Udall, Heinrich Praise Enactment of American Innovation and Competitiveness Act

WASHINGTON U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich praised the enactment of S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA), a major science bill that includes a number of significant provisions Udall and Heinrich championed to help boost New Mexico’s economy. The bill, which passed both houses of Congress last month and was signed into law by President Obama today, contains measures to boost technology transfer initiatives, strengthen and grow manufacturing, and encourage private-sector innovation. 

The legislation, an update of the America COMPETES Act, expands the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps), a public-private partnership initiative that strengthens the ability of scientists and engineers to move their work from the laboratory to the marketplace. The bill also makes important adjustments to the federal cost-share ratio and puts in place new accountability provisions for Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program centers, such as the New Mexico MEP. The New Mexico MEP works to grow and develop New Mexico’s manufacturing sector, which exported more than $3.65 billion in goods and services in 2015. With the NSF alone having awarded over $56 million in grants to researchers across New Mexico in FY2015, the science bill stands to benefit the state significantly.

The bill also includes a Udall-authored measure to encourage science prize competitions. The provision, led by Congressman Don Beyer (D-Va.) in the U.S. House of Representatives, will enable federal agencies to hold prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems and advance their missions. Such competitions, popularized by the successful “X Prize” competitions, are useful tools that attract a broad range of proposals for tackling difficult challenges. Additionally, these competitions tend to be cost-effective: the federal government pays only for solutions and doesn’t fund research and development costs.  

“With our national labs, first-rate universities, and thriving technology sector, New Mexico has all the tools to excel in the 21st century economy,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where the bill originated. “This important science and innovation bill contains a number of exciting provisions that I fought for to help strengthen the work of our researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs. For example, the measures to expand the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps will encourage collaborative public-private partnerships to facilitate entrepreneurs’ ability to commercialize their innovations. I hope the NSF’s model will be adopted by the Department of Energy and other agencies, so that New Mexico’s innovators have all the resources they need to move their ideas into the marketplace and grow our state’s economy. I am also proud to see my effort to encourage science prize competitions become law. These competitions attract innovators and entrepreneurs who apply American ingenuity to solve problems, and they’re often a cost-effective way to spur innovation. In the Senate, I will keep working to support the groundbreaking work of New Mexicans who are moving our state and nation forward, jumpstarting our economy and creating the jobs of the future." 

"It is our history of scientific breakthroughs and innovation that drive New Mexico's economy and our contributions to the country. The COMPETES Act will help build a 21st century economy that boosts entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships," said Heinrich. "With our national labs, universities, military installations, and homegrown companies that can manufacture the advanced technologies of the future, our state holds much promise to lead the nation in innovation. New Mexico is uniquely poised to grow its high-technology manufacturing sector, and with continued investment in our workforce and groundbreaking research, we will not only create jobs, but we also inspire next generation of STEM leaders and entrepreneurs."

The bipartisan AICA makes key investments to enhance scientific entrepreneurship and maximize the impact of taxpayer-funded basic research, updating programs run by the NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), among other agencies. The legislation also improves diversity in STEM fields, and includes important provisions to promote manufacturing and private-sector innovation.  A summary of the legislation can be found below and here

Highlights of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act

Maximizing Basic Research

  • Highlights Peer Review: Reaffirms the appropriateness of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria used to evaluate grant proposals. 
  • Keeps Government Accountable to Taxpayers: Promotes transparency by requiring public notices of grants to justify the project’s expenditures and confirm that they align with NSF’s priorities. 
  • Broadens Research Opportunities: Updates NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to continue promoting groundbreaking research in states that receive relatively little federal research money.
  • Modernizes Existing Programs: Includes updates to the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) programs, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) laboratory and education outreach programs.

Administrative and Regulatory Burden Reduction

  • Reduces Paperwork Burdens: Establishes an inter-agency working group to provide recommendations on eliminating unnecessary paperwork for researchers and institutions.
  • Streamlines Government: Repeals obsolete agency reports and unfunded government programs. 

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

  • Enhances Scientific Community Input: Establishes a STEM Advisory Panel composed of academic and industry representatives to provide recommendations on federal STEM programs.
  • Promotes Diversity in STEM Fields: Creates a working group to study how to improve inclusion of women and underrepresented individuals in STEM fields and reaffirms the necessity of broadening participation in STEM fields through NSF programs.

Leveraging the Private Sector

  • Incentivizes Private-Sector Innovation: Updates prize competition authority to encourage greater participation in federal prize competitions.
  • Expands Opportunities for Public Involvement: Permits federal science agencies to use crowdsourcing as a tool to conduct agency projects.

Manufacturing

  • Encourages Improved Manufacturing: Adjusts the federal cost-share ratio and implements new accountability and oversight provisions within NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program.

Innovation and Technology Transfer

  • Bolsters Scientific Entrepreneurship: Authorizes the successful I-Corps program to help scientists move their research from the laboratory to the marketplace.
  • Reaffirms Importance of Commercialization: Directs NSF to continue awarding translational research grants and strengthen public-private cooperation.