FYI: Science Policy News
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WEEK OF FEB 12, 2024
What’s Ahead

ISS seen from Dragon 2021.jpg

The International Space Station pictured from a SpaceX module that brought astronauts to the station in 2021.

(SpaceX / NASA, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)

Hearing to Focus on ISS and Potential Private Successors

The House Science Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the present and future of U.S. activities in low-Earth orbit, a topic of increasing focus given that the International Space Station will be decommissioned sometime after 2030. Among the witnesses are the head of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, Kenneth Bowersox, as well as representatives from the companies Axiom Space and Voyager Space, which are working to build space stations that would be commercially operated. Axiom Space aims to launch the first module of its station in 2026, and Voyager Space aims to launch its station in 2028 or later. In parallel, NASA is currently soliciting proposals for a deorbit vehicle that will cause the ISS to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up. Also testifying at the hearing is space biologist Robert Ferl, who co-chaired the latest National Academies decadal survey for research conducted on space-borne platforms such as the ISS. That survey concluded the NASA division that funds such research is “severely underfunded” and made the case for Congress increasing its budget tenfold before the end of the decade.

New Research Security Requirements up for Review

Recent and forthcoming expansions of research security policies will be explained by science agency officials at a Thursday hearing organized by the House Science Committee. Many of the changes stem from provisions in the CHIPS and Science, including a requirement that participants in “malign” foreign talent recruitment programs be barred from serving as key personnel on grant projects. For instance, the National Science Foundation updated its policy manual in January to implement the provision, effective May 20. NSF also just released new research security training modules that represent one option for meeting a forthcoming requirement that certain grant personnel receive such training. In parallel, science agencies are harmonizing their requirements for what grant applicants are required to disclose using common forms and definitions that an interagency panel finalized last year. Testifying at this week’s hearing are White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar, NSF research security lead Rebecca Keiser, National Institutes of Health extramural research head Mike Lauer, and the Department of Energy’s top science official, Geri Richmond.

Annual AAAS Meeting Looks Toward ‘Science Without Walls’

The American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold its annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, from Thursday to Saturday. The theme of this year’s meeting is “toward science without walls,” focusing on identifying and removing social and institutional barriers that impede science and technology. Among the policy-focused sessions, the director of the State Department’s Office of Science and Technology Cooperation, Jason Donovan, will moderate a panel that aims to “clarify recent policy positions on research security and openness,” featuring representatives from the National Science Foundation, the European Union, and New Zealand. Donovan will also moderate a panel featuring three recent participants in the U.S. Embassy Science Fellows program. Another session will examine the state of the “science of science policy” over the roughly 20 years since former White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger called for a focused effort to apply scientific principles to the design, execution, and evaluation of science policy.

Second US Commercial Lander Set for Launch

Nova-C, a lunar lander built by Intuitive Machines, is scheduled for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early Wednesday morning. The launch is the second in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative in as many months. The first CLPS launch in January served as a successful demonstration of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, but the lunar lander built by Astrobotic that it carried suffered a critical propellant loss soon after launch that compromised the mission. If Nova-C successfully lands, it will study how the lander’s engine plume interacts with the lunar surface and how the space weather environment on the Moon could affect future radio astronomy studies conducted there. The lander also carries experimental navigation and precision landing technologies designed to support future missions to the Moon. Two more CLPS missions are planned for 2024, Firefly Aerospace’s Blue Ghost Mission 1 and Intuitive Machine’s IM-2, but neither has a firm launch date.

In Case You Missed It

jpl-buildings-image.jpg

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.

(NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Budget Crunch Forces JPL to Lay Off Hundreds

The Caltech-operated Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported on Feb. 6 that it is laying off 530 employees, about 8% of its in-house workforce, as well as 40 contractor employees on top of the 100 it let go earlier this year. These moves were spurred by tight funding constraints on the flagship Mars Sample Return mission, which the lab is developing for NASA. MSR’s annual appropriation has been held at $822 million under the stopgap measure currently funding NASA, but the agency instructed JPL to plan around Senate appropriators’ proposed level of $300 million for all of fiscal year 2024, which is now more than one-third over. The proposed cut is a response to steep growth in MSR’s projected cost, and last fall NASA officials began considering ways to make its mission architecture more viable. Congress’ delayed final appropriations package could include more money for MSR, but that would likely be at the expense of other missions in NASA’s science portfolio. The layoffs represent a striking turnabout for JPL, which last year scrambled to expand its workforce to alleviate strains stemming from the expansiveness of its project portfolio. Beyond the MSR situation, JPL’s Psyche asteroid mission has since then successfully launched and the lab’s development work on the flagship Europa Clipper mission is winding down as its fall launch date approaches.

