FYI: Science Policy News
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WEEK OF MARCH 4, 2024
What’s Ahead

Joe Biden, Mike Johnson, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer

From left: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at a Feb. 27 meeting to negotiate the final federal budget for fiscal year 2024.

(Evan Vucci / AP)

Science Agencies Cut in Final FY24 Budget, Except DOE

Many science agencies will see topline budget cuts under the final appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2024, with some parts of the Department of Energy a notable exception to the trend. Since Congress agreed to hold the federal government’s overall discretionary budget to about the same level as last fiscal year, science programs often lost out to other priorities in a mostly zero-sum budget. Over the weekend, Congress posted six of the 12 appropriations bills that together fund the federal government, as well as reports that detail spending allocations for agency programs. Among them, the Energy-Water report covers DOE, the Interior-Environment report covers the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Commerce-Justice-Science report covers the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA. Congress anticipates passing the legislation in the coming days and releasing the remaining bills later this month. Details on program-level spending outcomes are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

fy24-final-approps-overview.png

Chart of FY24 appropriations.

Assuming the legislation is enacted, the DOE Office of Science budget will increase about 2% to $8.24 billion, within which its Isotope R&D and Production program will jump nearly 20%. The Biden administration’s hopes of a budget surge for the Fusion Energy Sciences program were not realized, with the final legislation only providing a 3.5% increase, similar in size to the increase provided for the High Energy Physics and Basic Energy Sciences programs. The legislation does, however, boost the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Inertial Confinement Fusion budget by 10%, reversing the requested cut. Some DOE science programs are still in line for flat budgets or cuts. The Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program will drop 5%, though an analogous program in NNSA will increase 5%. The Nuclear Physics program and the Biological and Environmental Research programs are held about flat.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will drop about 6% to $7.33 billion, with the cut falling entirely on the Planetary Science Division, which will drop 15% to $2.72 billion. The cut is driven by concerns over the rising cost of the Mars Sample Return mission, which the Senate had proposed potentially canceling. The legislation defers decisions about the mission’s future, anticipating the results of an internal NASA review, while directing NASA to spend at least $300 million on the mission and up to the president’s requested level of $949 million. However, the reduced Planetary Science topline will likely force the budget toward the lower end of that range, consistent with a recent, NASA-ordered slowdown of work on the mission. The directorate’s Heliophysics, Earth Science, and Astrophysics Divisions will all have flat or nearly flat budgets.

The National Science Foundation’s budget will drop about 8% to just over $9 billion, partially undoing the 12% boost NSF received in the previous budget cycle. That increase relied on a special supplemental appropriation that Congress did not sustain this year. This year’s legislation does increase NSF’s construction budget by 25%, a portion of which will go toward launching a supercomputer acquisition project, though the total is well below the requested amount.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s base budget will drop 8% to $1.16 billion. This figure excludes about $300 million in earmarks for research and construction projects external to NIST. Since Congress resumed earmarks in 2021, it has used NIST’s budget as the vehicle for funding many of those related to science. Meanwhile, the legislation will cut NIST’s own budget for construction and facilities repair by a third even though the agency faces a huge backlog of infrastructure modernization projects and made that work a top priority in its budget request.

Science Committee Continues Weather Policy Push with Forecasting Hearing

The House Science Committee will examine how U.S. weather models compare with those of other countries at a hearing on Wednesday. The hearing charter states that Europe operates a forecast system that is generally viewed as superior to that of the U.S., and that China has recently focused on using artificial intelligence to increase the accuracy and speed of its forecast models. One of the witnesses is Neil Jacobs, who was acting head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the Trump administration. At NOAA, Jacobs pushed to create the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC), which aims to make it easier for researchers outside NOAA to contribute improvements to the agency’s weather models. The other two witnesses are Aeris LLC CEO Kevin Petty and CLIMET Consulting CEO Scott Weaver, who until recently led the Interagency Council for Advancing Meteorological Services (ICAMS) and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. The hearing is the latest in a series focused on weather forecasting held by the House Science Committee, which is pushing to update the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017. The committee unanimously advanced legislation last year that would update the 2017 law, and the hearing charter states the committee expects the full House will vote on it sometime this month.

