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WEEK OF NOV 20, 2023
What’s Ahead

White House Lawn Turkeys

Turkeys on the White House lawn.

(Katie Ricks / White House)

Tough Budget Negotiations Await After Thanksgiving Recess

Just before its Thanksgiving recess, Congress passed stopgap legislation that will fund part of the federal government at current levels through Jan. 19 and the remainder through Feb. 2. This two-deadline structure was advanced by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who argued the legislation prevents Congress from resorting to its common practice of passing a single massive bill to finalize appropriations for the fiscal year right before the year-end holidays. The Department of Energy is among the agencies funded through Jan. 19 while most other science-funding agencies are in the Feb. 2 group.

Congressional leaders still have not agreed on topline spending limits for agencies in fiscal year 2024, which began on Oct. 1. Uncertainty around budget levels is leading agencies to delay or even pare back their spending. In a particularly stark case, NASA is slowing work on its Mars Sample Return mission given that the Senate has proposed slashing its budget to $300 million in contrast to the House’s proposal to meet the administration’s roughly $950 million budget request for the mission. The delay in finalizing appropriations will also hamper preparation of the budget request for fiscal year 2025, which is due in early February but often released late.

In Case You Missed It

january_2016_spectrum_wall_chart_0.png

A 2016 chart of the U.S. allocation of radio spectrum.

(NTIA)

National Spectrum Strategy Includes ‘Moonshot’ Sharing Effort

The Biden administration released a 26-page National Spectrum Strategy last week that aims to better manage the nation’s crowded radio frequency spectrum. An accompanying presidential memorandum directs agency actions to promote wireless technology innovation and establishes a process for resolving disputes over reallocations of spectrum bands. The strategy states the U.S. will conduct an in-depth study of five spectrum bands covering 2,786 megahertz of spectrum that could be repurposed to support applications such as wireless broadband, drones, and satellite operations. The U.S. also will develop a National Spectrum R&D Plan and establish a “national testbed” for dynamic spectrum sharing research. These actions are part of what the strategy describes as a “moonshot” effort to “advance research, create investment incentives, and set forth measurable goals for advancing the state of technology for spectrum access” within 18 months. The R&D plan will be developed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In a White House rollout event, OSTP Director Arati Prabhakar acknowledged that conversations about spectrum allocations can be “quite contentious and pretty difficult,” noting applications range widely from telecommunications and safety systems to scientific research and environmental monitoring. She also said the memorandum “opens the door to the kind of innovation that can change how we use the spectrum” and reflected on her experience overseeing a spectrum sharing R&D initiative when she was director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. While the Biden administration has grand plans for sharing finite spectrum bands more effectively, Congress has yet to reinstate the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority, which lapsed in March 2023.

5th National Climate Assessment Released

On Nov. 14, the Biden administration released the Fifth National Climate Assessment, a quadrennial report that examines the impacts of climate change and strategies for reducing present and future risk. Assembled by the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program, the report concludes with very high confidence that global average temperatures have increased due to human activities and that observed warming in the continental U.S. and Alaska is significantly higher than the global average. It also finds with high or very high confidence that heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes have become more frequent and severe in certain regions of the U.S. The report notes the U.S. experienced 18 weather and climate disasters in 2022 with damages exceeding $1 billion, while in the 1980s such events occurred only a few times per year on average. It states the increase is “in part due to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme events and in part due to increases in exposure and vulnerability.” For the first time, the report includes chapters dedicated to the economic impacts of climate action and to climate justice and social systems. Alongside the report, USGCRP launched a climate data “atlas” to help the public understand the impacts of climate change in their region and the Department of Defense launched a Climate Resilience Portal to inform its own preparations for climate change.

Science Committee Expands Investigation of Harassment in Antarctica

Leaders of the House Science Committee sent letters last week to the National Science Foundation and federal contractor Leidos that criticize their handling of harassment and assault among personnel in the U.S. Antarctic Program. The letters expand on their concerns that Leidos inaccurately told the committee it had received zero allegations of sexual assault since it became the lead logistics contractor for the program. Leidos later stated that it had in fact received 19 allegations of sexual harassment and four of sexual assault since late 2016. The committee’s letters say that continued conversations with witnesses have further called into question the accuracy of information provided to Congress. They also express concern that NSF and Leidos have not adequately prioritized the safety of victims and that NSF has not done enough to address cultural issues within the program that contribute to harassment. “The apparent inadequacy of these investigations and others ultimately falls to the NSF for failing to conduct sufficient oversight of its contractors and subcontractors and not requiring them to meet expectations,” wrote Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). “We hope to better understand NSF’s actual role and why witnesses have described a lack of NSF involvement in investigating their reports and keeping them safe.” The letter concludes with a long list of questions regarding NSF’s harassment policies and contracting procedures and what changes it plans to implement. The committee is also seeking extensive documentation related to the matter, including email correspondence, Leidos performance reviews, and incident reports.

