July 8, 2016 Capitol Update

In this issue:


The U.S. Senate recently passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which included the contents of the Manufacturing Universities Act, legislation aimed at strengthening engineering programs to meet the demands of the modern manufacturing industry. The bill will now go to conference so that Members of the House and Senate can work out a final bill.

Manufacturing Universities would authorize the Department of Defense to support industry-relevant, manufacturing-focused, engineering training at U.S. universities. Institutions would be selected through a competitive grant-based process and would be required to better align their educational offerings with the needs of modern U.S. manufacturers. These schools would be designated as ‘Manufacturing Universities’ and would receive federal grant funding to meet specific goals, including focusing engineering programs on development of industry-relevant advanced manufacturing skills, building new partnerships with manufacturing firms, growing hands-on training opportunities for students, and fostering manufacturing entrepreneurship. The program would be run by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, The National Institute of Standards and Technology, The Department of Energy, and the Department of Education.

For more information on Manufacturing Universities, please see the Brookings report titled, “Cut to Invest: Support the Designation of 20 ‘U.S. Manufacturing Universities’” at the following link: http://www.nist.gov/mep/data/upload/Cut_to_invest_brookings.pdf



S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, a successor to the America COMPETES Act, has passed the Senate Commerce Committee, authorizing a four percent funding increase for National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). When the bill was first introduced, it did not include funding levels for NSF or NIST, however, the Committee amended the bill in its mark up, authorizing $7.51 billion in FY17 and $7.81 billion in FY18 for NSF, and $974 million in FY17 and $1.013 billion in FY18 for NIST. The authorizations for FY17 match the amounts the Senate Appropriations Committee approved for NSF and NIST in April.

Another amendment adopted by the Committee encourages the Department of Commerce to create a grant program for expanding STEM apprenticeship programs.

S. 3084 aims to replace the current America COMPETES Act and would govern policies related to programs within the NSF, NIST, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The bill aims to maximize basic research by reducing administrative burdens for researchers, enhancing agency oversight, improving research dissemination, and reforming federal science agencies to increase the impact of taxpayer-funded research.

The next step is for the bill to be taken up on the Senate floor. However, with the increased funding levels for NSF and NIST, we may see a hold up in passage as Senators push to identify offsets for the increases.

Click here for the text of S. 3084. Highlights of the bill as identified by the Committee include:

Maximizing Basic Research

  • Peer review – Reaffirms the NSF’s merit-based peer review process for determining grants.
  • Broadening research opportunities – Updates and renames NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) for underutilized regions to reflect its established record.
  • Cybersecurity research – Directs research to help better protect computer systems from cyber threats.
  • Transparency and accountability – Codifies reforms to increase transparency and accountability in the National Science Foundation (NSF) grantmaking process.
  • Oversight implementation – Requires NSF to address concerns about waste and abuse by improving oversight of large research facility construction, updates a conflicts of interest policy, and reforms management of the Antarctic research program.

Reducing Regulatory Burdens

  • Interagency working group – Establishes an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and OSTP-led interagency working group to reduce administrative burdens on federally-funded researchers.
  • Obsolete reporting requirements – Repeals obsolete federal agency reporting requirements as well as previous authorizations for programs that have not been implemented.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) Education

  • Outside advisory panel – Authorizes a STEM education advisory panel of outside experts to help guide federal STEM education program decision making.
  • Expands opportunities for women – Expands NSF grant programs to increase participation and expand STEM opportunities to women and other under-represented groups.

Manufacturing, Commercialization, and Leveraging the Private Sector

  • Crowdsourcing Science – Expands opportunities for crowdsourcing research input and citizen science participation by organizations and individuals.
  • Manufacturing – Updates NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program for small and medium sized businesses by adjusting the federal cost-share requirement and implementing new accountability and oversight requirements.
  • Promoting entrepreneurship – Authorizes and expands NSF’s Innovation Corps program to promote entrepreneurship and commercialization education, training, and mentoring of federally-funded researchers.
  • Commercialization grants – Authorizes and expands grants to promote the commercialization of federally-funded research.

Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Hearing Convened: “Review of EPA's Regulatory Activity during the Obama Administration: Energy and Industrial Sectors”

This week, the Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing to examine recent regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) affecting the energy and industrial sectors, as well as additional rules and initiatives the agency plans to pursue prior to the end of the Obama Administration.

Several of EPA’s rulemakings since 2009 have faced a series of legal challenges from industry groups and from several states, resulting in the delay of the agency’s Clean Power Plan by the Supreme Court in February. The EPA’s mercury air pollution had also faced delays, but the Supreme Court recently rejected the states’ bid to vacate the rule.

Janet McCabe, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testified at the hearing, noting that, “Although the Clean Power Plan has been stayed by the Supreme Court, we are confident it will be upheld because it rests on strong scientific and legal foundations.” McCabe also noted that implementation of the plan is moving forward on a voluntary basis in several states.

