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February 20, 2015

Weekend Reads: State Department Hack, Portland and Uber and More

Looking for some interesting reads for the weekend? A few pieces on hackers remaining in the State Department’s network, Portland’s efforts to update taxi regulations and Google’s research endeavors should get you started.

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Three months after the State Department confirmed hackers breached its unclassified email system, the government still hasn’t been able to evict them from the department’s network, according to three people familiar with the investigation.”

MIT Technology Review looks at what it deems to be the 10 breakthrough technologies of 2015: “But we’d bet that every one of the milestones on this list will be worth following in the coming years.”

The Oregonian reports that with the clock is ticking on “Uber’s self-imposed suspension of ride-sharing pickups in Portland, City Hall is beginning to worry that a task force charged with revamping taxi regulations isn’t moving fast enough.”

The New York Times has a piece on Google’s research efforts: “After patiently abiding a steep increase in research and development spending on efforts that range from biology to space exploration, Wall Street is starting to wonder when — and if — Google’s science projects will pay off.”

February 10, 2015

Republicans Scrutinize NSF Funding Recipient Use of Management Fees

Republicans are scrutinizing how recipients of National Science Foundation funds use management fees and CQ Roll Call’s Shawn Zeller reports on the issue and debate.

Zeller writes (subscription):

Republicans outraged that a National Science Foundation grantee used government funds to pay lobbyists, hold a Christmas party and buy employees coffee are pressuring the agency to rewrite its rules governing how grantees can use money they receive.

Last year, Senate Republicans Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Rand Paul of Kentucky “received a draft audit report raising questions about how the National Ecological Observatory Network, a Colorado nonprofit, had used government funds, including about $150,000 in management fees,” Zeller writes.

The audit agency “later rejected its auditors finding on the management fees, but the GOP has continued to press the issue,” Zeller writes. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s oversight panel held a hearing last week where GOP lawmakers “prodded NSF and network representatives to explain the spending,” he writes.

February 3, 2015

Q&A: AAAS’ Matt Hourihan

(Photo credit: AAAS)

(Photo credit: AAAS)

President Barack Obama recently released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, and Technocrat chatted with Matt Hourihan of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences about some science and research issues proposed in previous budgets that have and haven’t been embraced by lawmakers.

Q: What are some science issues in past budget proposals that have found support from Congress over the past few years?

A: …Certain areas that Congress does seem to favor. I think you’d have to include some of the exploration programs at NASA. Development of the Orion crew capsule. Funding for development of a variety of space exploration, you know, manned space exploration programs. I mean, the last year’s budget, Congress restored quite a bit of funding. Those programs had been slated for some cuts last year. And generally speaking, the administration’s budget isn’t always incredibly generous with NASA. And Congress often seems to restore funding for certain components related to space exploration.

I think life sciences research remains pretty popular in Congress. Obviously there are, even now there are quite a few legislative proposals that attempt to increase funding for NIH. Things like the BRAIN Initiative have been met with pretty broad support.

Advanced computing is also an area that Congress seems quite willing to grant increases and there are advanced computing programs at NSF, at the Office of Science at DOE and these are areas that seem to do pretty well year in and year out compared to certain other areas with appropriators.

Q: Are you saying these are areas – manned exploration, life sciences, advanced computing – these are areas that Congress and the President agree on or that these are areas that [lawmakers] favor?

A: So manned space exploration, Congress definitely seems, in the last couple years at least they’ve seemed more generous than the Administration on some of those programs.

But advanced computing and life sciences… those are areas where I think there is a lot of agreement…. the Administration and Congress do seem to see eye to eye on many advanced computing programs. Although, again, at times Congress is more generous. But overall, advanced computing and some of the neuroscience research those are not areas where there’s a whole lot of disagreement I don’t think.

Q: When it comes to the President’s budget proposals in recent years, what are some particular issues that haven’t found backing from Congress?