DOJ Grant Fraud Settlement with Stanford Criticized by Science Committee Chair

Last week, House Science Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) accused the Department of Justice of providing a “sweetheart deal” in its recent settlement of a grant fraud case against Stanford University. The department had alleged Stanford violated the False Claims Act by failing to disclose the foreign ties of 12 faculty members who applied for federal research grants with the Army, the Navy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation between 2015 and 2020. The settlement agreement, reached in September, lists identifying numbers for the grants involved in the case and notes that the undisclosed ties of one professor were with the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Fudan University in China. Under the settlement, Stanford will pay $1.9 million and admit no wrongdoing. In a letter to the Justice Department, Lucas argued that the settlement is “far below the actual size of the grants and the triple damages that the False Claims Act would require if the case had come to completion.” Lucas also asked the department why it did not bring charges against Stanford before pursuing a settlement, how many research security cases it has declined to prosecute, and what countries had provided funds to the lead personnel involved in the grants. In an interview with the Health Care Compliance Association, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Corcoran said the grant personnel also had support from Germany, Japan, Israel, Korea, Australia, and India.

House Punts Votes on Commercial Space and Quantum Bills

The House Science Committee has delayed votes on the Commercial Space Act and the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act until after Thanksgiving. The committee adopted amendments to both bills during a meeting on Nov. 15, but committee Democrats pushed to delay consideration of the Commercial Space Act in part because the National Space Council released its own legislative proposal just before the meeting that does not align with the committee’s legislation. Democrats also raised concerns with certain provisions of the committee’s legislation, which so far only has Republican co-sponsors. Committee Republicans have proposed to create a mission authorization system in the Commerce Department, whereas National Space Council’s proposal involves both the Commerce Department and Department of Transportation in oversight roles. Under the White House proposal, the Department of Transportation would oversee human spaceflight through the Federal Aviation Administration and would also regulate commercial space stations and the transportation of items in space. The Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce would oversee uncrewed spacecraft not covered by the Transportation Department, such as those involved in manufacturing objects in space or removing space debris.

US-China Talks Include Focus on Climate, Student Exchanges

A White House readout of last week’s meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping in San Francisco identified shared priorities for cooperation amid the current competitive dynamic between the U.S and China. The two leaders reached an agreement to resume a climate cooperation working group and pursue emissions reduction initiatives. The White House said they also “encouraged the expansion of educational, student, youth, cultural, sports, and business exchanges.” Xi said in a speech to U.S. business executives that China is prepared to invite 50,000 Americans over the next five years to participate in educational and exchange programs. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also told reporters that the U.S. and China agreed to “start consultations” on extending the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement that lapsed in August.

Congressional Commission Presents Pessimistic View of US-China Relations

The U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission presented a pessimistic view of U.S.–China relations in its annual report to Congress, released on Nov. 14, the same day President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping met in person. The commission asserts that “while the top-level contacts reflected a general desire, at least by the United States, to improve the relationship with Beijing and create an air of normalcy, the new normal is one of continuing, long-term strategic and systemic competition.” The commission concludes China is actively seeking to outpace the U.S. in deploying artificial intelligence, space vehicles, and other emerging technologies for military use, and that U.S. efforts to limit such advances through export controls and investment restrictions remain insufficient. The commission also states that although China’s educational and research pipelines still have major shortcomings that leave them dependent on foreign talent and technology, they are rapidly advancing in key areas. It cites research from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that concludes China operates eight or more of the top 10 institutions in several cutting-edge fields, including nanoscale materials, supercapacitors, electric batteries, and photonic sensors.

Upcoming Events

All times are Eastern Daylight Time, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement. Events beyond this week are listed on our website.

Monday, November 20

ITU: World Radiocommunication Conference 2023
(continues through Dec. 15)

DOE: 21st Century Energy Workforce Advisory Board meeting
12:00 - 1:30 pm

National Academies: “The Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States,” presentations by directors of magnet labs in China
7:00 - 8:00 pm

National Academies: 2025-2035 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences for NSF, meeting on Marine LTER
3:00 - 4:00 pm

Tuesday, November 21

National Academies: Committee on Elementary Particle Physics Progress and Promise, meeting 14
10:00 am - 2:00 pm

Thursday, November 23

Thanksgiving Holiday.

