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Monday, October 31, 2011

Background and Issues for Congressional Oversight of ARRA Broadband Awards

Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, P.L. 111-5) provided an unprecedented level of federal funding for broadband projects across the nation. These projects are intended to expand broadband availability and adoption in unserved and underserved areas, which in turn is believed to contribute to increased future economic development in those areas.

The ARRA provided nearly $7 billion for broadband grant and loan programs to be administered by two separate agencies: the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). With the ARRA broadband projects awarded and now moving forward, the focus in Congress has shifted to oversight. Projects are required to be substantially complete within two years, and fully complete within three years. NTIA and RUS are monitoring the awards to protect against waste, fraud, and abuse, and to ensure that each project reaches its promised milestones, goals, and outcomes. A key oversight role will be played by the Offices of Inspector General in the DOC and the USDA, which will monitor the projects for waste, fraud, and abuse, and will investigate specific complaints. Both NTIA and RUS have the authority to reclaim and recover awards (either for cause or in cases where awardees decide not to pursue the project) and return the deobligated funds to the U.S. Treasury.

The 112th Congress will play an important oversight role. A number of committees, including the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; the House Committee on Agriculture; the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are expected to monitor the ARRA broadband programs in NTIA and RUS.

To date, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology has held two oversight hearings on the ARRA broadband programs. On October 5, 2011, the House passed H.R. 1343, which seeks to clarify and reinforce the requirement that deobligated ARRA broadband funding is returned to the U.S. Treasury. The legislation also sets forth requirements for how NTIA and RUS must respond to information and recommendations received from the Office of the Inspector General and the Comptroller General. A companion bill, S. 1659, has been introduced in the Senate.

As the ARRA broadband projects move forward, the primary issue for the 112th Congress is how to ensure that the money is being spent wisely and will most effectively provide broadband service to areas of the nation that need it most, while at the same time minimizing any unwarranted disruption to private sector broadband deployment. Congress will also be assessing how the broadband stimulus projects fit into the overall goals of the National Broadband Plan.



Date of Report: October 12, 2011
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R41775
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spectrum Policy in the Age of Broadband: Issues for Congress

Linda K. Moore
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

The convergence of wireless telecommunications technology with the Internet Protocol (IP) is fostering new generations of mobile technologies. This transformation has created new demands for advanced communications infrastructure and radio frequency spectrum capacity that can support high-speed, content-rich uses. Furthermore, a number of services, in addition to consumer and business communications, rely at least in part on wireless links to broadband backbones. Wireless technologies support public safety communications, sensors, smart grids, medicine and public health, intelligent transportation systems, and many other vital communications.

Existing policies for allocating and assigning spectrum rights may not be sufficient to meet the future needs of wireless broadband. Deciding what weight to give to specific goals and setting priorities to meet those goals pose difficult tasks for federal administrators and regulators and for Congress. A challenge for Congress is to provide decisive policies in an environment where there are many choices but little consensus.

Spectrum policy initiatives for which legislation is being considered by the 112th Congress include allocating more spectrum for unlicensed use; auctioning airwaves currently allocated for federal use; devising new fees on spectrum use, and promoting wholesale networks, such as that being built by LightSquared. The National Broadband Plan (NBP), a report on broadband policy mandated by Congress, has provided descriptions of perceived spectrum policy issues to be addressed by a combination of regulatory changes and the development of new policies at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Following up on recommendations in the NBP and guidance from the Administration, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in October 2010 issued a plan to make additional spectrum available for wireless broadband. The NTIA advises the Administration on spectrum policy as well as other matters and is responsible for managing federal spectrum resources. The FCC is responsible for the management of commercial spectrum and other non-federal spectrum resources. Many of the initiatives discussed in FCC and NTIA plans would require close cooperation between the two agencies.

The FCC and the NTIA have requested assistance from Congress to carry out their recommendations. For example, both have requested that the Communications Act of 1934 be amended to permit incentive auctions. Such authority would enable spectrum license-holders to return spectrum for auction, with the expectation of receiving part of the proceeds as partial compensation for its market value and to cover the costs associated with relinquishing the asset. Although most spectrum license auction revenues are deposited as general funds, Congress has passed laws, such as the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, that permit the proceeds to be used for other purposes.



Date of Report: October 17, 2011
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R40674
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA): Policies, Programs, and Funding


Linda K. Moore
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the Department of Commerce, is the executive branch’s principal advisory office on domestic and international telecommunications and information policies. Its mandate is to provide greater access for all Americans to telecommunications services, support U.S. attempts to open foreign markets, advise on international telecommunications negotiations, and fund research for new technologies and their applications. NTIA also manages the distribution of funds for several key grant programs. Its role in federal spectrum management includes acting as a facilitator and mediator in negotiations among the various federal agencies regarding usage, priority access, causes of interference, and other radio spectrum questions.

During the 112th Congress, programs and issues of particular importance and interest to policy makers might include administration of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP)—authorized as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—plans to improve the efficiency of radio frequency spectrum, and preparations for the next World Radio Conference, scheduled to begin in January 2012.



