The Week of January 24, 2022

 

FYI This Week highlights upcoming science policy events and summarizes news from the past week.

The Week of January 24, 2022

  • Wheels Back in Motion on Innovation and Spending Legislation
  • Academies Panel to Discuss New Research Security Guidance
  • APS Forum Spotlighting Burning Issues for Physics Community
  • Study to Assess Causes of Arecibo Telescope Collapse
  • White House Tweaks Immigration Rules to Attract STEM Talent
  • DOJ Drops Case Against MIT Professor Gang Chen
  • Former Arkansas Professor Simon Ang Takes Plea Deal
  • Biden to Elevate Acting DOE Nuclear Energy Office Head
  • Science Committee Bill Seeks More University Research Reactors
  • Biden Hears From Council of Science Advisors
  • White House Presses Adoption of Quantum-Resistant Encryption
The Week Ahead

Biden speaks at Intel announcement

President Biden speaks at a White House event marking Intel’s announcement that it will build a microchip manufacturing complex near Columbus, Ohio. Behind him are, from left, Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

(Image credit – The White House)

Wheels Back in Motion on Innovation and Spending Legislation

Congressional Democrats are regrouping after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) threw a wrench in their plans late last year to advance the Build Back Better Act, a nearly $2 trillion multiyear spending package that would fund the party’s priorities for social programs and climate change mitigation. At a press conference on Jan. 19, President Biden endorsed the idea of initially maneuvering only part of the legislation through Congress, saying, “I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest later.” A portion that appears well positioned to move forward first would provide about $500 billion for energy and environmental programs. That could include some funding for science programs, such as the $5 billion for the Department of Energy Office of Science that was proposed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Manchin chairs.

Congressional leaders are also preparing to negotiate a final version of the bipartisan innovation policy legislation that the Senate passed last summer as a package called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. In addition to the bill’s array of major policy provisions, the Senate attached $52 billion in direct funding for semiconductor production and R&D initiatives to its bill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicated last week that the House will also include support for the semiconductor sector in its version. At a White House event on Jan. 21 to mark chip manufacturer Intel’s newly announced decision to spend $20 billion on a new fabrication complex in Ohio, Biden pushed for action on the bill, saying, “I want other cities and states to be able to make announcements like the one being made here today, and that’s why I want to see Congress pass this bill right away and get it to my desk.” While the House has passed parts of its version of the legislation already, its next steps will involve assembling and passing a package that will become its basis for negotiations during a House-Senate conference committee.

Academies Panel to Discuss New Research Security Guidance 

On Thursday, the National Academies’ research security roundtable will receive an update from agency officials on what federally funded scientists are required to disclose to the government pursuant to National Security Presidential Memorandum-33 (NSPM-33). The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued implementation guidance for NSPM-33 on Jan. 4, and agencies are now working to develop standard grant application forms. The speakers are Michael Lauer, head of extramural research at the National Institutes of Health; Rebecca Keiser, head of research security policy for the National Science Foundation; and Christina Ciocca Eller, assistant director for evidence and policy at OSTP. Lauer and Keiser will also participate in a discussion of “international efforts on research security” that will include a representative from the State Department.

APS Forum Spotlighting Burning Issues for Physics Community

On Thursday, the American Physical Society is holding its Annual Leadership Meeting, a forum for discussing issues of broad interest to the physics community. A session on research security will feature an FBI briefing as well as a panel discussion that includes representatives from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. Other panels will address how to overcome obstacles to cooperation on global scientific and social challenges and how to broaden conceptions of who belongs to the physics community, including by reaching out to students who have “goals and aspirations that don’t neatly align with the role of academic researcher.” Another panel will deal with how to counteract scientific misinformation, which is the focus of a new APS initiative. All sessions of the meeting will be held online this year and are open to the public. (APS is an AIP Member Society.)

