FYI This Week highlights upcoming science policy events and summarizes news from the past week.
Image credit – Architect of the Capitol
Lawmakers have departed the nation’s capital following a week of frenetic activity that, aside from the House’s impeachment of President Trump and passage of a new North American trade agreement, also saw the completion of appropriations for fiscal year 2020 and the annual National Defense Authorization Act. President Trump promptly signed the appropriations and defense policy legislation into law on Dec. 20. The Senate is planning to reconvene on Jan. 3, while the House will return to work Jan. 7.
In the new year, Congress will look to advance important bills bearing on science policy, including energy innovation legislation that both the House and Senate have been developing over the course of 2019. The House Science Committee is also expected to release its counterpart to the Senate’s NASA policy bill in the near future. The next appropriations cycle will begin in earnest in February when the Trump administration releases its budget request for fiscal year 2021.
FYI will be on hiatus for the last week of December. When we resume publication in January, we will break down the results of science agencies’ new appropriations in a series of bulletins and publish our annual list of “10 stories to watch.” If you are signed up to receive FYI This Week but not FYI Bulletins, we also invite you to begin 2020 by updating your email preferences. The next edition of This Week on Jan. 6.
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Many science agencies are receiving substantial budget increases following the enactment last week of appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2020. The Department of Energy stands out as one of the biggest beneficiaries, with the Office of Science budget rising 6% to $7.0 billion and most of DOE’s applied energy offices receiving even larger percentage increases. The National Institutes of Health will see its fifth straight year of multi-billion dollar growth, rising 7% to $41.7 billion. Meanwhile, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the National Science Foundation will both receive a 3% budget increase. Details on funding outcomes for major programs and facilities are available in the FYI Federal Science Budget Tracker. The legislation also includes important policy direction for science agencies. For instance, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is directed to “incorporate and apply the findings” from the JASON study on research security that was released this month, and NIH is directed to implement new sexual harassment reporting requirements.
President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 20, updating policies across the Department of Defense, National Nuclear Security Administration, and U.S. intelligence agencies. This year’s version of the law includes provisions that establish a Space Force service branch, update DOD’s research security efforts, create a Climate Security Advisory Council, and sustain the JASON science advisory group. It also requires DOD to develop plans for updating policies relating to emerging technologies, maximizing defense laboratories’ use of special administrative authorities, refurbishing R&D and testing infrastructure, and diversifying the department’s STEM workforce. In addition, the legislation requires DOD to commission National Academies studies on high energy density physics and the status of defense research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions. Consult FYI’s bulletin coverage of the final bill for a fuller overview.
News that the White House is considering an executive order that would mandate immediate open access to publications from federally funded research projects has spurred scientific publishing organizations to warn of the negative impacts of such a policy. A spokesperson for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy declined to confirm or deny that the order is under review. In a Dec. 18 letter, 62 scientific, engineering, and medical societies wrote that the current 12 month embargo period for publications provides “financial stability that enables us to support peer review that ensures the quality and integrity of the research enterprise.” A separate letter by over 135 publishers argued that moving to a zero month embargo would “effectively nationalize the valuable American intellectual property that we produce and force us to give it away to the rest of the world for free.” Amid the calls for reconsidering such an order, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which represents research libraries, welcomed the move, stating they “wholeheartedly endorse updating current policy and eliminating the unnecessary 12 month waiting period for the public to gain access to the outputs of taxpayer-funded scientific research, including data, articles, and the supporting computer code.” (Disclosure: Several AIP Member Societies are signatories on the publisher letters. AIP, which publishes FYI, is sustained through profits from a subsidiary that publishes scientific journals; it was not a signatory on the letters.)
The White House announced last week that President Trump intends to nominate Arizona State University chief research and innovation officer Sethuraman Panchanathan to be director of the National Science Foundation. Pending his Senate confirmation, Panchanathan will succeed France Córdova, whose six-year term as director ends in March. Córdova released a statement last week praising his qualifications for the post. Panchanathan is also a professor of computing and informatics at the university, specializing in assistive technology, and a current member of the National Science Board, the 24 member body that oversees NSF. In recent testimony before a Senate committee, he outlined elements he views as critical to national competitiveness in R&D, advocating for federal investment in basic research, and extolling research partnerships that tackle “grand challenge” problems.
