News in Brief

DOD tech deficits, NASA grants, a FirstNet industry day and more

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DOD's IT trade deficit

Over the last decade and a half, the United States has gone from being a creator of technology to more of a consumer, according to former deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III.

"We are not spending the same for defense R&D as we were," Lynn said April 30 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I think that reflects partly the shrinkage of the industry, but it also reflects…[the fact that] there’s been a change in the way we develop defense technology." DOD, he said, has "moved, in my mind, from a net exporter of technology to a net importer."

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's trip to Silicon Valley last week was an acknowledgment of DOD's reliance on the commercial industrial base, added Lynn, who was deputy Defense secretary from 2009 to 2011. He stressed that "the key to maintaining our future technology edge is to be able to import those technologies into our defense industrial base and operationalize them for our military."

A current defense official agreed with Lynn in a subsequent panel discussion. Carter "recognizes this globalization [and] commercialization, that the defense industrial base is changing," said Stanley Sims, director of the Defense Security Service, DOD's security support agency. The Pentagon is slowly adapting to this reality, Sims added. "The bureaucracy of the department and our government is very slow, but we have to be patient with it."

FirstNet industry day set for May 15

FirstNet, the federal entity tasked with building an interoperable broadband network for first responders nationwide, will hold an industry day in Reston, Va., on May 15 to discuss that long-in-the-works project's recently released draft request for proposal.

The event will be held from 1-4 p.m. Eastern Time in the U.S. Geological Survey's Dallas L. Peck Memorial Auditorium; a webcast will also be available. Those wishing to attend in person must pre-register by sending an email to FirstNetIndustryDay@firstnet.gov with the name, title, and company/organization for each attendee.

NASA grants aimed at boosting minorities in STEM

NASA announced research grants of nearly $47 million to 10 universities, part of the space agency's Minority University Research and Education Project.

The grants are aimed at growing the nation's aerospace research and development base, both by enhancing universities' ability to conduct NASA-related research and by boosting the number of undergraduate and graduate degrees in NASA-related fields awarded at minority-serving institutions, the agency said.

The 10 universities, selected from among 76 proposals, are:

  • California State University, Los Angeles
  • Delaware State University, Dover
  • Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia
  • Langston University, Langston, Oklahoma
  • San Jose State University, San Jose, California
  • University of California, Merced
  • University of California, Riverside
  • University of Texas at El Paso
  • University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas
  • Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans

Each university will receive up to $1 million per year for a maximum of five years, depending on performance and funding availability.

Bill to curtail agency conference spending is back

Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Diane Black (R-Tenn.) have introduced legislation that would cap what agencies can spend on conferences, and require detailed reporting on both the spending and the content for events that agencies do produce.

H.R. 2032, the Government Spending Accountability Act, would prohibit agencies from spending more than $500,000 on any individual event. Agency heads could waive that restriction if an event is deemed "the most cost-effective option to achieve a compelling purpose," but such a waiver would have to be documented and submitted to Congress. The law also makes clear that it does not "preclude an agency from receiving financial support or other assistance from a private entity to pay or defray the costs of a conference" where the total price tag exceeds a half-million dollars.

"This bill protects taxpayer money while still allowing the federal government the flexibility to train and educate their workforce," Farenthold said in a statement announcing the legislation. H.R 2023 is identical to a measure that passed the House in the last Congress, but was not acted upon by the Senate.

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