Washington Updates

2013 Washington Updates

The OSA Public Policy staff is pleased to provide you with Washington Updates, where you will find up-to-date information on legislation, events, and other activities happening in Washington, D.C. that affect the optics and photonics community. We welcome your feedback on any of these issues and invite you to use the comment section included with each post. You can also contact the OSA government relations team directly if you'd like more information on a particular article.
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Congress Passes Bipartisan Budget Deal

The House passed a bipartisan budget deal last week that was co-written by Republican Paul Ryan, and Democrat Patty Murray. The Senate voted on the bill this week, and it passed by a majority.  President Obama has suggested that he will sign the bill into law.

This legislation is an attempt to avoid future government shutdowns, and outlines the federal budget for the next two fiscal years. The budget deal sets discretionary spending at over $1 trillion, and replaces the budget cuts that would have taken place in January as a result of the sequester. This deal does not, however, address the debt ceiling.  Congress will have to revisit the debt ceiling issue by January 15th, 2014. 

President Obama called this budget deal “a good first step away from shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served to act as a drag on our economy."

Posted: December 20, 2013

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Congress Passed Defense Department Reauthorization

Last week, the House passed the Defense Authorization bill before the members returned to their districts for the remainder of the year. The bill is a compromise bill drafted by House and Senate Armed Services Panel designed to move quickly through both chambers without amendments.

The defense authorization bill addresses a wide range of military issues, including sexual assault, Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and operations in Afghanistan.  The bill also outlines how much the Pentagon can spend, which has decreased significantly compared to last year, reflecting that the war in Afghanistan is winding down. 

The bill now faces the Senate, where it is expected to pass, although possibly not without resistance.  Senate Republicans are unhappy that the process of passing this bill has been accelerated, and there has been little time for amendments.

There are few policy disagreements in the Senate regarding the bill, but timing could be an issue.  The Senate has recently changed filibuster rules, which sparked debate about minority party rights in Congress.  The Senate also has executive and judicial nominees to approve, so there are a number of items to discuss before adjourning for the holidays.  

Posted: December 19, 2013

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Congress Members Aim to Reauthorize the America COMPETES Act

The America COMPETES Act is a law that provides funding for research and education through the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  The Act expired on September 30th, and Congress is discussing its reauthorization.

The America COMPETES Act was signed into law by President Bush in 2007 with the goal of improving America’s competitiveness by investing in science and technology innovation.  The Act set forth policy goals for science research and doubled the budgets of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.   These funds were earmarked for innovative research and efforts in the education of STEM professionals, though funding has never reached the ambitious levels set forth by the Act.

In an aim to reauthorize, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee divided the Act into two parts.  The first focused on the DOE Office of Science, while the second focused on NSF and NIST.  Drafts were proposed on October 30th and November 13th respectively.  This draft legislation, known as the Frontiers in Innovative Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act, attempts to improve transparency by making available information to the public about research funded by tax payer money.

The committee is still in the process of reviewing options for reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act.

Posted: December 4, 2013

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New Presidential Appointments in the Department of Energy

President Obama announced three nominations last week for key appointments in the Department of Energy.

Ellen Williams was nominated to be the Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Department of Energy.  Williams spent three decades teaching as a professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, specializing in nanotechnology.  In 2010, Williams took a leave of absence from the University and accepted a position as Chief Scientist at British Petroleum.  Just three months after accepting the position, the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.  Immediately following this catastrophe, Williams focused her research on deep water drilling in order to prevent a similar situation in the future.  During her time at BP, Williams also conducted research in strategic technology, working to achieve more sustainable and environmentally-friendly energy.

The President has nominated Franklin Orr to be the Under Secretary for Science and Energy.  Currently, Orr is the Director of the Precourt Institute of Energy at Stanford University, where he is also a professor and dean.  A member of the Stanford faculty since 1985, the applications of Orr’s research includes ways to reduce greenhouse gas emission.  Orr is also the recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award for Petroleum Engineering Faculty from the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). Orr’s new role at the Department of Energy will entail supporting energy research around the country, and furthering its applications.

Marc Kastner was nominated to be the Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy.  Kastner earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago, and is now a dean and professor at MIT’s School of Science.  If confirmed, Kastner will manage the Department of Energy’s science portfolio, as well as its relationships with national laboratories.

Posted: November 27, 2013


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Congress Approves Helium Reserve Extension

This week, the U.S. Congress passed legislation - H.R. 527, the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act – delaying the scheduled closure of the National Helium Reserve. The Federal Helium Reserve has maintained a vast supply of the nonrenewable gas since the 1960s and provides about one third of the world’s helium supply. However, in 1996, Congress passed a law requiring that the helium reserve must be sold off by 2014 in order pay a $1.3 billion debt to the U.S. Treasury. This has resulted in helium is being sold at about half of its market value. At current rates not all of the helium will be sold by the target date, leaving a large supply of helium still in the ground but no one with authority to access it.

Helium is used in a variety of scientific applications, ranging from medical devices, to welding, to optical fibers. H.R. 527 seeks to sell off the helium in the Reserve more judiciously and promote market-based reforms. Under the new law, helium sales from the reserve will now be made through market-based auctions designed to sell off supplies more judiciously, and federal involvement will cease by September 30, 2021.

OSA had been active in calling on Congress to address the impending deadline and the potential shortage it would create, including signing on to several multi-society letters to lawmakers. The final bill ultimately passed through both the House and Senate with nearly unanimous support.

Posted: September 27, 2013

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OSA Members Stump for Optics and Photonics on the Hill

On September 18 and 19, OSA, in partnership with SPIE organized a Capitol Hill Day to promote the recently launched National Photonics Initiative (NPI) to the U.S. Congress. In total, more than 30 participants from all over the country visited 45 congressional offices to discuss the need for coordinated investments in optics and photonics, the goals of the NPI, and the importance of the industry to the member’s local economy.

After an in depth training session on Wednesday, September 18, groups spent a full day Thursday, September 19 on Capitol Hill meeting with science policy staffers from targeted cluster states – including New York, California, New Mexico, Florida, and Michigan. The overall response from the offices was positive, including a number of Members who expressed an interest in joining a Congressional Photonics Caucus or touring optics facilities in their districts.

What participants had to say:

“I was inspired, and I believe many of my colleagues were too, at the reception we received from the congressional and senatorial staffers,” said OSA President Elect Phil Bucksbaum (Stanford). “In more than one office (and I visited eight in one day!), we received interest, involvement, and even advice from Legislative Directors and Aides who are in the eye of the Capitol Hill storm.  The contacts made will help start and build relationships that will be critical for the success of NPI.”

“The National Photonics Initiative is one of the great opportunities of this century for our country and it is important to spread that message,” said Neil Ball (Directed Light), a member of the NPI Subcommittee on Advanced Manufacturing. “The power of light and its ability to provide solutions to many different sectors of industry shows how vital this technology is to all of us. Advanced Manufacturing, Energy, Health Sciences, Telecommunications, and our Nation’s Defense all rely on lasers and photonics to improve the quality of our lives and aid in keeping us safe.”
 

Over the next few months, OSA and SPIE will be working with to fine tune the NPI policy recommendations and develop concrete requests related to photonics R&D, education and infrastructure investments and programs.

Posted: September 26, 2013

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White House Launches New Small Business Contractors Platform

In an effort to make competing for government IT contracts easier for small businesses, the U.S. Administration has unveiled a new pilot program called RFP-EZ. The online platform allows small to mid-sized technology companies to create searchable profiles and submit project proposals electronically. The White House’s Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park, called the program a “win-win” in a blog post discussing the project, saying:

"Small technology companies get easier access to the Federal Government’s nearly $77 billion information technology supply chain, providing a potentially critical revenue stream as they build their operations. And government agencies get to work with innovative small firms with solutions that can help make government agencies more efficient and streamlined."

According to Park, the RFP-EZ project has already saved the government money. During the initial trail stages, the developers posted five contract offerings, four of which were also posted on the standard contracting portal, FedBizOps.  On a per-project basis, bids received through RFP-EZ were consistently lower than those received through FedBizOps—19% to 41% lower, and over 30% lower on average. The new program also produced bids that showed less overall variation, and attracted more than 270 businesses that were new to government contracting.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget estimates the Federal Government will spend more than $1.4 billion on Web infrastructure and content management systems in fiscal year 2014, about half of which are expected to be eligible for contracting under RFP-EZ. Businesses can participate by setting up a profile in the RFP-EZ online system.

Posted: June 18, 2013

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White House Revises Federal Travel Spending Guidelines

On May 28, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a statement to all U.S. Federal agencies regarding recently instituted travel and conference spending restrictions – encouraging agencies to still provide employees with funding for travel to scientific and other “mission-related” meetings. These changes come one year after the OMB – in response to reports that the U.S. Government Services Administration spent over $800,000 on a lavish employee conference in Las Vegas – instructed all agencies to reduce their total 2013 travel spending by 30%, set in place new deputy secretary level review requirements, and capped conference spending on any one event to $500,000.

Many members of the scientific community, including OSA, expressed concern that these restrictions would significantly hamper the ability of scientists and engineers to participate in scientific and technical conferences – therefore missing out on valuable opportunities to hear the latest developments in their field, collaborate with other experts, experience new technologies first-hand, and advance their work. The new communication from OMB is aimed at addressing these concerns and providing clarification to federal agencies that significantly limiting or preventing employee participation in these types of activities was not the intention of the original guidelines.

According to the clarifying statement, OMB expressly encourages continued agency participation in mission-related conferences, stating:

 “As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical for each agency to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in Government operations…Several agencies rely on meetings with industry and academic colleagues to drive innovation and ensure continued advancement in related fields. Each agency needs to focus any conference and travel spending on mission-critical activities and to ensure any related spending is an effective and efficient use of Federal funds.”

A copy of the OMB clarification statement is available online via the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives, and the initial travel guidelines are available on the OMB website.

Posted: June 5, 2013

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National Photonics Initiative Launched

On May 23, OSA, along with co-sponsors, the American Physical Society (APS), IEEE Photonics Society, the Laser Institute of America (LIA), and SPIE, announced the roll-out of a National Photonics Initiative (NPI). The NPI was a key recommendation of the recent National Research Council report Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation – which called for a national effort to regain U.S. leadership in key photonic-driven fields.

In response to that call OSA and its fellow society partners brought together over 100 experts to government collaborated to draft a white paper entitled “Lighting the Path to a Competitive, Secure Future,” detailing  recommendations to help guide US funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields – energy, health & medicine, communications & IT, manufacturing, and defense & national security.

Moving forward, the goal of the NPI will be to raise awareness about photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; increase collaboration and coordination among U.S. industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and drive U.S. funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security. More information is available on the NPI website, www.lightourfuture.org, or in the NPI Roll-Out Webinar recording.

In addition to the society sponsors, collaborators on the NPI white paper include the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA), the National Academy of Sciences, the Stanford Photonics Research Center (SPRC), Laser Mechanisms, the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS), and Infinera.

Posted: May 24, 2013

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New U.S. Secretary of Energy Begins Term

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a new leader, as Ernest Moniz was sworn in as the 13th Secretary of Energy on May 21. Moniz, who holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Boston College and a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Stanford University, is replacing fellow physicist – and OSA Fellow and Honorary Member – Steven Chu, who stepped down from the position in February.

For Moniz, the post marks a return to public service – he served as DOE Undersecretary from 1997 to 2001, where he was responsible for overseeing the agency’s science and energy programs and as the Associate Director for Science in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from 1995 to 1997. Additionally, Moniz has been a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) since 1973, where he headed the Department of Physics and the Bates Linear Accelerator Center, and most recently, served as the founding Director of the MIT Energy Initiative and the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

Moniz was unanimously confirmed to the Secretary position by the U.S. Senate on May 16. He was sworn in May 21 by DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman at a ceremony for DOE employees. Photos from the event are available on the DOE website.