Semiconductor R&D Initiatives Poised to Launch

An interagency agreement for overseeing the planned National Semiconductor Technology Center was signed by agency leaders last week at the White House. The NSTC will spend at least $5 billion dollars in the coming years to spur semiconductor R&D and workforce development, representing the single largest component of the R&D initiatives funded by the CHIPS and Science Act. Natcast, the operator of the NSTC, also announced last week that it anticipates releasing its first research funding opportunity in the first half of 2024. Another early priority will be to establish a “workforce center of excellence.” The White House stated in a press release that the goal is to launch the NSTC’s workforce activities this summer. Other R&D initiatives funded by the CHIPS and Science Act are also preparing to launch, including a new Manufacturing USA institute focused on creating “digital twin” models of semiconductor manufacturing processes and a program focused on advanced methods for packaging semiconductors. Farthest along is the Department of Defense’s $2 billion Microelectronics Commons, which issued its first grants last year.

NIH Subpoenaed by House over Harassment Investigation

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) subpoenaed the National Institutes of Health on Feb. 5 for documents related to how the agency handles sexual harassment allegations. Rodgers said NIH has refused to turn over detailed information about allegations involving the agency’s employees. NIH has reported summary statistics on case outcomes for 2018 through late 2023, during which it fielded 265 allegations, 135 of which resulted in corrective action, and 18 which were still being investigated. However, Rodgers argues the agency’s invocation of privacy considerations is an inadequate reason for not providing the committee details on the cases. In a cover letter accompanying the subpoena, Rodgers said the agency’s conduct “demonstrates a lack of good faith and an unwillingness to engage with the committee voluntarily.”

DOD R&D Nominee Advances to Senate Floor

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted last week to advance the nomination of Aprille Ericsson to be assistant secretary of defense for science and technology. Ericsson has worked at NASA for three decades, most recently as lead business strategist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Ericsson was selected by President Biden for the defense role last September. The role was created through a reorganization in the Department of Defense which replaced three deputy chief technology officer roles with equivalent assistant secretary positions requiring Senate confirmation. Nominees for the other two assistant secretary roles have not yet been announced. If confirmed by the Senate, Ericsson will oversee DOD’s Small Business Innovation Research program and make policy decisions impacting the defense STEM workforce, labs, and test infrastructure.

Upcoming Events

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

Monday, February 12

NSF: Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering meeting
(continues Tuesday)

NASA: Heliophysics Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: “An Inclusive and Equitable Ocean: A Workshop”
(continues Tuesday)

House: “Boston Biotech ‘Science Fair’ and Bioworks Foundry Tour”
8:45 am / 2:50 pm, Select Committee on the CCP

ANS: “Spending Time on Spent Nuclear Fuel with DOE”
2:00 - 3:00 pm

Tuesday, February 13

DOE: Electricity Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Wednesday)

House: “Growing Stakes: The Bioeconomy and American National Security”
8:30 am, Select Committee on the CCP

Science|Business: “What’s on the Horizon? Framing the Next 40 Years of European R&I”
9:00 am - 5:30 CET

American Enterprise Institute: “U.S. Outbound Investment in China: Implications and Possible Congressional Action”
10:00 - 11:30 am

National Academies: “New Frontiers Mission List Review,” meeting one
10:30 am - 12:30 pm

National Academies: “Global Microelectronics: Models for the Department of Defense in Semiconductor Public-Private Partnerships”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Atlantic Council: “Maroš Šefčovič on US-EU Collaboration Towards a Transatlantic Green Marketplace”
1:30 pm

NSF: Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships updates webinar
3:00 - 4:00 pm

Wednesday, February 14

NASA: Target launch date of Intuitive Machines lunar lander
12:57 am

National Academies: Aeronautics Research and Technology Roundtable, winter meeting
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

NIST: Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology meeting
10:00 am - 5:30 pm

House: “ISS and Beyond: The Present and Future of American Low-Earth Orbit Activities”
10:00 am, Science Committee

House: “AUKUS Implementation and Challenges to International Security and Arms Control in the 21st Century”
10:00 am, Foreign Affairs Committee

NIST: “Aligning Federal Resources for Semiconductor Workforce Development: A Conversation with the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education”
4:00 pm

Thursday, February 15

AAAS: Annual meeting
(continues through Saturday)

