FYI: Science Policy News
The Week of November 16, 2020

What’s Ahead

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich earth science satellite is scheduled to launch this weekend on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich earth science satellite is scheduled to launch this weekend on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

(Image credit – Chris Okula / U.S. Air Force)

Freilich Earth Science Satellite Set for Launch

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is scheduled for launch this Saturday, the first of two Sentinel satellites that will ensure continuity of sea-level observations dating back to 1992. Named after former NASA Earth Science Division Director Michael Freilich, who died this year, the satellite will collect higher-resolution data than its predecessor, especially near coastlines, informing studies of sea-level rise and climate change. It will also collect data on atmospheric temperature and humidity that will be used in weather forecast models. Sentinel-6 is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency, with NASA’s contribution to the development and operations of the two satellites totaling $515 million. The second Sentinel-6 satellite is targeted for launch by November 2026. A pre-launch briefing on the mission’s science goals will be held on Friday.

Two Initiatives Weigh In on US–China Technological Competition

On Monday, a 28 member working group of scientists, China scholars, and former government officials is rolling out recommendations for the next administration on how to navigate competition with China in fundamental research, 5G telecommunications, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Stanford University physicist and former dean of research Arthur Bienenstock and University of California San Francisco vice chancellor Keith Yamamoto are among the group members who will speak. On Tuesday, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab is hosting a separate panel discussion on “the feasibility and potential consequences of decoupling technology linkages between the United States and China,” led by former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig. The event will showcase a new paper series examining tensions in the arenas of bioeconomy, space, AI, semiconductors, telecommunications, university research, and STEM talent development.

Agencies Reflecting on Federal STEM Education Plan

On Tuesday, the Department of Education is holding an event to highlight progress on implementing the five year STEM education strategy the Trump administration released in December 2018. The strategy focuses on expanding work-based learning opportunities, increasing participation of underrepresented groups in STEM, and improving STEM literacy across the entire U.S. population, among other priorities. Speakers at this week’s event include representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense.

Intelligence Community Assessing Ties to R&D Ecosystem

A National Academies committee tasked with exploring the links between U.S. intelligence agencies and the broader U.S. R&D “ecosystem” is holding its first open meeting on Friday. Its study is to cover both how the intelligence community could “contribute to the maintenance of the R&D ecosystem” as well as benefit from R&D supported by other government agencies and the private sector. John Beieler, the director of science and technology for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is sponsoring the study, will discuss further expectations for it at the meeting. The study committee is led by Southern Methodist University computer scientist Frederick Chang and University of California, Berkeley chemistry professor Michael Marletta.

Versatile Test Reactor in Spotlight at ANS Meeting

The American Nuclear Society’s winter meeting this week will feature nine sessions focused on the Versatile Test Reactor, a proposed irradiation facility that would provide a U.S.-based capability for testing fuels and materials intended for use in a number of advanced nuclear power reactor designs. The project is a priority for the Department of Energy, which recently approved a conceptual design for the facility and established a preliminary cost range estimate of $2.6 billion to $5.8 billion. Although it was mandated through legislation enacted two years ago, congressional appropriators have so far moved slowly on the project, rejecting DOE’s request to ramp up project funding from $65 million to $295 million this fiscal year. House appropriators have proposed level funding, while Senate appropriators propose a cut to $45 million and direct the department to consider reworking it as a public–private partnership. Other sessions at the meeting include a panel with congressional staffers on the post-election outlook for nuclear energy, a keynote by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and discussion of a forthcoming ANS position statement on the use of highly enriched uranium in space applications.

In Case You Missed It

Senate Stakes Out Science Funding Priorities

The Senate Appropriations Committee released its spending bills for fiscal year 2021 last week as it prepares to negotiate a final agreement with the House before current funding expires in early December. Like the House, the Senate is proposing mostly steady funding for science agencies, with a few notable exceptions, such as allocating billions of dollars in additional spending for the National Nuclear Security Administration and National Institutes of Health. However, its bills include no equivalent of the House’s proposals for billions of dollars in one-time “emergency” spending at NIH and the Department of Energy. Republicans have so far opposed incorporating emergency funding into the regular appropriations process. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he aims to pass appropriations and a separate, “highly targeted” relief bill by year’s end.

Controversial Appointees Take Charge of Interagency Climate Program

According to the Washington Post, two recent appointees to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, David Legates and Ryan Maue , have both been detailed to the U.S. Global Change Research Program to oversee planning for the next National Climate Assessment. Legates, who dismisses anthropogenic climate change as a cause for concern, is now leading the program after its previous executive director, climate scientist Michael Kuperberg, was reassigned to the Department of Energy, where he holds a permanent position. Kuperberg had been on detail to USGCRP since 2015. Maue, who disputes the severity of climatic warming trends, is NOAA’s chief scientist and his exact role at USGCRP has not been reported. Together, Legates and Maue will have an opportunity to shape the scope of the assessment as well as the roster of scientists who contribute to it. However, the incoming Biden administration will also be able to review and reverse their actions. To lead the assessment, the Trump administration recently appointed atmospheric scientist Betsy Weatherhead, who is regarded as a mainstream choice.

