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The Week of January 11, 2021

What’s Ahead

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

(Image credit – Office of Sen. Schumer)

Democrats Prepare for Unified Control of Government

With Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning the Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections in Georgia, Democrats have pulled their numbers in the chamber into a tie with the Republicans. The Democrats will formally take control of the Senate agenda on Jan. 20, when Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president and becomes the tie-breaking vote. At that time, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to become Senate Majority Leader and committees’ leadership positions will pass to their ranking Democrats, immediately reducing the hurdles President-elect Biden’s nominees will need to clear to be confirmed. Democrats may still find it difficult to pursue strong action on priorities such as climate change, since the Senate is expected to retain its filibuster rule, meaning most bills will require the assent of at least 10 Republicans. However, if Democrats can maintain unity within their caucus, they will be able to pass some partisan legislation through the “budget reconciliation” process. In addition, with a unified Congress, Democrats can invoke the Congressional Review Act to reverse many of the regulatory changes the Trump administration finalized within the last six months. As majority leader, Schumer will certainly be able to advance his proposal to vastly expand R&D in certain strategic areas, though there is no guarantee it will retain and build on the bipartisan support it has accrued so far. Last Congress, Schumer’s idea was embodied in the Endless Frontier Act , which called for a major reconfiguration of the National Science Foundation, but the idea could be modified in the current Congress, potentially as part of a broader push on infrastructure.

Astronomers Log On for AAS Meeting

The American Astronomical Society’s annual winter meeting runs through Friday this week. With the inauguration approaching, a special session on Thursday will address the outlook for science policy in the Biden administration. Another special session on Thursday will bring together astronomers and satellite operators to discuss ongoing efforts to address the impacts of large satellite constellations on astronomy. A report produced by AAS and NOIRLab last summer determined light pollution from current and planned constellations could significantly interfere with optical observations and identified a number of mitigation strategies, while noting none would completely eliminate the problem. The conference will also feature nine town hall meetings , including an update on the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in October. In addition, the program includes a series of sessions on engagement with Indigenous communities and a panel on “anti-Blackness in astronomy.”

Meteorological Society Meeting Puts Focus on Social Justice

The American Meteorological Society annual meeting continues in its virtual format this week. Social justice is one of the themes of this year’s meeting, kicking off yesterday with a panel focused on “Building a Culture of Anti-Racism in the Weather, Water and Climate Community.” Additional diversity and inclusion-centered events include a symposium on the topic. Other policy-relevant events include a Wednesday address by National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, and a session with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell on building resilience through community engagement on Friday. Town hall events at the meeting will include a session on the newly established Interagency Council on Advancing Meteorological Services and the fifth National Climate Assessment .

Workshop to Examine Future of Federal Data Repositories

The interagency Networking and Information Technology R&D program is holding a three day virtual workshop this week on “the future of federally supported data repositories.” The workshop will explore opportunities and challenges presented by the expansion of data-intensive research and identify ways to strengthen cross-agency coordination. It will feature lightning talks by university and national lab scientists and a Wednesday panel discussion with staff from five federal agencies.

In Case You Missed It

Following last week’s riot, security barriers are being set up around the Capitol in preparation for President-elect Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Following last week’s riot, security barriers are being set up around the Capitol in preparation for President-elect Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

(Image credit – Victoria Pickering, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Amid Riot, Republican Science Policy Leaders Stoke Election Paranoia

During Congress’ certification of President-elect Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, a mob of rioters ransacked the Capitol, terrorized its staff, and beat a police officer to death after President Trump incited them to derail the proceedings. The riot punctuated Trump’s ongoing campaign to overturn his defeat in the November election by asserting he was cheated through widespread fraud in states he lost. Although courts repeatedly found those claims to be meritless, after the riot eight senators and 139 House members continued to lend the effort credence by challenging certain Electoral College votes, even as they sought to distance themselves from the violence such spurious allegations had just fueled. These lawmakers include the ranking member of the House Science Committee, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), and the ranking members of all its subcommittees in the last Congress: Reps. Randy Weber (R-TX), Brian Babin (R-TX), Jim Baird (R-IN), and Ralph Norman (R-SC) as well as former Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS), who is now a senator. Other challengers included: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the top Republican on a subcommittee responsible for space policy; Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Tom Cole (R-OK), the ranking members of subcommittees that draft spending legislation for a number of science agencies; and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the ranking member of a subcommittee that oversees policy for defense research and technology. Committee assignments are subject to change in the current Congress, but changeovers are generally the exception rather than the rule.

Even before the riot, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) denounced moves to challenge election results, saying, “I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.” However, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) backed the challenges both before and after. Science Committee members have been among the House Democrats who have blasted the challengers as bearing responsibility for the riots, including Reps. Conor Lamb (D-PA) , Sean Casten (D-IL) , and Don Beyer (D-VA) , who has called for McCarthy to resign. Some major companies have also announced they will halt campaign donations to the politicians who have challenged the election results.

