FYI: Science Policy News
The Week of May 1, 2017

What’s Ahead

Spending changes from FY2016 to FY2017

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Congress Arrives at FY17 Spending Deal, Final Vote Early This Week

Lawmakers have reached an agreement on a fiscal year 2017 catchall spending package that includes annual appropriations and programmatic guidance for the science agencies through Sept. 30 of this year. Here are the bill’s funding levels for selected federal science agencies:

  • DOE Office of Science: $5.392 billion, a 0.8% increase above the FY16 level
  • NASA Science: $5.765 billion, 3.1% increase
  • NSF: $7.472 billion, 0.1% increase
  • DOD S&T: $14.011 billion, 7.8% increase
  • NIST: $954 million, 1.0% decrease
  • NOAA: $5.675 billion, 1.6% decrease
  • NIH: $34.084 billion, 6.2% increase
  • USGS: $1.085 billion, 2.2% increase

Votes on the omnibus spending bill are expected early this week, over seven months into the fiscal year. A number of appropriators expressed frustration over how the appropriations cycle has dragged on with extending continuing resolutions. Senior Republican appropriator Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and others have said it was “a mistake” not to finalize the fiscal year 2017 package when it was nearly ready last fall. Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told CQ Roll Call that the Trump administration did not influence the Energy-Water spending bill that funds the Department of Energy.

Senate Defense Committees Holding Two R&D Hearings

On Wednesday, two Senate committees will hold hearings concerning R&D at the Department of Defense. The first , convened by the Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, will address the DOD laboratories and their contributions to military operations and readiness. Witnesses include Melissa Flagg, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for research; Jeffrey Holland, former director of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center; John Montgomery, former director of research at the Naval Research Laboratory; and Ricky Peters, former executive director of the Air Force Research Laboratory. The second hearing, convened by the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, will review funding for defense innovation and research. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work will testify alongside William Roper, Jr., director of the department’s Strategic Capabilities Office, and Steven Walker, acting director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

AMS Washington Forum to Look at Evolving U.S. Weather Enterprise

The American Meteorological Society is holding its 2017 Washington Forum this Tuesday through Thursday, focusing on the theme of “evolving the U.S. weather enterprise” and working with the new administration. The forum kicks off tonight with the James R. Mahoney Lecture featuring Richard Moss, former director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, speaking on “Better Information for Better Decisions .” Earl Comstock, director of policy and strategic planning at the Department of Commerce, will deliver a keynote address on Tuesday morning, and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently under consideration for NASA administrator, will deliver the congressional keynote Tuesday night. A Tuesday morning panel includes Craig McLean, assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for research, a Wednesday morning panel includes Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Thursday panels feature congressional staffers and federal agency program managers from the National Science Foundation, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NASA, and Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Registration is open and will remain open through the duration of the forum.

Science and Small Business Committees Holding Hearing on SBIR/STTR

On Thursday, the House Committees on Science and Small Business are convening a joint hearing to discuss ways to improve the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which together issue over $2 billion in R&D awards to businesses each year. Last Congress, the House and Senate Small Business Committees both advanced bipartisan bills that would have significantly increased the fraction of agencies’ extramural R&D budgets allocated to SBIR and STTR. Members of the House Science Committee from both parties aired concerns about these proposals, arguing that raising the set-aside thresholds would divert resources from critical basic research programs. The bills were not enacted, though Congress did reauthorize both programs through fiscal year 2022.

NAS to Review Mid-Term Progress of NASA Planetary Science

On Thursday, a National Academies Space Studies Board committee will convene to review the progress NASA’s Planetary Science program has made towards advancing the priorities of the decadal survey “Vision and Voyages for Planetary Sciences in the Decade 2013-2022.” The committee will discuss the recently published “Review of NASA’s Planetary Science Division Restructured Research and Analysis Programs ” report. Additionally, the committee will discuss a new directive pertaining to the Mars Exploration Program that was called for in the NASA Transition Authorization Act that President Trump recently signed into law.

In Case You Missed It

President Trump speaks with astronaut Peggy Whiston

Astronaut Peggy Whiston, who last week broke the record for the number of consecutive days spent by an American in space, chit chats via satellite downlink from the International Space Station with President Trump, Ivanka Trump, and astronaut Kate Rubins. Whiston was joined by Col. Jack Fischer, another astronaut who arrived at the ISS last week.