National Academies: “Review of the SBIR and STTR Programs at NASA,” meeting two
(continues Friday)

National Academies: “2025-2035 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences for NSF,” meeting four
(continues Friday)

House: “Examining Federal Science Agency Actions to Secure the U.S. Science and Technology Enterprise”
10:00 am, Science Committee

House: “Outpacing China: Expediting the Fielding of Innovation”
10:00 am, Armed Services Committee

House: “Going Nuclear on Rosatom: Ending Global Dependence on Putin’s Nuclear Energy Sector”
10:00 am, Foreign Affairs Committee

House: “Examining Fire Hazards: Lithium-Ion Batteries and Other Threats to Fire Safety”
10:00 am, Homeland Security Committee

House: “Assessing America’s Vaccine Safety Systems, Part 1”
10:00 am, Oversight Committee

National Academies: Panel discussion on the benefits of particle physics
11:00 am - 12:45 pm PT

EESI: “Innovations in Weather Forecasting for a Changing Climate,” with Rep. Eric Sorensen (D-IL)
3:00 - 4:30 pm

NTI: “Introducing IBBIS: Safeguarding Bioscience and Biotechnology for a Safer Future”
3:30 - 5:00 pm GMT+1

Friday, February 16

AAAS: 2024 science policy networking mixer
7:00 - 8:30 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.

Job Openings

AIP: Science policy reporter (ongoing)
ODNI: Deputy national intelligence officer for science and technology (Feb. 15)
ODNI: S&T regional representative (Feb. 16)
NSF: Deputy director, Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division (Feb. 20)
DOD: Associate general counsel for science, technology, and intellectual property law, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (Feb. 20)
Smithsonian: Assistant under secretary for research programs and partnerships (Feb. 21)
NSF: Head of the Math and Physical Sciences Directorate (Feb. 23)
GAO: Science and technology fellow (Feb. 23)
California Council on Science and Technology: Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (March 1)
COGR: Director for research security and intellectual property (March 4)
Georgetown University: Research fellow, Center for Security and Emerging Technology (March 4)
University of Idaho: Idaho Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (March 29)

Solicitations

DOL: RFI on modernizing Schedule A to include consideration of additional STEM and non-STEM occupations (Feb. 20)
National Academies: RFI to understand how minority-serving institutions assess their research capabilities and interact with DOD (Feb. 22)
NSF: RFI on researcher and educator use cases for the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (March 8)
USPTO: National Medal of Technology and Innovation call for nominations (May 3)
NSF: National Medal of Science call for nominations (May 5)

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

Carnegie Mellon University: Costa Samaras departs OSTP to become director of the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation
E&E News: Top Republican warns Biden on Podesta ducking confirmation

Congress

Roll Call: Huge gap on spending bill policy riders as time dwindles
CRS: Research security policies: An overview
House Judiciary Committee: Republicans release report on how NSF is funding AI tools to censor and indoctrinate Americans online
House Science Committee: Democrats react to Republican Judiciary Committee targeting and intimidating federal scientists
E&E News: Fusion fever grips Capitol Hill. Will big funding follow?
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): Bipartisan legislation introduced to reauthorize the National Landslide Preparedness Act

Science, Society, and the Economy

Nature: Climatologist Michael Mann wins defamation case: What it means for scientists
National Academies: NAS President Marcia McNutt to deliver inaugural State of the Science address on June 26
SCSP: The case for federal R&D spending (report)
Esquire: Inside the censorship scandal that rocked sci-fi and fantasy’s biggest awards

Education and Workforce

Science: A journalist probes the culture and convictions of researchers at US national labs (book review)
Issues in Science and Technology: A new occupational category can both create opportunities for workers and position the US to lead in advanced manufacturing (perspective by John Liu and William Bonvillian)
Nature: Could roving researchers help address the challenge of taking parental leave?
NIH: Increased use of the childcare cost support policy by NRSA fellows in FY23
Nature: Why the mental cost of a STEM career can be too high for women and people of color (perspective by Jean King)
NASA: NASA awards inaugural grants totalling $3.7 million to support Emerging Research Institutions

Research Management

NSF: New scientific integrity policy
Nature: Economists count the cost of ‘risky’ science
Association of Research Libraries: Realities of Academic Data Sharing (RADS) initiative releases reports on expenses of making data publicly accessible, project methodology
Nature: Open science — embrace it before it’s too late (editorial)
Federation of American Scientists: Advance open science through robust data privacy measures
AAU: AAU submits comment letter on NIST framework on march-in rights
The Hill: Feds must stop outsourcing research security to universities (perspective by Paul Moore)
Nature: China conducts first nationwide review of retractions and research misconduct
Retraction Watch: Engineering dean’s journal serves as a supply chain for ‘bizarre’ articles