Science and University Groups React to the Riot

A number of groups within the scientific and higher education communities have issued statements condemning the events at the Capitol on Jan. 6. After the riot was quelled, Association of American Universities President Barbara Snyder called on Trump and his supporters in Congress to “drop all efforts to disenfranchise American votes,” adding, “America operates on the rule of law, not mob rule.” Elizabeth Rogan, CEO of The Optical Society, wrote the riot “leaves a historical stain on U.S. democracy,” continuing, “As an organization that respects and beholds the U.S. Constitution and the orderly transfer of power, we are saddened by the deep divisions within the U.S. political system which have led to these unnecessary, deadly consequences.” (OSA is an AIP Member Society.) Some activist groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, March for Science, and 500 Women Scientists have issued statements urging that Trump be removed from power. The House is poised to hold expedited impeachment proceedings this week, but the Senate does not plan to act before Inauguration Day.

EPA Finalizes Science ‘Transparency’ Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency published a final rule on Jan. 6 that requires agency staff to assign less weight to scientific studies that lack publicly available data when they are crafting new regulations or producing “influential scientific information.” The requirements specifically affect studies involving “dose response data” and do not apply retrospectively, though they will affect regulations that come up for periodic review. Announcing the publication, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued it is a commonsense “transparency” measure for increasing public confidence in agency decisions and that “activists masquerading as environmental reporters” have mischaracterized its requirements. Meanwhile, House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) called for the incoming Biden administration to act immediately to undo the move, noting it has been strongly opposed by scientific organizations and EPA career staff . She argued the rule shares a lineage with partisan legislation and would place a substantial compliance burden on the research community despite EPA’s claim that it would only affect internal agency procedures. A variety of options have been floated for how the new administration could negate the rule, including the Congressional Review Act, though Wheeler asserted the law is inapplicable because EPA does not expect the rule will entail large compliance costs on external entities.

Biden Selects S&T Policy Experts for Security Council Staff

On Jan. 8, President-elect Biden announced 21 senior staff members for his National Security Council, including several taking on roles related to science and technology:

  • Elizabeth Cameron will return to the role of senior director for global health security and biodefense, which she helped establish during the Obama administration. The position and its corresponding directorate were later disbanded by the Trump administration. Cameron holds a doctorate in biology from Johns Hopkins University and currently serves as vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy group.
  • Tarun Chhabra will serve as senior director for technology and national security. Chhabra previously worked on the NSC staff during the Obama administration and was a speechwriter for then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter. He holds a law degree from Harvard University and currently is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, where he has contributed to reports proposing the U.S. expand multilateral partnerships for AI R&D and establish an open-source intelligence center focused on science and technology.
  • Melanie Nakagawa will serve as senior director for climate and energy. Nakagawa worked in the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation at the State Department and as a climate change adviser to then-Secretary of State John Kerry, who will be Biden’s special envoy for climate and a member of the NSC. Nakagawa holds a law degree from American University and most recently served as director of climate strategy at Princeville Capital, an investment firm.
  • Caitlin Durkovich will serve as senior director for resilience and response. Durkovich was assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, coordinating preparedness policy related to issues including electric grid security, space weather mitigation, GPS resilience, cybersecurity, and climate adaptation. She earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Duke University and most recently worked as a director at Toffler Associates, a consulting firm.

Biden Names Picks to Lead Commerce Department

On Jan. 7, President-elect Biden announced he will nominate Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) to be secretary of commerce. In her remarks accepting the nomination, Raimondo described the Commerce Department’s mission as “to help spur good-paying jobs; to empower entrepreneurs to innovate and grow; to come together with working families and American businesses; to create new opportunities for all of us.” Among the agencies the department oversees are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Elected governor in 2015 after a career in finance, Raimondo has emphasized addressing climate change in her leadership of the state. Last week, Biden also named Don Graves as his nominee for deputy secretary of commerce. Graves served in a variety of economic policy positions in the Obama administration and currently leads Biden’s transition team for the Treasury Department.

Science Committee Leaders Reintroduce Workforce Bills

House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) reintroduced a trio of bills last week that focus on bolstering the STEM workforce:

  • The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act proposes the National Science Foundation create a two year fellowship program for scientists facing diminished job opportunities in academia because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The STEM Opportunities Act , which Johnson has championed during the past four Congresses, seeks to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The bill would expand collection of demographic data on federal research grant applicants and promote the identification and dissemination of best practices for increasing diversity in STEM. The House passed the bill last year but it did not advance out of committee in the Senate.
  • The Rural STEM Education Act would direct NSF to support research on ways to improve the quality and accessibility of STEM instruction in rural schools, including through online coursework. The House passed the bill last year but it did not advance out of committee in the Senate.

DOE Releases ‘Energy for Space’ Strategy

The Department of Energy released a strategy document last week describing ways for it to expand its contributions to space exploration in accord with the recently updated National Space Policy . It identifies four strategic goals: developing space-capable energy technologies, improving scientific understanding of space, protecting space-related national security interests, and promoting U.S. space commerce. DOE Office of Science Director Chris Fall recently described the department’s ongoing collaborative efforts with NASA, which include radioisotope production for power generation for deep space probes, sensor instrument construction, and experimental and computational research in plasma, nuclear, and astrophysics. In October, DOE signed an agreement with NASA identifying areas of mutual interest.

