Government Relations Update December 2018
National Quantum Initiative Act Signed Into Law
On December 21, the president signed the National Quantum Initiative Act (H.R. 6227) into law. The bill establishes a coordinated federal effort to accelerate the development of quantum computing technology, setting goals and priorities for a 10-year plan. In order to guide this new initiative, the National Science and Technology Council will establish a Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science, which will include the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as members.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) will both carry out their own basic research and education programs on quantum information science as part of the initiative. NSF will create Multidisciplinary Centers for Quantum Research and Education. The Director of NSF will allocate up to $10 million per center. DOE’s Office of Science will establish and operate new National Quantum Information Science Research Centers to conduct their research work, with the Secretary of Energy allocating up to $25 million for each center. NIST also will engage in a number of efforts to support advancement in the field of quantum research, with the Director of NIST allocating $80 million a year for this purpose.
All funding allocations by NSF, DOE, and NIST under the provisions of the bill will apply to fiscal years 2019 through 2023 and will be subject to the availability of future funds appropriated by Congress for these purposes.
Farm Bill Signed Into Law
On December 20, the president signed the 2018 Farm Bill, officially titled the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), into law. This massive piece of legislation will provide the blueprint of U.S. agricultural policy for the next several years. Notable within the bill are several broadband provisions that make changes to existing programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and create several new programs to address specific issues. The bill authorizes $350 million annually in funding for broadband grants at the Rural Utilities Service for 2019 through 2023, up from $25 million a year. Additionally, the bill creates a new “middle mile” broadband grant and loan program while also making changes to revive a pilot program from the 2014 Farm Bill focused on providing gigabit speed access to rural areas.
Government Shutdown Continues
Due to an impasse over the Administration’s demand for $5 billion of funding for a border wall, a short-term funding deal for the government running through December 21 was not extended. Therefore, beginning on December 22, a number of federal agencies have been shut down and additional agencies have continued to close as they expend remaining emergency funds. Just prior to the beginning of the shutdown, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to pass their own spending package which included the funding for the border wall, but the Senate did not take up the bill for a vote as a spending package without the wall funding had passed the Senate just days earlier.
The new Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed two bills on January 3 in an effort to re-open the parts of the government affected by the shutdown; one bill provides funding for the Department of Homeland Security through February 8 to provide additional time for negotiation on border security funding, the other combines the remaining six appropriations bills to provide funding until the end of the fiscal year on September 30. It is unclear if the Senate will take up these bills as the White House has not indicated it would support either bill at this time.
Senate Confirms FCC Commissioners
On January 2, the Senate voted to confirm Brendan Carr to another term as a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission while also voting to confirm Geoffrey Starks to fill the seat left vacant by former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. As January 2 was the final day of the 115th Congress, that was the final opportunity for the Senate to confirm the appointees before the expiration of their nominations, which had languished in the Senate for months. Now that both nominations have made it through the Senate, the FCC will return to operating with a full panel of five commissioners.