Rice busy on Capitol Hill

In a span of less than two weeks, Rice’s Neal Lane, James Tour, John Diamond and Charles McConnell testified before separate congressional committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. At the same time, 25 Rice students were wrapping up summer internships on the Hill.

Neal Lane testifies before Congress.

On July 17, Neal Lane, Rice’s Malcolm Gillis University Professor, a senior fellow in science and technology policy at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a professor of physics and astronomy, testified before the full Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

At the hearing, “The Federal Research Portfolio: Capitalizing on Investments in R&D,” Lane discussed a forthcoming report that he is co-chairing for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He said the U.S. needs to recommit to its previous research efforts.

In his opening statement, Lane said, “Science, engineering and technology are key drivers of economic growth. As the evidence strongly indicates, one metric of the adequacy of a nation’s commitment to the future of its citizens is its total investment in R&D as a fraction of GDP (gross domestic product), relative to competitor nations.

“The total U.S. investment (one-third public and two-thirds private) in R&D continues to fall short of the national goal adopted by several U.S. presidents of 3 percent of GDP, even as America’s economic competitors move aggressively to increase their own investments.

“The U.S. has fallen to 10th place among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. For example, China’s R&D investment is growing at an average annual rate of 8 percent above inflation and is on a path to overtake the U.S. in just 8 years. America is failing to make the R&D investments that are necessary to remain a global leader in industry and commerce,” he said.

Lane said the new report, “New Models for U.S. Science and Technology Policy,” will be released in mid-September. To watch the hearing and Lane’s full opening statement, click here.

On July 29, James Tour, Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry and professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of computer science, testified before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

James Tour meets with Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

At the committee’s hearing, “Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation,” Tour talked about the future of nanotechnology and its impact on U.S. manufacturing and jobs, along with all of the various nanotechnology discoveries that his lab is patenting.

An important message that Tour delivered to the committee was that in 2008, the federal government supported 90 percent of his research while only 10 percent was supported by industry, whereas now 80 percent of his lab’s support comes from industry.

He also said the U.S. and its businesses are falling behind in bringing to market new nanotechnology products and solutions, primarily due to a “brain drain” of scientists going to foreign countries and the difficulty businesses face in funding research due to tax implications.

Tour asked Congress to consider legislation that would incentivize industry to fund academic research universities and nonprofits by granting companies with a total or significant taxable deduction for university research investment.

“This permits companies to take up the slack where the federal government has been failing to maintain the research enterprise,” Tour said. “Such a program will slow the brain drain, possibly even mitigate it, and provide for the high tech training of students that will be needed to fill jobs in those industrial sectors. It will further encourage faculty to be more entrepreneurial in their raising of funds for research.”

To watch the complete committee hearing, including an introduction of Tour by Rice alum Rep. Pete Olson ’85, R-Texas, go here. To listen to Tour’s five-minute opening statement, go here.

On July 30, John Diamond, the Edward A. and Hermena Hancock Kelly Fellow in Public Finance at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and an adjunct professor of economics, testified before the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures of the Committee on Ways and Means. Diamond was asked to testify about the “Dynamic Analysis of the Tax Reform Act of 2014.”

In part, dynamic analysis allows the budget process to account for the effect of policy proposals on the level of GDP, which is a function of the size of the capital stock and total hours of work in the economy.

John Diamond (left) meets with Rice Capitol Hill summer interns.

Diamond, who was asked to testify in support of dynamic analysis and has been a consultant on tax modeling for the government, told the committee, “A popular management adage is ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ Dynamic analysis provides valuable information about the effects of policy proposals on economic growth.

“It is important that we use this information to better manage U.S. fiscal policy,” Diamond said. “In fact, routinely disregarding information on the macroeconomic effects of alternative proposals leads to a budget process that undervalues proposals that help grow the economy and overvalues proposals that shrink the economy. We can no longer afford a budget process that fails to maximize economic growth.”

To listen to Diamond’s five-minute opening statement, go here.

While Diamond was testifying in the Longworth House Office Building, next door in the Rayburn House Office Building, Charles McConnell, executive director of Rice University’s Energy and Environment Initiative, testified before the House of Representatives committee on Science, Space and Technology about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) carbon capture and storage (CCS) plan.

Charles McConnell (center) meets with Rice Capitol Hill interns.

McConnell and other panelists discussed CCS regulatory policies and associated technologies that can be practically applied to power plants and the impact on electric energy reliability and affordability.

Specifically to the EPA’s proposal on CCS, McConnell said, “Commercial CCS technology is still in the laboratory cradle. Today’s CCS technology deployed on a coal power plant will increase the cost of the generated electricity.

“We all want clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, and there is a growing consensus on the need to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially CO2 emissions,” McConnell said. “However, how we approach achieving GHG reductions is critical to being able to do so and protect our economy, our global competitiveness and the very quality of our lives. The EPA’s proposed rulemaking does not meet the test of relevant and impactful policy to reduce such emissions.”

To watch McConnell’s opening statement and the complete hearing, go here.

On the morning of Diamond’s and McConnell’s hearings, Rice alumni and Board of Trustees member Charley Landgraf ’75 hosted many of Rice’s 25 Capitol Hill summer interns for a breakfast near the Hill at Tortilla Grill to discuss their experiences.

Rice Capitol Hill summer interns and some alumni chat over breakfast at Tortilla Grill in D.C.

The students, who had posts at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among others, were in Washington, D.C., as part of Rice’s Summer Mentorship Experience through Leadership Rice and the Baker Institute’s Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program.

After the breakfast, many of the students had to report for duty at their various posts, but some were able to attend, meet Diamond and McConnell and witness the hearings in person.

Alumni were also busy in D.C., as Rob Quartel ’73 hosted a send-off for new Rice Owls. About half of Rice’s 28 incoming D.C.-area freshmen were treated to some great food and good discussion at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital.

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.