Events This Week

Monday, January 11

AAPT: Winter meeting
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: “A Mid-Term Assessment of NSF Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research: Community Input Session on Priority One”
(continues Tuesday)

AAS: 237th meeting
(continues through Friday)

AMS: 101st annual meeting
(continues through Friday)

National Academies: “America’s Geoheritage Workshop II”
(continues through Friday)

AIAA: SciTech Forum
(continues through Friday)

FDP: Federal Demonstration Partnership meeting
(continues through Thursday)

NNI: “Strategic Planning Stakeholder Workshop”
(continues through Wednesday)

National Academies: “Merits and Viability of Different Nuclear Fuel Cycles and Technology Options and the Waste Aspects of Advanced Nuclear,” meeting four
(continues on Wednesday)

DOD: Air Force Scientific Advisory Board meeting
Closed to the public

Bipartisan Policy Center: “Navigating a 50-50 Senate: A Conversation with Former Senate Leaders Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Trent Lott (R-MI)”
2:15 - 3:00 pm

Tuesday, January 12

Schmidt Futures/SSRC: Futures Forum on Preparedness
(continues Wednesday)

National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Mars,” meeting seven

Nuclear Threat Initiative: “Signals in the Noise: Preventing Nuclear Proliferation with Machine Learning and Publicly Available Information”
12:30 pm

Baker Institute: “Trust in Science: Public Engagement is Crucial”
1:30 - 2:30 pm

National Academies: “Accelerating Integration of the Social Sciences in the Study of Earth System Interactions Workshop,” part one
2:00 - 4:00 pm

Wednesday, January 13

NITRD: “Workshop on Pioneering the Future of Federally Supported Data Repositories”
(continues through Friday)

NASA: Joint meeting of science and human exploration advisory committees
(continues Thursday)

Stellar Energy Foundation: “Fusion’s Promise for our Climate”

11:30 am

National Academies: “Grey Matters: What the History of Vaccines Can Tell Us About the Future”
4:00 - 5:00 pm

Thursday, January 14

World Resources Institute: “The Path to a Sustainable Ocean Economy: U.S. Launch of the Ocean Panel Transformations and Report”
9:00 - 10:30 am

CSIS: “Resetting the Priorities of Scientific Research in America”
10:00 - 11:00 am

FCC: Technological Advisory Council meeting
10:00 am - 12:30 pm

American Enterprise Institute: “Spectrum Sharing and Maximizing Future Tech: A Conversation with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr”
10:30 am - 12:00 pm

UIDP/NIST: “Implementation of the NIST ROI Paper Findings: What you need to know?”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

The Hill: “Advancing Innovation: Technology Leading the Way”
1:00 - 2:00 pm

Commerce Department: Spectrum Management Advisory Committee meeting
1:00 - 4:00 pm

CSIS: “Maintaining the Intelligence Edge: CSIS Technology and Intelligence Task Force Final Report Rollout”
2:00 - 3:00 pm

AAAS: “2021 and Beyond: A Virtual Discussion with Leaders of the National Science Foundation and National Science Board”
3:00 pm

Day One Project: “Trailblazing Models for Deep Tech R&D and Commercialization”
3:30 - 4:30 pm

CSET: “Tech Policy Recommendations for the Biden Administration”
4:00 pm

Friday, January 15

JAXA: “Japan-U.S. Space Cooperation Seminar 2021: The Artemis Generation is Upon Us”
11:00 am

National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Mercury and the Moon,” meeting eight
12:00 - 6:00 pm

National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Ocean Worlds and Dwarf Planets,” meeting 13
1:00 - 5:00 pm

National Academies: “DOD Engagement with Its Manufacturing USA Institutes Phase 2 Study,” meeting six
3:30 - 5:00 pm

Opportunities

Society of Physics Students Hiring Science Policy Interns

The Society of Physics Students is seeking applications from undergraduate physics and astronomy students for its summer science policy internship program sponsored by AIP. The Mather Public Policy Internship places one student at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and works to place two students in congressional offices. SPS also places a student with FYI to assist with science policy reporting. Applications are due Jan. 15, 2021.

ITIF Hiring Clean Energy Innovation Analyst

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is hiring a research assistant to work on clean energy innovation policy. Duties will include “quantitative and qualitative data collection, database maintenance, tracking activities of government agencies and international organizations, and coordination of working groups.” Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree in public policy, energy technology, or a related field.

Science and Engineering Statistics Center Hiring Chief Statistician

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics is hiring a chief statistician, who will oversee ongoing surveys of the U.S. research enterprise and contributions to the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators publication. Applicants must have experience with the requirements of the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act and other relevant policies governing federal statistical agencies. Applications are due Feb. 5.

For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities . Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi@aip.org .

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

Around the Web

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