FYI: Science Policy News
The Week of March 9, 2020

What’s Ahead

DOE Office of Science Director Chris Fall at a recent symposium on Vannevar Bush’s landmark report, Science — The Endless Frontier. This week, he will appear before appropriators on Capitol Hill. 

DOE Office of Science Director Chris Fall at a recent symposium on Vannevar Bush’s landmark report, Science — The Endless Frontier. This week, he will appear before appropriators on Capitol Hill.

(Image credit – Karen Sayre, Eikon Photography / National Academies)

House Appropriators Delving Into DOE Research Programs

House Appropriations Committee hearings are now in full swing as the panel prepares its spending proposals for fiscal year 2021. Following hearings with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and the heads of the Department of Energy’s applied R&D programs the last two weeks, the Energy-Water Subcommittee is turning on Wednesday to DOE’s Office of Science, Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, and Office of Environmental Management. Office of Science Director Chris Fall will discuss a budget request that, aside from floating steep budget cuts, proposes to channel support into a growing set of special R&D initiatives. Among them is a new effort to foster collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, a priority of Subcommittee Chair Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). ARPA–E Director Lane Genatowski will field questions about the Trump administration’s latest proposal to terminate the agency in the face of strong bipartisan support for it in Congress.

Griffin to Testify on Defense Science and Technology Priorities

The House Armed Services Committee is holding a subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the Department of Defense’s science and technology programs. Leading the witness panel is Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, who will be joined by the assistant secretaries responsible for R&D programs in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The hearing will inform the committee’s work on the fiscal year 2021 edition of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which it expects to advance in late April. Although Congress has generally supported Griffin’s efforts to expedite advanced military technologies, last year’s NDAA also blocked certain moves, such as his attempt to cut off funding for the JASON science advisory group. The hearing may also address DOD’s efforts to protect the unclassified research it supports from exploitation by foreign governments, a subject committee members have addressed in the last two NDAAs.

R&D Bills up for Consideration in Senate and House

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is meeting on Wednesday to consider an array of legislation that includes the bipartisan Industries of the Future Act . The bill would require the White House to develop a plan for doubling non-defense R&D spending on quantum information science and artificial intelligence by fiscal year 2022 and raising spending to $10 billion across a range of emerging technologies by fiscal year 2025. On Thursday, the House Science Committee is holding a subcommittee meeting to consider bills covering water and nuclear energy R&D, low dose radiation research , and “energy critical elements.” The legislation is part of the committee’s ongoing effort to update policy across the Department of Energy’s applied R&D programs.

House Science Committee Revisiting NIST Policy

The director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology is testifying before the House Science Committee on Wednesday at a hearing that will inform forthcoming policy legislation for the agency. Congress last broadly modified NIST policy through the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act in 2016. During the previous Congress, the House passed a NIST reauthorization bill but it did not advance in the Senate. Among its provisions, that bill would have provided NIST with special authority to hire and provide higher compensation to R&D personnel in cybersecurity, quantum information science, and other national priority areas. This year, committee Republicans’ sweeping Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act would likewise expand NIST’s hiring authorities, as well as create a facilities modernization fund and recommend Congress increase the agency’s budget from $1 billion to $1.8 billion by 2029. It also includes provisions that would implement recommendations from NIST’s “green paper” on improving federal technology transfer policies.

Senate Reviewing NOAA Administrator Nomination

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to review the president’s nomination of Neil Jacobs to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jacobs has been serving in the position in an acting capacity since last February and was officially nominated to the position this January. In his responses to advance questions from the committee, Jacobs states that restoring U.S. leadership in weather forecasting is one of the top three challenges facing the agency. In pursuit of this goal, Jacobs has championed the concept of crowdsourcing forecast model development through an Earth Prediction Innovation Center , for which NOAA plans to soon solicit proposals. He is likely to face questions on the center and the administration’s latest budget request for NOAA, which proposes steep cuts across the agency, as well as on his role in the scandal surrounding Hurricane Dorian forecasts.

Top Astronomers Warning Congress About Satellite Interference

The American Astronomical Society and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory are holding a congressional briefing on Wednesday to raise awareness about how the rapid growth of commercial satellite constellations could interfere with telescope operations. Among the speakers is University of Michigan astronomer Pat Seitzer, who has studied potential mitigation strategies for the “megaconstellations” planned by SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon. The other speakers are Megan Donahue, president of AAS; Tony Beasley, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory; and Tony Tyson, chief scientist of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. In a March 4 statement , the Rubin Observatory estimated that up to 30% of all images taken by the telescope could contain at least one satellite trail from SpaceX’s planned 42,000 member constellation. If the affected images are saturated due to the brightness of the trails, it adds, the telescope’s planned 10 year survey of the southern sky may have to be extended by four years.