Monday, November 27

National Academies: “Advancing Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM Organizations,” dissemination event
12:00 - 1:30 pm

National Academies: “Understanding the Implications of the SCOTUS Affirmative Action Decision”
10:30 am - 1:30 pm

Atlantic Council: “A Conversation on AUKUS with Under Secretary of State Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins”
1:00 pm

EESI: “COP28 Briefing: The First Global Stocktake”
2:00 - 3:30 pm

NIST: Briefing on the CHIPS National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program
3:00 - 4:00 pm

Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi@aip.org.

Opportunities

Deadlines indicated in parentheses.

We’re Hiring!

FYI is accepting applications for our new science policy internship. This part-time internship will run in the spring of 2024 for 14 weeks and is open to current undergraduate and graduate students. FYI interns are provided a stipend and gain hands-on experience reporting on federal policy developments. Interns must reside in the Washington, D.C. area during the internship.

Job Openings

INL: Nuclear Science and Technology Directorate chief scientist (ongoing)
NSF: Science, Technology, and Innovation Analysis program director (Nov. 27)
NSF: Geosciences Directorate deputy division director (Nov. 27)
Open Philanthropy: Global Catastrophic Risks Team - multiple positions (Nov. 27)
West Virginia University: Science policy fellowship (Dec. 1)
AIP: Congressional fellowship (Dec. 1)
APS: Congressional fellowship (Dec. 1)
NASA: Associate director for flight programs, Earth Science Division (Dec. 6)
Science|Business: EU news reporter (Dec. 8)
AAAS: Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship (Jan. 1)
NSF: Division of Chemistry director (Jan. 3)

Solicitations

NIH: Request for comments and suggestions on updating the NIH mission statement (Nov. 24)
OSTP: RFI to support the development of a federal environmental justice science, data, and research plan (Dec. 12)
NIST: RFI on implementation of the National Standards Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technology (Dec. 22)
NSF: RFI on NSF’s public access plan (Jan. 2)
USGCRP: Request for nominations for authors and scientific/technical Inputs for the First National Nature Assessment (Jan. 4)
DOE: RFI regarding challenges and opportunities at the interface of wind turbines and radar technology (Jan. 12)

Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi@aip.org.

Around the Web

News and views currently in circulation. Links do not imply endorsement.

White House

White House: Biden-⁠Harris administration releases Fifth National Climate Assessment and announces more than $6 billion to strengthen climate resilience across the country
OSTP: Fifth National Climate Assessment details impacts of climate change on regions across the US
Axios: Trump allies pre-screen army of loyalists for unprecedented power grab
Politico: A wild history of Oval Office obsession with UFOs

Congress

E&E News: The coming Senate energy, environment committee shuffle
Exchange Monitor: Big nuclear policy reforms hit a ‘wall’ in House, says Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
House Science Committee: Support grows for the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act
Bloomberg: AI bill by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) requires companies to certify safety of their tech
House Foreign Affairs Committee: Bill to restrict outbound investment in critical technologies introduced by committee leaders
American Astronomical Society: Legislation on space debris and commercialization

Science, Society, and the Economy

New York Times: I’m a climate scientist. I’m not screaming into the void anymore (perspective by Kate Marvel)
Washington Post: John Clauser won a Nobel Prize. Then he started denying climate change
APS News: Cosmologist Edward Kolb urges physicists to combat scientific illiteracy (interview)
Science: Australia’s top science agency faces scrutiny over industry influence
Federation of American Scientists: FAS recognizes exemplary work in science policy and culture with 2023 public service awards
Science: The time is right to develop a national framework to ensure that forensic science used in the courtroom is valid and reliable (perspective by Jennifer Mnookin)
Wall Street Journal: Material Impact raises $352 million fund to target technical startups

Education and Workforce

Chronicle of Higher Education: International students surge back to US campuses
NSB: New report shows we must do more to include ‘Missing Millions’ in science and engineering
Issues in Science and Technology: Fifty years of strategies for equal access to graduate fellowships (perspective by Gisèle Muller-Parker and Jason Bourke)
Physics World: Why the Institute of Physics launched a campaign to get the media to ‘Bin the boffin’
Science: Surprise $200 million bequest has tiny Summer Science Program thinking big
Nature: Universities look to train engineers for an emerging quantum industry
Nature: Why postdoctoral training needs a stronger focus on innovation (perspective by David Bogle)

