Federal innovation policy at the recess — what has moved in Congress and what may happen in the fall

August 22, 2019
By: Jason Rittenberg

The 116th Congress has already advanced policies to affect regional innovation economies, and much more is poised to happen once both chambers return in September. In addition to completing the FY 2019 budget (see our Feb. coverage), this session has seen Regional Innovation Strategies legislation pass the House and Senate (albeit in different bills); the Senate working toward an overhaul of the Small Business Administration; and, the start of the FY 2020 budget process. Here, we summarize these federal policy developments, which SSTI’s Innovation Advocacy Council has been supporting.

Regional Innovation Strategies reauthorization

The Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program has two paths for renewal thanks to action in both the House and Senate:

  • The House passed the American Manufacturing Leadership Act, introduced by Congresswoman Haley Stevens, that included an extension of RIS for five years. Similar legislation has moved through committee in the Senate: the Global Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing Act of 2019, introduced by Sen. Chris Coons, incorporates the RIS provision from the Startup Act, introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran.
  • The Senate has further incorporated RIS reauthorization into the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 (NDAA). This bill is currently being negotiated between the House and Senate. The NDAA becomes law each year and is a particularly strong opportunity for the RIS program to receive congressional support.

On behalf of our members and the broader field, SSTI has long been a champion of the RIS program on the Hill. Numerous visits, letters and calls from SSTI member organizations have helped Congress understand the significance of this program and created the opportunity to see RIS approved for another five years.

Senate SBA reauthorization

Sen. Marco Rubio established an agenda this session for the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which he chairs, to review all of the programs operated by the SBA. As committee staff shared at the SSTI Senior Leadership Forum this June, senators on the committee introduced bills for this process that would reauthorize and change programs related to entrepreneurial support, capital investment, and SBIR/STTR. The process was put on hold at the end of July over disagreements about small business regulatory changes, and it is currently unclear when the legislation will receive further consideration.

FY 2020 budget

The next budget will be one of Congress’s top priorities when it returns. Current funding for all agencies expires on Sept. 30. Most likely, Congress will vote in September to continue with current appropriations for the time being and continue completing the FY 2020 process.

The FY 2020 budget has advanced quite differently in each chamber. The House passed its budget before reaching a topline spending agreement with the Senate (see our coverage) and provided robust support for innovation programs. Now that a deal has been reached, the Senate will begin the formal part of its budget process when senators return in September.

Ultimately, very different starts to the FY 2020 budget will need to be brought to a common conclusion. Once again, innovation-related initiatives have bipartisan support, but programs may again be disrupted by disagreements over broader political issues. Border funding is likely to be a challenge again this year. Funding for the 2020 Census, which is in the same part of the budget as EDA and NSF, will also have a significant influence on final program appropriations. Even if the new budget is not complete in September, we should have much more information on the direction FY 2020 is likely to take by the end of that month.

Support policies to advance your region!

SSTI members have been actively supporting each of the federal policy areas noted above by writing letters, providing success stories, and contributing to the Innovation Advocacy Council. Add your voice to these efforts: contact Jason Rittenberg (rittenberg@ssti.org | 614.901.1690) today to learn more.

congress, RIS, policy, federal budget