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The Week of August 14
Start your week fully informed with a preview of what's ahead in science policy and funding along with a recap of last week's news.
The Week of August 14
National Science Board Convenes for August Meeting
The National Science Board will meet all day Tuesday and Wednesday to address a range of policy issues facing the National Science Foundation. On day one, the board will hear from NSF Director France Córdova and Board Chair Maria Zuber, who will provide highlights from board members’ recent Capitol Hill visits. The board will survey last year’s trends in merit review, and the NSF inspector general will present a report on the agency’s requirement that awardee institutions provide research integrity training to students and postdoctoral fellows. At the end of the day, the board will go into closed session to discuss contract awards related to the management and operations of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and National Ecological Observatory Network and hear a status update on divestment plans for NSF astronomy facilities, including the Arecibo Observatory and the Green Bank Telescope. On day two, the board will discuss in open session the skilled technical workforce and examine NSF’s “no cost overrun policy” that requires projects to adhere to cost estimates made during preliminary design review or face a reduction in project scope. The full meeting agenda is available here, and the event will be webcast here.
Two DOE National Labs Announce Workforce Reductions
Last week, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), both Department of Energy national laboratories, announced plans to reduce their workforces by approximately 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, over the next few months. To meet its goal, ORNL will cut up to 350 positions, including 250 overhead and 100 R&D positions, while BNL will cut up to 175 positions total. Both labs are implementing voluntary separation programs but have indicated that layoffs will occur if targets are not met.
ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia justified the reduction measures to employees in an email last week as allowing the lab to “be able to maintain competitive chargeout rates while freeing resources for discretionary investments that will modernize Lab infrastructure and maintain core research capabilities in the mission areas assigned to ORNL.” Zacharia indicated that reductions will be made primarily to staff who charge to indirect or overhead accounts, but also to research staff from programs that were affected by fiscal year 2017 funding cuts who were not placed into other lab programs, including the fusion energy program and ITER office. Both labs have said that the reductions are not related to the proposed deep cuts to the Office of Science and other DOE offices included in the administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget request.
USGCRP Climate Science Review Stirs Anxieties
On Aug. 7, the New York Times published a draft of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate Science Special Report. When complete, the report will serve as an official update on the physical climate science presented in the Third National Climate Assessment, released in 2014. The National Academies released its review of the draft earlier this year, which described it as “impressive.” The Times reports, though, that some scientists who worked on the document fear possible interference from White House and federal agency officials, who are currently conducting their review of it.
Following its publication, the Times story quickly drew criticism for incorrectly implying that the draft had not been made public and could be suppressed, when in fact it had already been made available for comment in December. On Aug. 8, House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) criticized both the Times’ reporting and the draft, saying, “We should treat this document for what it is, an unfinished draft that requires serious revision.” He also reiterated his view that projecting temperatures for the distant future “goes against the principles of scientific integrity.” The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and two other senior Democratic members, released statements in support of the draft report. On Aug. 9, the Times issued a correction, stating it had been unaware of the draft’s earlier release.
Senators Channel Water Security Concerns at Hearing
Earlier this month, members of the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine how to increase water security and drought preparedness through infrastructure, management, and innovation. While Subcommittee Chair Jeff Flake (R-AZ) intended to use the hearing to “build on last year’s [Western Water Supply and Planning Enhancement Act] legislation to try and address critical water needs,” much of the discussion centered around proposed cuts to water modeling and forecasting in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018. Subcommittee Ranking Member Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) voiced concerns over the cuts, with King saying “if we don’t have the data, don’t have the predictability, it’s simply going to aggravate this problem [with water security].”
National Academies Committee Examining Citizen Science
The National Academies Board on Science Education kicked off a 24-month study earlier this year to examine “how citizen science projects can be designed to better support science learning.” Chaired by the Raj Pandya, director of the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, the committee is tasked with developing a report that will “lay out a research agenda that can fill the gaps in the current understanding of how citizen science can support science learning and enhance science education.” On Aug. 9, the committee convened for its second meeting to hear from speakers on topics including frameworks for designing learning opportunities in citizen science and K–12 participation in citizen science projects.
Bipartisan Open Access Bill Reintroduced in the Senate
Earlier this month, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) reintroduced the “Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act,” a bill that would require all federal agencies with extramural research budgets of more than $100 million to implement policies for increasing public access to publications resulting from the research they fund. A version of the bill has been introduced by the same sponsors in the previous two congresses, as have prior versions of a counterpart bill that was introduced in the House last month. A key difference between the House and Senate versions is that the Senate bill would require manuscripts resulting from federally funded research be made publicly available online no later than 12 months after publication, while the House bill’s requirement is a more demanding six months. The Senate provision aligns with the 12-month embargo standard set under a 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directive outlining requirements for agencies to create and implement open access plans.