July 21, 2014 Capitol Update

In this issue:



The House of Representatives passed several science and engineering- related bills on July 14th.  The bills, H.R. 5031, H.R. 5056, and H.R. 5029, were small portions of the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee introduced earlier this year to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. These smaller bills had strong bipartisan support.

H.R. 5031, the STEM Education Act, adds computer science to the definition of STEM for Federal science agencies, authorizes informal STEM education grants at the National Science Foundation, and amends NSF’s Noyce Master Teacher Fellowship program to expand eligibility to current math and science teachers who already have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field.  Supporters of the legislation believe it will provide critical support to the teachers and advocates of STEM education who are preparing our students with the skills they need to succeed in our increasingly competitive global economy.

H.R. 5056, the Research and Development Efficiency Act, requires that the Office of Science and Technology Policy establish a working group of federal research agencies to figure out how to better standardize and streamline the administrative requirements on their grantees. 

H.R. 5029, the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2014, provides for the establishment of a body to identify and coordinate international science and technology cooperation that can strengthen the domestic science and technology enterprise and support United States foreign policy goals.  Again, supporters believe that improvements in such areas as energy security, infectious diseases, space exploration, telecommunications and the internet, and many more are due in part to international cooperation, to the benefit of all nations involved. By collaborating with international partners on scientific and engineering issues, the U.S. scientific enterprise will get the biggest return on investment.

Other pieces of bipartisan science legislation are expected to be considered in the coming weeks, including a bill to reauthorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Full text of these bills may be found by going to https://beta.congress.gov/ and searching the bill number.



ASME recently endorsed an afterschool STEM bill, S. 2543, legislation that promotes afterschool and summer STEM programs as vital parts of the K-12 STEM education ecosystem.

Currently, many afterschool and summer programs include science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as a standard part of their comprehensive programming.  Afterschool providers recognize the importance of improved STEM education for their students and that hands-on, inquiry-driven STEM is in line with afterschool’s overall approach to education.  Practitioners are able to directly see the impact afterschool STEM programs have on students—they see youth engaged in and excited about STEM activities, asking questions, and wanting to learn more.  However, funders, policy makers and other stakeholders often want data that substantiates such claims and demonstrates positive changes in a variety of outcomes: interest and engagement in science, greater knowledge of STEM careers, election of school science classes, and, sometimes, improved test scores in science and math.

The legislation is based on the findings of “Examining the Impact of Afterschool STEM Programs,” a recent research project of the Afterschool Alliance. The paper provides an overview some of the recent research findings about the importance of afterschool and other out-of-school time experiences for STEM learning, including:

  • Afterschool STEM programs are successful in engaging and retaining large numbers of students from diverse populations.
  • Young people in these programs express curiosity and interest in STEM subjects, in ways that extended that interest in school and out of school.
  • As they participate, young people gain real skills and the ability to productively engage in STEM processes of investigation.
  • Youth learn essential STEM-relevant life and career skills.
  • Participants come to understand the value of STEM in contributing to society and solving global and local problems.  They begin to see how STEM intimately connects to their everyday lives.
  • Youth display an increased awareness of career options, as well as a nuanced understanding of those careers.
  • Afterschool STEM programs can have an impact on academic performance.

To read S. 2543, go to http://thomas.loc.gov and search by bill number.

“Examining the Impact of Afterschool STEM Programs” may be reviewed at: http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/ExaminingtheImpactofAfterschoolSTEMPrograms.pdf



The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing titled, “The Federal Research Portfolio: Capitalizing on Investments in R&D,” on Thursday, July 17th.  The hearing considered the federal government’s role in research and development (R&D), and the nation’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and outreach initiatives.

During his opening statement, Chairman Jay Rockefeller talked about the importance of federal investment in research and development and the economic benefits of this support.  Also during Chairman Rockefeller’s opening statement, he held up a draft of the Senate version of the America COMPETES Act reauthorization.  He made it clear that there is not yet a time frame for introducing the legislation.