Physicists Gather in Minneapolis for APS March

The American Physical Society’s annual March Meeting is underway in Minneapolis, Minnesota, through Saturday. Among the policy-focused events is a special session Monday evening on broadening participation in physics. The session will explore the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in educating STEM students, racial disparities in grant funding outcomes at the National Science Foundation, diversity efforts at national laboratories, and how U.S. research security initiatives could create a hostile climate that drives away scientists. Research security will also be the focus of a live-streamed session Friday morning featuring speakers from industry and federal agencies. As APS is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, an invited session on Wednesday will explore the origins of the organization, historical debates over what counts as physics, the history of women in APS, and internal divisions in APS during the Cold War and the Vietnam War. (APS is an AIP Member Society)

National Nanotechnology Initiative Marks 20th Anniversary of Authorizing Law

The National Nanotechnology Initiative will hold a day-long symposium on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which provided statutory backing for the NNI. Among the speakers are White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and former OSTP Director Neal Lane, who was in the job when President Bill Clinton launched the NNI in 2000. The trio will discuss the NNI’s impact over the years, and other sessions will explore the future of nanotechnology, how to develop the technology responsibly, workforce and infrastructure needs, and technology commercialization. Notably, last year the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology put out a report that recommended sunsetting or substantially revising the Nanotechnology R&D Act, arguing that “the federal organizational structure that was effective in the early 2000s for nanotechnology as an emerging technology should be reconsidered in the context of nanotechnology as a mature field.”

Major Research Security Conference Underway in Texas

The eighth annual Academic Security and Counter Exploitation seminar runs through Friday this week, organized by Texas A&M University System. The event has become a major conference for research security professionals, and this year’s edition includes a video address from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) and keynote addresses from officials at the FBI, National Security Council, National Science Foundation, and State Department. As part of the event, on Thursday the National Science, Technology, and Security Roundtable of the National Academies will hold its 13th meeting. Officials from the UK, South Korea, Canada, and the European Commission will offer their perspectives on research security at the roundtable meeting.

In Case You Missed It

Telescope Composite 2.png

Renderings of the Giant Magellan Telescope, left, and the Thirty Meter Telescope.

(Left: GMTO Corporation / Right: M3 Engineering)

NSF Poised to Downsize Telescope Ambitions, But Appropriators Send Opposite Signal

The National Science Foundation’s governing board signaled last week that the agency is unlikely to have enough money to fund construction of both the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which are competing against an array of other high-priority infrastructure proposals across scientific disciplines. The board set a $1.6 billion ceiling on NSF’s contribution of construction funds for the telescopes and has asked the agency to report back by May on “its plan to select which of the two candidate telescopes the agency plans to continue to support.” A board spokesperson added, “Based on what the board knows now, it anticipates that a down-selection will be necessary.” However, the final appropriations legislation for NSF released this week “strongly encourages” the board to pursue a “two-observatory footprint with a mechanism to guarantee robust community access.” Funding both telescopes would likely require a significant and sustained boost to NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account. The board has cautioned that even if NSF limits its contribution to $1.6 billion, the effort would consume about 80% of NSF’s historical MREFC budget.

NASA Cancels Big-Budget Robotic Servicing Demonstration

NASA announced on March 1 that it is terminating its On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1) mission, which was supposed to have refueled Landsat 7, demonstrating capabilities for robotically servicing satellites not designed to be serviced. The mission, formerly called RESTORE-L, also incorporated a robotic arm called Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot (SPIDER) that would have assembled a 3-meter communications antenna and a 10-meter beam. Congress has strongly supported OSAM-1, appropriating about $1.5 billion to date and often exceeding the amounts annually requested for it. However, the project’s cost and schedule estimates have been unstable, with the price tag currently pegged at more than $2 billion. NASA states its termination decision is linked to “continued technical, cost, and schedule challenges, and a broader community evolution away from refueling unprepared spacecraft, which has led to a lack of a committed partner.” Last year, NASA’s Office of Inspector General highlighted poor performance by the contractor Maxar as a key cause of the project’s ongoing difficulties. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland has been developing OSAM-1 and the agency states it is “reviewing how to mitigate the impact of the cancellation” on the center’s workforce.

PCAST Calls for Nationwide Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Effort

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report on Feb. 20 recommending that government agencies create a “common operating picture” for tracking greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane, to monitor progress toward the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Even though there is far more carbon dioxide in the air, methane is more potent, responsible “for approximately 30% of today’s climate warming,” PCAST says. The system would ideally be unified, centralized, complete, and on a national scale, but also have the ability to provide localized data when needed. Another recommendation calls for a multi-decadal strategy to develop new and better emissions-monitoring sensors and satellites. The report also “fully endorses” recommendations published last year by an interagency working group on emissions monitoring, which proposed establishing a National Greenhouse Gas Monitoring and Information Office.