Study to Assess Causes of Arecibo Telescope Collapse 

On Monday and Tuesday, the National Academies is kicking off a study that will assess probable causes of the catastrophic collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in December 2020. The National Science Foundation has charged the study committee with assessing “environmental, physical, and design considerations as well as any administrative or management practices that may have been contributing factors.” The committee will also recommend steps to prevent structural failures at other large science facilities. A preliminary investigation of the collapse suggested a manufacturing error caused the unlatching of an auxiliary cable that helped suspend a massive equipment platform over the telescope’s 305-meter dish, which was followed by a cascading series of cable failures. Former users of the facility have also suggested that neglect for facility maintenance may have contributed to the collapse. NSF reported to Congress in March 2021 that the Academies review would complement forensic evaluations of the cable failures already underway by engineering firms.

In Case You Missed It

VISA closeup

Image credit – State Department

White House Tweaks Immigration Rules to Attract STEM Talent

The White House announced a series of immigration policy changes on Jan. 21 that aim to improve the ability of the U.S. to attract and retain international STEM talent. Among the actions, the administration has added 22 new STEM fields to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to work in the U.S. after graduation for a period of time. The announcement states that the added fields of study are “primarily new multidisciplinary or emerging fields, and are critical in attracting talent to support U.S. economic growth and technological competitiveness. Among them are bioenergy, climate and Earth system sciences, cloud computing, data science and visualization, and “human-centered technology design,” which encompasses fields such as human-computer interaction and neuroscience. Students in the listed fields will now be eligible for a 24-month extension of their time in the OPT program, beyond the regular 12-month duration for non-STEM students.

Other announced steps include changes to eligibility guidance for O-1A visas, which are conferred to persons of “extraordinary ability” in certain fields. Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security updated its policy manual on O-1A visas to provide examples of evidence applicants can submit to demonstrate STEM expertise. Separately, the administration is seeking to promote educational exchanges through a new State Department-led “Early Career STEM Research Initiative” that will facilitate non-immigrant visitors’ engagement in STEM through research or training with host organizations, including businesses. The department has also announced that STEM undergraduate and graduate students on J-1 visas can receive up to 36 months of academic training, up from the current cap of 18 months. 

DOJ Drops Case Against MIT Professor Gang Chen

A federal judge dismissed charges against MIT nanoengineering professor Gang Chen on Jan. 20 after Department of Justice prosecutors concluded they could not prove he committed grant fraud and other crimes related to the concealment of connections with Chinese institutions. According to reports, DOJ reached its decision after learning from the Department of Energy that the connections prosecutors accused Chen of hiding did not need to be disclosed in 2017, when he applied for the DOE grant in question, and that they would not have affected his eligibility for funding. On Jan. 21, Chen published an op-ed in the Boston Globe calling for DOJ and Congress to review his case, arguing that investigators and prosecutors twisted evidence against him and committed “glaring misconduct” by failing to obtain, consider, and turn over exculpatory information. He also added his voice to a growing chorus condemning DOJ’s pursuit of cases against academics based on alleged nondisclosures of foreign ties, writing that the department’s “misguided theory of prosecution could likely apply to thousands of professors who failed to list every routine professional activity with any entity in a foreign nation (which was not a requirement at the time).”

Former Arkansas Professor Simon Ang Takes Plea Deal

The Department of Justice announced on Jan. 21 that former University of Arkansas electrical engineering professor Simon Ang has pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about being named as an inventor on Chinese patents. In exchange, the department will drop dozens of other counts, most of which involve allegations of fraud committed against NASA and the U.S. Air Force stemming from his nondisclosure of ties to Chinese businesses and receipt of funding from Chinese talent programs. Ang’s lawyer told the journal Science that the patents in question had no monetary value and he was serving as an adviser to a Singapore-based company owned by his brother. The lawyer also said Ang agreed to serve a prison sentence of one year and one day because that is the minimum length conferring eligibility for early release, and that at age 64 he has no plans to seek reinstatement by the university, which fired him two months after his arrest in July 2020.

