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WEEK OF JAN 8, 2024
What’s Ahead

U.S. Congress

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).

(Francis Chung / Politico via AP Images)

Congress Takes Key Step Toward Finishing FY24 Budgets

Over the weekend, House and Senate leaders announced they have agreed on topline limits for defense and non-defense spending in fiscal year 2024, paving the way to finalize appropriations legislation that allocates the money across agency programs. The agreement holds non-defense spending roughly flat for the year, consistent with the budget cap deal negotiated last spring. While House Republicans have been pushing for broad cuts to non-defense spending, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) agreed to set that goal aside for the moment in exchange for Congress rescinding additional unspent funds that were slated for tax enforcement and pandemic recovery programs. Now, appropriators must revise each of the 12 bills that together fund the federal government to reflect the new spending limits.

Notably, the spending proposals that Senate appropriators drafted last year included around $14 billion in “emergency” spending to bolster priority programs. This emergency spending is not permitted in the final deal, which could make it harder to achieve their desired spending levels for these programs. Among their emergency proposals, Senate appropriators had included an extra $50 million for facilities repair at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, $420 million for research programs at the National Science Foundation, and $300 million for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. Meanwhile, the House’s spending proposals went well below the budget caps and included various policy provisions that Democrats objected to, such as broad limits on workforce diversity initiatives. Democratic leaders are insisting that any “poison pill” policy changes be removed from the final legislation, though Republicans are pledging to still pursue certain policy changes.

Competition Open for Fermilab Operations Contract

The Department of Energy is now accepting proposals for the contract to manage and operate the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory — the foremost U.S. laboratory for high-energy particle physics research. Fermilab is funded almost entirely by the DOE Office of Science and has a 6,800-acre site in the suburbs of Chicago with about 2,100 employees. The lab has been managed since 1967 by the Universities Research Association, a consortium of research universities, and in 2007, the last time the contract was put up for competition, URA partnered with the University of Chicago to form the lab’s current contracting entity, Fermi Research Alliance LLC. Parties interested in taking over the lab will have until March 4 to submit their proposals. URA and the University of Chicago have expressed interest in bidding to continue operating the lab. Among the other prospective bidders is Associated Universities, Inc., which operates astronomical observatories on behalf of the National Science Foundation. A pre-proposal conference will take place on Thursday. In recent years, Fermilab management has come under scrutiny in part due to large cost increases on its flagship neutrino project and a serious worker injury that delayed work on a major accelerator upgrade.

Astronomers Gather in New Orleans for AAS Meeting

The American Astronomical Society’s winter meeting started on Sunday in New Orleans and will feature a range of policy-related events. Among the plenary speakers is Lia Epperson, a law professor specializing in civil rights and education policy, who will also participate in a panel discussion on how the Supreme Court’s 2023 ban on race-based affirmative action at universities might affect admissions to graduate programs in astronomy. Aspects of the policy environment affecting the astronomy workforce will also be explored through sessions on immigration policy, poverty, and NASA’s new inclusion plan requirement for certain grant applications. Other policy-focused sessions will cover the State Department’s space diplomacy efforts, options for expanding U.S.-Africa collaboration in astronomy, and ways that super-heavy launchers could accelerate the timeline for deploying the next generation of flagship space telescopes.

Study Begins on Manhattan Project Effects on Veteran Health

A National Academies committee that will assess the feasibility of determining the effects of the Manhattan Project on veterans’ health will hold its first meeting on Wednesday. The committee will look into which data are available on the veterans who worked on the nuclear weapons R&D project, including locations served, types of potential exposure, demographics, military characteristics, and health outcomes, including cause of death. The assessment will determine whether it will be possible to carry out the full epidemiologic study that Congress mandated through legislation enacted in 2022. If a full study is feasible, the committee will recommend a design framework and provide an estimate of the time and money required to complete it.

In Case You Missed It

Peregrine Launch Jan 2024.jpg

The first mission from NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program launched on Jan. 8 aboard the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket.

