many outside the solar manufacturing industry strongly oppose the tariffs. Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the installation sector’s trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) cautioned, “While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs.” The low prices China sells the solar power materials allow Americans to purchase them at a reasonable cost. Imposing tariffs could potentially double the cost of solar panels, leading to a steep decline in the number of customers, and the termination of many American workers employed to install these panels and support these customers. The SEIA predicted the tariffs will cost roughly 23,000 jobs this year. 

More information on President Trump’s announcement can be found here: https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/january/president-trump-approves-relief-us


Over the past year, Science Advisory Committees (SAC) found in the White House and various federal agencies have been pared down and called on at a diminishing rate. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report “to examine whether the neglect of scientific advice extends beyond top-level appointments” based on a thorough review of “the record of the government’s network of science advisory committees.”

In 2017, the SACs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) all met less frequently than at any other time in the last 20 years. In addition to this low meeting rate, the composition of several boards was highlighted. On the EPA Science Advisory Board in 2018, 23 percent of members are industry representatives, up from six percent in 2017. Similarly, 50 percent of members currently hail from academia, down from 79 percent in 2017. As Andrew Rosenberg, UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy Director explained, “That’s disturbing because that means they’re making decisions without having any independent reference for the scientific underpinnings for those decisions. Or they’re completely ignoring the science as they make decisions.”

In further effort to cut ties with the previous administration’s policies, EPA grant recipients are banned from serving on any boards or committees, a carry-over from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017. This signals the administration’s strong feelings on the matter, putting it in line to be a point of contention in the next budget cycle.

In 2017, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee passed two bills on amending the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, both of which are currently awaiting a Senate vote.  Reforming science advisory panels, as well as federal data disclosure policies, remains a top priority for House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and the Trump administration in the year ahead. 

The full report is available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2018/01/abandoning-science-advice-full-report.pdf  


Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing titled “Disrupter Series: The Internet of Things, Manufacturing and Innovation.” As devices become increasingly connected and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) continues to grow, manufacturers are adapting to the new technology, positioning themselves so they are best able to take advantage of the benefits while protecting themselves and their customers from potential malpractice. In a world of connected devises, it is important for manufacturers to develop and implement new best practices for manufacturing processes to ensure that information and increased connectivity is being used for good and that consumer privacy is protected.

As Chairman Latta explained in his opening remarks, “Utilizing IoT and other emerging technologies like augmented reality, workers will be able to virtually make adjustments to industrial systems to understand how to improve efficiency, and then implement necessary changes, without interrupting the manufacturing process.” This increased manufacturing efficiency will provide customers with greater choice at lower costs, but requires industry to rethink the way it currently does business to accommodate the augmented.

One of the witnesses, ASME Member Dr. Thomas Kurfess, Professor and Chair in Fluid Power and Motion Control, George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a former ASME Foundation Swanson Fellow who previously served at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), elaborated on the benefits of IoT for manufacturing. He explained that along with increased productivity, IoT will create safer workplaces with additional “sensors and monitoring” and higher paying jobs for American workers. But to truly take advantage of the manufacturing opportunities IoT creates, a well trained workforce competent in this new high-tech environment is essential. Dr. Kurfess goes on to say that “Programs such as Manufacturing USA that bring together collaborative teams from industry, government and academe are not only bringing the Internet of Things into the manufacturing world, they are strengthening U.S. manufacturing capabilities by engaging highly diverse and technically savvy teams to rapidly deploy next generation capabilities to our manufacturing operations.”

Efficiency is a major benefit of IoT, and manufacturing workers stand to benefit the most from increased integration of technology and data into the traditional manufacturing environment. As automation becomes more prevalent, workers’ responsibilities will grow and evolve to best utilize these technology as a tool for increased output. Dr. Kurfess noted that while robots are extremely beneficial to manufacturing, they will never fully replace human workers. As IoT informs automation, workers will continue to transition from dangerous, repetitive work, to more technical and thought-provoking aspects of the manufacturing process.

Along these lines, the witnesses highlighted the importance of continuous training in this transition. Each witness testified to the growing importance of instilling a culture of lifelong learning in the manufacturing workforce and discussed the elements  of a winning workforce development strategy: one that not only focus on building the technical workforce of the future, but one that also invests in retraining and up-skilling current employees. Dr. Kurfess noted that in the manufacturing environments he’s observed, workers are excited to learn and eager to adopt new technologies. Policies and programs should build on this enthusiasm and new, innovative teaching techniques, such as incorporating VR into on-the-job training, should become common practice on the shop floor.

Testimony presented by Dr. Kurfess is available to view at: https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings/disrupter-series-internet-things-manufacturing-innovation/


Last Friday, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) posted a call for proposals for the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP) in the form of a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) (N00014-18-S-F005).

MEEP is intended to fund training programs, curriculum development, and other educational necessities in the manufacturing field. Interested parties should focus programs on manufacturing education to support one or more distinct manufacturing technologies; e.g. manufacturing of lightweight structures, systems and materials; robotics for manufacturing; manufacturing to exploit nanotechnology; manufacturing of components and systems for power generation, storage, or distribution; manufacturing of multi-functional electronics and/or optical devices; or other manufacturing technologies of regional or industrial sector of interest.

ONR intends to make 3 awards for a total of $5,400,000. Each individual award will be up to a maximum of $600,000 per year for up to 3 years. Applications for larger amounts will be considered on a case-by-case basis. All responsible sources from industry, not-for-profit institutions, institutions of higher education, or a consortia of such institutions or industry may submit white papers under this FOA.

Please see the full FOA for details on what types of programs ONR is looking to fund. A mandatory White Paper is due no later than February 16, 2018 03:00 PM local Eastern time. Full Proposals will be accepted until May 16, 2018 11:59 PM local Eastern time.
To view the FOA online, please visit: https://www.onr.navy.mil/en/Contracts-Grants/Funding-Opportunities/Broad-Agency-Announcements

The articles contained in Capitol Update are not positions of ASME or any of its sub-entities, unless specifically noted as such. This publication is designed to inform ASME members about issues of concern being debated and discussed in the halls of congress, in the states and in the federal agencies.

ASME Government Relations
1828 L Street, NW, Suite 510
Washington, DC 20036
Website: http://www.asme.org/about-asme/advocacy-government-relations

Paul Fakes is the Regulatory and Government Relations Manager, Technology Policy. He covers Standards and Energy and Environment.

Samantha Fijacko is the Senior Government Relations Representative. She covers Advanced Manufacturing, Robotics and R&D.

Anne Nadler is the Government Relations Representative. She covers Bioengineering, STEM Education and R&D.