(Image credit – The White House)

White House Steps Up STEM and Space Outreach

The White House has recently increased its attention to science outreach, especially in STEM education and space exploration. Last week, the White House announced that the annual White House Science Fair inaugurated by the Obama administration will continue, but no date for the next fair has been announced. President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump has also stepped up as a STEM advocate, making an appearance with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in March at the National Air and Space Museum to speak about the importance of STEM education and advancing women in STEM fields. During the event, she emphasized that the administration has “expanded NASA’s space exploration mission”, but did not mention its plan to eliminate funding for NASA’s education office.

Last week, the two Trumps, alongside astronaut Kate Rubins, called Peggy Whiston to congratulate her on surpassing the record for the most time spent in space by an American. During the event the president said that he would like to send an American to Mars “during his first term or at worst during [his] second term,” which is much faster than the goal set in the NASA Transition Authorization Act signed into law in March.

Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Preserve Access to Government Research Data

On April 27, Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the “Preserving Data in Government Act,” which would “require federal agencies to preserve public access to existing open datasets, and prevent the removal of existing datasets without sufficient public notice.” Although the bill’s requirements are not specific to research data, the press release announcing the introduction makes clear that the legislation was crafted in part to “keep government research data publicly available.” The bill comes amid concerns that the new administration may shutter certain open data streams and portals, some of which were launched during the Obama administration.

Top Science Committee Democrat Investigating ARPA–E Spending Freeze

On April 26, the ranking member of the House Science Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), sent a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry in response to reports that the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy has ceased distributing and managing grant funds allocated from its fiscal year 2016 budget and earlier. She wrote, “Taken together with the President’s recent budget request that proposes to eliminate ARPA–E, these reports appear to suggest that the Administration is attempting to shut down the agency without Congressional authorization. Such an action would be both ill-advised and potentially illegal.” She referred to the Energy Department’s explanation to committee staff that DOE is undertaking a “full review” of programs, policies, and grants as a “non-response,” and asked Perry to provide additional details by May 3.

Administration Releases Guidance on Leveraging Federal STEM Funds

The Department of Education released a memo last month on how state and local education agencies and private sector partners can leverage federal funds to support Pre-K–12 STEM education programs and activities. The document provides examples of how funds from the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 can be leveraged to support instruction in STEM fields.

Progress in Astrobiology Praised at Science Committee Hearing

On April 26, the House Science Committee held a hearing dedicated to recent advances in the field of astrobiology. The subject is one in which Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has long held a strong interest. Witnesses from NASA and two universities described current and future capabilities in the astrophysical study of exoplanets as well as prospects for finding signs of life in the subsurface oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa. An astronomer from the SETI Institute also discussed strategies in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The meeting showcased strong bipartisan support for astrobiology, but committee Democrats stressed support for all sciences, noting that astrobiology relies on progress in more earthbound fields.

Senators Claim Grantees Not in Compliance with Disclosure Requirement

In an April 25 letter to the Government Accountability Office, five Republican senators assert that many federal grantees have not been following a longstanding funding disclosure requirement — the so-called Stevens amendment — and ask GAO to assess compliance rates. First instituted in 1989 by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) through an amendment to an appropriations bill, the provision requires recipients of money from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, including the National Institutes of Health, to publicly report the percentage of total project costs financed with federal money, among other items. The letter’s signatories — Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI), John McCain (R-AZ), James Lankford (R-OK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) — share an interest in closely tracking grant expenditures, as all have recently applauded or compiled “wastebooks” that catalogue allegedly wasteful federal projects, including research grants.

‘Innovation Imperative’ Progress Report Gives Congress Mixed Grades

A new progress report from the heads of nine U.S. corporations behind the 2015 Innovation: An American Imperative call to action gives Congress mixed grades on a list of seven policy recommendations. The report credits Congress with passing a permanent federal R&D tax credit and reaffirming merit-based peer review, while noting increasing concern over whether Congress will reform visa policy to “attract and retain the best and brightest students and researchers in an increasingly competitive global market.”

