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January Public Policy News

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LAME DUCK SESSION: The Lame Duck session of Congress concluded with some surprise actions. Congress passed a watered down version of the SPIE-supported America COMPETES Act of 2010, as well as a continuing resolution funding the federal government through early March 2011.

AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2010 PASSES: The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 passed the Senate in a surprise move on 17 December. The existing Senate version of the bill was altered to incorporate most Republican concerns about spending and "new" programs and the House passed the bill on a unanimous voice vote with only hours to spare before the Session ended. A comparison of House and Senate COMPETES funding is available here.

COMPETES DETAILS: COMPETES establishes authorized levels of spending for the next three fiscal years, not the five years originally requested by the House. Given the federal government's financial situation, the funding of COMPETES programs will remain up in the air - each COMPETES agency's budget will have to be appropriated by Congress in 2011. The bill added new spending components for two agencies to COMPETES - NASA (an independent agency) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce.

According to the House Republican Conference, which was critical of the bill, here are other provisions that may also be of interest to SPIE:

Increased Spending:  The bill authorizes $46 billion, which includes $7.4 billion in new spending above FY 2010 appropriated levels. Some other authorized spending items are as follow:

• Nearly $3.3 billion in new spending for DOE R&D Programs (a 14% increase over FY2010 appropriated levels)

• Over $900 million for ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy), a program not funded in the FY2010 base and controversial due to its focus on late-stage technology development and commercialization activities already supported by the private sector

• A total of $242 million for five workforce and education programs at DOE

• An increase in Federal prize competition awards from a cap of $1-3 million to upwards of $50 million.

Expanding Government: The bill would shift away from basic research and development and toward commercialization, market development, and green initiatives, including the following:

• New DOC Loan Guarantee Program for innovative manufacturing ($60 million)

• New DOC Loan Guarantee Program for science park construction and renovation that authorizes $7 million a year to cover the cost of guaranteeing $300 million in loans ($21 million);

• New DOC Regional Innovation Program to support "innovation clusters" and a New Grant program for science park infrastructure, including amounts of up to $750,000 to renovate or expand existing parks ($300 million);

• New DOC NIST Green Manufacturing and Construction Program

• New DOC NIST MEP Green Jobs Program ($21 million)

• New NSF STEM-training grant program that duplicates existing efforts ($30 million).

NIST'S TIP PROGRAM: The final COMPETES bill targets several key Administration-supported innovation initiatives - for example, the SPIE-supported Technology Innovation Program (TIP) at NIST is not mentioned in the final bill, although $45 million of "extra" funding authority appears to be available for the next Congress to consider. So too, various programs like the innovation hubs funded through the Department of Energy's ARPA-E Program are not mentioned.

DOE FUNDING: The Department of Energy's funding is also confusing - the language of the bill contained no details on which departments were being funded at what levels. The bill contained totals for the DOE Office of Science (OS) that were unchanged from those that appeared in the original House version of the bill. What this means is unclear.

ARPA-E: The original COMPETES bill had an aggressive ramp up of funding and activities for this agency. This is clearly no longer the case. In the version of the bill passed by the House ARPA-E is authorized for an annual total of $300 million for 2011, with a modest adjustment for inflation in the two out years of the authorization. This level of funding will at least serve to get the agency's programs off to a running start. Sources tell SPIE that ARPA-E funding will come out of the Office of Science budget, but we cannot confirm this at present.

HOUSE SCIENCE, SPACE & TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE: The new Republican leadership in the House announced that the House Science & Technology Committee is being renamed the "House Science, Space and Technology Committee." It appears that the new leadership Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX 4) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX 30), will be giving a stronger emphasis to NASA funding and programs in the future.

SBIR COMPROMISE REACHED? The Senate passed S. 4053 on 22 December. This compromise appears to have established a framework under which both small business and venture capital organizations will support a new reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the related STTR programs. In its waning hours, the House refused to take up the compromise bill as passed by the Senate. The SBIR authorization expires in late January. For more information, see http://www.sbircoach.com/page.aspx?page_id=35.

ADMINISTRATION'S 2012 BUDGET DELAYED: President Obama's FY 2012 Budget Proposal will be released sometime in the second week of February due to delays in Senate confirmation of the new Director of the Office of Management & Budget, Jacob Lew.

RARE EARTHS BILL DIES, WILL BE RESURRECTED NEXT YEAR: The House-passed "Rare Earths" bill (H.R. 6160) sponsored by Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) and supported by SPIE, was not taken up by the Senate during the Lame Duck session. However, sources tell SPIE that a renewed initiative - with changes - will be reintroduced in the next Session of Congress. More details on the new legislation will emerge next month when Congress reconvenes. The issue has become exacerbated, with China imposing a new export quota on rare earth metals and critical materials. China is currently the source of about 97% of global rare earths production - essential for the production of many high-tech products - although several firms in the U.S. (Molycorp), Canada, and Australia have recently announced plans to re-open mining operations for such materials.

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