March 4, 2016
Capitol Update

In this issue:


SENATORS PUSH ENERGY REFORM, RESEARCH AT ARPA-E SUMMIT

Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) highlighted key energy innovation provisions from the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012) at the sixth annual Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Summit this week. The three-day conference brings together government agencies, industry, technical experts, policymakers, and others to focus on global energy challenges. The conference also features a technology showcase to display emerging technologies in the energy sector. 

Speaking about the future of ARPA-E, Senator Murkowski noted that the Senate’s energy package, now under consideration by the Senate, features several provisions that modernize U.S. energy policies to enable innovation and make use of new energy technologies. The bill includes a reauthorization for ARPA-E and sets a goal of raising the agencies annual budget to $375 million by 2020. ARPA-E was funded at $291 million last year.

Underscoring that budget pressures remain a challenge for increasing U.S. energy innovation research, Senator Alexander spoke about the need to reform the tax code to allow room for increased research investment. Alexander called for repealing tax subsidies for mature technologies and devoting the savings to energy research. For example, he noted that repealing oil and gas subsidies would save $24 billion over 10 years and that repealing the production tax credit for wind energy could save an additional $4 billion. 

For more on S. 2012 and other energy public policy issues, visit: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/energy/


HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING “THE SPACE LEADERSHIP PRESERVATION ACT AND THE NEED FOR STABILITY AT NASA”

On February 25, 2016, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing titled “The Space Leadership Preservation Act and the Need for Stability at NASA” to receive testimony on the legislation (H.R. 2093). That legislation was first introduced in the 112th Congress and re-introduced in the 113th and the 114th Congresses. The purpose of this hearing was to inform the Committee’s consideration of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) policies, organization, and programs.

The hearing featured input from former astronaut and first female Space Shuttle pilot and commander, Eileen Collins; former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin; and, Rep. John Culberson, author of the Space Leadership Preservation Act.

Discussion at the hearing focused on the following issues:

  • What are the key challenges facing NASA today?
  • What organizational changes might be made to ensure more stability for our nation’s civil space program?
  • Should NASA’s management structure be modeled after other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, to provide more consistency in goals and constancy of purpose?

Witnesses testified to the challenges NASA has faced due to abrupt changes with presidential transitions. Colonel Eileen Collins stated, “I believe program cancellation decisions that are made by bureaucracies, behind closed doors, and without input by the people, are divisive, damaging, cowardly, and many times more expensive in the long run.”

And former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin lamented that “the space policy changes wrought in 2010 were not proffered to or discussed with Congress, our international partners, the various stakeholders in the domestic space community, or even senior officials at NASA.”

Additional information about the hearing, including an archived webcast, is available at https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/full-committee-hearing-space-leadership-preservation-act-and-need-stability


GAO RELEASES ASSESSMENT OF NASA’S MAJOR ACQUISITION PROJECTS AND MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES

On the same day that the House Science Committee held its hearing on H.R. 2093, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its assessment of NASA’s major acquisition projects and management challenges. The proposed Space Leadership Preservation Act of 2015 is aimed, in part, at achieving greater stability at NASA. From an acquisition perspective, GAO’s prior work indicates that one of the most important factors for achieving stability is having a sound business case that balances program requirements and resources, such as technology, funding, and time.

The proposed Space Leadership Preservation Act of 2015, which includes provisions related to NASA’s leadership structure, budget development, and contracting authorities, would affect the way NASA develops its vision for space exploration and executes the projects that implement it. It could also have implications for NASA’s acquisition management, which is an area on GAO’s High Risk list. In March 2015, GAO found that projects continued a general positive trend of limiting cost and schedule growth, maturing technologies, and stabilizing designs, but that NASA faced several challenges that could affect its ability to effectively manage its portfolio.

As NASA continues its efforts to reduce acquisition risk, GAO’s ongoing and prior work highlights three areas of management challenges that, if addressed, will help the agency appropriately direct future investments:

  • Implementing Management Tools. NASA has continued to implement improved project management tools to manage acquisition risks, but these efforts have not always been consistent with best practices in areas such as cost estimating or fully addressed GAO’s prior recommendations. For example, NASA has made progress rolling out earned value management (EVM)—a key project management tool—at its centers but has not implemented formal EVM surveillance, which is considered a best practice by both NASA and GAO.
  • Demonstrating Sustained Cost and Schedule Performance. A key management challenge that NASA faces is whether the improvement in the cost and schedule performance GAO has seen in the agency's overall portfolio of major projects can be translated to large, recently baselined projects that have been added to the portfolio. This includes its human spaceflight projects, which are at critical points of implementation.
  • Long-Term Planning and Stability. NASA has established cost and schedule baselines for Space Launch System, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems—a program that is developing systems and infrastructure to support assembly, test, and launch of the Space Launch System and Orion—but the baselines provide little visibility into long-term planning and costs. NASA recently issued a strategy for its journey to Mars, but the document does not provide details on future exploration missions making it difficult to understand NASA's vision for what type and how many missions it will take to get to Mars.