Research Management

Stanford Daily: Professors raise questions over $1.9 million Stanford-DOJ settlement
Vox: How to catch scientific misconduct and fraud (interview with Elisabeth Bik)
Scholarly Kitchen: cOAlition S’s ‘Towards Responsible Publishing’ (perspectives)
SPARC: US Repository Network launches pilot to enhance discoverability of open access content in repositories
Nature: Who should pay for open-access publishing? APC alternatives emerge
Scholarly Kitchen: Understanding China’s perspective on research integrity and open access (perspective by Nicko Goncharoff)
AIP: Diversity and inclusion at AIP Publishing (report)
ITIF: The US approach to quantum policy (report)
Nature: Why superconductor research is in a ‘golden age’

Labs and Facilities

Brookhaven National Lab: French and US science agencies take first step to collaborate on Electron-Ion Collider
Newsday: Brookhaven National Lab’s 1st female director, JoAnne Hewett, discusses supercolliders, STEM and life on Long Island (interview)
Power: DOE’s unique new advanced nuclear reactor test beds (interview with Kathryn Huff)
Fraunhofer: Fraunhofer, DESY, Hereon and EMBL sign memorandum of understanding for closer collaboration

Computing and Communications

NIST: CHIPS for America releases vision for ~$3 billion National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program
Science|Business: European Commission launches new AI in science unit as part of research directorate reshuffle
New York Times: The fear and tension that led to Sam Altman’s ouster at OpenAI
New Atlantis: A President’s Council on Artificial Intelligence (perspective by M. Anthony Mills)
Washington Post: Google wants governments to form a ‘global AI corps’
Breaking Defense: ITU rules meeting: Geopolitical ‘fireworks,’ DOD spectrum challenges

Space

SpacePolicyOnline: Starship gets further on second test, but still short of goal
SpaceNews: Starship lunar lander missions to require nearly 20 launches, NASA says
NASA: NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana to retire after 38 years
NASA: NASA names new highest-ranking civil servant, head of exploration
Reuters: Russia says it plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon next decade, according to state media outlet TASS
SpacePolicyOnline: Space companies join movement to stop debris-producing ASAT tests
Science|Business: European Space Agency looks to private sector to stay competitive

Weather, Climate, and Environment

E&E News: Republicans ignore climate report, roast EPA power plant rule
Wall Street Journal: Texas rejects science textbooks over climate change, evolution lessons
Financial Times: AI outperforms conventional weather forecasting methods for first time
Nature: Disaster early-warning systems are ‘doomed to fail’ — only collective action can plug the gaps (perspective by Andrew Tupper and Carina Fearnley)

Energy

DOE: DOE announces $3.5 billion to strengthen domestic battery manufacturing
DOE: DOE invests $444 million to strengthen America’s infrastructure for permanent safe storage of carbon dioxide pollution
Science: As nations push for green hydrogen and ammonia, researchers warn of climatic side effects
Science: Climate targets that depend heavily on CO2 removal may contravene international law (perspective by Rupert Stuart-Smith, et al.)
IEEE Spectrum: US reenters the nuclear fuel game
White House: Memorandum on a nuclear energy cooperation agreement between the US and the Philippines
New York Times: Laser fusion start-ups ignite the quest for boundless energy

Defense

Scientific American: The US is beginning an ambitious, controversial reinvention of its nuclear arsenal (special issue)
State Department: Announcing the renaming of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
C4ISRNET: US seeks to fund Israeli laser as Army considers Iron Beam’s potential
CNBC: Why the Pentagon is spending billions to bring laser weapons to the battlefield (video)
New York Times: The invisible war in Ukraine being fought over radio waves
Nature: Continued efforts to maintain the ban on chemical weapons depend on nations sharing information (perspective by Peter Hotchkiss)

Biomedical

Washington Post: Biden picks Vanderbilt physician Kimryn Rathmell to lead National Cancer Institute
Reuters: Biden removes sanctions from Chinese forensic science institute in push for fentanyl help
House Committee on the CCP: Investigation into the Reedley Biolab (report)
Science: House approves ban on gain-of-function pathogen research
Science: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic inspire a guide to recognizing the politics of modeling (book review)
Stat: NIH chief: Government has fallen behind pharma on clinical trials

International Affairs

Commerce Department: ‘Innovation Handshake’ event to deepen US-India tech ties
Commerce Department: Joint Statement of the Japan-US Economic Policy Consultative Committee
Science|Business: Russian researchers disappear from academic conferences as isolation bites
Research Professional: Australian Defense Department proposal would increase penalties for sharing sensitive research
Science|Business: Horizon Europe gets a small €85M boost next year to reach €12.9B
Research Professional: George Freeman quits as UK science minister
Nature: The Israel-Hamas conflict: Voices from scientists on the front lines
Nature: One-third of Indian STEM conferences have no women

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