National Academies Hosting Student Mental Health Workshop

On Wednesday, the National Academies is hosting a public workshop on student mental health, bringing together stakeholders to “review evidence, identify gaps in research, and assess community needs.” The effort is organized by the Committee on Supporting the Whole Student , which is conducting a study on “ways in which colleges and universities provide treatment and support for the mental health and well-being of undergraduate and graduate students,” with a focus on students in STEM fields. In light of the spreading coronavirus, the National Academies has noted they “encourage individuals to attend virtually if they have any concerns.”

In Case You Missed It

A model of a virus displayed during President Trump’s visit to the National Institutes of Health on March 3.

A model of a virus displayed during President Trump’s visit to the National Institutes of Health on March 3.

(Image credit - Shealah Craighead / The White House)

Coronavirus Impacts Spread Across Science and Government

As the number of U.S. cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 continues to increase, disruptions are spreading across the scientific community and the federal government. Meanwhile, the government’s response to the disease is coalescing, even as delays in testing and mixed messaging have drawn considerable criticism.

  • Congress: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) announced over the weekend they have placed themselves in quarantine as a precaution after they interacted with an individual at a political conference who later tested positive for COVID-19. The prospects of the virus spreading within the halls of Congress has reportedly led some to raise the idea of calling an emergency recess to protect members. Last week, Congress passed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to bolster disease response efforts.
  • Administration: Adding to efforts underway at public health agencies, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has joined the vice president’s coronavirus task force and begun coordinating efforts at some federal science agencies, such as special funding opportunities for rapid-response research. OSTP has also asked the National Academies to establish a committee of experts in areas such as public health preparedness and risk communication to respond quickly to government needs.
  • Agencies: The Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance to federal agencies recommending that they review their telework policies to ensure as many employees as possible are able to work remotely if needed. Last week, all NASA employees were asked to work from home in order to test readiness for large-scale telework, and this week the agency’s Ames Research Center ordered mandatory telework after an employee tested positive for the virus.
  • Conferences: Major academic conferences have been cancelled around the country, such as the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference planned for March 16 to 20, though some conferences are moving forward with enhanced health measures in place. Scientists have experimented with virtual conferencing tools in a bid to salvage cancelled meetings.
  • Universities: The University of Washington was the first major institution to cancel in-person classes last week, and others since have followed suit . Many institutions are advising students and faculty to limit travel, cancelling study abroad programs, and preparing to transition to online classes.

EPA Expands Reach of Proposed Transparency Rule

On March 3, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft supplement to its proposal to limit its use of scientific studies that lack publicly available data. The supplement considerably expands on that policy by applying it to all “influential scientific information, as well as significant regulatory actions,” and by stipulating it cover all “data and models, not only dose-response data and dose-response models.” EPA maintains such requirements will increase the integrity of its work. Responding to arguments that certain kinds of confidential data should not be made publicly available, the supplement stipulates data and models need only be made “available in a manner sufficient for independent validation,” which could include mechanisms allowing for restricted access. The supplement indicates the policy would generally prohibit EPA from using nonconforming studies if they play a “pivotal” role, and for other cases it stipulates they will carry lesser weight. The original rule met with extensive criticism that it would unduly restrict EPA’s use of science and hamstring the agency’s work. In a statement , House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) called the supplement an “even more extreme assault on the agency’s ability to use the best available science” and called on EPA to significantly extend the public comment period from its current length of 30 days.

DOE Releases ‘AI for Science’ Report

Late last month, the Department of Energy published a report summarizing takeaways from its recent series of “AI for Science” town hall meetings, which examined opportunities and challenges in the next decade in the areas of artificial intelligence, big data, and high performance computing. Key opportunity areas identified by participants include “use of AI methods to accelerate the design, discovery, and evaluation of new materials, and to advance the development of new hardware and software systems; to identify new science and theories within increasingly high-bandwidth instrument data streams; to improve experiments by inserting inference capabilities in control and analysis loops; and to enable the design, evaluation, autonomous operation, and optimization of complex systems from light sources to HPC data centers; and to advance the development of self-driving laboratories and scientific workflows.” The report also presents a roadmap for progress in 16 topical areas, ranging from fundamental science to manufacturing and facilities management.

Former Air Force Secretary Appointed to National Science Board

The White House announced last week that President Trump will appoint Heather Wilson to a six year term on the National Science Board, the 24 member governing board of the National Science Foundation. Wilson served as Secretary of the Air Force from 2017 to 2019, during which time she worked with NSF Director France Córdova to initiate a research partnership between the two agencies. She is currently president of the University of Texas at El Paso and was previously president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Wilson was a Republican member of the House from 1998 to 2009, representing New Mexico’s first district.

CU Boulder to Shutter Science Policy Program

The University of Colorado Boulder announced last week that it will close its Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the end of the academic year on May 31. Waleed Abdalati, director of the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, which hosts the center, said in a letter that the university is now considering establishing a new center “focused more broadly on the social aspects of environmental change.” He added such a move would “further align our efforts in the social sciences with the interests of our primary sponsoring agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” The center was established in 2001 and is among a handful of U.S. universities that offer certificates or advanced degrees in science policy. The founding director, Roger Pielke Jr., criticized the decision to close the center as “baffling,” writing, “It seems obvious that at no point in our history has the intersection of science, policy, and politics been more important.”

NASA Sets Baseline Cost and Schedule for WFIRST

NASA announced on March 2 that the flagship Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope has passed its confirmation review. The mission is now committed to a development cost of $3.2 billion and a launch readiness date of October 2026, though NASA is aiming to launch a year earlier. WFIRST’s coronagraph, which will enable the telescope to image some exoplanets, continues to be treated as a technology demonstration and has a cost cap of $334 million that is not included in the $3.2 billion. Speaking to a NASA advisory committee on March 5, Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz emphasized that, while NASA is eager to include the coronagraph, it is not essential to WFIRST’s science goals and must abide by controls that include a “drop dead” completion date of mid-2023. In its fiscal year 2021 budget request for NASA, the Trump administration has for a third time proposed cancelling WFIRST. Congress has to date fully funded the mission, which will require $505 million next year to stay on track, a slight decrease from its current budget.

Mars 2020 Rover Named ‘Perseverance’

The nameplate for the newly named Perseverance rover

The nameplate for the newly named Perseverance rover

(Image credit – NASA / JPL-Caltech)

NASA announced last week that it has chosen the name “Perseverance” for its Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled to launch this summer. The name was submitted by seventh grader Alex Mather as part of a contest that drew 28,000 entries from primary and secondary school students across the U.S. Once the $2 billion rover reaches Mars one year from now, it will complement the work of NASA’s Curiosity rover, cache samples for a later mission to carry back to Earth, and deploy a helicopter that, if successful, will be the first aircraft to operate on another planetary body.

Events This Week

All times are Eastern Daylight Time and all congressional hearings are webcast, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement.

Monday, March 9

National Academies: “Astro2020 Panel on An Enabling Foundation for Research,” meeting three (continues through Wednesday) Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC) Webcast available NASA: Planetary Science Advisory Committee virtual meeting (continues Tuesday) Aspen Institute: “The Quantum Future” (continues Tuesday) Aspen, CO DOE: Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee meeting (continues Tuesday) North Building Conference Center (955 L’Enfant Plaza SW, DC) Aerospace Corporation: “Space Domain Awareness: Building Trust in the Data” 11:00 am - 12:30 pm, George Washington University (1957 E St. NW, DC) Belfer Center: “Geopolitical Implications of the Rapidly Changing Arctic” 11:45 am - 1:00 pm, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)

Tuesday, March 10

DOE: 5G-Enabled Energy Innovation Workshop (continues through Thursday) Chicago, IL NASA: NASA Earth Science Advisory Committee meeting (continues Wednesday) NASA headquarters (300 E St. SW, DC) Webcast available National Academies: “Accelerating Decarbonization in the U.S.: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions,” kickoff meeting (continues Wednesday) National Academy of Sciences Building (2101 Constitution Ave. NW, DC) DOE: Energy Storage Grand Challenge Initiative Stakeholder meeting 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX) Commerce Department: Regulations and Procedures Technical Advisory Committee meeting 9:00 am, Herbert Hoover Building (14th St. NW, DC) Webcast available Senate: Department of Interior budget request hearing 10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee (366 Dirksen Office Building) House: Department of Commerce budget request hearing 10:30 am, Appropriations Committee (2362-B Rayburn Office Building) House: USGS oversight hearing 2:00 pm, National Resources Committee (1324 Longworth Office Building) National Academies: “Ocean Plastic: A Scientist’s Tale” 6:00 - 7:30 pm, National Academy of Sciences Building (2101 Constitution Ave. NW, DC)

Wednesday, March 11

National Academies: “Assessment of the SBIR and STTR Programs at NIH,” kickoff meeting (continues Thursday) Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC) National Academies: “Supporting the Whole Student: Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Well-being in Higher Education” 8:30 am - 5:00 pm, National Academies of Sciences Building (2101 Constitution Ave. NW, DC) AAS/Smithsonian: “Crowded Skies: The Impacts of Satellite Constellations on Astronomy” 9:30 - 10:30 am, 2325 Rayburn House Office Building House: Department of Interior budget request hearing
9:30 am, Appropriations Committee (2362-B Rayburn Office Building) Senate: Markup of the Industries of the Future Act 10:00 am, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (253 Russell Office Building) Senate: NOAA administrator nomination hearing 10:00 am, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (253 Russell Office Building) House: “Reauthorization of NIST” 10:15 am, Science Committee (2318 Rayburn Office Building) House: DHS S&T Directorate budget request hearing 11:00 am, Homeland Security Committee (310 Cannon Office Building) Code For America: “Congress Meets Coding” 1:30 - 2:30 pm (Rayburn House Office Building Foyer) House: “Reviewing DOD S&T Strategy, Policy, and Programs for FY2021: Maintaining a Robust Ecosystem for Our Technological Edge” 2:00 pm, Armed Services Committee (2118 Rayburn Office Building) House: Budget request hearing for DOE Office of Science, ARPA–E. and Environmental Management 2:00 pm, Appropriations Committee (2362-B Rayburn Office Building) National Science Policy Network: Policy Memo Competition Flash Q&A 4:00 - 5:30 pm, Webinar

Thursday, March 12

NASA: NASA Advisory Council Science Committee virtual meeting (continues Friday) CANCELLED -- Consortium for Ocean Leadership: “Transforming U.S. Ocean Science and Technology Partnerships” 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, Reserve Officers Association (1 Constitution Ave. NE, DC) House: Subcommittee markup of four energy research bills 9:00 am, Science Committee (2318 Rayburn Office Building) POSTPONED -- House: “Climate Change, Part IV: Future Impacts of Continued Federal Inaction” 10:00 am, Oversight and Reform Committee (2154 Rayburn Office Building) Boston University: “Building the Next Generation Climate Workforce” 12:00 - 1:30 pm, 385 Russell Senate Office Building NASA: Earth Science Decadal Survey Community Forum 1:00 - 3:00 pm, Webinar DOE: Secretary of Energy Advisory Board meeting 2:00 - 5:00 pm, DOE headquarters (1000 Independence Ave. SW, DC) CANCELLED -- Stony Brook University: “Remembering President John Marburger in New Science Policy Lecture Series” 4:00 pm, Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, NY)

Friday, March 13

National Academies: “Women’s History Month 2020: Science, Sex, and Gender” 9:00 - 11:30 am, National Academy of Sciences Building (2101 Constitution Ave. NW, DC) Webcast available National Academies: Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board meeting 10:00 am - 3:30 pm, Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC) NSF: “The State of the Planet and the Future of Geoscience Research” 1:30 - 3:30 pm CDT, University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)

Saturday, March 14

CANCELLED -- Science History Institute: “The Presence (and Absence) of Women in Science” 11:00 am - 12:00 pm, Science History Institute (Philadelphia, PA)

Sunday, March 15

National Academies: “Promising Practices for Improving the Inclusion of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine: Lessons From Kuwait and the U.S.” (continues Monday) Kuwait City, Kuwait

Monday, March 16

DOE: Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee virtual meeting National Academies: “Virtual Workshop on Opportunities for Accelerating Scientific Discovery: Realizing the Potential of Advanced and Automated Workflows” (continues Tuesday)


OSTP Extends Comment Period for Public Access Options

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has extended the deadline for its request for public input on “approaches for ensuring broad public access to the peer-reviewed scholarly publications, data, and code that result from federally funded scientific research” to April 6. OSTP has also extended the comment period for input on a draft set of “desirable characteristics” for repositories used to “locate, manage, share, and use data resulting from federally funded research.” Comments are now due March 17.

Science Beyond Borders Project Seeking Personal Stories

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is collecting stories on international collaborations from immigrant and non-immigrant scientists working in the U.S. as part of its Science Beyond Borders project. The stories will be used to support the second phase of the project, which will engage federal government officials and academic institutions on ways to support immigrant scientists.

Duke Center Seeking Senior Science Policy Associate

The Duke Center on Science and Technology Policy is seeking a senior science policy associate to lead projects in areas such as emerging technologies governance and the future of work. Applicants should have an advanced degree and five years of S&T policy experience.

For additional opportunities, please visit . Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at .

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

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