Senate Confirms Inaugural Assistant Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology

By voice vote, the Senate confirmed Aprille Joy Ericsson as the first assistant secretary of defense for science and technology on Feb. 28. Ericsson has worked at NASA for three decades, most recently as a lead business strategist at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and President Joe Biden nominated her for the new position last September. The Department of Defense created the role through a reorganization that replaced three deputy chief technology officer roles with three equivalent assistant secretary positions requiring Senate confirmation. Nominees for the other two roles, the assistant secretary of defense for mission capabilities and assistant secretary of defense for critical technologies, have yet to be announced. Ericsson will oversee the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program as well as policy affecting the defense STEM workforce, labs, and test infrastructure. The role will also focus on four of the 14 technology areas deemed critical by DOD: quantum science, advanced materials, biotechnology, and next-generation wireless networks.

NSF Appoints Science Policy Scholar as Head of Social Sciences Directorate

The National Science Foundation has selected science policy expert Kaye Husbands Fealing to lead the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. Husbands Fealing is the dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and formerly chaired its School of Public Policy. She holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard University and a bachelor’s in mathematics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Husbands Fealing has previously worked with NSF in multiple capacities, including as inaugural program director for the Science of Science and Innovation Policy program and chair of the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering. Her appointment, announced Feb. 29, will begin April 22.

US Capacity for International S&T Collaboration Gets Check Up from White House

The White House published a report last week on federal efforts to improve U.S. capacity for international science and technology collaboration, responding to a biennial reporting requirement from Congress. The report assesses progress toward implementing 16 recommendations made by the previous biennial report. Produced by an interagency panel, the report also discusses some of the current geopolitical challenges impacting scientific collaboration, such as Russia’s war against Ukraine, and highlights diplomacy efforts focused on emerging technologies that will be important to the future of the U.S. economy. “International S&T cooperation has been a pillar of U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II, and it is at risk of deteriorating at a time when it is more important than ever in an increasingly competitive geopolitical climate,” the report concludes.

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, March 4

ASCE: Academic Security and Counter Exploitation program annual seminar
(continues through Friday)

NDIA: 2024 Pacific Operational Science and Technology Conference
(continues through Thursday)

APS: March Meeting
(continues through Friday)

NASA: Planetary Science Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: The Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust meeting
(continues Tuesday)

NSF: Business and Operations Advisory Committee meeting
11:00 am - 5:30 pm

Columbia University: “Reactor Costs and Decarbonization Efforts”
1:00 - 2:00 pm

Tuesday, March 5

NNI: “Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the 21st Century Nanotechnology R&D Act”
8:00 am - 7:00 pm

NIST: National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee meeting
10:00 am - 1:00 pm

CSIS: “Optimizing U.S. Export Controls for Critical and Emerging Technologies - Working with Partners”
2:15 - 3:00 pm

DOD: Defense Innovation Board meeting
4:00 - 4:45 pm

Wednesday, March 6

NRC: Reactor Safeguards Advisory Committee meeting
(continues through Friday)

National Academies: Quadrennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative meeting
(continues Thursday)

House: “Winning in Weather: U.S. Competitiveness in Forecasting and Modeling”
10:00 am, Science Committee

House: “Examining the White House’s Role in Pandemic Preparedness and Response”
10:00 am, Oversight Committee

Research!America: Discussion of survey on support for federally funded research, trust in science, and global competitiveness
11:00 - 11:45 am

House: Hearing on geothermal energy legislation
2:00 pm, Natural Resources Committee

Thursday, March 7

National Academies: “Feasibility of Assessing Veteran Health Effects of Manhattan Project (1942-1947) Related Waste,” meeting two
9:30 am - 12:15 pm

House: “Growing Stakes: The Bioeconomy and American National Security”
9:00 am, Select Committee on the CCP

House: “Divisive, Excessive, Ineffective: The Real Impact of DEI on College Campuses”
10:15 am, Education and Workforce Committee

House: “Monetizing Nature and Locking up Public Land: The Implications of Biden’s Strategy for Natural Capital Accounting”
10:15 am, Natural Resources Committee

National Academies: National Science, Technology, and Security Roundtable, meeting 13
11:20 am - 7:30 pm

DHS: National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee meeting
2:00 - 3:00 pm

National Academies: “Enhancing EPA Science Capability for a Complex Future: Recommendations for Use of Title 42 Special Hiring Authority” report release webinar
2:00 - 3:00 pm

National Academies: “Increasing Diversity in the U.S. Ocean Studies Community,” meeting one
3:00 - 5:00 pm

White House: State of the Union Speech
9:00 pm

Friday, March 8

No events.

