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The Week of June 25
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 25
(Image credit – National Photonics Initiative)
Science Committee to Consider National Quantum Initiative Bill
On Wednesday, the House Science Committee will meet to consider a bill it made public over the weekend that would create a 10-year National Quantum Initiative. Its goal is to “accelerate development of quantum information science and technology applications in the U.S.” and improve federal coordination for quantum research and technology development. The bill would define primary roles for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy, and authorize a total of $255 million annually for quantum R&D across the three agencies over a five-year period, subject to appropriations. It would also enshrine in law the recently chartered National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Quantum Information Sciences, which is meeting this Thursday. FYI reported on the Science Committee’s plans and the goals of the NSTC subcommittee last month.
NIST Policy Bill Also on Deck
At the same Wednesday meeting, the Science Committee will take up a bill to update policy guidance for the National Institute of Standards and Technology and another to advance research on civil space situational awareness and space traffic management. The NIST bill would train the agency’s focus on quantum information science, cybersecurity, composites research, artificial intelligence and data science, and the Internet of Things. It also includes a non-binding funding authorization for fiscal year 2019 at a level slightly higher than the House and Senate appropriations proposals for NIST.
DOE R&D Nominees Head to the Hill
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday to review four Trump administration nominations for leadership positions in the Department of Energy. Among the nominees under consideration is Chris Fall to be director of the DOE Office of Science. Fall is currently the top-ranking official at the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, which still lacks a nominee for director. Also appearing before the committee are Karen Evans, nominated to lead the newly formed Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response; and Dan Simmons, nominated to lead the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). While Fall’s and Evans’ nominations are not expected to be controversial, environmental organizations criticized Simmons’ appointment to his current role as deputy head of EERE.
DOD, NIH Spending Bills up for Consideration
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider its fiscal year 2019 spending bills for the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health at the subcommittee level on Tuesday and at the full committee level on Thursday. While details are not yet available, the committee typically makes its full proposals public shortly after it votes to approve them. Also on Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee will consider its version of the NIH spending bill, which would provide a 3 percent, $1.3 billion increase for the agency. (Update: The House hearing has been postponed.)
Senate to Vote on DOE Budget Bill
Following floor debate last week, the Senate is poised to vote on a package of three spending bills that includes its funding proposals for the Department of Energy. The DOE spending bill includes a 6 percent funding increase for the Office of Science, generally flat funding for applied energy R&D programs, and a 1 percent increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The House passed counterpart DOE spending legislation on June 8.
EU-US Open Science Workshop Convening
The Wilson Center’s S&T Innovation Program is hosting a workshop on Wednesday focusing on the challenges and opportunities for the European Union and U.S. cooperation in support of open science. Policymakers, funders, and researchers will discuss current policies and infrastructure in place supporting open science, how to advance findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) data management principles, open science metrics, and opportunities for future international cooperation. The workshop builds on ongoing efforts by the EU and U.S. to embrace open science principles, such as the inclusion of open science as one of the EU’s three research and innovation policy goals and the in-progress U.S. National Academies study on how to move toward an open science enterprise.
Senate Committee Set to Advance Career and Technical Education Bill
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is meeting Tuesday to consider a bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act, which supports experiential, work-based education programs that prepare students for technical careers not requiring a four-year degree. The committee will also consider the nomination of Scott Stump to be assistant secretary for career, technical, and adult education at the Department of Education. Education Week reports that Ivanka Trump recently met with senators to urge them to advance the legislation; the House passed its version of the CTE legislation by voice vote one year ago. CTE has emerged as a primary vehicle for STEM education under the Trump administration.
Capitol Hill Event to Showcase New Ideas for National Labs
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a science, technology, and innovation think tank, is hosting a Capitol Hill event on Wednesday to promote two new ideas for facilitating technology transfer from the Department of Energy national labs to the private sector. The first is a public-private foundation to support collaboration between companies, philanthropies, and the labs. The second is a pilot program to provide small businesses access to lab experts. Speakers include Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Rita Baranwal, the director of Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative at Idaho National Laboratory. Last December, a bipartisan group of congressional members introduced the “IMPACT for Energy Act,” which would establish a nonprofit foundation for DOE that would “channel private-sector investments and accelerate the commercialization of innovative technologies in energy.”
