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The Week of July 24
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 24
Senate to Release Funding Bill for NASA, NSF, NOAA, NIST
The Senate Appropriations Committee is continuing to advance spending bills this week, with the subcommittee markup of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) appropriations bill set for Tuesday and the full committee markup for Thursday. House appropriators released their version of the bill late last month. The Senate committee has revealed that its allocation for the CJS bill is $53.4 billion, which is $3.2 billion below the fiscal year 2017 level. It is not yet known which agencies will receive the brunt of the reduction. The committee also conveyed that it believes the best way to reach a final agreement on this year’s appropriations bills is to negotiate a deal that raises caps on defense and non-defense spending set by a 2011 deficit reduction law. Such a deal, which 16 science and university advocacy coalitions also urged in a letter to Congress last week, could lead to higher funding for science than is proposed in the bills currently being released.
House to Vote on DOD and DOE Spending Bills
Before leaving for their August recess, the House is scheduled to vote on a security-focused “minibus,” a merged version of four appropriations bills, including those funding the Departments of Defense and Energy. The DOD bill would maintain overall funding for basic and applied research close to this year’s levels, although there would be significant shifts within the individual military services. The DOE bill rebuffs some of the Trump administration’s requested cuts but accepts major cuts to selected technology development programs, which House members may attempt to reverse through floor amendments. Funding figures for individual programs are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker, and a chart comparing the House and Senate DOE bills is below in the In Case You Missed It section.
Energy Innovation Policy Receiving Significant Attention
On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will hold a hearing titled “Developing and Deploying Clean Energy Technologies.” Then on Wednesday, four energy policy experts will discuss the design and execution of demonstration projects for clean energy technologies at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event. Meanwhile, the House Science Committee will continue its recent run of hearings on the respective roles of government and the private sector in R&D and commercialization with a hearing on Tuesday dedicated to biofuels. One of the witnesses, Nick Loris, is a Heritage Foundation economist and proponent of the White House’s policy of reining in federal investment in applied research, technology development, and commercialization. Last week, the committee looked at energy technology innovation, and in late June it explored R&D in advanced materials.
Science Committee to Examine STEM and Computer Science Education
On Wednesday, the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the House Science Committee will hold a hearing titled “STEM and Computer Science Education: Preparing the 21st Century Workforce.” The witnesses will be James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition; Pat Yongpradit, chief academic officer for Code.org; Paul Alivisatos, acting vice chancellor for research at University of California–Berkeley and former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; and Dee Mooney, executive director of the Micron Technology Foundation. Among the components of the committee’s oversight plan for the 115th Congress is to “review National Science Foundation compliance with and the effects of provisions of the STEM Education Act of 2015, including but not limited to the addition of computer science to the definition of STEM education.”
NASA Advisory Council Holding Three Committee Meetings
Early this week, NASA’s Advisory Council will be holding committee meetings at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Virginia. On Monday and Tuesday, the council’s Science Committee will be discussing a variety of subjects, including science opportunities in future human space exploration, the human servicing of future space telescopes, and a new charge related to Science Mission Directorate research and analysis activities. The full agenda is available here. Agendas for the Technology, Innovation, and Engineering Committee on Tuesday and Wednesday and the Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM Education Committee meetings on Tuesday are available here and here.
Senate Boosts DOE Office of Science & ARPA–E, Slams Fusion
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the spending bill for the Department of Energy last week by a vote of 30–1. The committee report accompanying the bill, which provides detailed funding and policy guidance, is available here. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) cast the sole dissenting vote, objecting to the bill’s acceptance of the Trump administration’s proposal to terminate the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction in his home state. The Senate bill deviates from the House version in several significant ways, including:
- It increases funding for the DOE Office of Science by 3 percent to $5.55 billion, boosting five of its main research programs, but provides no money for the ITER international fusion project and cuts fusion research by 30 percent. The House bill flat funds the Office of Science but fulfills the administration’s request of $63 million for ITER.
- Boosts funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy by 8 percent to $330 million instead of eliminating it, as both the administration and the House propose.
- Distributes cuts among DOE’s applied energy offices differently, seeking a far shallower cut to the energy efficiency and renewable energy office than those sought by the administration and House.
