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The Week of January 29
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 January 29
Science Committee to Examine DOE R&D Reorganization
The Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar and Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes will appear before the House Science Committee on Tuesday. The purpose of the hearing will be to examine DOE’s reorganization of their respective responsibilities and to gauge its potential impact on the department’s civilian research, development, demonstration, and commercial application programs. A previous reorganization in 2013 had placed a single under secretary in charge of both the DOE Office of Science and the department’s applied energy offices in order to facilitate coordination among DOE’s various R&D programs. The new reorganization splits those responsibilities between Dabbar and Menezes. The two under secretaries previously testified as part of a four-person panel at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Jan. 9.
On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is holding a hearing on the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA). Enacted in the waning weeks of the Obama administration, AICA made a number of changes to policies pertaining to the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. NSF Director France Córdova and NIST Director Walter Copan will testify about their agencies’ progress in implementing the legislation. Among steps the agencies have taken to date, NSF has created a new chief facilities officer position, begun spinning up a Facilities Governance Board, solicited input for a strategy to meet mid-scale research infrastructure needs, and commissioned a National Academies study on research reproducibility and replicability across disciplines, while NIST has been developing a long-term strategic plan for laboratory programs.
Senate Committee to Review USGS Role in Natural Hazards Preparedness
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is convening on Tuesday to review the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Forest Service’s roles in preparing for and responding to natural hazard events as well as “the current status of mapping and monitoring systems.” David Applegate, associate director for natural hazards at USGS, will be testifying alongside Colorado’s and Washington’s state geologists and Alaska’s state seismologist, among other witnesses. It is also anticipated that the committee will vote on whether to advance several Energy and Interior Department nominations to the full Senate. A number of natural hazards bills relevant to USGS are currently pending in Congress, including ones to establish a National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System, to establish a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program, and to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. For details, consult FYI’s Federal Science Bill Tracker.
EPA Administrator Pruitt Returns to the Hill
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will convene to hear testimony from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday. The hearing will likely cover the gamut of EPA activities, potentially including issues related to science policy such as Pruitt’s restriction of the agency’s current grantees from serving on its science advisory boards — an action now subject to two lawsuits. At Pruitt’s last appearance on Capitol Hill, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Dec. 8, he criticized how EPA employed scientific assessments in developing its 2009 “endangerment finding,” which justified the agency’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases. It remains to be seen whether Pruitt will move against the endangerment finding as part of his effort to roll back and replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
ITER on Fusion Energy Advisory Committee Agenda
The Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee is meeting this Thursday and Friday. Among other presentations, the committee will hear from the co-chairs of the National Academies panel charged with informing the U.S.’s long term strategy for burning plasma research, including scenarios in which the U.S. remains in or withdraws from ITER, an international fusion project. The panel’s interim report, issued last December, warned that withdrawing could threaten U.S. progress in developing commercially viable fusion energy technology. That same day, panel members are visiting the ITER site in Caradarche, France.
A number of other advisory panels are also meeting this week, including NASA’s Applied Sciences Advisory Committee, DOE’s Defense Programs Advisory Committee, and NSF’s Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering. See the event calendar below for details.
US–EU Research Collaboration Workshop Convening
The Wilson Center is hosting a workshop on Wednesday focused on identifying topics and best practices for collaboration on future U.S.-European Union joint calls for research. Officials from several federal science agencies will be attending, along with representatives from each of the ten European Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs), to participate on panels discussing emerging issues in health, water, oceans, agriculture, climate, and antimicrobial resistance. The event follows a meeting between the two parties in 2016 where they expressed interest in establishing joint initiatives to address global challenges.
Shutdown Resolved, Next Funding Deadline Arrives Feb. 8
Following a three-day lapse in government spending that briefly shut down the federal science agencies, Congress reached a deal on Jan. 22 to end the impasse and keep the government open through Feb. 8. As a part of the agreement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he will bring immigration legislation to the Senate floor that would address the status of immigrants who had been protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program before President Trump ended it last year. It is not clear that the necessary support exists in either the House or Senate to approve such immigration legislation. The stalemate on this issue remains a major roadblock to a deal to set the year’s discretionary spending levels and finalize fiscal year 2018 appropriations.
FY19 Budget, Workforce Reduction Plans Could Arrive Feb. 12
The White House Office of Management and Budget announced it will release the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, along with agency reform and workforce reduction plans, as soon as Feb. 12. Based on OMB guidance issued to agencies last summer, it is expected that the budget request will propose nondefense cuts comparable to those sought for fiscal year 2018. Scientific community leaders will be watching closely to see if the administration has changed its stance toward cutting research programs, and if the request includes proposed reductions to the federal scientific workforce.
Trump Picks James Reilly for USGS Director
On Jan. 26, President Trump announced his intention to nominate geologist and former astronaut James Reilly to be director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Reilly received a bachelor’s degree in geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1977, and then worked as an exploration geologist for mineral, oil, and gas companies, ultimately becoming chief geologist of the Offshore Region for Enserch Exploration, Inc. He received a doctorate in geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1995, and joined NASA’s astronaut program the same year. Between 1995 and his retirement from NASA in 2008, Reilly flew on three shuttle missions, logging over 853 hours in space and conducting five spacewalks. Since 2008, Reilly has worked principally in consulting, lecturing, and continuing education. From 2009 and 2014, he was dean of the School of Science and Technology for American Public University System, a private company that operates the online education providers American Military University and American Public University.
DOD R&D Head Nomination Proceeds to Floor
On Jan. 23, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved by voice vote former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin’s nomination to be under secretary of defense for research and engineering (USD(R&E)), sending it to the Senate floor. The committee’s approval followed five days after a confirmation hearing at which Griffin discussed at length the need to better integrate the Department of Defense’s technology development programs with its acquisition activities. DOD is due to implement the USD(R&E) position, a new addition to the department’s top-level organization, by Thursday. The committee also approved by voice vote DOD Strategic Capabilities Office Director Will Roper to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.
DOE, FERC to Study Grid Resiliency, Consider Extreme Weather
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee convened on Jan. 23 to discuss electric grid performance in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions during recent extreme winter weather events. Top grid officials noted at the hearing that the system held up well during the recent bomb cyclone event, but said challenges remain for reliability and resilience as more coal and nuclear power plants retire and the share of renewables and natural gas on the grid continues to grow. Bruce Walker, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability at the Department of Energy, stressed to committee members that building a single resiliency model “should be a top priority” for his office, and proposed a new “detailed analysis” on grid resilience at the local, state, and regional levels as part of efforts to build a “single North American energy infrastructure model.” This new study, he said, would incorporate information collected by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the resiliency of regional transmission grids, an effort launched earlier this month after the agency rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants.