By Kasey White, GSA Director for Geoscience Policy and Lindsay Davis, GSA Science Policy Fellow
The President signed the Department of Energy (DOE) Research and Innovation Act (H.R. 589) into law on 28 September 2018. Bills sponsors Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who serve as Chair and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, respectively, stressed the importance of the legislation providing comprehensive authorization of the DOE Office of Science for the first time:
“The Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act is a bipartisan bill that is the product of years of thoughtful discussion on how best to enhance innovative research at DOE. In addition to encouraging public-private partnerships to promote economic growth, the bill also establishes key research priorities that will help advance next-generation technology development in America,” said Chairman Smith. Ranking Member Johnson added that the bill “includes a number of important technology transfer provisions, would provide the first authorization of the promising Innovation Hub model for energy research, and would enable greater private sector engagement with ARPA-E. I believe each of these areas will be critical to ensuring our nation’s competitiveness and our clean energy future.”
The House of Representatives unanimously approved H.R. 589 in January 2017. A bill of the same title, S. 2503, was introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) with slight differences from the House bill. In May 2018, GSA signed a letter from the Energy Science Coalition supporting S. 2503 and urging the Senate to pass the bill and to work with the House to reach consensus. The final bill contains the following provisions:
Title I, Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer, directs national laboratories to use funds to improve technology transfer and the commercialization of research developed in the laboratories and to report on these efforts after one year. It encourages regional, domestic, and international cooperation on research that will accelerate innovation in the energy sector. This title also mandates that the DOE establish a searchable public database of unclassified research and development projects.
Title II, DOE Research Coordination, authorizes Energy Innovation Hubs as “a program to enhance the economic, environmental, and energy security of the United States.” It amends the America COMPETES Act to ensure that certain types of information collected by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) are not subject to mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act to enhance collaboration with the commercial sector. The title also includes various provisions that direct the DOE to use avoid duplication of programs and engage in strategic planning and other activities related to using resources effectively.
Title III, DOE Office of Science Policy, provides comprehensive direction and policy reauthorization to the Office of Science. The bill defines the mission of the Office of Science “shall be the delivery of scientific discoveries, capabilities, and major scientific tools to transform the understanding of nature and to advance the energy, economic, and national security of the United States.” The legislation provides detailed direction to all six of the Office of Science’s main research programs and codifies many research coordination and technology commercialization activities, including Energy Frontier Research Centers.