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The Week of July 16
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 July 16
(Image credit - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee)
Senators to Review Trump's Agency Reorganization Plans
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing on Thursday on the Trump administration’s recently announced proposals to reorganize the Departments of Energy and the Interior. The witness list has not yet been announced. As part of its comprehensive government reorganization plan, the administration aims to merge DOE’s applied R&D programs within a single Office of Energy Innovation and expand DOI’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to absorb the functions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs is holding a hearing on the administration’s plan as a whole.
National Science Board Convening With Focus on Artificial Intelligence
The governing board of the National Science Foundation is holding its quarterly meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday at the agency’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. The first day will feature a panel discussion with leading experts in artificial intelligence research moderated by Andrew Moore, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science. NSF’s annual investment in AI research now exceeds $100 million, and it plans to further increase its focus on the subject through several of its ‘Big Ideas,’ according to NSF Director France Córdova in her latest monthly newsletter message. On Wednesday, the board will discuss its preliminary plans to replace its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report with a series of “thematic” reports. The board has been grappling with how to better adapt the report to a digital format and deal with the “unsustainable” growth in its size. In closed session, the board will vote on a number of facilities-related actions, including whether to use NSF’s Major Research Facilities and Equipment Construction account to fund upgrades for two flagship particle detectors at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.
NOAA Science Advisory Board to Meet in New Hampshire
On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) will tee off a two-day meeting in New Hampshire with a discussion led by Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environment and Observations Neil Jacobs on advancing the agency’s research-to-operations pipeline, followed by an update from Acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean on the general state of NOAA science. SAB members will also hear presentations on the range of scientific activities NOAA is supporting in the Northeast, and on Wednesday will consider a 2016 review of NOAA’s Arctic ecosystem research including its contribution to the U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic. New Hampshire is represented by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the top Democrat on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that writes spending legislation for NOAA. Both days’ proceedings will be webcast, and speaker presentations will be posted here.
House Intelligence Committee to Examine Chinese Pursuit of US Research
On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee will hold a full committee open hearing titled, “China’s Threat to American Government and Private Sector Research and Innovation Leadership.” A witness list has not yet been announced. The committee is the latest of several congressional committees this year to turn its attention to the Chinese government’s aggressive pursuit of technological advantage through R&D, business maneuvers, academic exchange, and espionage.
National Academies Releasing Open Science Report
On Tuesday, the National Academies will release a report titled, “Open Science by Design: Realizing a Vision for 21st Century Research.” The report aims to facilitate movement “towards open science as the default for scientific research” that benefits from public funding. The report defines open science as public access to all articles, data, computer code, algorithms, and other digital products “with limited exceptions for privacy, proprietary business claims, and national security.” The public release event will be webcast.
EPA Holding Public Hearing on Controversial Science Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency is holding a public hearing on Tuesday to receive comments on a proposed rule that would limit the science the agency can use as the basis for many new regulations. On the grounds of increasing the transparency of EPA decision-making, the rule would in many cases prevent the agency from relying on research where the underlying data is not publicly available. Critics of the proposal argue it would unduly limit the scientific basis on which EPA makes decisions, and the agency’s Science Advisory Board recently voted to review the rule after some of its members raised their own concerns. This week’s hearing is part of a public comment period that ends Aug. 16.
Science Committee to Highlight Innovation in Fossil Energy
The House Science Committee is holding a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday dedicated to exploring the future of fossil energy technologies. The witnesses will be Roger Aines, a senior scientist in the Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Klaus Brun, a program director in the Fluids and Machinery Engineering Department at Southwest Research Institute; Shannon Angielski, executive director of the Carbon Utilization Research Council; and Jason Begger, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, and full committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will promote legislation they introduced in May to reauthorize the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy with a focus on the development of new technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although David McKinley (R-WV), whose district is home to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, is signed on as a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, no Science Committee Republicans have voiced support.