(Isaac Watson / NASA)

First US Commercial Lunar Lander in Trouble

Private venture Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander launched from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket early Monday morning, carrying five scientific instruments for NASA. Although the launch was a success, Astrobotic reported that an issue with the lander’s propulsion system prevented it from orienting its solar panels toward the Sun. An improvised maneuver successfully reoriented the panels, but Astrobotic soon after concluded that a critical amount of propellant was lost. As of publication time, the company was assessing alternative mission options and has “prioritized maximizing the science and data we can capture.”

The launch is the first for the Vulcan rocket as well as for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which contracts with commercial providers to deliver science and technology payloads to the lunar surface. The agency established the program in 2018 with the expectation it would transport about two payloads per year, potentially as early as 2019. The Peregrine contract was among the first that CLPS issued in 2019 and had an initial value of about $80 million that has now increased to $108 million. The goal was originally to launch Peregrine in 2021, but it and all other CLPS launch target dates have slipped repeatedly. The broad aim of CLPS has been to kickstart a lunar services industry, with NASA as just one customer among many. Another CLPS contractor, Intuitive Machines, is slated to launch its IM-1 lunar lander aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in mid-February.

First CHIPS Manufacturing Awards Announced

The Commerce Department announced last week that it had reached a preliminary agreement to provide the company Microchip Technology with $162 million to help it expand microcontroller manufacturing in the U.S. The announcement follows a similar, $35 million preliminary agreement reached in December that will help the company BAE Systems modernize its microelectronics manufacturing center in New Hampshire. If finalized, these will be the first two awards from the manufacturing incentive programs created by the CHIPS and Science Act. The department is still laying groundwork for making awards from the flagship semiconductor R&D-focused programs also created by the act. Late last year, the Commerce Department announced that a new nonprofit entity, Natcast, has been formed to operate the planned National Semiconductor Technology Center.

NSF Reclassifies FFRDC R&D Funds as Intramural

The National Science Foundation announced last week that it is reclassifying Federally Funded Research and Development Centers as intramural performers of R&D. Since their establishment in the 1940s, FFRDCs have been treated as external performers of R&D because, while they are owned by the federal government, they are operated by nongovernmental entities. However, NSF has concluded that the FFRDCs receive such a significant portion of their budget from the federal government that they do not operate independently of federal control. NSF reports that after accounting for the reclassification, the total federal expenditure on intramural R&D was $86.5 billion in fiscal year 2021, $14.8 billion higher than under the prior accounting method.

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, January 8

AIAA: SciTech Forum
(continues through Friday)

AAS: American Astronomical Society meeting
(continues through Thursday)

National Academies: Transportation Research Board annual meeting
(continues through Thursday)

AAPT: American Association of Physics Teachers winter meeting
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: Board on Science Education meeting
(continues Tuesday)

Tuesday, January 9

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

NIST: Webinar on Davis-Bacon responsibilities for federally assisted construction projects in the context of CHIPS awards
3:30 - 4.30 pm

Wednesday, January 10

National Academies: “Feasibility of Assessing Veteran Health Effects of Manhattan Project (1942-1947) Related Waste,” kickoff meeting
(continues Thursday)

Senate: “Investing in the Future: Safeguarding Municipal Bonds from Climate Risk”
10:00 am, Budget Committee

Senate: “Harnessing AI to Improve Government Services and Customer Service”
10:00 am, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

House: “Protecting Clean American Energy Production and Jobs by Stopping EPA’s Overreach”
10:00 am, Energy and Commerce Committee

Senate: “Oversight of AI: The Future of Journalism”
2:00 pm, Judiciary Committee

Thursday, January 11

Senate: “Hearing to Examine Federal Electric Vehicle Incentives Including the Federal Government’s Role in Fostering Reliable and Resilient Electric Vehicle Supply Chains”
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee

DOE: Fermilab contract competition pre-proposal conference
12:00 - 2:00 pm CT

NSF: International Science and Engineering Advisory Committee meeting
12:00 - 5:30 pm

National Academies: “An Inclusive and Equitable Ocean: A Workshop: Virtual Town Hall”
1:00 - 2:00 pm

National Academies: “Standing Committee on Advances and National Security Implications of Transdisciplinary Biotechnology,” kickoff meeting
2:00 - 4:00 pm