To review the report, please visit: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/research-and-development/


DOE LAUNCHES $40 MILLION EFFORT TO IMPROVE MATERIALS FOR CLEAN ENERGY SOLUTIONS

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced the launch of its Energy Materials Network (EMN), a new National Laboratory-led initiative intended to help American entrepreneurs and manufacturers in the global race for clean energy. Leveraging $40 million in federal funding in its first year, EMN will focus on tackling one of the major barriers to widespread commercialization of clean energy technologies: the design, testing, and production of advanced materials. By strengthening and facilitating industry access to the unique scientific and technical advanced materials innovation resources available at DOE’s National Labs, the network will help bring these materials to market more quickly.

The network was launched at an event at the White House that was co-sponsored by DOE’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the White House National Economic Council

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is providing the funding to establish EMN’s four initial National Laboratory-led consortia and solicit proposals for collaborative R&D projects with industry and academia. Each EMN consortium will bring together National Labs, industry, and academia to focus on specific classes of materials aligned with industry’s most pressing challenges related to materials for clean energy technologies. Overall, the EMN consortia will form a network of advanced materials R&D capabilities and resources that will support the Administration’s commitment to revitalizing American manufacturing and maintaining a competitive edge in the clean energy economy.

Additional information can be found at: http://energy.gov/eere/energy-materials-network/energy-materials-network


U.S. LEADS WORLD IN WIND ENERGY PRODUCTION

The United States continues to lead the world in wind energy production according to recently released data by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Over 31 percent of Iowa’s in-state electricity generation came from wind last year – marking another major milestone. This is the first time wind has supplied a state with more than 30 percent of its annual electricity. Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota all generated more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind in 2015.

Wind produced over 190 million megawatt-hours (MWh) in the U.S. last year, enough electricity for about 17.5 million typical U.S. homes. China is close behind the U.S. at 185.1 million MWh and followed by third-place Germany at 84.6 MWh. Although China has nearly double the installed wind power capacity as the U.S., strong wind resources and production-based U.S. policy have helped build some of the most productive wind farms in the world. Upgraded transmission infrastructure in the U.S. also helps relieve congestion and bring more low-cost wind energy to the most densely populated parts of the country.

Wind energy supplied 4.7 percent of the total electricity generated in the U.S. in 2015, enough electricity to supply the equivalent of all electricity demand in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Solar energy, including utility-scale and distributed solar, generated 0.94 percent of all U.S. electricity in 2015.

Additional detailed information is available at: http://www.awea.org/MediaCenter/pressrelease.aspx?ItemNumber=8463


TEACHING INNOVATIONS SEEN AS KEY TO ENCOURAGING STEM STUDY

[This article is excerpted from the February 24, 2016 edition of “ASME SmartBrief” at https://www.asme.org/career-education/articles/career-and-education/better-approach-to-teaching-stem]
To stay competitive as a nation, the U.S. needs more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professionals who can be the next generation of scientists and engineers that create new, innovative technologies and solve world problems. It is hard to be an international leader, however, when U.S. K-12 students have poor STEM performance and a decreasing interest in STEM careers. 

As reported by the Pew Research Center, testing of 15-year-olds in dozens of countries placed the U.S. 35th out of 64 countries in math and 27th in science. In addition, fewer students are entering STEM fields, especially engineering. According to the National Science Foundation, although about one-third of all undergraduate degrees are in STEM, only five percent of them are in engineering.

Part of this poor performance results from the lack of a standard approach to recruiting, preparing, and retaining STEM teachers, which has resulted in a shortage of highly qualified instructors in these fields, which, in turn, threatens the nation's ability to compete in an innovative global economy.

Many universities have already initiated programs for training teachers to teach STEM courses, including engineering. For example, the University of Notre Dame’s Center for STEM Education provides programs for both teachers and students. The center collaborates with researchers and practitioners to help students innovate, engage, and excel in STEM. Programs include STEM summer boot camps for science and engineering that emphasize hands-on investigation and collaborative problem-solving.

For additional information on this study, go to: http://ppec.asme.org/key-issues/stem-workforce-development/


MITEI AND EXELON TO COLLABORATE ON CLEAN ENERGY RESEARCH

The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) announces that national energy provider Exelon is joining as a member company with plans to focus its research support through MITEI’s Low-Carbon Energy Centers (http://mitei.mit.edu/research/low-carbon-energy-centers) to advance key enabling technologies crucial to addressing climate change.

MITEI’s eight Low-Carbon Energy Centers—first called for in MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change in October 2015—bring together researchers from multiple disciplines at MIT to engage with companies, governmental agencies, and other stakeholders, including the philanthropic community, to develop deployable solutions through a uniquely inclusive model.

Each Center aims to advance research on solutions in a specific technology area: solar energy; energy storage; materials for energy and extreme environments; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; nuclear fission; energy bioscience; and electric power systems. Centers are led by MIT faculty directors, with broad involvement from researchers across schools and departments. Members can join one or more Centers, based on their research needs and interests, and engage by providing financial support as well as offering technical and market expertise.

Exelon and other members of the Centers participate through activities including semi-annual research development workshops for leadership and staff with MIT principal investigators to identify priority research areas, and participation in MITEI’s Annual Research Conference and Spring Symposium. Each member also has one seat on the Advisory Committee for the Centers. Membership fees will not only fund ongoing research and techno-economic analysis, but will also provide seed funding for early-stage research projects and commission white papers in areas of interest to Center members.

For more information on the Centers, including how to join, visit: mitei.mit.edu/research/low-carbon-energy-centers

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

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