University Leaders to Tout Basic Research Impacts on Capitol Hill
On Wednesday, vice presidents for research from 10 U.S. universities are participating in a roundtable discussion of the economic impacts of fundamental scientific research. The event is sponsored by the Association of American Universities and the Science Coalition, a non-profit organization that advocates for federal support of fundamental research. The event is only open to members of the media, but it will be live streamed on the coalition’s Facebook page. Following the roundtable, the Science Coalition is holding a “Champions of Science” reception, at which Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Bill Foster (D-IL) are scheduled to speak.
Thom Mason Named Director Designate of Los Alamos National Lab
The new management consortium for Los Alamos National Laboratory announced its senior leadership team for the lab last week, revealing that Thom Mason will serve as director designate during a four-month transition period and will become director on Nov. 1. Last month, DOE awarded the multi-year, multi-billion dollar management contract to Triad National Security LLC, a partnership between the University of California, Texas A&M University, and Battelle. Mason currently is senior vice president for Global Laboratory Operations at Battelle, which is involved in the operation of six other DOE national labs. Prior to joining Battelle in 2017, Mason spent much of his career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, including 10 years as its director.
On July 12, President Trump announced his intention to nominate James Morhard, the deputy Senate sergeant-at-arms, to be deputy administrator of NASA. A longtime staff member in the Senate, Morhard was previously staff director of the Senate Appropriations Committee and managed its Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, which is responsible for NASA’s budget. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from St. Francis University, an MBA from George Washington University, and a law degree from Georgetown University. The pick disregards NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s publicly stated wish that the job go to Janet Kavandi, the director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Last year, the choice of Bridenstine as administrator drew criticism for his thin background in spaceflight, science, and administration, as well as for his history as a politician. In backing Kavandi, Bridenstine had said his deputy “needs to be somebody who has a lot of space experience, a space professional.”
Trump Picks ARPA-E Director from Energy Finance Sector
President Trump announced his intention on July 10 to nominate Lane Genatowski to be director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. Like Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar and Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes, Genatowski’s background is in energy sector finance. He has held positions with JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Banc of America Securities, and Kidder, Peabody & Company, and he is currently a managing partner at Dividend Advisors, a firm he co-founded in 2012. Genatowski holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Hunter College and a law degree from Fordham University. Although the Trump administration has twice proposed terminating ARPA–E, Congress has continued to strongly back the agency. ARPA–E’s current top official, Chris Fall, is currently awaiting Senate confirmation as director of the DOE Office of Science.
DOE Launches Tool to Facilitate Partnerships with National Labs
On July 10, the Department of Energy introduced the Lab Partnering Service, an online tool containing information about expertise, capabilities, and technologies available through the department’s system of 17 national laboratories. The new tool, which was created by the DOE Office of Technology Transitions, is intended to help investors and innovators within the energy and academic sectors discover new partnership opportunities with the labs.
Last week, the National Science Foundation announced the initial membership roster of the newly formed STEM Education Advisory Panel. Created by the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, its primary duty is to advise the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM), an interagency coordination body that is responsible for developing five-year strategic plans for federal STEM education programs. CoSTEM is due to issue an update to the current plan by the end of fiscal year 2018.
House Resolution Advocates Greater Diversity in Physics
Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA) introduced a resolution last week stressing the importance of increasing diversity in physics and other STEM fields. It praises the American Physical Society’s Bridge Program, which aims to increase the number of underrepresented minority students earning physics Ph.D. degrees by reducing barriers to admission and improving mentoring services. The resolution states the program has helped to close the “representation gap” in physics — the disparity between the percentage of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans who earn physics bachelor’s degrees versus the percentage who earn doctoral degrees.
Science Committee Explores Research Applications of Machine Learning
At a July 12 House Science Committee hearing, committee members examined emerging scientific applications of machine learning in leveraging the expansive data sets that are becoming available across a variety of scientific and engineering fields. The committee focused particularly on the role of the Department of Energy and its national laboratories in supporting the development of next-generation computers, new methods in data analysis, and their application to cutting-edge scientific challenges. Energy Subcommittee Chair Randy Weber (R-TX) said DOE is “uniquely equipped” to advance machine learning and should prioritize work in the area. Witnesses highlighted recent advances in areas including computer science, neuroscience, materials science, and astronomy, and discussed the differences between artificial intelligence and machine learning and their respective roles in advancing research.