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The Week of January 8
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 8
(Image credit – House Energy and Commerce Committee)
House Committee Beginning Hearing Series on Potential DOE Overhaul
On Jan. 9, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold the first in a series of hearings on the “modernization” of the Department of Energy. The hearings are expected to lead toward the introduction of legislation, which the committee has been working on since last summer, to overhaul the department. Ten witnesses will appear before the committee, including Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, all three DOE under secretaries, and the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. According to the hearing announcement, they will testify about DOE’s core national, economic, and energy security missions and “opportunities to unleash the full potential of DOE’s scientific, engineering, and technological capabilities to meet the nation’s security and national energy policy needs.”
Physical Sciences Societies Convene for Major Meetings
Three AIP Member Societies are hosting major meetings this week: the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Washington, D.C., the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in Austin, TX, and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) in San Diego, CA. The AAS Public Policy blog has posted a compilation of the policy sessions at the AAS meeting. Among them are sessions to solicit ideas and feedback for the next astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, expected to begin this year and published in 2020. The AMS meeting will feature multiple town halls and other policy-focused sessions, including a rollout of the Earth science decadal survey, which was officially released on Jan. 5.
Low Dose Radiation Research Bill Headed for Committee Vote
The House Science Committee will consider the “Low Dose Radiation Research Act” on Wednesday. The bill, introduced on Dec. 18, would compel the Department of Energy to revive its research program on the biological effects of low doses of ionizing radiation. DOE discontinued the program in 2016 after ramping down funding over several years. Although DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee endorsed the decision to shutter the program, members of the Science Committee have been working for some time to sustain it. The House passed prior versions of the bill in 2014 and 2015, but the legislation died in the Senate both times. This past November, the Science Committee held a hearing dedicated to the low dose program, at which committee members from both parties expressed a strong interest in seeing DOE continue its low dose work.
Workshop on Allocation of Scientific Resources Convenes
Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation’s Science of Science and Innovation Policy (SciSIP) program are convening in Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday for a workshop entitled “Government Decision-Making to Allocate Scientific Resources.” Hosted by the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy, the event will consist of six topical panel discussions on the scientific labor force, interdisciplinary research, innovation, improving policymaking, entrepreneurship, and big vs. small science. A goal of the workshop is to “enhance the information that is available to researchers and federal agency experts to identify what data are needed to bridge the gap between science and decision making.” A webcast of the event is available on request.
Approaching One-Year Mark, Many Science Positions Remain Vacant
After a slow start in the first half of last year, President Trump has increased the pace of his nominations for scientific leadership positions in federal agencies. However, he has still not moved on many positions, including that of his own science advisor. It remains unclear whether he intends to ever fill this position or reconstitute the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Trump has nominated leaders for NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, of these nominees, only NIST Director Walter Copan has cleared the Senate confirmation process. The nominees for NASA and NOAA, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Barry Myers, have advanced out of committee on party-line votes but have not been scheduled for floor votes. Trump has also chosen nominees for a number of other senior science leadership positions. For up-to-date information, consult FYI’s Federal Science Leadership Tracker.
National Academies Releases Earth Science Decadal Survey
On Jan. 5, the National Academies released the 2017 Earth Science and Applications from Space Decadal Survey, the result of a multi-year study drawing on the contributions of nearly 100 scientists and other experts. The survey report details three tiers of “observables” for future NASA Earth Science Division missions, each reflecting a different priority level. The highest-priority “Designated” tier represents a new program element encompassing specific observations NASA should prioritize through large and medium-sized missions over the next decade. It includes five “important” areas: aerosols; clouds, convection and precipitation; mass change; surface biology and geology; and surface formation and change. The survey also calls for NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to co-develop improved technology for NOAA; for NOAA to continue to explore the feasibility of incorporating commercial weather and other observations data; and for NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey to deepen their international partnerships for Earth observing, especially with Europe and China.
Tech Transfer Review, Quantum R&D Among Top Priorities of New NIST Director
At a recent stakeholder forum, National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Walter Copan said the agency is planning to lead a review of federal technology transfer policies, including the Bayh-Dole Act and Stevenson-Wydler Act, major laws enacted in 1980 to encourage commercialization of technologies developed with federal support. Copan also identified quantum science and engineering as one of his “technology priorities,” alongside areas such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, structural biology, and advanced manufacturing. He said he wants to expand NIST’s quantum R&D efforts and expressed support for the concept of a “National Quantum Initiative” to spur development of quantum-enabled technologies. FYI’s summary of Copan’s remarks can be found here.
Physicist William Roper Picked for Air Force Acquisition Post
On Jan. 3, President Trump announced his intention to nominate William Roper to be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. In the position, Roper would have responsibility over not only Air Force acquisition activities but also its science, technology, and engineering work. Roper holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from Oxford University and initially researched string theory before moving into the defense sector. He was chief architect at the Missile Defense Agency from 2010 until 2012, when then-Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter picked him to be founding director of the Defense Department’s Strategic Capabilities Office. Tasked with adapting military technologies to novel applications, SCO is elemental to DOD’s efforts to more rapidly develop, acquire, and field new combat capabilities. Under Roper’s supervision, the office has quickly grown from an experimental effort into an organization with a budget of over $1 billion. Pending his confirmation by the Senate, Roper will arrive at the Air Force Department as it is undertaking a yearlong review of its research policy and strategy.
DOD Launches Initiative to Support University-Industry Basic Research
The Department of Defense announced on Jan. 3 that it is launching a Defense Enterprise Science Initiative, “a new pilot program that supports university–industry collaboration on use-inspired basic research ... with the aim of discovering novel solutions to challenging defense and national security problems.” The first funding opportunity will provide grants of up to $6 million focused on research technologies that “enable a new generation of sensing, mobility, and autonomy.” Example research topics include power beaming, unmanned aerial vehicles, soft active composites, and metamaterial‐based antennas.