Congress

Congress can invest in reusable digital content and applications to better communicate with and protect citizens.

Although the fixed costs of producing data or an application might be high, one of digital information’s benefits is that the marginal cost of creating an additional copy is typically minimal. Creating digital data using interoperable standards, such as sharable and reusable Extensible Markup Language (XML), multiplies its value many times — this can be far more valuable than just building a Web site or an application that solves a single problem.

Congress should require federal agencies to provide savings and other incentives to citizens that use e-government services

If citizens, particularly lower income citizens, could save more money by being on line, they would be more able to afford to subscribe to broadband. One way for government to enable this is to pass along the savings from online interactions to citizens. For many governmental activities it costs government less if citizens use an online channel, as opposed to using mail, telephone, or in-person channels. This includes services like paying taxes, fees, and fines (e.g., parking tickets), renewing permits and licenses, and other activities where citizens pay. Some governments provide a discount for citizens using the lower-cost e-government channel. More governments should do the same.

Congress should double the DOE’s Energy Frontier Research Centers budget to $300 million by FY2014.

The budget for EFRCs should be doubled from current levels of about $155 million in annual project support awarded in FY2009 to at least $300 million per year by FY2013. This funding would be sufficient to support 60-150 EFRC projects ongoing at any given time and capable of catalyzing cutting-edge research at the frontier of energy sciences.

Congress can consider authorizing $15 billion in federal grants to capitalize state-run revolving loan funds to increase access to low-cost capital and accelerate the adoption of advanced clean energy production.

One of the major barriers to the establishment of a domestic clean energy manufacturing industry is access to capital. Largely as a result of the recession, manufacturers, particularly small and medium-sized companies, continue to face a reduction in demand and difficulty in securing the needed credit. Therefore, Congress should allocate $15 billion to the Department of Commerce (DOC) for a new grant program to provide capitalization for state-managed revolving loan funds that provide low-cost financing for the retooling or expansion of clean energy production facilities and the adoption of advanced clean energy production techniques. The focus should be on facilities capable of producing commercially viable clean energy technologies for which there is (or is expected to be) a large or growing global demand. To effectively leverage federal dollars, state governments should contribute at least one dollar of their own funding for every dollar of federal funds. The loan program should also require state-coordinated plans that foster regional cluster initiatives building on public-private collaboration and coordination of innovation, production, and commercialization activities.

Congress should create a new domestic clean energy supply chain initiative at the Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) and expand funding for the MEP to $400 million annually in order to increase U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.

MEP is oversubscribed, and expanding the program’s responsibilities in the clean energy industry will require additional funding. Congress should authorize a steadily expanding MEP funding to $400 million per year in five years time, ensuring sufficient funds to fully service existing MEP centers and support the new clean energy supply chain initiative.

Congress should establish a Federal Clean Energy Innovation Council to facilitate institutional coordination between regional clean energy industry clusters and federal programs supporting clean energy innovation, production, and commercialization.

To facilitate institutional coordination among regional clean energy industry clusters and existing federal programs supporting clean energy innovation, production, and commercialization activities, create a Federal Clean Energy Innovation Council, composed of high-level representatives of the DOE, DOC, NSF, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and representatives of regional industry cluster efforts. The Council should develop criteria that ensure that existing federal programs are leveraged effectively through integration with regional clean energy industry clusters.

Congress should increase funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy to $1.5 billion.

The ARPA-E program is critical to securing American clean energy competitiveness by developing a new generation of affordable technologies that can form the basis of a new export-oriented clean energy growth strategy. But the funding level for this innovative program remains far too small to keep up with either our economic competitors or the scale of need. Congress should work to increase ARPA-E’s budget to $1.5 billion in five years, and $3 billion in ten years. Funding at this level would eventually bring ARPA-E to the same scale at which DARPA is funded today. Given the expected multi-trillion dollar scale of the clean energy industry, only funding levels of this order of magnitude will spur the pace of innovation and entrepreneurialism necessary in the clean energy industry.

Congress should increase the Alternative Simplified R&D credit in order to boost private sector R&D investments.

The U.S. R&D credit is far less generous than that of most other countries. In 2012, the United States ranked just 27th out of 42 countries studied in terms of R&D tax incentive generosity, down from 23rd just five years ago. Brazil, China, and India all offer more generous R&D tax credits than the United States. There are two potential policy options Congress could take increase America’s R&D competitiveness. Congress should either increase the ASC from 14 percent to 20 percent or it should expand the ASC by enacting a three-tier credit. Firms would continue to receive a credit of 14 percent of the amount of qualified expenses greater than 50 percent and below or equal to 75 percent of the average qualified research expenses. For qualified expenses greater than 75 percent and below or equal to 100 percent firms would receive a credit of 20 percent and for qualified research exceeding 100 percent of the base the credit would increase to 40 percent.

Congress should develop “Turbo-Tax”- like e-government applications, especially for business interactions with government.

Most states have business portals that allow entrepreneurs to find information about creating a business online, but too few of these sites actually navigate users through regulatory process of creating and maintaining a business online. These portals should be run more like tax preparation software created by companies that guide taxpayer through numerous options to maximize their savings. Based on location and other relevant information entered by an individual, the software tools would automatically generate all the forms for all the government agencies (including local, state and federal) that apply. “Wizard” software could guide individuals through processes by asking them questions and on the basis of answers help them fill out the required forms. These programs would allow people to automatically file forms to the appropriate government agencies. Such "turbo" tools could radically simplify the process of dealing with government, providing savings.