House Budget Committee Advances Partisan Blueprint
On July 19, the House Budget Committee approved its fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint on a mostly party-line vote of 24–14. The blueprint, which does not have the support of Democrats, proposes to boost defense spending by 34 percent over the next decade while cutting non-defense spending by 18 percent over the same time period. It is unclear if the full House will vote on the budget before leaving for August recess at the end of the week, but either way key Democrats and Republicans are saying further budget negotiations are necessary to resolve overall spending levels for fiscal year 2018. Also last week, 16 science advocacy coalitions sent a letter to congressional leadership and appropriators urging them to enter into bipartisan negotiations to raise the defense and non-defense budget caps that are restraining the growth of federal investment in scientific research. FYI’s analysis on these latest budget developments is here.
DOE Nominees Testify Before Senate Committee
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on July 20 to consider six of President Trump’s nominees for roles in the Departments of Energy and the Interior. Among them were Paul Dabbar and Mark Menezes, the nominees for DOE under secretary for science and under secretary, respectively. Under the previous energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, these positions were combined into the under secretary for science and energy. Asked for clarity on his role, Menezes replied that the division of the positions is in line with current law, which defines each separately. In his opening testimony, Dabbar referenced machine learning, exascale computing, and quantum information science as research areas that DOE is well positioned to further advance. Asked by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) how he would make sure DOE is “not using taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers in the energy sector,” Dabbar replied that his focus will be to execute whatever appropriations Congress provides, adding, “Obviously, the administration focuses on basic research and [there] is obviously a tremendous amount of basic research opportunities within my potential area. … I will make sure that that capital, whether it's in a basic or applied, will be spent prudently.”
Senator Warren Emerging as Advocate for Defense Innovation
At a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for several of President Trump’s defense appointments on July 18, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) focused her questions on R&D and innovation policy. She asked Lucian Niemeyer, the nominee for assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations, and environment, whether he believed DOD should consider “the intellectual and innovation ecosystem of a region” in any future Base Realignment and Closure process. He responded that DOD should account for the “military value” of a region. In addition, Warren obtained commitments from Ellen Lord, the nominee for under secretary of defense for acquisitions, technology, and logistics, to support basic research and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. Noting that DOD plans to transition Lord to the soon-to-be-created under secretary for acquisition and sustainment position, Warren also asked her to prioritize the research and engineering facet of her responsibilities until then. Lord answered a number of other questions on this subject in her written responses to questions from the committee. Warren pressed Patrick Shanahan, Trump’s nominee for deputy secretary of defense, on similar points during his confirmation hearing on June 20.
Open Science Study Launches
A new National Academies committee met on July 20 to launch a study focusing on “how to move toward open science as the default for scientific research results.” While reviewing the committee’s task statement, Michael Stebbins, from the study’s sponsoring organization the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, emphasized that the report will not determine if “open [science] by default is a good thing,” nor whether federal agencies ought to move toward open science. The committee also heard from invited speakers on reproducibility, data accessibility, and current open science policies and practices. The next public session will be a one-day symposium in September. Presentations from last week’s meeting are available here.
Balance of NASA Planetary Science Missions Explored at Hearing
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science Committee held a hearing on July 18 to discuss the NASA Planetary Science Division’s two scheduled flagship missions, the Mars 2020 Rover and the Europa Clipper, and to probe the question of how NASA balances its mission portfolio. Subcommittee Chair Brian Babin (R-TX) was particularly concerned about whether the division’s portfolio management could suffer once NASA begins work on the anticipated Europa lander mission as well.
On July 21, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF), which will house the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. The facility will enable neutrino research that seeks to answer questions such as why the universe is dominated by matter rather than antimatter. Around 1,000 scientists and engineers from over 30 countries are expected to be involved in the project, which was recommended in the 2014 Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) report. The project is funded jointly by the Department of Energy Office of Science, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and other international partners. DOE’s fiscal year 2018 budget request for High Energy Physics lists $1.5 billion as the current point estimate of the U.S.’s share of the total project cost and notes that the contributions from international partners are under negotiation. The document also identifies the project as the “first-ever large-scale international science facility hosted by the U.S.” At the ceremony, Charlotte Warakaulle, CERN’s director for international relations, said that this is the first time in 60 years that CERN has engaged in a project of this sort outside Europe.