You are here
The Week of June 19
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 June 19
Perry on the Hill for DOE Budget Hearing Tripleheader
Energy Secretary Rick Perry will visit Capitol Hill this week to defend President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget request, which calls for deep cuts to the Department of Energy’s basic and applied energy research offices while boosting spending on nuclear weapons activities. Perry will testify before the House and Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittees on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, and before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. Ernest Moniz, Perry’s predecessor, will also weigh in on the DOE budget request at a National Press Club event on Wednesday.
NIH Director To Testify Before Senate Appropriators
On Thursday, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and the heads of six NIH institutes will testify at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing about President Trump’s budget request, which proposes to cut the $33 billion agency by 22 percent. Trump recently announced he will retain Collins for the director role, in which he has served since 2009. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the subcommittee, emphasized in his opening statement at an appropriations hearing last week that “I will not write a bill this year that reduces funding for the National Institutes of Health.”
House Subcommittees Voting on Defense Policy Bill
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a series of six subcommittee markups to consider the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. This legislation, passed annually, is the primary vehicle for Congress to provide policy guidance to the Department of Defense and National Nuclear Security Administration. The markup is a key opportunity for committee members to publicly discuss bill provisions and introduce amendments. R&D and innovation policy is most likely to be discussed during the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee markup on Wednesday and the Strategic Forces Subcommittee markup on Thursday.
House Panel To Showcase New Environmental Technologies
On Wednesday, the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science Committee, which oversees weather and climate research and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will hear about new technologies that could transform the collection and use of environmental information. Sebastien De Halleux, the chief operating officer of Saildrone Inc., will testify on his company’s use of sailing drones to capture high-resolution ocean data, while Neil Jacobs, chief atmospheric scientist at Panasonic Avionics, will discuss his company’s claim to have developed a global weather forecast model that outperforms both NOAA’s flagship Global Forecasting System and the leading global weather forecast model at the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts. The committee will also hear from Burke Hales, professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry at Oregon State University.
House Science Dems Hosting Climate Change Roundtable
In the wake of President Trump’s announcement of his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is hosting a roundtable event on Tuesday focusing on how to address the impacts of climate change. Three scientists are speaking on the first panel, including Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center. Four climate policy experts comprise the second panel, including Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
National Academies Report Affirms ARPA–E’s Early Progress
On June 13, the National Academies released a report assessing the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy and the progress it made during its first six years of operation. The report finds that although no transformative technologies have yet emerged from ARPA–E projects, the agency is making progress toward its statutory mission and goals. During the report release event, study committee member Louis Schick, chief technology officer of NewWorld Capital Group, noted there has been “enormous pressure” for each project to be transformational, which “overly narrows the activity space that ARPA-E can participate in.” He also underscored the report’s recommendation that ARPA-E document the positive and negative outcomes on all projects, saying that “building the communal knowledge of what has been tried, and how it worked or failed, is part and parcel to advancing the technology.”
DOE To Unfreeze All ARPA–E Grant Funds
On June 14, the Department of Energy announced it would release the remainder of all funds for ARPA–E grants that it froze as part of a review process it said it was conducting. In a statement, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science Committee, welcomed the news but said the funds should never have been frozen in the first place. Johnson has been investigating the situation since reports first emerged in April that grant awardees had not received anticipated disbursements. She expressed concerns at the time that it might be an illegal attempt to withhold funds already appropriated by Congress in anticipation of closing ARPA–E down.
NIST Details Budget Cut Methodology, New Strategic Plan
At a June 13 advisory committee meeting, Acting NIST Director Kent Rochford described how agency leadership distributed reductions across programs in its plans for implementing the administration’s proposed 23 percent cut. Rochford explained that the 13 percent cut to the Scientific and Technical Research and Services account would fall hardest on external grant programs, activities that have reached technological maturity, and projects that have less need for NIST’s leading-edge measurement science capabilities. Laurie Locascio, acting associate director for laboratory programs, outlined how NIST is developing the first agency-wide, long-term strategic plan for its labs since the 1980s in response to a provision in the recently enacted American Innovation and Competitiveness Act. The plan will identify high-level priorities to guide NIST’s investments over the next 10 years.
NASA Winding Down Asteroid Redirect Mission
SpaceNews reported last week that NASA is undertaking an “orderly closeout” of its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The mission, funded out of NASA’s exploration budget, would have returned a boulder from a near-Earth asteroid into cislunar space to be studied by astronauts. ARM was championed by the Obama administration to prove technologies, such as solar-electric propulsion, that could subsequently be used on a crewed Mars mission. However, lawmakers were skeptical that ARM’s value justified its cost, and in March the Trump administration proposed to terminate it. Congress included funding for ARM-related technologies in the fiscal year 2017 appropriations enacted in May without offering direction on whether to continue with ARM itself.
DOD Assessing Military Applications of Quantum Technology
Inside Defense has reported that on May 10 the Defense Department tasked the Defense Science Board with conducting a study on the future applications of quantum technologies. To be released sometime next year, the study will examine the readiness level of quantum technologies, barriers to application, possible commercial availability, and applications specific to defense needs, among other issues. In conducting the study, the board will augment a similar Air Force Scientific Advisory Board study released two years ago.
Army Names New Research Lab Director
The Department of the Army has announced that Philip Perconti will serve as the fifth director of the Army Research Laboratory. The lab is headquartered in Adelphi, Maryland, and has a budget of approximately $1.8 billion and more than 2,000 employees. Perconti has been serving as acting director since April 2016, when former director Thomas Russell was reassigned to the position of deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology.
House Passes Energy Workforce Bill
On June 12, the House passed a bill with unanimous support that promotes education and workforce development programs to increase the number of individuals, including scientists, trained to work in energy and manufacturing. The bill would direct the Department of Energy to prioritize education and training activities when awarding grants, as well as establish a database for workforce development programs. The passage of the bill coincided with the White House’s “workforce development week,” which included the president signing an executive order that expands the role of private industry in developing apprenticeship programs. The order establishes the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which will “identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient.” The House is continuing its focus on STEM technical workforce programs this week with a full-chamber vote on the reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act on Thursday, June 22.
House Subcommittee Advances Bill To Revive Yucca Mountain
On June 15, the Environment Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the “Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017” by voice vote, advancing it to the full committee for further consideration. Democratic committee leaders had asked for the markup to be delayed, citing the lack of information provided from the federal agencies of jurisdiction on the legislation under consideration. The bill would authorize the Department of Energy to move ahead with a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and also provide for the construction of interim monitored retrievable storage facilities to provide flexibility “until Yucca Mountain is fully licensed and prepared to receive shipments.”
On Asia Trip, Perry Talks Energy Research and Climate
While meeting with Chinese and Japanese energy ministers, Energy Secretary Rick Perry defended the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to the Department of Energy’s applied R&D offices, suggesting that private industry should bear primary responsibility for that work. He added that “if you’re going to have to prioritize where your dollars are going, early stage [research] is where we’re going to spend it.” Perry also defended President Trump’s intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, stating that the U.S. will continue to be global leaders in addressing climate change, but will not “be held hostage to some executive order that was ill-thought-out.”