Posted: May 23, 2013

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Multi-Agency Optics & Photonics Committee Launched

In early May, the U.S. National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) established a Fast-Track Action Committee on Optics and Photonics (FTAC-OP), with representatives from the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Energy, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the White House Offices of Management and Budget and Science and Technology.

FTAC-OP will build off of the findings in the 2012 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) optics and photonics report to identify research areas of interest, opportunities for collaboration, and mechanisms for interagency coordination; as well as make prioritized research and research organization recommendations to the NSTC Committee on Science Physical Sciences Subcommittee. According to their charter, specific goals of the FTAC-OP will be to:
  1. Identify cross-cutting areas of optics and photonics research that, with interagency cooperation, could benefit the US based on challenges and recommendations described in the 2012 NAS report;
  2. Prioritize these research areas for possible Federal investment; and
  3. As appropriate, to set long-term, outcome oriented goals for Federal optics and photonics research.
Specific details regarding the committee’s timeline and operations have not yet been announced, but the charter runs for four months – unless extended by the NSTC. OSA is involved in achieving similar goals through its efforts to create a National Photonics Initiative, which is scheduled to launch in late May.

Posted: May 16, 2013

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Obama Administration Launches Three New Manufacturing Innovation Institutes

On May 9, U.S. President Barack Obama announced competitions to form three new manufacturing innovation institutes – with a $200 million Federal investment from across the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The institutes are a follow on to an additive manufacturing center in Youngstown, Ohio, and are part of the Administration’s goal to create a National Network for Manufacturing (NNMI) – consisting of 15 manufacturing institutes nationwide.

Two of the new institutes will be led by the Department of Defense (DOD), and one by the Department of Energy (DOE), and each represent technology areas that the Federal government has identified as having broad commercial applications but meet critical mission needs. The three topic areas are:
  • Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDI) – Led by the DOD, the DMDI will focus on the development of novel model-based design methodologies, virtual manufacturing tools, sensor and robotics based manufacturing networks. The ultimate goal is to create advanced design and manufacturing tools that are digitally integrated and networked with supply chains. The DMDI Institute will be established by formal solicitation through the Army Contracting Command - Redstone in support of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) located at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. The DOD has sent out a request for information (RFI) to solicit input on potential technologies. The deadline to respond is June 6, 2013.
     
  • Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing (LM3I) – Led by the DOD, the LM3I will focus on the development of advanced lightweight metals for components and products, leading to reductions in manufacturing and energy costs. The institute will scale-up research to accelerate market expansion for products such as wind turbines, medical devices, engines, armored combat vehicles, and airframes. The LM3I will be established by formal solicitation through the Contracting Department of the Office of Naval Research located in Arlington, Virginia. The DOD has sent out an RFI to solicit input on potential technologies. The deadline to respond is June 3, 2013.
     
  • Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing – Led by the DOE, this Clean Energy Manufacturing Institute (CEMI) will focus on wide bandgap semiconductor based power electronic devices.  The goal is to increase the use of wide bandgap technologies over silicon-based technologies, enabling more compact and efficient power electronic devices for electric vehicles, renewable power interconnection, industrial-scale variable speed drive motors and a smarter more flexible grid; in addition to high-performance defense applications. DOE has sent out a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to solicit partners. Interested parties must submit a letter of intent by July 11, 2013 and their full application by August 29, 2013.
All three institutes will be selected through an open, competitive process, led by the Departments of Energy and Defense, with review from a multi-agency team of technical experts. Winning teams will be selected and announced later this year. Federal funds will be matched by industry co-investment, support from state and local governments, and other sources. Industry days for the DOD institutes are currently being planned, with award of cooperative agreements targeted for late 2013. Solicitation information will be posted on www.grants.gov and www.fedbizopps.gov as it becomes available. Organizations interested in partnering with the DOE institute can apply via their FOA on the DOE website.

