Skip to content Skip to navigation

America Competes Reauthorization Fosters Nanomanufacturing Research, Innovation, and Public-Private Partnerships

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, Ph.D.

The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Reauthorization Act of 2010 (America Competes Act -H.R. 5116) recently signed into law has extended the oversight activities of several government agencies to coordinate appropriations and expenditures made in several areas aimed to bolster U.S. competitiveness in science and technology.

In assigning these oversight activities to specific agencies under the coordination of an interagency committee within the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) established by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), strategies and roadmaps will be established in areas including science education, advanced manufacturing, innovation, and effective technology transfer. The cornerstones of this will include a coordinated strategy on Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) education; the establishment of national goals and priorities in advanced manufacturing; identification and reduction of regulatory, logistical, and fiscal barriers that inhibit manufacturing; effectively facilitating technology transfer of federally supported research from academia to commercialization; identification of key challenges that may be addressed through public-private partnerships; and encouragement of such partnerships to address those challenges for transition to U.S. based manufacturing.

While OSTP maintains primary responsibility for coordination and reporting of the above activities, specific agencies have more specific oversight of appropriations in related areas. For example, the National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST) would oversee the Manufacturing extension Partnership which would instruct Regional Centers for the Transfer of Manufacturing Technology to provide community colleges with information about job skills needed in manufacturing sectors, as well as establish a green manufacturing and construction initiative to promote sustainability in manufacturing and improve energy performance, service life, and air quality in buildings. Additionally, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will carry out a program to award merit-reviewed, competitive grants to institutions of higher education to support fundamental research leading to transformative advances in manufacturing technologies, processes, and enterprises supporting United States manufacturing through improved performance, productivity, sustainability, and competitiveness. Research areas cited included nanomanufacturing, materials processing and information technologies for manufacturing, including predictive and real-time models and simulations, and virtual manufacturing. Additionally, the NSF will ensure a well-trained manufacturing workforce, by strengthening and expansion of scientific and technical education and training in advanced manufacturing.

New to the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 is the establishment of an Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship by the Department of Commerce (DOC) to foster innovation and the commercialization of new technologies, products, processes, and services. Furthermore, the DOC would establish a program to provide loan guarantees to small- and medium-sized manufacturers and define eligible projects as those that reequip, expand, or establish manufacturing facilities in the United States to use an innovative technology or an innovative process in manufacturing, or to manufacture an innovative technology product or an integral component of such a product. The Innovation program further institutes a regional innovation program that encourages and supports the development of regional innovation strategies, including regional innovation clusters. In this model the DOC is authorized to award regional innovation cluster grants that require a 50% matching requirements for grant recipients; establish a regional innovation research and information program to determine and distribute best practices and metrics to assess performance, With the goal of accelerating innovation, technology transfer and commercialization, the DOC will conduct studies based on the effectiveness of these strategies to refine them in order to provide sustainable, long term impact towards U.S. economic competitiveness.

The reauthorization of the America Competes Act provides a window of opportunity for the nanomanufacturing community to evaluate translational research activities that potentially impact present and future manufacturing infrastructure within the U.S. As an example, the opportunity is presented to establish strategies towards the formation of local and regional clusters which are supported by academic centers of excellence in combination with the strengths of local industry sectors could foster collaborative demonstrations of new and emerging manufacturing capabilities. The NNN would like to solicit feedback from members and stakeholders regarding focus topics and industry sectors that could possibly benefit by some of the new initiatives in the America Competes Act, and further consider this for future workshop topics.