A: Well, advanced manufacturing is a big one. In particular, the Administration has definitely proposed some pretty aggressive budgets in the advanced manufacturing realm. In particular, this recurring idea to establish a major national network of manufacturing innovation institutes. It will require a good bit of funding. There are many in Congress who like the idea, but so far, the full funding hasn’t been realized, the full plan hasn’t been realized. The Administration has been kind of slowly building out the network piece by piece. Ultimately, I think they want over 40 of these manufacturing institutes around the country and they’ve been asking Congress for funding to make that happen and Congress hasn’t provided the funding for the full network, but the Administration has been able to piece together… they’ve got several that are either up and running or in the works.

So that’s one area….

Climate research in certain areas – that’s been a much harder argument to win… I should say not even just climate change research, but environmental research overall. EPA’s budget has been declining. Climate research at NOAA has been for years been a hot button issue. Environmental research in the Department of Energy, within the Office of Science there’s a biological and environment research program. That’s always an area of controversy. It usually falls along partisan lines.

A lot of the big infrastructure proposals haven’t been embraced. Again, high-speed rail is always an issue that meets with opposition in Congress and the related technology funding….

Those are the big ones I think.

[Edited for length]

February 2, 2015

The Week Ahead: Cybersecurity and Data Security & Privacy

Hearings on the Hill on cybersecurity and data breach notification, a data security and privacy event and more are on tap for the week ahead


Two House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees hold a joint hearing on National Science Foundation oversight of the National Ecological Observatory Network and other major research facilities developed under cooperative agreements.


The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on cybersecurity and the National Institute of Standards and Technology framework.


Microsoft’s senior director of search, Stefan Weitztalks about what’s next for search engines and his recent book at 1776.

The Online Trust Alliance hosts a data security and privacy event.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee holds a hearing on data breach notification.

January 21, 2015

Obama’s Tech Talk in SOTU

President Barack Obama’s call for lawmakers to pass legislation to address “cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information” in his State of the Union address wasn’t a surprise given his announcements last week in advance of Tuesday night’s speech, but he also mentioned net neutrality, surveillance and space in his speech. Below are some of his science and tech-related mentions:

  • “I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.”
  • “21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet.”
  • “No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.”
  • “So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”
  • “I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs — converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay. Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars. In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space. Good luck, Captain — and make sure to Instagram it.”

January 9, 2015

Weekly Wrapup: Net Neutrality, Panel Changes & More

This week, the big news included Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s comments on Title II at International CES in Las Vegas and the announcement of DISH Network’s Sling TV, which will start offering select television channels delivered over the Internet, including ESPN.

At Technocrat, we had posts for you on net neutrality, changes on a House panel with jurisdiction over intellectual property, and more.

  • Online sales tax legislation could make it through this new Congress, but only if there are significant changes from the measure the Senate passed back in May 2013, per CQ Roll Call’s Katy O’Donnell.
  • Technocrat chatted with Arizona State University law professor Adam Chodorow, who wrote a piece in Slate this week on taxes and Mars. Apparently, tax law even specifies how to treat income earned from space activities.

January 6, 2015

Radiation Research Bill on the House Floor This Week

Among the bills the House is set to consider this week is a measure dealing with research on low-dose radiation.

According to CQ House Action Report’s Annie Shuppy, the House passed a similar measure last Congress, but the bill didn’t see Senate action.

The bill would direct the Energy Department’s Office of Science to enter into an agreement with the National Academies for a study “assessing the current status and development of a long-term strategy for low-dose radiation research.” The study would need to include elements such as identifying the scientific challenges to understanding the effects of ionizing radiation in the long-term as well as recommending a long-term research agenda  to address those challenges. After the study, the Energy Department would have to submit a five-year research plan to Congress.

The bill wouldn’t authorize any money and specifies that the legislation would be implemented “using funds otherwise appropriated by law.”

