January 30, 2014

WASHINGTON (January 30, 2014) – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation Wednesday to modernize the United States’ national lab system through targeted reforms, making the nation’s innovation pipeline more efficient and giving the labs new flexibility to support innovation in partnership with the private sector. America’s 17 national labs conduct research in a broad range of scientific and technological fields, but are not always equipped to translate their scientific discoveries into commercial breakthroughs.

“Our nation’s economic growth is tied to our ability to turn promising ideas into job-supporting innovations,” Senator Coons said. “Too many transformative ideas and scientific breakthroughs never leave our national labs, which squanders enormous potential. This bill will modernize critical aspects of our national lab system and give our labs new tools and flexibility to partner with the private sector, helping American businesses access the tools they need to innovate. The America INNOVATES Act will widen and streamline our nation’s innovation pipeline, helping to create badly needed jobs.”

"For over 200 years, American innovation has given the world countless breakthroughs in the fields of science, medicine, energy and technology,” Senator Rubio said. “Unfortunately, our network of national labs, which have long been a leading source of innovation and research, currently lack the tools they need to translate American ingenuity into American jobs. This is especially the case with research relating to the rapidly evolving energy industry, which is too often hampered by regulations, mandates and burdensome taxes. To change this, our national labs need the ability to partner more easily with the small businesses that make up the backbone of the American free enterprise system. This bill will make it easier for our labs to work together with the private sector to bring groundbreaking research to fruition in the marketplace."

The America INNOVATES Act would:

  • Integrate the management of the Department of Energy’s science and energy programs to create a vertically integrated research enterprise
  • Direct the Department of Energy to implement best practices to improve operations and management across the National Lab complex
  • Allow national labs to partner more effectively with the private sector to create new technologies and enhance technology commercialization
  • Allow the Department of Energy more flexibility to support applied research and development activities conducted by universities and nonprofits
  • Give startups more access to cutting-edge facilities at the national laboratories

The legislation is based, in part, on the June 2013 report Turning the Page: Reimagining the National Labs in the 21st Century Innovation Economy produced by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the Center for American Progress, and the Heritage Foundation that aimed to “bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to the DOE lab system, produce more relevant research, and increasingly allow that research to be pulled into the private sector.”

“The America INNOVATES Act is a significant step towards moving the DOE national labs from its atomic roots and into the 21st century innovation economy,” said Matthew Stepp, Senior Policy Analyst with ITIF and coauthor of the report. “For decades, the labs have produced world leading science, but have under-performed at moving research from the lab bench into the marketplace. This legislation provides much needed flexibility in how the labs collaborate with industry, which will enhance innovation, technology transfer, and job creation. INNOVATES is also a model for the bipartisan, innovation-based institutional reforms that are desperately needed to re-shape America’s innovation enterprise.”

“As the United States moves deeper into the 21st century, innovation is key to job creation and economic prosperity," said Darryl Banks, Vice President for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress. “This bipartisan bill reforms the national labs from their 20th century roots and will bring greater cooperation between the labs and the private sector to develop and deploy needed advanced technologies. These pragmatic reforms will bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to the DOE lab system, produce more relevant research, and create mechanisms that can increasingly accelerate tech transfer and job creation.”

“This legislation will introduce market forces that will help bring efficiency and rationality to the national lab system,” Heritage Action for America Communications Director Dan Holler said. “The reforms will protect the taxpayer while spurring more innovation and economic growth by establishing a more seamless pathway for the private sector to transition basic research into market success stories.”

Read the full legislative text. Watch Senator Coons’ announcement of the bill on the Senate floor.


The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank whose mission is to formulate and promote public policies to advance technological innovation and productivity internationally, in Washington, and in the states. Recognizing the vital role of technology in ensuring prosperity, ITIF focuses on innovation, productivity, and digital economy issues. Learn more at