The Week of March 5

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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 March 5

The Week Ahead


ITER construction site

The construction site of the ITER fusion energy project in Cadarache, France.

(Image credit – ITER Organization / EJF Riche)

Fusion Energy Debate Returns to House Science Committee

The House Science Committee is holding a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday to address U.S. participation in the France-based ITER project and the future of fusion energy research. Invited witnesses are leading figures in the nuclear fusion community: Bernard Bigot, director-general of the ITER Organization; James Van Dam, acting head of the Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences program; Mickey Wade, director of advanced fusion systems for General Atomics; and Mark Herrmann, director of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In its budget request for fiscal year 2019, the Trump administration is proposing an 11 percent cut to DOE’s fusion program, and at a January hearing, DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar testified that the administration is currently reviewing U.S. participation in ITER. Science Committee leaders in both parties have been supportive of fusion energy research.

Acting NASA Administrator Lightfoot to Defend Budget

The House Science Committee Space Subcommittee will welcome Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday to discuss the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for the agency. The budget’s proposed cancellation of the long-planned $3.2 billion Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope has triggered alarm bells in the astronomical sciences community. In the past, Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) has supported trailblazing astrophysics missions such as WFIRST, particularly where they might lead to the discovery of exoplanets capable of supporting life. However, at a hearing in December, Smith questioned whether WFIRST is being well managed. Another potential subject for discussion is the administration’s proposed expansion of lunar research and planetary defense efforts.

Exoplanet and Astrobiology Panels Convening at National Academies

A National Academies committee charged with developing an exoplanet science strategy for NASA will be holding its public kickoff meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. Committee members will hear from NASA Astrophysics Director Paul Hertz and Mary Voyteck, who heads the agency’s astrobiology program. They will also hear from representatives of forthcoming and proposed space telescope missions and from scientists who will discuss promising methods for future exoplanet research. NASA is sponsoring the study to satisfy a provision in last year’s NASA Transition Authorization Act. Harvard University astronomy professor David Charbonneau is the committee chair. A separate National Academies committee that is developing an astrobiology strategy for NASA will be holding its second in-person meeting Tuesday through Thursday. Members of the two committees will participate in a closed joint executive session on Wednesday afternoon.

USGS Nominee Jim Reilly to Appear for Confirmation Hearing

On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding the confirmation hearing for Jim Reilly, President Trump’s nominee for director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Reilly holds a Ph.D. in geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas and worked for almost two decades as an exploration geologist for mineral, oil, and gas companies. He was a member of NASA’s astronaut corps from 1995 to 2008 and flew on three shuttle missions. Since retiring from NASA, he has worked principally in consulting, lecturing, and online continuing education. One potential barrier to a smooth confirmation is that Reilly has never led a large scientific organization. His nomination will be the only one under consideration at the hearing, and he may face difficult questions about the implications of the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the USGS budget by over 20 percent.

APS Strategy Town Hall Among Policy Highlights of March Meeting

Thousands of physicists are convening in Los Angeles, California, this week for the American Physical Society’s annual March Meeting. Among the policy-relevant sessions, APS President Roger Falcone and APS CEO Kate Kirby are holding a town hall to receive input on a new strategic planning initiative that the society is conducting this year. Other highlights include sessions on engaging physicists in science policy, the role of physics organizations in shaping the field, federal and private funding opportunities in condensed matter physics, and the life and legacy of Millie Dresselhaus.

National Academies Climate Communications Advisory Board Convening

The advisory board for the National Academies’ new Climate Communications Initiative will be convening its first open public meeting on Tuesday. Board members will hear from a number of experts about research in climate communication and the field’s current landscape, as well as from stakeholders across sectors on the potential needs and opportunities the initiative can address. Chaired by former chief oceanographer of the Navy, retired Rear Adm. David Titley, the board will use input from the meeting to inform the development of a strategic plan on how to raise public awareness of climate science, coordinate efforts across the Academies, and create “a suite of authoritative and objective materials and engagement opportunities.

In Case You Missed It

Exascale Computing and Quantum Science Prioritized in DOE Budget

Quantum information science (QIS) and exascale computing stand out as top priorities for the Department of Energy Office of Science in the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, which would keep the office’s overall funding at the current level of $5.4 billion. The administration proposes a large funding influx for Advanced Scientific Computing Research to accelerate pursuit of exascale computing capabilities, while the other five program offices would experience topline cuts, with the brunt of the reductions falling on Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, and High Energy Physics. QIS funding would increase substantially across several programs to a combined level of $105 million.

NSF Bets on ‘Big Ideas’ in Budget

In the National Science Foundation’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, released last week, the agency’s topline funding level is held steady relative to its fiscal year 2017 level of $7.5 billion. Underneath that, however, the agency is proposing a major new NSF-wide investment to support its 10 Big Ideas for the future of science and engineering. Within a total investment of $343 million, each of the six research-focused big ideas would receive $30 million through NSF’s research directorates, the four process-focused big ideas would receive a total of $103 million, and $60 million would go toward two new “convergence accelerators,” which will further support two of the research ideas that have demonstrated “readiness for convergent and translational research.” To pay for these and other new investments, NSF proposes to reduce support across-the-board for “core” disciplinary research.

Sexual Harassment Impacts on STEM Workforce Highlighted at Hearing

House Science Committee leaders aired their concerns over the broad impacts of sexual harassment in science at a hearing held on Feb. 27. Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) noted that “women in science are particularly vulnerable to harassment and abuse” and that the effects of harassment extend beyond its victims to the broader economy. “This isn’t just doing the right thing,” she said, rather it also “is economically an issue that is costing our economy if we don’t get this right.” Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) raised concerns that harassment may hinder federal efforts to encourage women and girls to enter STEM fields. He also said that the scientific enterprise has a responsibility to ensure a “fair, functioning process” process for adjudicating complaints so that scientific workplaces are safe. Subcommittee Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) expressed a similar perspective, saying “we cannot lose another brilliant scientist because she did not feel safe in her lab.” Members highlighted the National Science Foundation’s proposed new reporting requirements for sexual harassment by grantees and efforts made by scientific societies to update ethics policies and codes of conduct as promising steps toward establishing safer, more inclusive work environments.