McCabe also provided an overview of the status of several of EPA’s other rulemakings, including the methane standards for the oil and gas industry, and ozone national ambient air quality standards.

Other witnesses testified about the benefits, costs and impacts of EPA’s rulemakings, with perspectives from the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Public Citizen, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Rice University and the Railroad Commission of Texas. 

A video webcast of the hearing, along with testimony, is available to view at https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings-and-votes/hearings/review-epas-regulatory-activity-during-obama-administration-energy-and


President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto met at the North American Leader’s Summit (NALS) in Ottawa last week and forged an ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The leader’s set a goal to achieve 50 percent clean power across all of North America by 2025 through a combination of renewable energy, nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, and energy efficiency measures.

The White House acknowledged that aiming for 50 percent clean energy is a stretch goal, but argued that it can be met by further incentives for renewable energy. The agreement calls for a 5 year extension of the U.S. production tax credit for renewables, a benefit that has thus far received only short-term extensions due to the high costs of the credit.

While renewables have seen dramatic growth over the last several years, many energy analysts argued that a bigger contribution from zero-carbon energy sources like nuclear power would make the goal more attainable. However, environmental groups remain largely opposed to the expansion of nuclear due to concerns over nuclear waste disposal and the risk of accidents such as that which occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in 2011.

In addition to setting an overall clean energy production goal, the agreement calls for acceleration of clean energy innovation investments and calls on researchers to identify joint research and demonstration initiatives to advance clean technologies in priority areas, including: electricity grids and energy storage; reducing methane emissions; carbon capture, utilization and storage; advanced heating and cooling, and energy efficiency in buildings.

For more information on the NALS and to view the entire clean energy pledge, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/06/29/leaders-statement-north-american-climate-clean-energy-and-environment


The White House recently announced a new “Future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative” designed to learn more about the benefits and risks of AI. AI technologies offer great potential for creating new and innovative products, growing the economy, and advancing national priorities in areas such as education, mental and physical health, climate change, and more. Like any transformative technology, however, AI carries risks and presents complex policy challenges along a number of different fronts.

The White House is convening a series of workshops around the country with top computer scientists to learn more about the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence, focused on the following topics:

  • Legal and governance implications of AI;
  • AI for public good;
  • Safety and control for AI; and
  • AI’s social and economic implications.

Additional information on the workshops is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/05/03/preparing-future-artificial-intelligence

A new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence has also been established. This group will monitor state-of-the-art advances and technology milestones in artificial intelligence and machine learning within the Federal Government, in the private sector, and internationally, as well as help coordinate Federal activity in this space. Ultimately, dialogue from these workshops and the efforts of the NSTC Subcommittee may feed into the development of a public report.

This week, the White House also issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit feedback on how America can best prepare for the future of AI, including information about AI research and the tools, technologies, and scientific training that are needed.  The deadline for comment is July 22, 2016. The RFI is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/06/27/2016-15082/request-for-information-on-artificial-intelligence


This week, House appropriators released a fiscal 2017 Labor-HHS-Education bill that would provide $161.6 billion in discretionary funding, $569 million less than the current level.  The bill includes a total of $73.2 billion for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an increase of $2.6 billion above last year’s enacted level and $3.5 billion above the President’s budget request

The bill provides a total of $33.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) $1.25 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $2.25 billion above the President’s discretionary budget request and provides increases for several critical research initiatives, including:

  • $1.26 billion, a $350 million increase, for the Alzheimer’s disease research initiative;
  • $195 million, a $45 million increase, for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neuro-technologies (BRAIN) initiative;
  • $300 million – the full requested amount – for the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI); and
  • $12.6 million for the Gabriella Miller “Kids First” initiative, dedicated to pediatric cancer research.

The bill also funds the Department of Education at $67 billion, which is $1.3 billion below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $2.4 billion below the President’s budget request. The bill eliminates several duplicative or ineffective education programs, and makes reductions to several other lower‑priority program, including:

  • Special Education – The bill includes $12.4 billion for IDEA special education grants to states, an increase of $500 million over the fiscal year 2016 enacted level, which will maintain the federal share of special education funding to states.
  • Student Support and Academic Achievement State Grants – The bill includes $1 billion, $500 million above the President’s budget request, for grants that provide flexible funds to states and school districts to expand access to a well-rounded education, improve school conditions, and improve the use of technology.
  • Pell Grants – The maximum Pell Grant award is increased to $5,935, funded by a combination of discretionary and mandatory funds.
  • Policy Provisions – The bill includes provisions prohibiting the Department of Education from moving forward with regulations to place new requirements on teacher preparation, define “gainful employment” and “credit hour,” and dictate how states must license institutions of higher education.

Additional information is available at http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=394633

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