The House Appropriations Committee is holding subcommittee meetings this week to advance its versions of all 12 spending bills that will fund the federal government for fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1. The bill that funds the Department of Energy will be considered on Tuesday and the bill that funds NASA, the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Institute of Standards and Technology will be considered on Wednesday. Appropriations work has been delayed this year by the coronavirus pandemic and, while the process is rarely completed by the beginning of the fiscal year, time to work toward a final deal will be especially scarce as the November election approaches. This year, there are additional uncertainties arising from the economic distress surrounding the pandemic, as Congress may pursue additional recovery and stimulus spending through a fifth coronavirus response bill, which could include funding for research and its associated infrastructure. Otherwise, the budget caps for fiscal year 2021 are only slightly higher than those currently in effect, meaning there will be little space for increased funding across agencies. The Senate is on recess until July 20 and had planned to advance its counterpart bills last month, but delayed action after Democrats pushed for additional funds to address the pandemic and support police reform.
The High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) is convening virtually on Thursday and Friday for its summer meeting. Halina Abramowicz, who chaired the new European Strategy for Particle Physics Update, will discuss its recommendations, which include advancing plans for a mammoth accelerator facility that would succeed CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and continued support for the U.S.-based Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). This is the first HEPAP meeting since the Department of Energy reported a 40% increase in LBNF/DUNE's anticipated cost to the department, which is linked to shortfalls in expected commitments from international partners and growing civil construction costs. The panel will also receive an update on planning for Snowmass 2021, a major conference scheduled for next July that will feed into the next U.S. project prioritization exercise. Other presentations will address impacts of COVID-19 on the high energy physics community, a forthcoming Basic Research Needs workshop report on particle detector R&D, and DOE’s ongoing efforts to increase diversity and inclusion at the national labs.
Commerce Department Inspector General (IG) Peggy Gustafson has given the department until July 9 to finish reviewing her investigation into the department’s role in the Hurricane Dorian scandal so that it can be released. Gustafson released a summary of her office’s conclusions last week, which states that the department "led a flawed process” that discounted participation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in crafting a statement widely regarded as rebuking a local forecasting office that contradicted a tweet by President Trump. The full report was set for release on June 26, but Gustafson is accusing the department of slow-walking its review of privileged information to redact as a way of preventing the report from reaching the public. In a response reported on by the New York Times, the department disagreed, stating Gustafson’s letter makes “overly broad assertions of IG independence and authority.” House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who has also been investigating the department’s role in the scandal, sent her own letter to the department on July 1 demanding it meet the July 9 deadline, adding that the committee may resort to “compulsory means” to secure the report’s release.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology accepted recommendations last week from three subcommittees focused on spurring R&D related to “Industries of the Future” (IotF), meeting national STEM workforce needs, and better leveraging national labs within the U.S. research enterprise. A number of the recommendations entail establishing collaborative R&D centers, including a set of “IotF Institutes,” which would aim to strengthen the feedback between basic and applied research and accelerate technology commercialization. The council suggests two “flagship” institutes could focus on the application of AI to advanced manufacturing and biotechnology, respectively. PCAST also calls for the federal government to increase total nondefense investments in artificial intelligence R&D from a current level of about $1 billion per year to $10 billion by 2030. It envisions that some of this funding would go to the National Science Foundation in order to establish a National AI Research Institute in every state. The council further recommends investing $100 million annually over five years to create federally funded National Quantum Computing User Facilities, analogous to the high performance computing user facilities currently supported by NSF and the Department of Energy.
The House and Senate added hundreds of amendments last week to their respective versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The sweeping manager’s amendment to the Senate bill includes the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act and the Intelligence Authorization Act, and senators have also agreed to a package of around 60 other floor amendments. These include a measure that waters down a controversial proposal that would have enabled the Pentagon to directly influence budget requests for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Senators plan to complete debate on the bill shortly after they return from recess on July 20. Meanwhile, the House approved its counterpart bill at the committee level last week by a unanimous vote after adopting numerous amendments. These include measures to launch an interagency AI research initiative and initiate planning for a National AI Research Resource. Among the research security measures in the bill, House Republicans also added provisions that would require federal grantees to disclose all sources of external funding when applying for federal awards and direct the Department of Defense to collect background information on researchers participating in any DOD-funded basic or applied R&D projects, building on a measure in last year’s bill.