The panel of witnesses offered lively testimony including questioning each other about the research and advancements that each has been involved in during their distinguished careers.  The first witness, Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google and member of the National Science Board at the National Science Foundation, talked about the need for a focus on both basic and applied research.  He used examples during his work on ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, about how basic and applied research go hand-in-hand.

The second witness, Ms. Mariette DiChristina, Editor in Chief and Senior Vice President for Scientific American, summed up the need for investment in research and STEM education by recounting a conversation with her daughter that ended with her daughter stating that science “is the foundation for everything.”

The final two witnesses, Dr. Neal F. Lane and Dr. Stephen E. Fienberg supported these views with their own experiences and both agreed that it is of the utmost importance that the federal government offer a constant and steady stream of support for research so that scientists can continue to do their work without constant worry over whether the financial support will be available the next fiscal year.

For additional information on this hearing, as well as the witnesses’ written statements and an archived webcast, visit http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Hearings&ContentRecord_id=9c3d3e8b-b2a7-4def-bd97-ae9c3b50daba&ContentType_id=14f995b9-dfa5-407a-9d35-56cc7152a7ed&Group_id=b06c39af-e033-4cba-9221-de668ca1978a



Several House Science Committee members, including Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Energy Subcommittee Chair Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), have introduced legislation to modernize the United States' national lab system. H.R. 4869, the Department of Energy (DOE) Research and Development Act of 2014, is similar to an earlier bill introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) (S. 1973), as reference in theFebruary 3, 2014 edition of Capitol Update. While not identical, the two bills mark a level of bicameral agreement that the DOE's National Lab and Office of Science management structure could be better aligned with the needs of the marketplace. Both bills would reform management of DOE's energy and science research programs and require a Government Accountability Office study of DOE's technology transfer programs. The House bill remains more sweeping and controversial than the Senate's version, but several House members indicated this week that they hoped to make progress this year on streamlining DOE oversight and promoting technology transfer partnership opportunities. The legislation is based, in part, on a June 2013 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the Center for American Progress, and the Heritage Foundation that aimed to "bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to the DOE lab system, produce more relevant research, and increasingly allow that research to be pulled into the private sector." The report concluded that the DOE's National Lab structure was overdue for reforms that would better align the lab's management operations with opportunities for technology transfer and commercial development. The report is available at: http://www.itif.org/publications/turning-page-reimagining-national-labs-21st-century-innovation-economy The full text of each bill is available at: https://beta.congress.gov



The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) has announced that it will begin a multi-year process of formally re-competing the national system of Centers.  The primary objective of this process is to optimize the impact of the Federal investment.

This re-competition is based upon guidance and recommendations from the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget recommendations, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and a March 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.  The general recommendation was “If a recipient of a Center award has received financial assistance for 10 consecutive years, the Director shall conduct a new competition to select an operator for the Center consistent with the plan required in this Act. Incumbent Center operators in good standing shall be eligible to compete for the new award.”

NIST MEP plans to begin the multi-year process of formally re-competing the national system of Centers in the Summer of 2014. This process will enable MEP to re-set the funding levels of these Centers to reduce the variation in funding among Centers; as an initial step, and within the FY 2014 appropriation, Centers whose funding is below the system average will be brought up to the system average.

The goal is to complete re-competition of the entire 50 State (plus Puerto Rico) national network over three years. To ensure that this process can be implemented without disrupting the MEP system or degrading the program’s performance, MEP will initiate a demonstration program in 6-10 States in Summer 2014. In order to provide for geographic diversity, support during organizational transitions from adjoining States, and sufficient breadth and depth in internal staff resources, at least one State from each of MEP’s six regions will be included in the demonstration program. The demonstration program will enable procedures, milestones, and resource requirements to be tested and refined.