Monday, March 11

National Academies: “Statistical and Data-driven Methods for Additive Manufacturing Qualification: A Workshop”
(continues through Wednesday)

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

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

Around the Web

News and views currently in circulation. Links do not imply endorsement.

White House

White House: PCAST releases report on strategy for cyber-physical resilience
White House: Joint statement endorsing principles for 6G: Secure, open, and resilient by design
OSTP: Celebrating Black History Month and championing diversity in STEM

Congress

New York Times: Nuclear power bill passed by House, support grows in Congress
HPwire: US quantum director Charles Tahan calls for NQIA reauthorization now

Science, Society, and the Economy

Axios: Patent applications from Chinese inventors pass US for first time
AP: How Chinese science fiction went from underground magazines to Netflix extravaganza

Education and Workforce

Science: A valid US visa didn’t stop these Chinese graduate students from being deported
Nature: Why the US border remains ‘a place of terror’ for Chinese researchers
Nature: ‘This is exclusion’: Florida law restricts hiring of researchers from seven countries
New York Times: University of Florida eliminates all DEI-related positions

Research Management

Nature: More than 2 million research papers have disappeared from the Internet
Vox: Fake cancer research and scientific fraud allegations hit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Retraction Watch: Embattled dean accused of plagiarism in NSF report
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: Federal whistleblower claims fall by almost half
NSF: Jean Cottam Allen joins the Office of Polar Programs as acting director
Nature: Is ChatGPT making scientists hyper-productive? The highs and lows of using AI

Labs and Facilities

DOE: DOE requests expressions of interest for the Jefferson Lab facility M&O contract competition
GMT: Statement on NSB federal investment recommendation for the Extremely Large Telescope program
Oak Ridge National Lab: Greenfield joins ORNL to bridge ITER, US fusion research
Los Alamos National Lab: Patrick Moore to lead Bradbury Science Museum
Sandia National Lab: Out of the desert, a quantum powerhouse rises
Nature: Big science in Latin America: accelerate particles and progress (perspective by Victor Castaño, et al.)

Space

SpaceNews: Final NASA 2024 spending bill defers decision on MSR funding
MIT Technology Review: The first-ever mission to pull a dead rocket out of space has just begun
Science News: Odysseus’ historic moon mission comes to an end, for now
New York Times: Why it’s so challenging to land upright on the moon
NASA: Night-shining cloud mission ends; yields high science results for NASA
Physics Today: NASA unveils a supersonic plane with a quiet boom

Weather, Climate, and Environment

NOAA: Launch of NOAA weather satellite delayed
NPR: ExxonMobil is suing investors who want tougher action on climate change
New York Times: He wants oil money off campus. She’s funded by Exxon. They’re friends
Inside Climate News: Just how much money do CO2 pipeline companies stand to make from the Inflation Reduction Act?
The New Yorker: John Kerry thinks we’re at a critical moment on climate change (interview)

Energy

NETL: DOE to invest $30 million in carbon conversion and highly efficient CO2 capture technologies
IEEE Spectrum: Heat pumps take on cold climates
IEEE Spectrum: The lithium-ion battery may not be the best bet for EVs
American Nuclear Society: DOE eyes WIPP site for potential clean energy projects
American Nuclear Society: Commercial HALEU supply chain draft EIS now open for comment
Berkeley Lab: EcoFABs could lead to better bioenergy crops
Physics Today: Green ammonia can be a clean energy source

Defense

GAO: Nuclear weapons: Information on NNSA’s research plan for plutonium and pit aging (report)
Wall Street Journal: Germans debate the once-unthinkable: Do we need nuclear weapons?
NNSA: The state of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant (report)
Science|Business: Europe must urgently invest in defense technologies, says Ursula von der Leyen

Biomedical

GAO: Biomedical research: Actions needed to adopt collaboration practices to address research duplication (report)
Science: International panel calls for tighter oversight of risky pathogen studies
OSTP: Readout of White House rare disease forum

International Affairs

Nature: Why it would be a dangerous folly to end US–China science pact (editorial)
Union of Concerned Scientists: US-China science cooperation needed for progress
New York Times: Scientists in Canada passed secrets to China, investigations find
Nature: ‘Incomprehensible’: scientists in France decry €900-million cut to research
Wilson Center: Russia’s war suffocates the country’s scholarship and science
Chemistry World: Estimates suggest at least 2500 scientists have left Russia since the beginning of the war
Science: Fallout from Israel-Hamas war causing ‘significant harm’ to researchers in Israel, survey finds

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