The majority staff of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a long-awaited report last week that provides a legislative road map for the U.S. to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Originally slated for release in March, the 547 page document was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and it opens by observing, “The country’s most vulnerable populations — low-income communities and communities of color that have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic — are most at risk, as underlying demographic, socioeconomic, and health factors act as threat multipliers for the dangerous impacts of climate change.” Among recommendations focused on clean energy innovation, the report calls for increasing the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy’s budget to $2 billion by 2030 and more broadly recommitting the U.S. to its Mission Innovation goal of increasing federal clean energy R&D investments to $12.8 billion overall. The report also calls on Congress to provide expanded funding for climate science programs across federal agencies to ensure “continuity of research activities and data collection amidst systemic economic uncertainty” and to invest in research on risks and governance approaches for climate intervention methods, such as solar geoengineering. The report also proposes Congress revive its Office of Technology Assessment and strengthen agencies’ scientific integrity policies.
The JASON science advisory group released a report on July 2 that recommends strategies for limiting the spread of COVID-19 within university laboratories. The report stresses the importance of using masks that meet appropriate performance standards and of developing rapid testing regimes that consider the implications of false positives and negatives. It recommends that personnel be tested at the beginning of each work day once rapid, inexpensive tests become widely available, and that labs limit occupancy and ensure their HVAC systems provide at least four air changes per hour. The report also examines the idea of a “4-10” work cycle, wherein personnel are divided into non-mixing groups and return to the office 4 out of 10 workdays during a two week period. It finds the approach’s effectiveness depends on personnel in the 10 day period minimizing interactions with non-university communities that have higher rates of virus spread.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science signed onto a letter to the National Science Foundation last week urging that it include measures of LGBTQ representation in the 2021 National Survey of College Graduates. The letter states such data would aid in understanding and addressing barriers faced by LGBTQ people in the STEM fields and notes there is precedent for collecting such information in U.S. government surveys. The authors also point to efforts within specific fields to understand disparities, such as the American Physical Society’s 2016 LGBT Climate in Physics Report, which they state found “more than 20% of LGBTQ people reported being excluded, intimidated, or harassed at work due to their LGBTQ identity” and that these experiences “predicted a desire to leave the field.” They also cite research that found LGBTQ undergraduates were “more likely than their heterosexual peers to leave STEM for a non-STEM major by their senior year.”
The Department of Energy announced last week that it will provide $100 million to fund a new cohort of Energy Frontier Research Centers, including six new centers located at Arizona State University, the University of Delaware, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University, Pennsylvania State University, and Ames Laboratory. The multidisciplinary centers, which bring together researchers from universities, national labs, and private industry, will pursue research relevant to department priorities like microelectronics, quantum information science, polymer upcycling, and nuclear waste management. The department also renewed two existing centers and granted two-year extensions to two others. Since the program was launched in 2009, DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences has supported 82 centers, 46 of which are currently active.
The government of the United Kingdom released an R&D roadmap on July 1 that outlines its vision for “revitalizing” the country’s system of science and innovation. The document affirms plans to increase public funding for R&D to £22 billion per year by 2025 as a step towards increasing public and private R&D expenditures to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. Stating “bold changes” are needed to equip the UK research system to meet society’s needs, it plans to channel funding toward “moonshot” projects and invest at least £800 million in a new funding body modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the U.S. To support a robust R&D workforce, the government says it will ease visa restrictions to enable more students and scientists to work in the UK and establish an “Office of Talent” focused on attracting researchers and innovators from around the world. It will also formulate an “R&D Place Strategy” to better connect science and technology to regional economies. The government is soliciting feedback on the roadmap through August 12.
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The Department of Defense is hiring a director for strategic technology protection and exploitation within its Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. The incumbent serves as the “principal advisor on resilient systems, implementing technology and program protection methodologies, and mitigating system vulnerabilities and loss of critical technical information to determined adversaries.” Applications are due July 18.
Research!America, a biomedical science advocacy organization, is accepting applications for its paid science policy internship program. Applicants must be college seniors, graduate students, or recent graduates in a science, health, or related degree field. Applications are due July 17.
The Engineering Biology Research Consortium and the University California, Berkeley are seeking postdoctoral scholars interested in science policy. Specific areas of interest include technical research road mapping, security and synthetic biology, and international engagement. Scholars will be offered opportunities to meet policymakers.