National Academies: “AI and Automated Laboratories for Biotechnology: Leveraging Opportunities and Mitigating Risks Workshop,” kickoff meeting
2:00 - 4:00 pm

National Academies: Discussion on high magnetic field research in Japan
6:00 - 7:00 pm

Friday, January 12

Research!America: Discussion with Howard Zucker, deputy director for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
12:00 - 12:45 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

NASA: Chief science data officer (Jan. 10)
SPS: Science policy internship (Jan. 15)
STPI: S&T policy fellowship (Jan. 15)
NASA: Chief archivist (Jan. 11)
NASA: Deputy director of engineering at the Ames Research Center (Jan. 16)
DOE: Director of the Computational Science Research and Partnerships Division (Jan. 18)
ODNI: S&T regional representative for San Francisco (Jan. 19)
NASA: Deputy director of the Langley Research Center engineering directorate (Jan. 24)
APS: Civic Science Fellow (Feb. 2)
NSF: Deputy division director for the Division of Equity for Excellence in STEM (Feb. 6)
NSPN: National Science Policy Network executive director (ongoing)
UCS: Senior outreach coordinator for Global Security Program (ongoing)
APS: Media editor for Forum on Physics and Society newsletter (ongoing)

Solicitations

National Academies: Board on Earth Sciences and Resources call for new members (Jan. 12)
OSTP: RFI on developing a federal environmental justice science, data, and research plan (Jan. 12)
OSTP: RFI on the draft National Plan for Civil Earth Observations (Jan. 16)
NOAA: Integrated Ocean Observing System Advisory Committee call for new members (Jan. 17)
NSF: RFI on NSF’s public access plan (Jan. 19)
NIST: RFI on the Metrology Exchange to Innovate in Semiconductors (Jan. 31)
NTIA: Spectrum Management Advisory Committee call for new members (Jan. 31)
NIST: RFI on implementation of AI executive order (Feb. 2)
NIST: RFI on draft interagency guidance on the exercise of march-in rights (Feb. 6)

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

White House: Statement from President Joe Biden on the Bipartisan Funding Framework
STPI: Report to the president on activities of the Science and Technology Policy Institute

Congress

Washington Post: Border dispute could force partial government shutdown

Science, Society, and the Economy

Nature: Start 2024 by asking: ‘Why do science?’ (perspective by Mirko Treccani and Laura Veschetti)
Wall Street Journal: The decline of ‘science’ — from climate to omicron (perspective by Daniel Henninger)
Wall Street Journal: Alan Sokal’s joke is on us as postmodernism comes to science (perspective by Lawrence Krauss)
National Academies: 2023 Nobel Prize Summit: Truth, Trust, and Hope (report)
Issues in Science and Technology: ’Libraries are that safe place for discussion of ideas’ (interview with Carla Hayden)

Education and Workforce

Nature: Harvard president’s resignation amid plagiarism allegations leaves academics reeling
New York Times: MIT’s president has weathered the storm, for now
Chronicle of Higher Education: Alleged research misconduct can end college presidencies. Are search committees looking for it?
NPR: House bill aims to restart controversial DOJ program that targeted Chinese academics (audio)
Physics Today: Canada attempts to entice H-1B workers from US
Chronicle of Higher Education: Largest source of private funding for women in STEM is under attack
Quanta: The ‘accidental activist’ who changed the face of mathematics
Brookhaven National Lab: Talking DEI with lab director JoAnne Hewett (interview)
Inside Higher Ed: Evidence of a mass faculty exodus from states like Florida is thin, at least so far

Research Management

South China Morning Post: China unveils new AI guidelines for scientists and bans use in funding applications
Science: Genuine images in 2024 (editorial)
Nature: US project seeks standard way to communicate research retractions
Jim Olds Blog: The crisis of reproducibility in academic research is a troubling trend that deserves more scrutiny
AAU: University and federal actions taken to address research security issues (report)
Fortune: The Biden administration’s plans to reinterpret the Bayh-Dole Act could undermine decades of world-leading US innovation (perspective by Almesha Campbell)
NSF: NSF creates independent and consolidated Office of the Chief Information Officer