Biden Ramps Up Agency Transition Plans

President-elect Biden named members of his “agency review teams” last week who are tasked with laying groundwork for his administration to begin on Jan. 20, including at science agencies and offices.

  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy team is led by Cristin Dorgelo, the office’s chief of staff during the Obama administration.
  • The team lead for the Department of Energy is Arun Majumdar, who was the inaugural director of ARPA–E during the Obama administration and is rumored to be under consideration for energy secretary.
  • The NASA team is led by National Air and Space Museum Director Ellen Stofan, who was the agency’s chief scientist during the Obama administration.
  • The National Science Foundation is grouped within the “Arts and Humanities” team, which includes Kei Koizumi and Mahlet Mesfin, who are also on the OSTP team.
  • The Department of Commerce team includes Kathryn Sullivan, who led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the Obama administration.

Biden has also reportedly formed a special transition team focused on COVID-19 that is distinct from the 13 member COVID-19 advisory board he announced on Nov. 9. Currently, the ability of Biden’s transition effort to interact with current officials has been hampered by the refusal of the General Services Administration to officially designate Biden as the “apparent winner” of the election, in accord with President Trump’s refusal to concede. For example, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has said the current coronavirus task force will not communicate with Biden’s team until GSA makes its determination.

Biden Advisers Offer Climate Action Blueprint

A group of climate experts, Obama administration alumni, and members of President-elect Biden’s transition team who comprise the “Climate 21 Project” released a policy blueprint last week aimed at enabling a “rapid-start, whole-of-government climate response” once Biden takes office in January. Assembled over the past year and a half, the report recommends the White House establish a National Climate Council, “co-equal” to the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council, to steer the administration’s climate change efforts across agencies. It further recommends building up a climate team within each relevant federal agency and forming a Cabinet-level task force to develop a four year “Climate Ambition Agenda” within 90 days. The report also recommends budget priorities and identifies “key program opportunities” for 11 individual federal agencies and offices.

White House Releases Earth System Predictability R&D Roadmap

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s fast-track committee on Earth system predictability released an R&D roadmap last week, aiming toward a national strategy that “connects stakeholder-driven predictability theory with observations, process research, modeling, and technology.” The roadmap identifies five “areas of opportunity” that include expanding theory development, leveraging advanced modeling techniques and collaborative modeling, focusing research on critical knowledge gaps, better utilizing available data, and improving data collection. As examples of emerging sources of new data, the report cites robotic floats and aerial vehicles, small-satellite constellations, mobile phones, and a “robust and growing ecosystem of commercial providers.” It also highlights new opportunities for optimizing observations to improve predictability by coupling understanding of scientific and social needs for data with understanding of observational capabilities, including through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning methods.

Panel Flags Mars Sample Return Cost and Schedule Estimates

An independent review board affirmed last week that NASA is “ready” to undertake a mission to return samples from Mars in cooperation with the European Space Agency, while questioning NASA’s current cost and schedule estimates. Still in its early planning stages, the mission’s proposed architecture comprises a lander and rover that will retrieve samples obtained by the Perseverance rover and then launch them off the surface for transfer to an orbiter, which will transport them back to Earth. Emphasizing the mission’s complexity and risks, the board recommends that NASA plan for a launch in 2028 rather than the agency’s notional target of 2026. The board also estimates the mission will probably cost NASA between $3.8 billion and $4.4 billion, whereas the agency has been planning around a figure of about $3 billion. Noting NASA is already expecting to need $500 million more for the mission than initially supposed in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the board agrees the funding is needed to prevent increases in overall costs later on. It also indicates there are no ways to significantly reduce the mission’s scope should it be deemed necessary to cut costs.

Events This Week

Monday, November 16

NSF: Grants Conference (continues through Thursday) AAAS: 2020 S&T Policy Leadership Seminar (continues through Thursday) American Nuclear Society: Winter Meeting (continues through Thursday) AIAA: ASCEND conference (continues through Wednesday) NASA: Venus Exploration and Analysis Group meeting (continues Tuesday) National Academies: “DOD Engagement with Its Manufacturing USA Institutes,” meeting two 10:00 am - 12 :00 pm UCSD: “Meeting the China Challenge: A New American Strategy for Technology Competition” 2:00 pm

