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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. President, New Mexico is blessed with some of the world's finest scientists. Each day, brilliant researchers at our universities and national labs go to work, and the results are amazing. At the same time, entrepreneurs in New Mexico and across the country are looking for opportunities to leverage innovation and to create new high-tech products and applications.

I rise to introduce the Accelerating Technology Transfer to Advance Innovation for the Nation--what we are calling the ATTAIN Act. That is a long title and an important goal: to improve the Department of Energy's technology transfer mission and to move innovation from the lab to the market. This grows our economy and creates a greater impact from our research and development dollars.

But before I talk to my colleagues about what the bill does, I wish to explain why it is so important. Tech transfer may seem to be just some technical issue, affecting bureaucratic rules or regulations, but it is more. It is how innovation in the lab today helps create jobs tomorrow.

In the 21st century, our national labs are the birthplace of innovation that creates new products and businesses and entire industries.

Scientists are developing cutting-edge ways to power computers, to transmit new information, to heal the body. These innovations have great market potential in aviation, the military, medicine. They can be spun into high-tech businesses, changing the world, putting people to work.

In New Mexico, many companies have been formed as a result of discoveries at Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs. For example, Mustomo, Inc., a startup using technology developed at LANL, provides 3D ultrasound tomography for the detection of breast cancer, and technology from Sandia, used by TEAM Technologies, has created a device that can disable improvised explosive devices. Since 2010 over 4,000 units have been deployed and are saving lives in war zones right now.

But despite these amazing successes, we are operating at just a fraction of the potential. My home State could do so much more. New Mexico has all the ingredients to become a high-tech powerhouse. There are great minds at our national labs and military bases. We have fantastic universities and a booming energy industry. We need to create an environment to allow it to reach that potential. This is a major initiative of mine to help create the right formula to help industry take off in New Mexico. That is the purpose of my bill.

Almost a decade ago Congress created a Department of Energy Technology Transfer Coordinator to move innovation from the lab bench to the marketplace, to spur businesses and cutting-edge product development in New Mexico and across the Nation, to help entrepreneurs outside of the big-city powerhouses on the coasts get access to capital, to help them find partners in industry. But the Department has not come close to meeting its potential. A recent inspector general's report tells the story. It cited numerous deficiencies at DOE. The Department is over 7 years delinquent in finalizing its Technology Transfer Execution Plan, nor has DOE implemented a forward-looking process for its commercialization fund--over 2 years after being directed to do so by the former Secretary. In addition, the Technology Transfer Coordinator post at the Department has been vacant since April 2013. That is nearly 1 year after the previous Coordinator's departure. This position should be filled as quickly as possible with a qualified and motivated candidate.

Technology transfer is important in New Mexico and to the Nation, and the Department's failure to perform is unacceptable. My bill addresses these shortfalls. We can do better, and we have to. The first step is to make tech transfer a priority. Our goals are clear: consolidate bureaucracy, streamline contracting, and use models that have proven successful.

There are three key elements to my legislation.

First, it permanently authorizes new tools for the Secretary of Energy's new Department-wide technology transfer office to enable DOE and DOE's new Tech Transfer Coordinator to meet their responsibilities and to measure and report their progress. Better coordination is absolutely crucial so we can reduce barriers and efficiently use the limited resources available. My bill requires that this office be accountable and responsible, that it work with the national labs and with industry in the right way at the Department and fully implement the EPACT Energy Technology Commercialization Fund--something DOE has yet to do according to Congress's original intent.

Second, the bill authorizes a new tech transfer corps, modeled on the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps, to support investments in entrepreneurs, mentors, scientists, and engineers. It authorizes technology commercialization challenges that push--getting innovative technologies into the market--and also pull--enabling partnerships with industry to identify and focus on common challenges. It will also improve coordination of technology transfer and entrepreneurship priorities with universities, foundations, and nonprofits, both regionally and nationally.

Third, we adapt an existing public-private partnership model used by the Small Business Administration and apply it to technology transfer to increase access to capital for promising startup companies.

We are not asking for more money. We need to do more with what we have. We are not asking--and I want to emphasize that--we are not asking for more money. We need to do more with what we have. The bill requires DOE and SBA to work together, to use the strengths of each agency--DOE's innovative technology and SBA's financial acumen--and it increases investment in new technologies via the SBIC Impact and Early Stage Initiatives. The Impact Initiative includes SBA matching funds of up to $1 billion, and the Early Stage Initiative includes $1 billion more.

This collaboration addresses an important concern. Since 2008 less than 6 percent of these venture capital funds have been invested in seed funds and tech maturation, and 70 percent of that went into just three States--California, New York, and Massachusetts. There are great opportunities outside these three States. This bill will help those funds find them. States such as New Mexico have a surplus of innovative ideas and a lack of investment dollars. With this bill we can balance that equation.

The benefits are clear: new technology, new partnerships, and new opportunities. Cutting-edge research today means high-paying jobs tomorrow. American inventions and intellectual property fuel our economy. Mr. President, 75 U.S. industries are classified as intellectual property intensive. They added $5.8 trillion to U.S. output last year. They are 38 percent of our GDP. They directly or indirectly supply over 55 million jobs--jobs that on average pay 30 percent higher wages. These IP companies account for 74 percent of our exports.

We need to do all we can to support innovation and to improve technology transfer--the bridge between new discovery and new opportunity--to grow our economy, to create high-paying jobs. I believe this is something we can all support.

Last August I cohosted a tech transfer conference in Santa Fe. I met with nearly 200 of New Mexico's most successful entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors. We talked about the challenges and opportunities of technology transfer and how important it is to the future.

We have always succeeded by being one step ahead of the competition. American innovation has led the world in industry, in health care and transportation, in science and technology. The ATTAIN Act will help move that innovation from the lab to the marketplace, helping businesses grow, creating jobs, and keeping us competitive in a global marketplace.

For a student with a bright idea, for an entrepreneur with the drive to chase their dream, it can be a long road. Fortunately, they do not give up easily. They are as tough as they come. They are already giving so much with hard work, with taking risks. They do their part. DOE needs to do its part as well.

We all want to move innovation forward and to better coordinate the handoffs. I am committed to working with the Department of Energy to make this a reality. This is an important goal, and it should be an equally important priority. That is why I am introducing this bill today.


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