Report Highlights Economic Impact of University Spinoff Companies

Last week, the Science Coalition, an organization of more than 50 U.S. research universities, released the final volume in a series of three “Sparking Economic Growth” reports. Together, the reports showcase over 300 companies created through federally funded university research. The Science Coalition website features a database of the spinoff companies sortable by a variety of criteria, including funding agency, university, and state.

Events This Week

Monday, May 1 National Academy of Sciences: 154th Annual Meeting (continues through Tuesday)

NSF: Large Facilities Workshop (continues through Wednesday)
Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel (Baton Rouge, LA)

American Meteorological Society: “Better Information for Better Decisions: Scientific Assessments to Support Risk Management and Solutions”
4:00 – 5:00 pm, AAAS headquarters (1200 New York Ave. NW, DC)
James R. Mahoney Lecture featuring Richard Moss, former director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program

Tuesday, May 2 American Meteorological Society: 2017 Washington Forum (continues through Thursday)
AAAS Headquarters (1200 New York Ave. NW, DC)

American Astronomical Society: “Shedding Light on Black Holes” breakfast briefing
9:30 – 10:30 am, (2325 Rayburn Office Building)
Webcast available, RSVP requested

House: Examining Improvements to the Regulation of Medical Technologies”
10:00 am, Energy and Commerce Committee (2123 Rayburn Office Building)

National Academies: Polar Research Board spring teleconference
Open session: 1:00 – 2:20 pm

Wednesday, May 3 National Academies: Space Studies Board spring meeting (continues Thursday)
Open sessions: 10:15 am - 5:30 pm, Wed.; 8:00 - 11:15 am, Thur.
Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC)

Senate: “Department of Defense Laboratories and Their Contributions to Military Operations and Readiness”
10:00 am, Armed Services Committee (222 Russell Office Building)

Senate: “A Review of Defense Innovation and Research Funding”
10:30 am, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (192 Dirksen Office Building)

House: Energy and Water public witness hearing
10:30 am, Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee (2362-B Rayburn Office Building)

NIST: Earthquake Hazards Reduction Advisory Committee teleconference
3:15 – 5:15 pm

Thursday, May 4 House: “Improving the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs”
10:00 am, Science and Small Business Committees (2318 Rayburn Office Building)

Senate: “Hearing to examine the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse and policy options to protect energy infrastructure
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resource Committee (366 Dirksen Office Building)

National Academies: “Updating America’s Lab Report” for high school science education (continues Friday)
Open sessions: 11:15 am – 2:30 pm, Thu.
Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC)

National Academies: “Review of Progress Toward Implementing the Decadal Survey Vision and Voyages for Planetary Sciences” (continues Friday)
Open sessions: 9:00 am – 8:30 pm, Thu.; 7:30 am – 5:30 pm Fri.
Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC)

ESEP: May Science Policy Happy Hour
5:30 – 7:30 pm, Driftwood Kitchen (400 H St. NE, DC)

Friday, May 5 NSF: Workshop on “Radio Receiver Systems: R&D Innovation Needs and Impacts on Technology Policy”
8:30 am – 5:00 pm, NSF headquarters (Arlington, VA)
Invitation-only, Webcast available

Monday, May 8 DOE: Basic Research Needs workshop on catalysis science
Invitation only

NIST: Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology teleconference
2:00 – 4:00 pm
Acting NIST Director Kent Rochford is among the speakers


Mirzayan S&T Policy Fellowship Applications Now Open

The National Academies is accepting applications for the 2018 Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program starting Monday. The Mirzayan fellows spend 12 weeks at the National Academies in Washington, D.C. gaining experience in science and technology policy. Eligible individuals must have earned a graduate degree in the last five years.

Vox Seeking Climate Change Science and Policy Writer

Vox Media is seeking a staff writer to focus on climate change science and policy topics. Individuals should have at least three years of experience writing on environmental or energy topics, and a proven record of developing sources in Washington and in academic settings.

NAS Seeking Board Director for Sustainability S&T Program

The National Academies is accepting applications for a board director to grow the Science and Technology for Sustainability (STS) program. Individuals will be responsible for managing high-impact programs and projects, as well as serving as a liaison between the National Academies and the STS roundtable. Applicants must have a Ph.D. in a related field and 10 years of professional experience.

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