Former Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.,  sponsored the proposal last Congress and had contended that there wasn’t enough data for experts to determine whether there was a level of radiation where there was no health risk, the effects of which which he argued included hampering regulatory agencies from establishing more precise limits for radiation.

According to the Energy Department, medical diagnostic tests are the main reason for human exposure to radiation, but exposure can also come from sources like waste cleanup and natural catastrophes.


Roll Call’s Matt Fuller reports on what this bill has to do with the “mini-revolt” against re-electing House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to his leadership position here.

December 1, 2014

The Week Ahead: Cybercrime, Telecommunications Law and the Internet of Things

I hope you had your rest and relaxation over the Thanksgiving holiday because things are kicking into gear again, with events on cybercrime, telecommunications law and the Internet of Things.


The Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies holds an event on patent regulation and policy.

New America hosts talk with Shane Harris, author of “@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex.”

New York University’s Information Law Institute and Microsoft’s Innovation & Policy center host an event titled “Building Privacy Into Data-Driven Education.”

The Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic  Public Policy Studies holds its U.S. Telecoms Symposium.

The Planetary Society holds an event on the future of solar system exploration.


The Bipartisan Policy Center holds an event on health information technology.

The Cato Institute hosts a talk with Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor emeritus at the University of Buckingham, on public funding of science and research.

The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

The Information Technology Industry Council and Intel host an event on technology, policy and emerging health crises.


Georgetown University Law Center and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division sponsor an event titled “Cybercrime 2020: The Future of Online Crime and Investigations.”

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation’s Center for Data Innovation holds an event on the Internet of Things.

Republic 3.0 hosts a panel discussion on progressives and a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

November 11, 2014

‘Queen of Carbon’ Among Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients

Mildred Dresselhaus after receiving the  2012 Kavli prize in Oslo on Sept. 4, 2012. (AAS, ERLEND/AFP/GettyImages)

Mildred Dresselhaus after receiving the 2012 Kavli prize in Oslo on Sept. 4, 2012. (AAS, ERLEND/AFP/GettyImages)

Among the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients announced early Monday evening:  Mildred Dresselhaus, also known as the Queen of Carbon.

The White House release described the physics and electrical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as “one of the most prominent physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation,” and that “she is best known for deepening our understanding of condensed matter systems and the atomic properties of carbon, which has contributed to major advances in electronics and materials research.”

The New York Times published an interview with her in 2012. The piece described her work on carbon, her various accolades — including the 2012 Kavli Price in Nanoscience — and noted that she’s been a “prominent advocate for women in physics and engineering, disciplines that are still short on high-ranking female faces and that were outright hostile to women when she began her career in the late 1950s.”

Full story

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 8:29 a.m.

September 26, 2014

Friday Q&A: Application Developers Alliance’s Tim Sparapani

(Source: Application Developers Alliance)

(Source: Application Developers Alliance)

The Application Developers Alliance, which *surprise* represents app developers, is just a couple years old and has roughly 40,000 individual and nearly 180 companies as members. The policy issues they focus on are data and patents and Technocrat talked with the group’s vice president for policy, law and government affairs, Tim Sparapani. He was previously Facebook’s public policy director and senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Q: What are your top policy issues that you’re working on right now?

A: Well, it’ll be no surprise that most of them revolve around data.

And, you know, because our members are the experts in how to build new and novel technologies, using both businesses’ and the public’s data, there are a whole host of questions that arise from that.

So, they sort of span the globe of things. But mostly it’s about how we can use data wisely and well to benefit consumers and the public writ large.

Sometimes people sort of truncate this by calling it a privacy debate. Well, it’s a lot more than that. You know, it’s a really a sort of a debate about whether data can be used to solve a series of societal problems, as our members believe it can be. And whether we can provide increasingly customized and personalized services and benefits to individuals, which give them tools and services that before the app industry arose used to cost them a whole lot of money, and now we can hopefully give them to them for free or nearly so. So it’s also about consumer benefit.

Full story

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