The President’s FY2012 budget request last week contained the latest piece of positive news for manufacturing policy. In marked contrast to the growing number of funding cuts for other government programs, the President’s request for the Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) at the Department of Energy (DOE) is over 300% higher than the last congressionally approved budget (FY2010). The increase represents a major reversal in funding trends following a decade of declining funding, as ACEEE’s ITP budget fact sheet shows.
In more good news, manufacturing’s champion in the Obama Administration was given a taller podium when the President’s Manufacturing Policy Advisor, Ron Bloom, was named to the National Economic Council to oversee manufacturing sector activities across the Administration and the executive agencies.
The new ITP budget also represents a major strategic shift in the program’s direction, as the fact sheet lays out. Among the new initiatives are:
- Creation of a new Next Generation Materials (NGM), which focuses on early-stage R&D for a variety of advanced materials;
- Funding for the long-anticipated manufacturing innovation hub, joining the existing hubs focused on buildings, bio-resource, and nuclear energy;
- Expanded funding for the Manufacturing Energy Systems initiative—first proposed (but unfunded) by the FY2011 budget request—that would establish a number of centers to work on R&D for emerging and clean energy technologies;
- A substantial increase in cross-cutting R&D, now under the Next Generation Manufacturing Processes (NGMP) initiative;
- Creation of a new Energy Efficiency Partnerships initiative in line with Mr. Bloom's request for more inter-agency coordination; and
- The first increase in funding for Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) since 2007, which are now funded together with the Combined Heat and Power Regional Clean Energy Application Centers (CHP RAC) in the budget.
These changes represent a new direction for the ITP, which is now under the new leadership of Dr. Leo Christodoulou, who is transitioning into his new position after many years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), along with his deputy, Jamie Link.
This new direction and leadership does come with some uncertainties. The existing Save Energy Now Leaders and Industries of the Future (Industry Specific) programs are being dramatically ramped down, and other activities supporting CHP are now integrated with the overall activities of the department. How these changes will play out will depend upon where the new ITP leadership decides to take the program. Overall, however, support for manufacturing is stronger within the Administration than we have seen in recent memory.
Support for manufacturing is turning out to be one of the few areas of bipartisan consensus in an otherwise divisive 112th Congress. We will have to wait to see if the rhetoric can be translated into tangible policies and programs, but as it stands, the current Congressional session has begun with manufacturing in a stronger position in Washington than most insiders can remember.