Labs and Facilities

Nature: CERN’s supercollider plan: $17-billion ‘Higgs factory’ would dwarf LHC
Financial Times: Why we need CERN’s €16 billion atom smasher (editorial)
American Nuclear Society: MARVEL microreactor start-up now expected in 2027, as fuel fabrication begins
ORNL: Oak Ridge National Lab to produce critical industrial radioisotope Ir-192 as part of DOE partnership with private company
ALMA: ALMA gets a new heartbeat

Computing and Communications

Wall Street Journal: Sam Artman seeks trillions of dollars to reshape business of chips and AI
Reuters: US says leading AI companies join safety consortium to address risks
Commerce Department: Key executive leadership selected for US AI safety institute
Nature: AI chatbot shows surprising talent for predicting chemical properties and reactions
Scientific American: Tougher AI policies could protect Taylor Swift – and everyone else – from deepfakes
HPCwire: UK deepens quantum computing plunge, announces 7 testbed projects
Breaking Defense: China’s investing billions in quantum R&D, but is Beijing making some bad bets?
DefenseScoop: Senators express concerns about national spectrum strategy’s impact on DOD
Inside Defense: Pentagon will not publicly release spectrum band report senators asked for

Space

Astronomy: China is embarking on a science and exploration program of staggering scale
SpaceNews: Beijing government releases commercial space action plan
Nature: How to test a Moon landing from Earth
New York Times: It started as winter break. It ended with a doomed Moon mission
Space Review: The case for a fleet of Martian helicopters (perspective by Ari Allyn-Feuer)
NASA: NASA welcomes Greece as newest Artemis Accords signatory

Weather, Climate, and Environment

Science: Billion-dollar NASA mission will provide unprecedented view of ocean life
Berkeley Lab: In a warming world, climate scientists consider Category 6 hurricanes
Science|Business: EU agrees law to support green tech manufacturing
Vox: 2023 was the hottest year on record. It also exceeded 1.5C of warming
E&E News: Lawmakers push to make boron a ‘critical’ mineral

Energy

DOE: DOE welcomes new Biden-Harris appointees and announces promotions
Research Professional: Joint European Torus bows out with new fusion power record
BBC: Nuclear fusion: New record brings dream of clean energy closer
IEEE Spectrum: Momentary fusion breakthroughs face hard reality
E&E News: World’s largest carbon removal plant is about to open
Science|Business: European Commission backs nuclear energy with launch of small modular reactor alliance
UMass Amherst: UMass Amherst to launch $11.9 million Academic Center for Reliability and Resilience of Offshore Wind

Defense

Defense Innovation Board: Lowering barriers to innovation (report)
Breaking Defense: In DIU’s new strategy, innovation hub looks to take on more ‘real risk’
CRS: Hypersonic weapons: Background and issues for Congress (report)
DOD: DOD advances Microelectronics Commons to build domestic semiconductor industry, workforce
Nuclecast: The role of the Air Force Institute of Technology in the nuclear enterprise (interview with George Farfour)

Biomedical

Politico: The NIH plan to spare the animals
ARPA-H: ARPA-H announces award for compact, affordable eye imaging device
Science: European Parliament votes to ease regulation of gene-edited crops
Science: Virologists and epidemiologists back natural origin for COVID-19, survey suggests
Financial Times: AI’s bioterrorism potential should not be ruled out (perspective by Anjana Ahuja)
Stat: Vaccine advisory panel ACIP left half staffed by HHS

International Affairs

Nature: US and China likely to delay renewal of key science pact again
New York Times: Two new prosecutions aim to cut off China and Iran from US technology
US-China Commission: PRC membership in international organizations (report)
Reuters: China opens Antarctic station south of Australia, New Zealand
University World News: Russian academics face scrutiny of contact with foreign peers
Science|Business: EU launches joint call with South Korea for chips research
Research Professional: Research security is moving up Brussels’s agenda. Universities must lead the debate (perspective by Jan Palmowski)
Times Higher Education: Research bureaucracy cuts unveiled as UK nears £20bn target
Science|Business: Polish science ‘out from shadow of education’ with creation of separate ministry

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Top federal officials previewed next steps for launching the NSTC at a White House event.
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A potential steep budget cut to the Mars Sample Return mission has prompted the lab to lay off over 500 employees.

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