SEMI Hosts 2013 Washington Forum; Industry Executives Bring Policy Priorities to Lawmakers

Capitol Commentary

SEMI Hosts 2013 Washington Forum; Industry Executives Bring Policy Priorities to Lawmakers

By Jamie Girard, senior director, Americas Public Policy

Washington Forum photoOn April 16-17, SEMI Americas and its Washington, D.C. office hosted the annual Washington Forum event which brings SEMI industry executives to Washington for two days of meetings, events, and speakers to share the latest public policy priorities with government officials inside the beltway.  This year 23 SEMI-member executives and other participants took part the event which came just as the weather was warming up in D.C., along with talk of big, bipartisan compromises.  With such a strong turnout, the participants were divided into four different teams to cover a wide variety of policy interests including, high-skilled immigration reform, intellectual property, solar PV, and federal R&D investments in a total of over two dozen meetings.

With immigration reform being a hot topic in Washington these days, SEMI was pleased to put together a team to meet with some of the key players in the current immigration debate from both sides of the aisle.  With the cap of H-1B visas met the first week they were issued this year, the team brought the concerns of the semiconductor equipment and materials to these policymakers in a timely fashion.  Meetings included the offices of House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Senate “Gang of 8” member, Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Silicon Valley Representative and leading immigration reform advocate Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). In each of these meetings, the team stressed the need to include high-skilled immigration reform in any attempt to move a larger and more comprehensive immigration reform package.  These requests included raising the cap on the number of H-1B visas that are issued every year as well as creating a separate and automatic category of Greencards for those who graduate from U.S. institutions with a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in a STEM field.

The challenges that are faced by the solar industry are well known.  Because of these challenges, it is as important as ever policymakers have a clear understanding of the current issues being faced by that industry.  So as part of the Washington Forum, a dedicated team of solar industry experts, including participants from Applied Materials, DuPont, and TEL Solar met with a wide range of policymakers on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Energy (DoE).  Educating legislators as to the current state of the trade unrest in the solar industry was a top priority, including sharing the SEMI PV Global Trade White Paper (www.semi.org/en/node/44991).  In addition, the group shared the industry’s desire to see government action to substantial legislation to empower the free market to invest in solar.  A key piece of legislation to do this is S. 795, the Master and Limited Partnership Parity Act, which will allow solar and other renewable energy projects to be treated the same as oil and gas for the purposes of structured tax investments.  S. 795 in authored by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and is formally endorsed by SEMI. The team also advocated for protection of the 30 percent Advanced Energy Invest Tax Credit (ITC), which is scheduled to expire in 2016, and for strong funding for programs at the DoE.

Like with the DoE, cuts to federal funding programs are a concern to SEMI, and was the reason that strong federal funding was a part of the message being delivered as part of the Washington Forum.  The “sequester” has reduced the federal government’s investment in research and development by almost 7 percent.  SEMI is seeking to reverse these cuts and keep our federal funding on pace to be competitive with the rest of the world.  In addition, the Washington Forum gave members a chance talk to policymakers about the potential authorization of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).  This program that has been championed by President Obama would establish up to 15 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI) around the country to bring focus on certain industries to allow them to collaborate in a public private partnership to move innovation for manufacturing forward.  SEMI supports the NNMI and views the centers as an ideal way for the industry to be able to work in a collaborative way to solve difficult, industry-wide problems.

Intellectual Property is key driver for SEMI members, with the average annual investment for our companies being about 15 percent of revenue.  Because of this, and with the government’s increased interest in this area, the fourth Washington Forum Team concentrated on bringing more awareness of the challenges our industry faces to government officials.  The team met with Acting Director of the US Patent & Trademark Office, Theresa Rea, and her staff, to discuss how we could work more closely with the federal government.  The team also met with the Staff Director for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, to discuss the latest legislative proposals in Congress. In addition, the team was able to meet with the International Trade Administration, who handles complaints from companies who have faced IP theft overseas.  The team was also able to sit down for an extended meeting with the “IP Czar” for the federal government, Victoria Espinel, who is responsible for coordinating all government IP-related activity.

In addition to all of the meetings held by the teams, they were also addressed for a keynote speech by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY-19).  Rep. Gibson sits on the House Armed Services Committee, and his been a major proponent for the semiconductor industry since being elected in 2010.  The congressman addressed many issues important to SEMI members including competitiveness, innovation, federal R&D funding, and energy issues.  His speech focused on how we need to work together to accomplish our goals and bring more prosperity back to the United States.

The SEMI Washington Forum is an annual event hosted by the North American Advisory Board, and brings SEMI-members executives to Washington to give them a firsthand experience with addressing policymakers.  It also gives our elected officials a chance to hear straight from their constituents, and learn more about our important industry.  If you would like to learn more about the Washington Forum and how someone from your organization can participate in the future, please contact Jamie Girard, senior director, Americas Public Policy, at jgirard@semi.org, or by phone at 202-393-5552.

May 7, 2013