Tuesday, November 17

fPET: Forum on Philosophy, Engineering, and Technology (continues through Thursday) ITIF: “Manufacturing Workforce Development and Strengthening Manufacturing Supply Chains: What Can States Do?” 10:00 am - 12:30 pm National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Mars,” meeting two 10:30 am - 4:30 pm National Academies: “Geoheritage and Geoscience Education (K-12, Undergraduate, Informal)” 11:00 am - 12:00 pm Department of Education: “Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan: Two Years Later” 1:30 - 3:00 pm House: “Ocean Climate Action: Solutions to the Climate Crisis” 12:00 pm National Academies: “The Experiences of Postdoctoral Women During the COVID-19 Pandemic” 2:00 - 3:30 pm CSIS: “Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management Coordination Among U.S. Agencies” 2:00 - 3:00 pm Senate: “Examining the American Manufacturing Industry’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” 2:30 pm, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (253 Russell Office Building) NASA: Science Mission Directorate community town hall meeting 3:00 pm JHU Applied Physics Laboratory: “Measure Twice, Cut Once: Assessing Some China–US Technology Connections” 4:00 - 5:30 pm

Wednesday, November 18

Senate: Hearing to consider the Space Preservation And Conjunction Emergency (SPACE) Act and 12 other bills 9:30 am, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (G50 Dirksen Office Building) National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Small Solar System Bodies,” meeting four 10:00 am - 6:00 pm ITIF: “Battery Manufacturing Powers Up: Transatlantic Catch-Up and Cooperation” 10:00 - 11:00 am CNAS: “Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) on Investment and Innovation in the Intelligence Community” 11:00 am - 12:00 pm Foreign Policy: “Dialogue on Clean Energy Innovation” 11:00 am - 12:15 pm NSF: “Deep Dive Into Deep Tech Incubation” 12:00 - 1:00 pm Harvard Belfer Center: “Innovation for the Future of Intelligence: A Conversation with IARPA Director Stacey Dixon” 12:00 - 1:15 pm Industry Studies Association: “Industrial Policies and National Security” 12:00 - 2:00 pm IRIS: “Tracking the Career Outcomes of Research-Funded Employees with IRIS” 1:00 pm S&T Policy Academy: “Presidential Transitions and S&T Policy” 6:00 - 7:00 pm

Thursday, November 19

OFCM: Space Weather Enterprise Forum (continues Friday) World Resources Institute: “State of Climate Action: Assessing Progress Toward 2030 and 2050” 9:00 am - 10:00 am Commerce Department: Materials and Equipment Technical Advisory Committee meeting 10:00 am National Academies: “International Collaboration in the COVID-19 Era” 11:00 am - 12:30 pm Argonne National Lab: “Future of Energy Storage” 11:00 am - 1:30 pm USRA: “Lunar Surface Science Workshop: Foundational Data Products” 12:00 - 5:45 pm National Academies: Imagining the Future of Undergraduate STEM Education Symposium 1:00 - 4:30 pm AAAS: “Equity Flattens the Curve: The Importance of Diverse Populations in Combating COVID-19” 1:00 - 2:00 pm Belfer Center: “Building a 21st Century Government: Why the Biden Administration and the New Congress Should Hire Scientists and Technologists Into Policy Roles” 1:00 - 2:00 pm AIP: Launch event for AIP Foundation 6:00 pm

Friday, November 20

National Academies: Integrating Earth Systems Science and Engineering Workshop 11:00 am - 3:30 pm National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Mercury and the Moon,” meeting three 12:00 - 6:00 pm National Academies: “Leveraging the Future R&D Ecosystem for the Intelligence Community,” meeting two 12:00 - 5:00 pm National Academies: Space Technology Industry-Government-University Roundtable meeting 12:00 - 3:45 pm National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Ocean Worlds and Dwarf Planets,” meeting seven 1:00 - 4:00 pm National Academies: “Radioactive Sources: Applications and Alternative Technologies” 1:00 - 3:10 pm APS: “TEAM-UP Report: The TIME is Now — Charting a Course to 2030” 2:00 - 4:00 pm

Saturday, November 21

NASA: Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Satellite launch

Monday, November 23

Commerce Department: Industry Day for Space Policy Directive-3: Open Architecture Data Repository (continues Tuesday) National Academies: “Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032: Panel on Mars,” meeting three


Scientific Societies Seeking Congressional Policy Fellows

Several scientific societies are now accepting applications for their 2021-2022 Congressional Science Fellowships programs, including the American Institute of Physics , American Physical Society , The Optical Society , American Geophysical Union , American Geosciences Institute , Geological Society of America , and American Chemical Society , among others. Fellows will spend a year working for a congressional office or committee in Washington, D.C., gaining experience in the policymaking process. Application deadlines vary by society.

Biden Team Accepting Applications for Administration Jobs

The Biden-Harris transition team is accepting applications for political positions across the federal government, including at science agencies and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Applicants must identify their preferred policy areas from a list of 39 categories that includes science, technology, and climate change.

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 aims to place two students in congressional offices and one at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. SPS also places a student within FYI to assist with the production of science policy newsletters. Applications are due Jan. 15, 2021, though the Mather positions may be filled before the deadline.

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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