Additional manufacturing institutes may be launched next year, pending Congressional approval of the President’s $1 billion funding request in the fiscal year 2014 budget. Members can contact their legislators in support of this funding request using OSA’s online policy action center, or by emailing public-policy@osa.org to schedule in person meetings. Over the last year, OSA and OIDA have been advocating for at least one institute with a focus on an optics technology, including submitted responses to two RFIs related to the NNMI program, attending meetings and holding discussions within the community regarding a possible NNMI institute in optics.

Posted: May 10, 2013

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White House Launches New STEM Education Community Service Program

On April 22, during the third annual White House Science Fair, U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to create a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps is a U.S. federal program that runs community service programs in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. It is similar to the Peace Corps, but operates only domestically.

The new STEM AmeriCorps initiative is a partnership between nonprofit organizations and the U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) a federal agency that oversees numerous public service programs – including AmeriCorps – and will place service members in nonprofits that mobilize STEM professionals to inspire young people to excel in STEM education. As the first step, starting this year 50 AmeriCorps members will be placed at FIRST – a nonprofit organization that sponsors robotics competitions and other technology challenges. Members will also partner with other nonprofits in the Maker Movement – a grassroots movement that encourages consumers to build their own products – which will lay the foundation for a future AmeriCorps STEM competition.

The program is part of the President’s Educate to Innovate campaign, which includes numerous programs designed to increase student interest in STEM fields.

Posted: April 26, 2013

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White House Hosts 3rd Annual Science Fair

On April 22, the White House played host to young scientists and inventors at the 3rd annual White House Science Fair. The event featured 100 students from more than 40 states, all of whom were winners of 45 different science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions and organizations from across the United States.

President Obama spent the afternoon viewing projects and presentations from nearly 30 student teams, including portable wind mills, algae-based biofuels, robotic arms, and a bicycle-powered water filtration system. Celebrities Bill Nye the Science Guy and LeVar Burton were also on hand, touring the exhibits and interviewing the students.

During his remarks at the events, President Obama stressed the need to promote and strengthen STEM education, saying “So we need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve.”
A transcript of the President’s remarks can be found on the White House’s website, along with a complete list of the 2013 Science Fair participants and videos from the event.

Posted: April 23, 2013

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White House's 2014 Budget Request Unveiled

On April 10, U.S. President Barack Obama released his fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request. The request provides for sustained funding levels for most science, technology, and innovation programs, and increases and new funding for others. The President is proposing $142.8 billion in total research and development (R&D) investments and $3.1 billion in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education initiatives. The President’s budget also proposes replacing the deep across-the-board spending cuts (“the sequester”) that took effect March 1, with a mix of tax reforms, changes to entitlement programs, and target cuts throughout the federal government.

Top-line budget requests for key science and technology related agencies are as follows:
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) - $7.6 billion
  • National Institute of Standards in Technology (NIST) - $754 million
  • Department of Energy (DOE) office of Science - $5 billion
  • Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) - $379 million
  • Department of Defense (DOD) R&D and test evaluation programs - $67.5 billion
    • $12 billion for DOD science and technology (S&T) programs
      • $2.9 billion for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
      • $2.1 billion for basic research (6.1) programs
      • $4.6 billion for applied research (6.2) programs
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - $5.4 billion
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - $17.7 billion
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) - $31 billion
The President’s request also includes a number of inter-agency R&D, manufacturing, and STEM Ed initiatives. Highlights include:
  • Budget would expand, and make permanent the Research & Experimentation Tax Credit (also known as the “R&D tax credit”)
  • $1 billion for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), to develop up to 15 regional  manufacturing innovation institutes
  • $100 million for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative
  • $123 million for programs to improve retention of undergrads in STEM fields
  • $65 million for NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program, which focuses on training technicians for high-tech jobs
  • $80 million for STEM teacher training programs
Over the coming months, Congress will begin drafting and debating FY 2014 appropriations bills, taking the President’s budget request into consideration. The process must be completed by September 30, when the current fiscal year ends. Interested parties can use OSA’s easy online Legislative Action Center to send a letter to Congress in support of the President’s request. Our online budget tracker is also available, to follow the appropriations process as it moves through both chambers and compare FY 2014’s top-line numbers to previous years.

