FYI This Week highlights upcoming science policy events and summarizes news from the past week.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Director Michael Witherell, left, leads PCAST members and staff on a tour of the lab in January. A.N. Sreeram, second from right, is the chair of the council’s Subcommittee on New Models of Engagement for Federal and National Laboratories in the Multi-Sector R&D Enterprise.
(Image credit – Thor Swift / ©2020 The Regents of the University of California, LBNL)
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is meeting on Tuesday to consider policy recommendations from subcommittees focused on supporting U.S. leadership in emerging industries, meeting national STEM workforce needs, and developing new ways for federal laboratories to engage the private sector. PCAST formed the groups at its kickoff meeting last November with the aim of making a quick impact within the framework of a broader five year plan focused on “Industries of the Future.” The council will also introduce members of another newly created subcommittee comprising students and early career researchers. This week’s meeting is the first since Harvard astronomer Abraham Loeb and MIT computer scientist Daniela Rus were appointed to the council in April, bringing its roster to 13 members out of an anticipated 16, excluding its ex officio chair White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier.
The process of debating and voting on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 will shift into high gear this week as floor debate proceeds on the Senate version while the House Armed Services Committee meets on Wednesday to hammer out its draft. The Senate draft, which was released to the public last week, includes provisions that aim to support R&D on a variety of advanced technologies, including quantum computers, artificial intelligence, and hypersonics. Among the more than 500 amendments that have been proposed for consideration on the Senate floor is the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which would establish an advanced nuclear reactor demonstration program within the Department of Energy and require the Defense Department to purchase power from an advanced reactor. Its backers had previously packaged it into another sweeping bill called the American Energy Innovation Act, which stalled on the floor earlier this year. Other standalone bills offered as amendments include the recently introduced Endless Frontier Act, which would add a technology directorate to the National Science Foundation, as well as a modified version of the CHIPS for America Act and a related bill titled the American Foundries Act, which would support domestic semiconductor R&D and manufacturing. Though these three bills have bipartisan backing, senators may prove reluctant to include them given that they feature multibillion dollar funding recommendations and have not yet received attention from the committees responsible for them.
The Baker Institute at Rice University is hosting a webinar on Tuesday titled, “U.S. Policies on Scientific Cooperation with China: Furthering National Security, Diplomacy, Competitiveness or Discrimination?” The event will feature physicist Neal Lane, a fellow at the institute who served as director of the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Clinton. Lane will discuss the long-term implications of President Trump’s recent proclamation restricting visas for Chinese graduate students and researchers as well as proposals in Congress to broadly bar visas for Chinese citizens. Also speaking is political scientist Steven Lewis, who recently co-authored a paper examining barriers to international cooperation based on a survey of over 9,000 scientists from seven countries and Hong Kong.
The National Science Foundation is holding a virtual event this week to spotlight results from the inaugural cohort of 41 teams for its Convergence Accelerator, a program that aims to “accelerate the transition of use-inspired convergence research into practice, and build team capacity around exploratory, high-risk projects.” The research “tracks” for the first cohort are: AI and Future of Jobs, which seeks to support mechanisms that connect workers with jobs of the future; the National Talent Ecosystem, which supports research on reskilling workers for 21st Century technology areas; and the Open Knowledge Network, which aims to “enable the creation of a nonproprietary shared knowledge infrastructure.” For the Open Knowledge Network, teams worked across “horizontal” topic-agnostic and “vertical” domain-specific tracks.
The National Academies is hosting a panel discussion on Thursday focused on the role of decadal surveys in the sciences as part of efforts to engage early career scientists in the next planetary science decadal survey, which is currently in its preliminary stages. The event will address how individuals can participate in the process and review lessons learned from past decadal surveys. The survey co-chairs, Robin Canup of Southwest Research Institute and Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, will moderate the discussion, which will feature the chairs of past decadal surveys in earth science, planetary science, and heliophysics.
The National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory and the American Astronomical Society are hosting a workshop that begins Monday to map out strategies for mitigating the impacts of new satellite megaconstellations on astronomy. The workshop will include satellite operators, policy officials, dark-sky advocates, and other stakeholders. The latter half of the workshop will focus on finalizing a white paper that assesses the current and projected impacts of these constellations on ground based astronomy and recommends quantitative metrics for protecting optical and infrared observations. Speaking at a recent National Academies meeting, AAS Director of Public Policy Joel Parriott said the society has sought to collaborate with satellite companies such as SpaceX and Amazon on mitigation rather than take a confrontational approach. (AAS is an AIP Member Society)
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Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Lisa Porter.