For additional information on the Center Competition, the implementation, and other general questions, please visit http://www.nist.gov/mep/upload/External-Competition-Questions.pdf

The full announcement can be reviewed at http://www.nist.gov/mep/state-competitions.cfm



House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) addressed the Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2014 Energy Conference to share his new vision for America’s energy policy – the Architecture of Abundance. Upton outlined the five pillars needed to construct this new architecture:

  • Modernizing infrastructure with targeted changes to federal laws that provide certainty, predictability and fairness;
  • Maintaining diverse electricity generation by supporting reliable power for everyone; 
  • Permitting a new manufacturing renaissance by assuring manufacturers and other energy intensive industries have the confidence to make multi-billion dollar, long-term investments to plan for new or changing regulatory requirements;
  • Harnessing energy efficiency and innovation by prioritizing efficiency legislation that helps to save taxpayer dollars with no costs or mandates and updating laws that haven’t adapted to today’s new  energy realities; and,
  • Unleashing energy diplomacy by making sure our current laws are not creating artificial barriers to the market and conducting oversight to ensure increased exports do no harm to American consumers.

He described a number of steps the House has already taken toward constructing a 21st century energy policy, and expressed optimism for the future in achieving bipartisan success. 

Chairman Upton’s complete remarks are available at: http://energycommerce.house.gov/press-release/upton-unveils-energy-policy-vision-pillars-architecture-abundance



A recent study conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for the U.S. Department of Energy, the “New Stream-reach Development Resource Assessment”,
finds that 61 gigawatts (GW) of hydroelectric power potential exist at waterways without existing dams or diversion facilities. This value excludes Alaska, Hawaii, and federally protected lands. ORNL's hydropower resource estimates contrast with the 2 GW of additional hydropower capacity projected to be added through 2040 in the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)'s latest Annual Energy Outlook (AEO2014) Reference case. The difference in the two sets of numbers represents the significant gap between technical potential on the one hand and economic and operational potential on the other hand.

ORNL's assessment used topographical, hydropower, hydrologic, and environmental datasets to assess the energy density at stream reaches (segments), while spatially linking to each stream's respective ecological, social, cultural, policy, and legal constraints. The report quantified the technical resource capacity available at more than three million U.S. streams, qualifying its findings by saying "the methodology alone does not produce estimates of generation, cost, or potential impacts of sufficient accuracy to determine project-specific feasibility or to justify investments."

Hydro resource studies typically estimate potential hydropower capacity by resource class: undeveloped sites without dams (new stream reach); existing dams without hydroelectric facilities, or non-powered dams (NPDs); and existing hydroelectric facilities with potential for additional generating capacity. In addition to its current study of undeveloped sites, in 2012 ORNL completed a DOE-sponsored assessment of NPDs. In that report, ORNL estimated that non-powered dams could contribute as much as 12 GW of additional hydroelectric capacity. In addition to the first two resource classes, EIA's AEO2014 also considers 1.4 GW of potential from the third resource class—expansion of existing hydroelectric facilities.

Although resource potential quantifies maximum feasible capacity additions, EIA's AEO2014 Reference case also considers market and policy hurdles that can limit actual development of a new hydroelectric power plant. These include economic factors, performance characteristics, federal regulations, electricity demand, and the cost of
competing sources for new generation. Because hydropower is a mature technology, most of the technically and economically superior sites have already been developed.

The 234-page study is available at: http://nhaap.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/ORNL_NSD_FY14_Final_Report.pdf


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 810
Washington, DC 20036
Website: http://www.asme.org/about-asme/advocacy-government-relations

  • Melissa Carl covers public policy-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and diversity issues for ASME. She can be reached at carlm@asme.org
  • Paul Fakes covers public policy-related energy, standards and environmental issues for ASME. He can be reached at fakesp@asme.org
  • Roy Chrobocinski covers public policy-related research and development (R&D) and manufacturing issues for ASME. He can be reached at chrobocinski@asme.org