Posted: April 12, 2013

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President Obama Proposes Brain Research Initiative

U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday unveiled plans for a new Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative – a $100 million proposed research investment aimed at increasing our understanding of the human brain and discovering ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury. The Initiative is part of the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget request, which he will introduce to Congress April 10.  If fully funded, the program would allocate approximately $50 million to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), $40 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and $20 million to the National Science Foundation (NSF). In his introductory remarks, President Obama identified the BRAIN Initiative as one of the Administration’s “Grand Challenges” – national goals that require advances in science and technology to achieve.

Optical scientists and engineers play an important role in research areas that would be supported by the BRAIN Initiative, including optogenetics and medical imaging. As such, OSA CEO Elizabeth Rogan testified last month before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies to call for sustained federal investments in research and development (R&D) funding in these, and other, areas.

Posted: April 3, 2013

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OSA's CEO Makes the Case for Science Funding on the Hill

OSA’s CEO Elizabeth Rogan testified on Capitol Hill today in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, Justice and Related Agencies (CJS), in support of continued research and development (R&D) funding, especially for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards (NIST). The CJS subcommittee has jurisdiction over NIST and NSF’s budgets, as well as NASA and NOAA.

Her testimony focused on the importance of sustained, long-term federal investments in science research – and optics and photonics in particular – that drives manufacturing, innovation, improved communications technologies, increased solar energy efficiency, and much more. She also referenced the recent National Academy of Sciences landmark report Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation, and OSA’s multi-society efforts to carry out its key recommendation of creating a National Photonics Initiative (NPI).

The subcommittee hearing was focused on the fiscal year 2014 budget, and is designed to allow representatives from relevant organizations to share their insights. Rogan’s full testimony is available on the OSA website. More information about the hearing and the appropriations process is available on the Appropriations Committee’s website.

Posted: March 21, 2013

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FY 2013 Funding Measures Moving Through Congress

Both chambers of the U.S. Congress have been hard at work recently to pass a spending package for the remainder of 2013 and avoid a government shutdown. Currently, the Federal Government is operating under a continuing resolution, which expires on March 27. The stopgap measure was passed last fall when Congress was unable to complete the appropriations process for fiscal year 2013.

The House of Representatives passed a version of the FY 13 continuing resolution (CR) March 6. Their measure – which the Administration voiced disapproval of – sets new funding guidelines for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, while extending current spending levels at all other agencies. The bill sets total discretionary spending at $984 billion, and maintains the across-the-board cuts (aka “sequestration”) imposed under the Budget Control Act of 2011 that took effect March 1. However, the measure would give additional flexibility to defense programs in implementing those cuts. The flexibility was not extended to non-defense spending.

The Senate began consideration of their 2013 funding bill last week, with votes on final passage except in the coming days. Nearly 100 amendments have been submitted, which the chamber is still working out an agreement on how to proceed with. The Senate CR expands on the House passed version, but maintains the same overall spending levels. Their measure would add new appropriations levels for Defense, Veterans, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Homeland Security agencies, while extending current budgets for all others. Included in the new appropriations is a $221 million increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to allow for 550 new research grants and an increase of $43 million for the Nation Institute of Standards in Technology’s (NIST) laboratories and technical research programs. The bill also provides greater flexibility to all agencies in implementing the $85 billion in cuts under sequestration.

Once the Senate passage is complete, the two chambers will conference on the two bills and reconcile differences, likely using the Senate language as the basis for discussion. A final package will need to pass both chambers and be signed by the President prior to March 27, when the government’s current spending authority expires.