(Image credit – DOD)
The Department of Defense announced last week that Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin and his deputy Lisa Porter had submitted their resignations, effective July 10. In an internal message, Griffin and Porter explained, “A private-sector opportunity has presented itself to us, offering us an opportunity we have decided to pursue together.” There have been no immediate reports that particular tensions or events precipitated their departure. Griffin joined the department in February 2018 as the first person to take up the under secretary position after Congress elevated it out from under the department’s acquisition bureaucracy. In the role, Griffin has focused heavily on promoting a variety of advanced military technologies such as hypersonics and secure microelectronics, as well as on a general strategy of aggressive prototyping and testing. He has also forcefully pushed innovation initiatives such as the Space Development Agency and clashed with its inaugural director Fred Kennedy over the new agency’s direction, leading to Kennedy’s resignation. Griffin also unsuccessfully sought to push another innovation agency, the Strategic Capabilities Office, downward in the DOD hierarchy, which led to the resignation of its director Chris Shank. Porter joined DOD in October 2018 and previously worked for Griffin when he was NASA administrator during the George W. Bush administration.
President Trump issued a proclamation on June 22 that suspends the issuance of new green cards and various nonimmigrant visas through the end of the year, including H-1B visas. Many university officials and researchers have sharply criticized the order, particularly due to its freeze on the H-1B program, which allows high-skilled individuals to temporarily work in the U.S. and is often used to fill positions in STEM fields. The proclamation asserts the pause is needed to provide more job opportunities to Americans in view of the current state of widespread unemployment, but its legal justification is expected to be challenged in court. In a message to its members, the American Physical Society wrote last week that it is “working with colleagues in the tech community who are developing a legal challenge to the H-1B provision in the proclamation, and we are hopeful that the case can significantly delay its implementation.” (APS is an AIP Member Society.) The order also affects various categories of J visas, though it exempts those used by professors, scholars, and students. It also does not affect the Optional Practical Training program, which the administration has considered curtailing.
A bipartisan group of six representatives introduced legislation last week that recommends Congress provide nearly $25 billion to a set of federal science agencies to help jump start research activities disrupted by the pandemic. The sponsors include House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), as well as Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI), who led an April letter signed by 180 House members urging a similar amount of relief. Of the total, the bill recommends $10 billion be allocated to the National Institutes of Health, $5 billion to the Department of Energy, $3 billion to the National Science Foundation, and $2 billion to NASA. Each agency would be able to use the money to complete research projects that were disrupted, replace lab equipment, and cover costs resulting from construction delays for new facilities. The bill responds to a request by universities for research recovery funds, as the previous coronavirus bills have only included support for higher education broadly and for research related to the pandemic. The sponsors state they expect the bill would also aid in economic recovery, citing estimates that 560,000 people were paid with university research funding in fiscal year 2018.
The Senate Intelligence Committee advanced legislation this month that would mandate various assessments of activities by foreign nations relating to science and technology. Among them are reviews of progress in nuclear weapons research by Iran, partner nations’ efforts to implement export controls on technologies related to artificial intelligence, and actions by the Chinese government to suppress information about the pandemic. The bill would also require annual reporting on “influence activities and operations” used by the Chinese government against students and researchers, and it would direct the FBI to “build trust with such communities through local and regional grassroots outreach.” Last year’s version of the bill, enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, included a related provision instructing the director of national intelligence to recommend ways to guard against stereotyping or racial profiling of Chinese Americans. The report accompanying the bill offers further policy direction, including a request for details on efforts to characterize “unidentified aerial phenomena.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Marco Rubio (R-FL) has offered this year’s bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The House Intelligence Committee has not released its own version of the legislation, though its Democratic members have introduced a bill that would mandate a National Intelligence Estimate on the threat of global pandemic disease.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci told a House committee last week that the National Institutes of Health’s decision two months ago to terminate an NIAID grant for research on bat-borne coronaviruses originated outside the agency. Asked by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) why the grant was terminated, Fauci replied, “It was canceled because NIH was told to cancel it. I don’t know the reason, but we were told to cancel it.” He later told Politico the order came from the White House. Leading up to its termination, the grant had attracted negative attention from a number of Republican lawmakers because it supported collaborative work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which they alleged could have accidentally released the coronavirus underlying the current pandemic into the environment. Although there has been no evidence tying the virus to the institute, President Trump told reporters the grant would be cancelled. NIH, though, informed the grant holder New York-based EcoHealth Alliance that the grant no longer aligned with “program goals and agency priorities.” The decision has drawn widespread condemnation within the scientific community as an unacceptable political infringement on the administration of scientific funding. Following Fauci’s testimony, Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Science Committee sent a letter to NIH’s parent department requesting further details on the situation.
