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According to CNN.com

Scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs will be able to vie for a grand prize of $10 million, and smaller prizes reaching millions of dollars, under House-passed legislation to encourage research into hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

The bill (H.R. 5143) would authorize appropriations during fiscal years 2007 through 2016 totaling:

  • $20 million for the Technical Advancement prizes;
  • $20 million for the Prototypes prizes (awards in these two categories alternate each year);
  • $10 million for a single Transformational Technologies grand prize; and
  • $2 million annually for administrative and advertising costs.

The legislation directs the Secretary of Energy to contract with a private foundation or other non-profit entity to establish criteria for the prizes and administer the prize contest.

The bill is interesting partly because it provides a possible model for the legal authority needed for Congress to grant powers to the Executive to enter into other open commitments, such as an Advance Market Commitment for the development of vaccines.  Section 8 of the bill authorizes appropriations for the prizes and the administrative costs of the prize fund.

The CBO cost estimate for the bill is sets an interesting precedent for how such measures might be scored:

CBO estimates that implementing the prize program would cost $2 million in 2007 and $39 million over the 2007-2011 period (with additional spending of the authorized amounts after 2011). CBO estimates that enacting the bill would have no effect on direct spending or revenues.

Interestingly, Section 9 specifically rules out that the programs should be considered a substitute for Federal research and devlopment programs - thereby ensuring that the prizes are additional to, rather than substitutes, for direct funding fo research.

Owen comments: This is an interesting example of how Congress can, if it chooses, create a financial reward for R&D, as a complement to federal funding of R&D, and provides an example of the necessary legislative language.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.