Biden to Elevate Acting DOE Nuclear Energy Office Head 

The White House announced last week that President Biden will nominate Katy Huff to lead the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, a role she had filled on an acting basis since last May. Given her nomination, DOE career official Andrew Griffith has taken over as acting head of the office and Huff is now serving as a senior advisor to the energy secretary. Huff is on leave from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is an assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering. She received her doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. In her time at DOE, she has advocated for aggressive development of advanced nuclear reactors, including through construction of the Versatile Test Reactor, a proposed user facility for exposing reactor components and materials to conditions comparable to those that would exist in new reactor designs.

Science Committee Bill Seeks More University Research Reactors

The House Science Committee advanced an amended version of the National Nuclear University Research Infrastructure Reinvestment Act by voice vote last week. The bill would recommend Congress provide $600 million to the Department of Energy over eight years to establish new nuclear facilities at universities. Specifically, it would direct DOE to carry out a subprogram that funds advanced nuclear reactor concept demonstrations, construction of medical isotope production reactors, and construction of up to four research reactors, among other activities. The bill further instructs that the subprogram support regional consortia that encourage the participation of minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and universities in EPSCoR states. Among amendments the committee adopted, one by Energy Subcommittee Chair Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) authorizes DOE to support “non-technical nuclear research,” defined to include areas such as “social sciences or law that can support an increase in community engagement, participation, and confidence in nuclear energy systems, including the navigation of the licensing required for advanced reactor deployment.”

Biden Hears From Council of Science Advisors

President Biden met with the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last week following a meeting of the council, which focused on efforts to improve monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate innovation in energy technology. According to a readout of the event, PCAST briefed Biden on four areas it is currently examining: protecting against physical and financial risks from climate change; using science and technology to detect, track, and fight wildfires; reimagining the U.S. public health system to “address decades-old challenges laid bare by the pandemic”; and ensuring U.S. leadership in science and technology innovation. Prior to the meeting, Biden remarked on the importance of science in decision-making. “It’s essential that science and scientific integrity are again taken seriously and are at the center of what we’re about as a nation; that scientists have a seat at the table, every table in the government,” he said.

White House Presses Adoption of Quantum-Resistant Encryption

Within a wide-ranging executive order last week on cybersecurity of national security networks, President Biden directed relevant agencies to identify within 180 days any instances where they are using encryption methods that are not resistant to hacking by quantum computers and to provide a timeline for transitioning such systems to compliant encryption methods. The National Security Agency has promoted the adoption of such algorithms for years to hedge against the potential development of a quantum computer capable of breaking current encryption schemes. Although NSA has stated it does not know “when or even if” such a computer will be developed, security researchers have raised concerns that hackers could steal presently encrypted data and store it away for decades until a quantum computer capable of breaking the encryption is developed. NSA plans to eventually adopt post-quantum encryption methods selected by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is currently evaluating candidate algorithms.

Events this week
All times are Eastern Standard Time, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement.

Friday, January 28

 
12:00 pm
 
8:00 pm

Sunday, January 30

 
11:00 am - 12:30 pm

Monday, January 31

 
2:00 - 3:00 pm

Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at [email protected].

Opportunities

AAS Hiring Deputy Director of Policy

The American Astronomical Society is hiring a deputy director of public policy, responsible for coordinating its day-to-day public policy and advocacy activities. The deputy director will also oversee the society’s John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow. Applicants must have a graduate degree in astronomy or a closely related science and five or more years of experience in public policy. Applications are due Feb. 11.

ITIF Hiring Energy Innovation Associate Director

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is hiring an associate director for its Center for Clean Energy Innovation. Duties include leading a “qualitative and quantitative research program on clean energy innovation policy” and raising funds to support the program via grant writing and donor engagement. Applicants should have an advanced degree in public policy, energy technology, or a related field with seven or more years of relevant research and policy experience.

Science Policy Journal Seeking Associate Editors

The Journal of Science Policy and Governance is now accepting applications for volunteer associate editors, who are responsible for reviewing submissions and providing feedback to authors. Applications for the first cohort will continue to be accepted until all positions are filled.

 

For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities. Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at [email protected].

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