Trump Government Reorganization Plan Includes Science Agency Reforms
On June 21, the White House released its long-awaited blueprint outlining proposals to reform, reorganize, and streamline the federal government. Among its proposals for science agencies, the plan calls for the consolidation of the Department of Energy’s applied energy R&D programs into a new “Office of Energy Innovation,” a new process to determine whether one or more of NASA’s centers should be converted to or host a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, and the consolidation of the administration of “small” graduate research fellowships across the federal government into the National Science Foundation. CQ Roll Call reports that the White House’s plan has been met with muted reactions in Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with authority over DOE’s budget, stated, “I think it’s always wise to look for greater efficiency in how our government operates and will study the proposal carefully.”
Senate Passes National Defense Authorization Act
On June 18, the Senate passed the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019” on a vote of 85 to 10. The bill contains provisions focused on expediting R&D in several critical areas, including hypersonics, directed energy, and quantum information science. It would also direct the Department of Defense to proceed with the development of a space-based ballistic missile intercept system. The House passed its own version of the legislation on May 24 and Congress will now assemble a conference committee to develop a final version. Congressional leaders have suggested that work on the legislation could be completed by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and possibly as early as the end of July.
House Armed Services Committee Considers Countermeasures Against Chinese Pursuit of US Technology
The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on June 21 dedicated to Chinese efforts to obtain access to the fruits of U.S. R&D and their role in eroding the “competitive edge” of U.S. military forces. Framing the problem, Committee Chair Mac Thornberry (R-TX) quoted a recent Defense Innovation Unit Experimental report, stating, “The U.S. does not have a comprehensive policy or the tools to address this massive technology transfer to China.” Committee members and witnesses from the defense and intelligence communities discussed a range of potential countermeasures, including adding new restrictions on Chinese investment in U.S. companies and reducing the number of Chinese students admitted to U.S. universities. Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin suggested the scale of Chinese “malfeasance” warrants consideration of major policy shifts. “Do we wish to admit, as we have today, 30,000 Chinese Ph.D. students in STEM areas?” he asked. “There is not a national decision in that regard as there was when we were competing against the Soviet Union. ... It’s not for me to say whether we should or should not.”
Administration Releases Near-Earth Object Action Plan
The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), an interagency coordinating body managed by the White House, released its “National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan” on June 20. The document outlines steps that federal agencies should take to enhance the nation’s ability to detect, track, deflect, and disrupt asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs), and to prepare for and recover from a NEO impact. NSTC previously released an earlier version of its preparedness strategy in December 2016. The new document benefits from work accomplished in the interim, including a report issued in September 2017 by NASA’s science definition team charged with studying how the search for and characterization of NEOs can be improved.
House Panel Advances Four Nuclear Energy Bills
On June 21, the Energy Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved two bills designed to promote promising new nuclear energy technologies and two bills that would reform federal regulations pertaining to the nuclear energy industry. Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said a “coherent and defined [federal] policy” to advance the nuclear energy industry is necessary in part because “the underlying intellectual and industrial nuclear infrastructure is at risk of further atrophy.” Among the bills is the “Advanced Nuclear Fuel Availability Act” sponsored by Reps. Bill Flores (R-TX) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA), which would establish a Department of Energy program to support the use of high-assay low-enriched uranium in advanced nuclear reactor designs.
Senators Call for Investigation into NSF-Sponsored Climate ‘Propagandizing’
On June 20, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), James Lankford (R-OK), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) sent a letter to the National Science Foundation’s inspector general requesting an investigation into agency grants for climate change communications projects, which they claim amount to “propagandizing.” In the letter, they express concern that NSF has “issued several grants which seek to influence political and social debate rather than conduct scientific research,” which they say violates federal law and the agency’s mission. Among several grants that they single out are two awarded to Climate Central and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication that seek to train broadcast meteorologists to serve as climate educators. In a statement provided to the Huffington Post, NSF defended its decision to issue the grants, noting, “Each proposal submitted to NSF — including those deemed ‘troubling’ by Senators Paul, Cruz, Lankford and Inhofe ― is reviewed by science and engineering experts well-versed in their particular discipline or field of expertise.”