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The Week of July 9
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 9
DOE Basic Energy Sciences Panel to Discuss Facility Upgrades
The advisory committee for the Department of Energy’s $2 billion Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program will hold its biannual meeting on Thursday and Friday in Rockville, Maryland. The event will feature sessions on in-progress upgrades to U.S. light and neutron source user facilities and the international landscape for such facilities. Congress provided resources in fiscal year 2018 appropriations for DOE to greatly accelerate these upgrades, and House and Senate appropriators have proposed further increases in their DOE spending bills for fiscal year 2019. The advisory committee will also reflect on its recently published report about the accomplishments of the BES program over the past 40 years and hear from Jacob Taylor, assistant director for quantum information science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Spending Boost for NIH, STEM Education Set for House Committee Vote
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee will meet to consider the fiscal year 2019 spending bill that funds the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education, among other agencies. The bill would provide a $1.25 billion or 3 percent increase to the NIH budget and reject the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate several DOEd grant programs that states can use to fund STEM education, among other activities. The committee report accompanying the bill also specifies funding increases to the Education and Innovation Research program and the Career and Technical Education programs to support a competition to “promote innovation and reform in STEM education, including computer science.” Details on the funding proposals for NIH and STEM education programs at DOEd and other federal agencies are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Science Committee Sizing Up Big Data Challenges
After hosting a hearing last month on the state of artificial intelligence, the House Science Committee is continuing its computing focus with a hearing on Thursday titled “Big Data Challenges and Advanced Computing Solutions.” Witnesses include Katherine Yelick, associate laboratory director for computing sciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Bobby Kasthuri, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory; Matthew Nielsen, an industrial optimization scientist at General Electric; and Anthony Rollett, professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
Clean Energy Policy Forum Convenes on Capitol Hill
On Tuesday, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute is hosting its annual Congressional Clean Energy Expo and Policy Forum, which convenes leaders from government agencies, industry, and non-profits to highlight advances in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and several members of the House and Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses will be speaking at the event. Alex Fitzsimmons, senior advisor in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and David Hart, senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, will speak on an afternoon panel on the future of energy technologies. The policy forum will be webcast.
NIST Neutron Research Center Review Begins
A National Academies study panel will begin an assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Center for Neutron Research this week. Data gathering sessions, which are open to the public, will run from Tuesday through Thursday. An Academies panel last assessed the center in 2015, offering a positive evaluation stating it “effectively planned for the future and has continued to make wise investments.”
Pruitt Pushed Out of EPA
Scott Pruitt resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency last week after a tumultuous tenure marked by mounting ethics investigations. Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist and staff director to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), is now leading the agency on an acting basis. Wheeler is expected to continue to advance a deregulatory agenda, but his commitment to Pruitt’s controversial science stances are less clear. Pruitt barred EPA grant recipients from serving on the agency’s scientific advisory panels and issued a proposed rule that would limit EPA’s ability to use studies whose underlying data and models are not publicly available. Pruitt also hoped to launch a “red team-blue team” exercise to scrutinize mainstream climate science, which some feared would be used as a pretext for revisiting the EPA’s formal determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health. In an interview with the Washington Post on July 6, Wheeler said that although he has criticized how EPA used assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to reach that conclusion, he now views it as “settled law” that would require a “major, compelling reason to try to ever reopen.” More broadly, he said he has “always deferred to career scientists on issues of science” and believes it is important to ensure individuals serving on science advisory panels do not have conflicts of interest.
On July 6, the Trump administration imposed an additional 25 percent duty fee on about $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, targeting items tied to the nation’s “Made in China 2025” strategic plan, through which it aims to strengthen its technology-intensive industries. In a press release justifying the tariffs, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wrote, “We must take strong defensive actions to protect America’s leadership in technology and innovation against the unprecedented threat posed by China’s theft of our intellectual property, the forced transfer of American technology, and its cyber attacks on our computer networks.” While the move has garnered some bipartisan praise, including from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), others argue the administration should focus more on bolstering the U.S. R&D enterprise rather than trying to blunt China’s progress through tariffs. Among the 818 product lines on the tariff list are various equipment used in scientific research, leading some scientists to express concerns that the measures will raise research costs. The administration is considering implementing tariffs on an additional 284 product lines, on which it will hold a public hearing later this month.
NSF Launching Prize Competition to Select New ‘Big Ideas’
The National Science Foundation has announced a prize competition to expand its current set of 10 Big Ideas for future U.S. investment in fundamental science and engineering research. Starting in August, the agency will solicit ideas from the public through an initiative called the “NSF 2026 Big Idea Machine.” Working with a “blue-ribbon” panel, NSF will select the best two to four ideas and develop them into funding opportunities. Unlike the original 10 Big Ideas, which NSF staff generated through an internal strategic planning process, the ideas selected through the Big Idea Machine will be determined collaboratively with the U.S. scientific community, industry, and broader public. NSF will also award prizes and provide public recognition to those whose ideas are selected.
New International Science Council Formed
On July 4, two of the oldest global scientific unions, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC), merged to become the International Science Council (ISC). The new combined organization aims to foster global collaboration in the natural and social sciences, uniting more than 40 international scientific unions and 140 national and regional academies and research councils. At the first ISC General Assembly, held last week, former ICSU president Catherine Brechignac argued that the “natural sciences should no longer dictate the Earth system sciences research agenda, social sciences should be at least as important.”
Trump Nominates Homeland Security S&T Director
On July 5, President Trump announced his intention to nominate William Bryan to be under secretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security. If confirmed, Bryan will lead DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate, which conducts applied R&D in areas such as cybersecurity, airport security, and disaster response and was funded at $841 million in fiscal year 2018. Bryan has already been serving in the role in an acting capacity since May 2017. Prior to joining DHS, he spent eight years at the Department of Energy, most recently as a senior advisor in the Office of International Affairs.
Poll Finds Most Americans Support US Government Investments in Research
According to a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of U.S. adults surveyed said U.S. government investments in basic scientific research usually pay off in the long run, while 80 percent said the same about medical research and engineering and technology research. Notably, all groups by political identity and affiliation, from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans, expressed more than majority support for investments in research, although Democrats expressed more support by 20 to 30 percentage points on average. In a related 2017 survey, Pew found that political differences over whether to increase federal spending on scientific research have grown recently. Pew reports that as recently as 2001 there was no significant divide between Republicans and Democrats in their support for increasing federal spending on scientific research.