Labs and Facilities

AURA: Christoph Keller appointed next National Solar Observatory Director
MIT: Philip Erickson named director of MIT Haystack Observatory
PPPL: Jack Berkery appointed deputy director of research for NSTX-U
NETL: Groundbreaking federal purchase agreement leads to utility-scale solar facility that will reduce NETL’s carbon footprint
Research Professional: Square Kilometer Array gearing up for transformative year

Computing and Communications

DOE: Basic research needs in quantum computing and networking
MIT Technology Review: Quantum computing is taking on its biggest challenge — noise
Brookings: Detecting AI fingerprints: A guide to watermarking and beyond
Foreign Affairs: Artificial intelligence’s threat to democracy (perspective by By Jen Easterly, et al.)
Lawfare: Licensing frontier AI development: Legal considerations and best practices (perspective by Gregory Smith)
Lawfare: Frontier AI regulation: Safeguards amid rapid progress (perspective by Markus Anderljung and Anton Korinek)

Space

Breaking Defense: US leads world in 2023 launches, sats on orbit: study
Ars Technica: With Vulcan’s liftoff imminent, United Launch Alliance flies into uncertain future
NPR: Navajo Nation objects to a plan to send human remains to the Moon
Aerospace America: Bolder than Webb? ‘You’ll never know unless you go!’ (perspective by Dan Goldin)
NASA: NASA names 2024 innovative concept studies
SpaceNews: Ingenuity lessons being incorporated into Mars Sample Return
SpacePolicyOnline: UAE will build airlock for Artemis Gateway Lunar Space Station
SpaceNews: National Labor Relations Board issues complaint over SpaceX employee firings

Weather, Climate, and Environment

New York Times: Can $500 million save this glacier?
Research Professional: UK government rejects MPs’ call for new polar research ship
Inside Climate News: Judge orders jail time for prominent Everglades scientist
Physics World: Calling all physicists: Why you’re vital for the green economy (perspective by James McKenzie)

Energy

Wall Street Journal: US puts diplomatic clout behind sales of cutting-edge reactors that have yet to show commercial success
E&E News: DOE docs: Carbon removal proposal bets on rare nuclear reactors
Federation of American Scientists: Engaging coal communities in decarbonization through nuclear energy
Bloomberg: Biden solar-tariff holiday challenged, adding new industry risk
DOE: DOE announces up to $70 million to strengthen energy sector against physical and cyber hazards

Defense

Breaking Defense: New proposed rule for CUI cybersecurity at defense conractors raises some eyebrows
Defense One: Why the Navy isn’t shooting down Houthi drones with lasers yet
SpaceNews: Space Force wargames potential satellite refueling plans
ChinaTalk: The Pentagon’s AI implementers (audio)
Defense News: The DOD is getting its innovation act together, but more can be done (perspective by Steve Blank)

Biomedical

Washington Post: Another COVID wave hits US as JN.1 becomes dominant variant
Washington Post: Florida surgeon general calls for halt on mRNA covid vaccines, citing debunked claim
House Energy and Commerce Committee: Republicans launch investigation into internal scientific disagreements at FDA

International Affairs

Washington Post: European Union keeps a wary eye on China as it plans tech spending
Science|Business: EU private R&D investment grows in record year - but remains short of US and China
Science|Business: Politics and protests puts Europe’s academic freedom policies under the spotlight
Science|Business: The five challenges to a truly global Horizon program (perspective by Richard Hudson)
Times Higher Education: Rethink French immigration law, university leaders urge Macron
Research Professional: UK Labour party says planning reforms will allow building of new labs
Physics World: Ukraine invasion forced a fifth of scientists to flee the country in 2022, study finds
Chemistry World: One of the most successful scientific collaborations between Russia and the US discovered five elements – and then quietly folded
The Economist: Moon landing apart, Indian science punches far below its weight
Inside Higher Ed: African technology students, bolstered by ‘grassroots AI’
Science: Investing in Africa’s scientific future (perspective by Tulio de Oliveira and Cheryl Baxter)

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