“FESI.” If you’re a particular type of scientist, iron monosilicide might jump to mind. But if you’re a AAAS Science & Technology Policy fellow, it’s more likely you’ll think “Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation.” FESI is the first nonprofit foundation created for the Department of Energy (DOE) to spur public-private partnerships designed to jumpstart the development of innovative technologies and bypass traditional hurdles such as long development timelines and shifting regulations.
Like many significant programs and pieces of legislation over the past half century, STPF fellows were on the scene – over a span of years. These STPF fellows (sponsored by partner societies) were among those who made important contributions to the ideation in 2016 to the passage in 2022 of FESI in the recent CHIPS and Science Act of 2022:
Leah Rubin Shen, 2015-16 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, American Chemical Society. Shen later became a member of Sen. Chris Coons’s staff.
Yan Zheng, 2016-17 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Levi Patterson, 2017-18 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, American Nuclear Society.
Tanya Das, 2017-18 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, Optical Society of America–Society for Optics and Photonics Technology.
Mallory Hinks, 2017-18 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, American Institute of Physics.
Drew Story, 2018-19 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, American Chemical Society.
Danny Broberg, 2019-20 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, Materials Research Society.
Lizzie Hunsaker, 2020-21 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, American Chemical Society; and 2021-22 Executive Branch Fellow, Department of State.
Clarissa Bhargava, 2021-22 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, Senior Advisor, Bipartisan Policy Center. A member of the STPF Fellowship Advisory Committee, Wuerfmannsdobler provided valuable guidance to fellows throughout the legislative process when he was a staff member for Sen. Coons.
Many countries are pursuing energy strategies that ensure their economies have access to the energy they need to function without interruption—and these strategies are being put to the test by Russia’s war with Ukraine. At the same time, there is a pressing need to address climate change through the development of reliable and affordable supplies of modern and clean energy. Disruptive innovative technologies in the energy sector hold the potential to provide solutions that could address the impact of both of these issues. However, unlike many other sectors, the energy sector faces several unique challenges to innovation including high capital needs, lengthy development timelines, and a shifting regulatory environment. FESI addresses these challenges by fostering partnerships between government, industry, startups, and outside funding organizations.
Nonprofit foundations dedicated to supporting the mission of the U.S. government have been around for decades. The idea of such an organization first emerged in energy policy circles with the 2014 creation of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2016, Yan Zheng in the office of Sen. Chris Coons, and DOE National Labs Fellow Brian Crone in Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s office, met at a presentation by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) highlighting its recommendations to the incoming Trump administration for R&D policy ideas. One of those ideas was for the creation of a DOE foundation to unlock new sources of funding and accelerate innovation at the DOE.
One of the next steps in the legislative process was to produce a bipartisan bill that could start advancing in Congress. Most legislation that moves through Congress must go through what is called “Regular Order.” This means introduction, a hearing in the Committees of Jurisdiction, a legislative markup where members of the Committee can offer changes, and a final vote out of the Committee. This is all before the legislation would be able to be considered for passage by the House or Senate.
In 2017, Republicans had a majority in both the House and Senate, so without a Republican lead who would help move the bill, it was believed that there was no chance to build the momentum necessary to pass it into law.
Crone, Zheng and Levi Patterson (also in Sen. Coons’ office) helped draft legislative text modeled after the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, widely considered to be the archetype for the myriad of government foundations. Unfortunately, bipartisanship was hard to find in 2017.
When Zheng and Crone had moved on to other roles, Patterson along with Randy Flores, a DOE National Labs Fellow in Luján’s office, continued to lead the bill and searched for a bipartisan sponsor to introduce the legislation. A breakthrough came during discussions with Sen. Lindsay Graham’s staff. Sen. Coons then talked to Sen. Graham directly to find common ground at the member level.
South Carolina, the state which Sen. Graham represents, is home to the DOE Savannah River National Lab. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Graham had always been a strong advocate of the Lab and DOE-supported R&D. He agreed to co-lead.
The next step was finding a Republican in the House to co-lead the bill. This support soon came from Rep. Joe Wilson, who also represents the Savannah River National Lab. With bipartisan sponsors in both the House and Senate, it was finally time for bill introduction.