The White House announced last week that President Trump intends to nominate Neil Jacobs to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which he has led in an acting capacity since February. Trump’s original nominee for the post, AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers, withdrew from consideration in November, citing health issues. Prior to his elevation to acting administrator, Jacobs was confirmed by voice vote to be NOAA’s assistant secretary for environmental observation and prediction in 2018. He will now face another confirmation hearing, where he is likely to be questioned about his role in NOAA’s release of a statement criticizing a communication by federal weather forecasters that contradicted an inaccurate statement President Trump made about Hurricane Dorian. However, Jacobs is widely viewed as a capable leader for the agency given his background in weather research, which he has leveraged in implementing the congressionally mandated Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC) during his time as acting head. In a statement endorsing the nomination, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research President Antonio Busalacchi said, "At a time when the United States is rightfully focused on closing the forecasting gap with our overseas competitors, Neil has the necessary expertise to restore the nation’s preeminence in weather prediction.” NOAA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator since the beginning of the Trump administration.
Steven Walker announced last week that he will step down as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on Jan. 10. Walker has led the $3.5 billion agency since 2017 after serving as deputy director since 2012. During his tenure, DARPA launched major initiatives in microelectronics and artificial intelligence research. Its current deputy director, computer scientist Peter Highnam, will serve as acting director until a permanent replacement is appointed.
The House Science Committee approved three bipartisan energy R&D bills last week that would provide policy updates for the Department of Energy’s geothermal, grid, and energy storage R&D programs. The committee approved the Grid Modernization R&D Act, which would direct DOE to establish a smart grid regional demonstration initiative and prioritize research that protects the grid against “adverse man-made and naturally occurring events.” The Advanced Geothermal R&D Act was also approved with an amendment that provides further direction for programs supporting geothermal heat pumps and applications that directly use heated water. The bill authorizes DOE to establish up to three field test sites and recommends funding for geothermal programs increase from their current level of $110 million to $130 million by fiscal year 2024. The Better Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Act was approved with a substitute amendment by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL). The amended bill recommends DOE receive $50 million annually over five years for an energy storage demonstration initiative, $10 million less than the original bill, and removes a provision directing DOE to initiate up to five demonstration projects by September 2023.
Last week, the Defense Science Board posted the executive summary of a report on nascent applications of quantum information science that includes numerous findings and recommendations for the Department of Defense. The report states that quantum sensing technologies are “poised for mission use,” while quantum communications and computing applications are farther off. It also stresses the importance of supporting the industrial base for “enabling components” that span across technology applications, stating, “Reliable, well-characterized, trusted, and well-manufactured components, coupled with practiced integration, may be the biggest factor in achieving quantum superiority and competitive advantage.” Accordingly, among its recommendations are that DARPA broaden its microelectronics initiative or create a new program that develops such components, such as single photon sources and detectors. The report also casts cold water on some potential applications, finding that quantum radar “will not provide upgraded capability to DOD” and that quantum key distribution “has not been implemented with sufficient capability or security to be deployed for DOD mission use,” though adding its “use by foreign parties should be understood and tracked.”
Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has extended the public comment deadline for a set of questions posed by the interagency Joint Committee on the Research Environment. The request for information seeks feedback on approaches to improving the reproducibility and replicability of research; identifying and reducing administrative burdens; mitigating research security risks; and fostering a safe and inclusive research environment. Comments are now due Jan. 28, 2020.
The California Council on Science and Technology is accepting applications for its year-long fellowship in the California State Legislature. The program aims to provide fellows first-hand experience with the policymaking process, while also increasing the capacity of the legislature to develop science-informed legislation. Scientists and engineers with a PhD or equivalent degree are encouraged to apply. Applications are due March 1, 2020.
The National Academies is seeking an associate executive director for its Division on Earth and Life Studies, which produces reports on topics ranging from climate change and weather research to gene editing and public health matters. The position is responsible for managing the division’s current $25 million annual portfolio of projects together with the division’s executive director. Applicants should have a doctoral degree in a related field and ten years of relevant experience.
For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities. Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
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