Date of Report: October 19, 2011
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: R42052
Price: $19.95

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Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2012


John F. Sargent Jr., Coordinator
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

President Obama has requested $147.911 billion for research and development (R&D) in FY2012, a $772 million (0.5%) increase from the FY2010 actual R&D funding level of $147.139 billion. Congress will play a central role in defining the nation’s R&D priorities, especially with respect to two overarching issues: the extent to which the federal R&D investment can grow in the context of increased pressure on discretionary spending and how available funding will be prioritized and allocated. Low or negative growth in the overall R&D investment may require movement of resources across disciplines, programs, or agencies to address priorities.

On October 5, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-36). The act continues appropriations for all agencies at 1.503% below the FY2011- enacted levels until November 18, 2011; enactment of an appropriation for any project or activity provided for in the act; or enactment of the applicable appropriations Act for fiscal year 2012 without any provision for such project or activity. A prior continuing appropriations act, P.L. 112- 33, had extended agencies’ funding through October 4, 2011.

At the time the President’s FY2012 budget was released, action had not been completed on FY2011 full-year funding. In the absence of FY2011 appropriations data, the President’s budget compares his FY2012 request to FY2010 appropriations. On April 15, 2011, the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (P.L. 112-10) was signed into law. Division A of the act provides FY2011 appropriations for the Department of Defense; Division B provides full-year continuing funding for FY2011 for all other agencies at their FY2010 levels unless other provisions in the act specify otherwise. With respect to federal R&D funding overall and to several agencies in particular, it is not possible yet to assess the level of funding provided under the act. Therefore this report compares the President’s FY2012 funding request to FY2011 levels, where possible, and to FY2010 levels elsewhere. This report will be updated as additional information about FY2011 R&D funding becomes available and as Congress acts on FY2012 appropriations bills. Comparison of the President’s request to enacted funding levels is complicated by several factors, including the omission of congressionally directed spending from the President’s FY2012 budget request.

President Obama’s request includes increases in the R&D budgets of the three agencies targeted for doubling over 7 years by the America COMPETES Act, and over 10 years by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 and by President Bush under his American Competitiveness Initiative, as measured using FY2006 funding as the baseline. Although President Obama supported a 10-year doubling in his FY2010 budget, his FY2012 budget is intentionally silent on a timeframe. Under the FY2012 budget request, funding for the DOE Office of Science would increase by $512 million (10.4%) over its FY2010 funding level, the NSF budget would rise by $795 million (11.4%), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s core research and facilities construction funding would grow by $111.1 million (17.0%).

For the past five years, federal R&D funding and execution has been affected by mechanisms used to complete the annual appropriations process. Completion of appropriations after the beginning of each fiscal year may cause agencies to delay or cancel some planned R&D and equipment acquisition.



Date of Report: October
11, 2011
Number of Pages:
54
Order Number: R
41706
Price: $29.95

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Friday, October 21, 2011

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program: Reauthorization Efforts


Wendy H. Schacht
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982, P.L. 97-219, created Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs within the major federal research and development (R&D) agencies. This effort was intended to increase participation of small innovative companies in federally funded R&D. Government agencies with extramural R&D budgets of $100 million or more are required to set aside a portion of these funds to support research and development in small firms through the SBIR program.

Reauthorized several times over the years, the SBIR program was scheduled to terminate on September 30, 2008. To date, the program has not been specifically reauthorized, but instead temporarily extended by several bills including P.L. 110-235, which extended the activity through March 20, 2009. P.L. 111-10 provided an additional extension through July 31, 2009; P.L. 111-43 through September 30, 2009; and P.L. 111-66 through October 31, 2009. P.L. 111-89 once again extended the program through April 30, 2010; P.L. 111-214 through September 30, 2010; P.L. 111-251 through January 31, 2011; and P.L. 112-1 through May 31, 2011. P.L. 112-17, the Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011, extended the SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs and the Commercialization Pilot Program through September 30, 2011. In addition, the law mandated that SBIR and STTR awards are to be made using “competitive and merit-based selection procedures.” P.L. 112-33 extended both programs through October 4, 2011, while P.L. 112-36 provides an additional extension through November 18, 2011.

Several bills have been introduced in the 112th Congress that would reauthorize and make changes to the SBIR program (and the STTR program) including H.R. 447, H.R. 448 (introduced January 26, 2011), H.R. 449, S. 493, (reported March 9, 2011, from the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship), and H.R. 1425 (introduced April 7, 2011).

During the 111th Congress, efforts to reauthorize and amend the SBIR and STTR programs included H.R. 2965, which passed the House and the Senate after the language of S. 1233 (amended) was substituted. In the closing days of the 111th Congress, the Senate also passed S. 4053, a bill to “reauthorize and improve” the SBIR effort. However, the House did not take up this legislation.



Date of Report: October 12, 2011
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RS22865
Price: $29.95

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