At two recent campaign rallies, President Trump referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as the “kung flu,” a slur drawing on ethnic stereotypes, as well as other names that also tie the virus to China. Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Judy Chu (D-CA) condemned Trump’s remarks in a statement, writing, “This choice to use a pandemic to stoke bigotry and drive a wedge into our country violates clear guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that trying to tie a virus to a particular ethnic group or region puts lives at risk by creating stigma and making the job of containing the virus harder.” Chu is among the sponsors of a congressional resolution introduced by Democrats in the House and Senate that condemns such phrases. Fifty scientific societies including AIP endorsed the resolutions in April, stating they reject efforts to “ascribe fault for the pandemic” and are concerned about reports that “individuals of Asian ancestry are increasingly subject to stigma, physical attack, or suspicion due to the potential origins of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.”
On June 24, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will not appeal a U.S. District Court decision that voided its policy barring holders of EPA grants from simultaneously serving on the agency’s advisory boards. Environmental advocates filed multiple lawsuits against EPA after it implemented the policy in 2017, arguing the move was designed to rebalance board membership in favor of industry perspectives by forcing academic scientists to depart. While early court rulings dismissed the challenges, they were revived by appeals courts in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia this spring before a judge in New York finally struck it down in April. In light of these rulings, the agency stated that any future blanket prohibition against EPA grant recipients participating on advisory committees “should be promulgated as a supplemental ethics regulation with the concurrence of the Office of Government Ethics.” It added that the decision would not affect the composition of any current advisory boards and that the agency will follow the policies that were in place prior to 2017.
The National Academies released two reports this month on research directions and governance approaches for solar geoengineering methods that involve reflecting sunlight to cool the Earth, such as stratospheric aerosol injection. Based on expert workshops held last fall, the reports illuminate the challenges of building support for geoengineering work, including among academic stakeholders and the international community more broadly. The reports outline questions and uncertainties to address before moving forward with a research agenda and summarize discussions of analogous efforts to govern nuclear weapons, biotechnology, seabed mining, and Antarctic research. The study committee plans to complete its final report later this year.
On June 24, NASA renamed its main administrative building in Washington, D.C., the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters after the first Black woman to work as an engineer at the agency. Jackson, who died in 2005, was one of the NASA employees profiled in Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. In a statement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible.” House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) remarked in her own statement, “Today’s announcement is a step forward in embracing and recognizing the true diversity of all of NASA’s talent. May the memory of Mary Jackson inspire the next generation of young women of color to follow their passions and persevere in the fight for equal representation and opportunities.” Last year, NASA renamed a facility in West Virginia after mathematician Katherine Johnson, who was also profiled in Shetterly’s book. In addition, the street in front of the Jackson building was designated Hidden Figures Way following action by Congress and the D.C. Council.
All times are Eastern Daylight Time and all events are virtual, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement.
Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
The National Science Policy Network is accepting applications for its pilot SciPol Scholars-in-Residence Bootcamp, which will give graduate students opportunities to “practice skills needed to hold a science policy position in the immediate future.” By completing the program, NSPN members will be eligible to complete paid, remote internships with NSPN partner organizations beginning in Fall 2020. Applications are due July 10.
The Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University is seeking students, researchers, and other professionals to register as “forecasters” for a crowd-sourced pilot project that aims to inform policymakers on trends relevant to the intersection of technology and security. Participants can propose and forecast specific metrics as well as offer “world” forecasts. Among the topics of interest are the trajectories of U.S–China tensions and the artificial intelligence industry.
The National Weather Service is seeking a director for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which provides a range of national and international weather guidance products. The director oversees nine centers, which forecast phenomena ranging from hurricanes and climate change to space weather. Applications are due July 23.
For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities. Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
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