Posted: March 19, 2013

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U.S. House to Establish Science Competition

The U.S. House of Representatives last week voted to establish an annual academic competition, designed to promote student involvement in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The Academic Competition Resolution of 2013 (H.Res.77) – introduced by Representatives Candice Miller (R-MI) and Robert Brady (D-PA) – will set up a House-wide STEM competition for students across the country. The program will be modeled on the annual Congressional Art Competition, allowing Members to host an annual contest in their districts. Winning entries will then be recognized by the House.

The White House also holds an annual STEM completion – The White House Science Fair – which was established in 2010. Participants in that program are winners of various STEM competitions throughout the country.

Posted: March 8, 2013

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Visa Reform for STEM Grads Introduced in U.S. Senate

A bipartisan group of Senators, led by Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation this week designed to increase access to visas for high-skilled immigrants working in the science and technology fields. The bill proposes to immediately increase the cap on H-1B visas – which are solely for high-skilled immigrants – from 65,000 a year to 115,000 a year, and would create a market-based system to increase the visa cap as needed, up to 300,000 per year. Spouses of the H-1B visa holders would also be able to work, and the reforms would make it easier for visa holders to change jobs.

The bill also proposes changes to the existing permanent resident green card system to ensure more green cards go to those in the science and technology fields, including making an unlimited number available to foreign graduates for U.S. universities who have earned advance degrees in STEM fields.

Earlier in the week, a group of eight Senators, led by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) unveiled a blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform. Their plan refers to the need for changes for high-skilled immigrants, but does not give specific proposals.

Posted: February 1, 2013

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2013 Senate Committees Overview

The 113th Congress has officially begun, with over a dozen new Senators headed to Capitol Hill. To help you keep track of the changes and get a sense of what is in store for the new term, the OSA public policy team has put together this Senate committee-by-committee guide.

Posted: January 22, 2013

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Congress Puts Off Automatic Spending Cuts

The United States Congress rang in 2013 in session, voting on legislation designed the avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” – a combination of mandated across the board discretionary spending cuts and the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts, both set to take effect on January 1, 2013. Under the deal, implementation of the discretionary spending cuts (also known as “sequestration”) will be delayed until March 1, 2013, giving Congress more time to reach a broader spending agreement. The cuts were initially created under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) as an incentive for Congress to reach a deficit reduction plan; they were only “triggered” because no agreement was reached.

The “fiscal cliff” legislation however does include a measure that lowers discretionary spending caps – also put in place by the 2011 BCA – by $12 billion over the next two years. Unlike the sequester however, the reductions do not take effect all at once. Instead, FY 2013 discretionary spending will be cut by $4 billion, and FY 2014 by $8 billion, divided equally both years between defense and nondefense spending.  Enforcement of the reductions will begin on March 27, 2013, at the same time the current government spending authority under last year’s continuing resolution expires. This means Congress will be able to target the cuts toward specific programs, rather than the blanket approach that would be taken under sequestration.

In good news for science and technology however, the measure extends the R&D tax credit through 2013. President Obama, in his statement on the deal, also reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to research and innovation, saying “we can't keep cutting things like basic research and new technology and still expect to succeed in a 21st century economy.”

Other provisions in the legislation include extending the Bush-era tax rates for individual incomes below $400,000 and family incomes below $450,000, increasing tax rates for capital gains, extending unemployment benefits, a one-year farm bill, and extensions of several education-related tax provisions.

Posted: January 3, 2013

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2013 House Committees Overview

The 113th Congress will be sworn in on January 3, 2013, and leadership from both parties are beginning to shape the new Congress with the selection of committee Chairs and Ranking Members. To help you keep track of what is in store for the upcoming term, the OSA public policy team has put together a committee-by-committee guide for the U.S. House of Representatives, please note that full committee rosters and some leadership positions are still being finalized. A Senate version will follow in the coming days.

Posted: January 2, 2013


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