March 10, 2017
Capitol Update

In this issue:


HOUSE ENERGY & COMMERCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES GRID MODERNIZATION

The House Energy & Commerce Committee recently held a hearing focused on the challenges and opportunities associated with modernizing the nation’s energy grid. Witnesses, who were from General Electric, the National Electric Contractors Association, GridWise Alliance, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Laborers' International Union of North America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and others, provided insights on what grid infrastructure modernization means to their segments of the U.S. energy landscape.

Energy Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) noted that recent increases in oil and gas production have been a boon to the economy, but have also revealed bottlenecks and capacity constraints in the energy infrastructure system. He further noted that the grid faces a number of challenges associated with the growing penetration of renewables like wind, solar, and distributed energy, and that while federal incentives have contributed to this trend, states have been active in developing subsidies and mandates to incentivize renewables.

The first panel of witnesses focused on the need to modernize the electric grid and develop solutions to strengthen security, improve efficiency, and reduce costs using digital technologies, while still ensuring that the grid is resilient and secure. The second panel focused on the need to modernize the nation’s transportation, storage and distribution infrastructure, including pipelines, especially since there is a new urgency to improve the siting and permitting process for pipelines driven by the domestic oil and gas boom.

The hearing archived webcast and witness statements are available here: https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings-and-votes/hearings/modernizing-energy-and-electricity-delivery-systems-challenges-and


TASK FORCE ON AMERICAN INNOVATION ENCOURAGES INVESTMENT IN BASIC RESEARCH

ASME is an active participant in a number of non-partisan coalitions advocating for U.S. leadership in technological innovation. One of such coalitions is the Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), which lists over 30 members that represent a broad swathe of business, trade groups, scientific and engineering societies, and university organizations that support federally-funded scientific and engineering research and promote its benefits to America's economy, security, and quality of life.

TFAI through the use of social media, such as @InnovTaskForce on Twitter and other avenues, has highlighted the plight of federal research investments being limited when they were responsible in part for the explosive growth of the 20th century. Per 2016 data from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the percentage of GDP invested in federal R&D today is at its lowest point since 1976. Approximately 0.78% of GDP was invested in research in 2016, as compared to 1.23% of GDP in 1976. This percentage is projected to decrease further in 2017 to 0.75%.

The task force also recently wrote to The Honorable Mick Mulvaney, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who is assisting the President in proposing his FY 2018 budget. This letter strongly urged him to make federal investments in basic scientific research a top priority, particularly at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, the Department of Defense (DOD), NASA, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

For more information about the Task Force for the Future of American Innovation, go to: https://www.innovationtaskforce.org

To review ASME’s position statements, including coalition letters, please visit: https://www.asme.org/about-asme/participate/advocacy-government-relations/policy-publications/position-statements


NAE RELEASES REPORT ON ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY

Traditional engineers and engineering technologists are those who help build and keep the nation’s technological and infrastructure systems running. Engineering technology (ET) is divided into those with 4 year and 2 year degrees. A National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded report by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) looks at workers in the ET field and how they play an important role in supporting U.S. technical infrastructure and innovation.

The report found that 30 percent of the nearly 250 respondents of a survey of employers of engineering technicians and technologists had never heard of ET education and did not know the difference between work performed by engineers and work performed by engineering technologists. It was recommended that the ET education community should consider ways to make the field’s value more evident to K-12 teachers, students, and parents, as well as to employers. Another recommendation was that the NSF should fund research on factors affecting matriculation, retention, and graduation in ET.

“The U.S. innovation economy, like all others in the world, depends on its highly educated engineers, engineering technologists, and technicians,” said NAE President Dan Mote.  “This report spurs both greater understanding of the contributions of workers with ET-skills and further expansion of ET education in the U.S.”

The report is available at: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23402/engineering-technology-education-in-the-united-states


CBO’S BUDGET AND ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: 2017-2027

In late January, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2017 to 2027, and it shows that for the first time since 2009, the federal budget deficit has increased in relation to the nation’s economic output. Those accumulating deficits would drive debt held by the public from its already high level up to its highest percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since shortly after World War II.

The budget deficit for 2017 is $559 billion, or 2.9 percent of GDP—less than the $587 billion deficit posted in 2016. Both totals, however, are affected by shifts in the timing of some payments. Without further legislative changes, both revenues and outlays (adjusted to eliminate the timing shifts) are projected to rise by about 4 percent this year. Higher receipts from individual income taxes would be responsible for much of the projected revenue increase, and net interest payments would be the fastest-growing component of the increase in spending.

In CBO’s baseline projections, budget deficits remain below 3.0 percent of GDP through 2019. However, continued growth in spending—particularly for Social Security, Medicare, and net interest—would outstrip growth in revenues, resulting in larger deficits and increasing debt. By 2027, the deficit would reach 5.0 percent of GDP—$1.4 trillion.

The Trump administration has announced it will release to Congress the FY18 “skinny” budget outline on March 16. It will reduce nondefense spending, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State Department, in order to pay for a 10 percent increase in defense spending in FY 2018. It will show an increase for defense spending to $603 billion, which includes the $5 billion that the President would move from nondefense accounts such as foreign aid.  

The CBO report can be found at: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52370


NASA CONDUCTS FEASIBILITY STUDY TO ADD CREW TO EM1

Under the Trump Administration, NASA was requested to do a feasibility study to determine the amount of additional time and money that would be needed to add on a crew to First Orion, Exploration Mission 1 (EM1), or to accelerate Space Launch System (SLS) Mission, Exploration Mission (EM2), planned for August of 2021. First Orion is meant for deep space. The feasibility study includes astronauts with preliminary findings expected within the March timeframe.

Additionally, NASA is encouraged that they have been given the opportunity to do this study and has no preconceived notion as to what will happen. However, it believes it is in the realm of possibility to add a crew of two to EM1. It will look at the benefits and risks of doing so, especially for astronauts.

To listen to the 30 minute call discussing this subject that is available until March 24, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive and dial 888-335-7273 and put in passcode 22417.


SENATORS ANNOUNCE JOINT EFFORT ON SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES

Chairman John Thune (R-SD) of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), who also sits on the committee and is a cofounder of the bipartisan Senate Smart Transportation Caucus, are working together to identify areas where Congress should assist innovators in bringing new technologies to our roadways.

Current federal vehicle safety standards reference placement of driver controls and other systems that assume a human operator, but would inhibit innovation or create hazards for self-driving vehicles. Finding ways to improve regulatory flexibility for testing and development of self-driving vehicles without changes to regulations that would affect conventional autos is a goal of any joint bill they plan to introduce this year. This realization came after discussions on the existing patchwork of laws and regulations and the traditional roles of federal and state regulators.

Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, speaking before the National Governors Association, said that the federal role in this emerging technology is still in its infancy with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issuing a Federal Automated Vehicles Policy this past September as a guide. The document covers many areas, including testing automated vehicles, licensing operators, registering vehicles and establishing the legal framework under which these vehicles will operate. The Trump Administration is reevaluating this guidance and will consult with stakeholders as updates are made.

Additional information about the Committee’s work on self-driving cars is available at:

http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings?ID=C1BE704F-8D6B-43C6-B472-858C6B457E86

Visit the ASME Public Policy Education Center at http://ppec.asme.org/ for daily news and policy developments, including the following:

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Website: http://www.asme.org/about-asme/advocacy-government-relations