“A DOE foundation is a big, new idea in the energy space, and finding a Republican willing to
take it on in 2017 was not an easy task," said Patterson. “This meant a lot of relationship and trust-building through coffees, after-work networking, and many meetings to discuss the bill text.”
On December 20, 2017, the first version of the bill was introduced. The legislation enjoyed a lot of support from groups including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, Third Way, the Bipartisan Policy Center, Alliance to Save Energy, GridWise, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), as well as prominent voices in the energy innovation space such as Jetta Wong, former director of the Office of Technology Transitions at the Department of Energy, and David Hart, ITIF senior fellow and George Mason University professor of public policy.
Throughout this time, fellows continued to cycle through their fellowships. Tanya Das and Mallory Hinks served fellowships in the Coons office and Patterson had been hired as permanent staff by the Luján office and would lead the legislation on the House side.
Towards the end of the 115th Congress, Drew Story was the new Coons fellow leading the bill on the Senate side, working with Das and Patterson on the House side to keep the bill moving. On November 29, 2018, the legislation received its first hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (SENR) Committee.
After a favorable reception by SENR in 2018, the sponsors re-introduced the bill in the 116th Congress in June 2019 with a goal of including it in the expected Senators Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin “energy package.” This time around, there were eight Republicans and six Democrats sponsoring the House bill and the same pair of Senators leading the Senate bill.
At this point, the bill had been introduced twice, but no committee action had taken place in the House. The relevant committees of jurisdiction were SENR and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (HSST). Das had moved to a permanent position to work on energy policy for HSST in August 2018 and during this time worked to make sure the FESI idea was vetted by stakeholders and to convince Congress as a whole to take action on this novel idea. She worked with external organizations such as the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), Breakthrough Energy, and the Energy Sciences Coalition (ESC) to build this support. This resulted in HSST holding its first hearing on the bill since its introduction on July 17, 2020. One of the witnesses at this hearing was Jetta Wong, who was a champion for the idea and invaluable resource for current and former STPF fellows in advancing this bill.
“With an idea as bold as FESI, moving the bill through the Committee process was not an easy task. Committees of jurisdiction had to hear multiple perspectives from a range of stakeholders including philanthropy, the research community, and think tanks to vet the idea and decide if it was worthy of Congressional action. Years of persistence by Congressional staff and external organizations won the day,” commented Das.
Concurrently, Story (who later joined the permanent staff of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen) and new Coons fellow, Danny Broberg¸ were working to generate action on FESI through the annual Appropriations process. In December 2019, the Conference Report on the Energy and Water Appropriations Act in FY2020 directed DOE to fund a study identifying the value of a nonprofit energy foundation and optimal activities for it to focus on. The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) was contracted by DOE to write this report which was completed in January 2021. This NAPA report along with a 2020 ITIF report helped strengthen the case for the utility of an energy foundation.
While this was happening, Congress was building towards passing the first comprehensive energy bill in 13 years. Committee staff were considering what bills would be most impactful to include in this package and despite this bill not going through regular order, staff considered the idea novel and impactful enough to include in the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which passed the House in September 2020. However, the Senate needed more convincing, and the bill was ultimately dropped, along with several other energy technology transfer provisions, from the Energy Act of 2020 that passed into law in December.
This meant the bill would see yet another Congress. The bill was rebranded to the Partnerships for Energy Security and Innovation Act, and the fellows started the process again. Ben Ray Luján was elected to the Senate, which meant there were current and alum fellows in the Coons and Luján offices working to turn this bill into law.
In the 117th Congress – the third Congress of this bill – it was reintroduced and passed in the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). It then passed the House again in the House’s COMPETES legislation. Final passage was secured, at last, in the CHIPS and Science Act.
What’s next for FESI?
The FESI story doesn’t end with passage of the bill. Now the focus turns to securing appropriations for the bill and meeting Congressional deadlines for establishment. Current Coons energy staffer Lizzie Hunsaker will work on securing funding from inside Congress. Das, now at the Bipartisan Policy Center, is part of a group of experts external to DOE helping implement the foundation, which Congress required to be established within 180 days of passage of the bill.
But many programs are authorized years before actually receiving the funding to be implemented. Take for instance ARPA-E, which experienced a two-year delay between when it was authorized and when it received funding. Hopefully, the wait won’t be too long.