GAO Recommends S&T Investments to Support Five Tech Frontiers

A new Government Accountability Office report on emerging trends affecting government and society highlights five frontiers in science and technology that “demonstrate the potential for concurrent, possibly disruptive technological revolutions.” They are 1) genome editing, 2) artificial intelligence and automation, 3) quantum information science (QIS), 4) brain-computer interfaces and augmented reality, and 5) blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Concerning QIS, GAO says the field has “the potential to drastically improve information acquisition, processing, and transmission by using the behavior of individual atoms or molecules to obtain and process information in ways that existing systems cannot.” GAO says that a focus on continued investments in these R&D areas will be “critical” given that technological advance is key factor in maintaining U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.

NNSA Nonproliferation Nominee Appears Before Senate Committee

Brent Park, a nuclear physicist and head of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Global Security Directorate, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 1 for a hearing on his nomination to be deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration. Park faced several questions about the threat of nuclear proliferation presented by Iran and North Korea. He stressed the role of emerging technologies for monitoring nuclear proliferation efforts, with or without cooperation of nations seeking nuclear technologies. Asked about a potential deal to transfer nuclear energy technology to Saudi Arabia, Park said it is important to balance nonproliferation goals with the need to not cede control of technology transfer to other nations. The nominations for director of the National Security Agency and head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management were also considered at the hearing.

Livermore Plasma Physicist Selected for Senior NNSA Post

On Feb. 26, President Trump announced his intention to nominate Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory physicist Charles Verdon to be deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration. In the position, Verdon would have responsibility over NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and the bulk of the agency’s R&D activities. Verdon earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the University of Arizona, all in nuclear engineering, and went on to make plasma physics the focus of his work as a researcher. Verdon has held a series of senior positions with Livermore’s Weapons and Complex Integration Directorate and has been its leader since 2013.

Intelligence Tech Exec Picked for Deputy DOD R&D Chief

President Trump announced on March 2 his intention to nominate Lisa Porter to be deputy under secretary of defense for research and engineering (R&E), a new position. Porter is currently director of IQT Labs, the research arm of In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit venture capital firm funded by the U.S. intelligence community. Porter holds a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from MIT and a doctorate in applied physics from Stanford University. She has previously worked at MIT, the Institute for Defense Analyses, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and she was NASA’s associate administrator for its Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate during Mike Griffin’s tenure as the agency’s administrator. After leaving NASA in 2008, Porter served as the first director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity and was president of Teledyne Scientific and Imaging before her move to In-Q-Tel. Pending her confirmation, she will return to working closely with Griffin, who was sworn in as under secretary of defense for R&E on Feb. 20.

Events this week

All times are Eastern Standard Time and all congressional hearings are webcast, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement.

Monday, March 5

APS: March Meeting (continues through Friday)
Los Angeles Convention Center (Los Angeles, CA)

USGS: Scientific Earthquake Studies Advisory Committee meeting (continues Tuesday)
Caltech Avery Library (Pasadena, CA)

Tuesday, March 6

House: “The Future of U.S. Fusion Energy Research”
10:00 am, Science Committee (2318 Rayburn Office Building)

Senate: Hearing on the nomination of James Reilly to be director of the U.S. Geological Survey
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee (366 Dirksen Office Building)

National Academies: “Exoplanet Science Strategy,” kickoff meeting (continues Wednesday)
Open sessions: 10:30 am - 6:00 pm Tue; 8:30 am - 1:30 pm, Wed
National Academy of Sciences (2101 Constitution Ave. NW, DC)
Webcast available

National Academies: “Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search of Life in the Universe,” second meeting (continues through Thursday)
Open sessions: 12:00 - 5:00 pm, Tue; 8:00 am - 12:30 pm, Wed; 8:30 - 9:30 am, Thu
National Academy of Sciences (2101 Constitution Ave. NW, DC)
Webcast available

National Academies: Climate Communications Initiative Advisory Committee meeting webinar
9:00 am - 6:00 pm

Cato Institute: “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”
6:00 - 7:00 pm, Cato Institute (1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW, DC)
Webcast available

Wednesday, March 7

NRC: Medical Uses of Isotopes Advisory Committee meeting (continues Thursday)
Open sessions: 8:30 am - 2:30 pm, Wed; 8:30 am - 2:45 pm, Thu
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Rockville, MD)
Webcast available

Consortium for Ocean Leadership: 2018 Public Policy Forum: “Advancing Ocean Science and Technology”
9:00 am - 6:00 pm, Reserve Officers Association (1 Constitution Ave. NE, DC)

Wilson Center: “Climate Change and Conflict: New Research for Defense, Diplomacy, and Development”
9:30 - 11:30 am, Wilson Center (1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC)
Webcast available

House: “An Overview of NASA’s Budget for FY2019”
10:00 am, Science Committee (2318 Rayburn Office Building)

House: “Assessing Military Service Acquisition Reform”
10:00 am, Armed Services Committee (2118 Rayburn Office Building)

House: Markup to consider “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act”
10:15 am, Natural Resources Committee (1324 Longworth Office Building)

House: “Game Changers: Artificial Intelligence Part Two: A.I. and the Federal Government”
2:00 pm, Oversight and Government Reform Committee (2154 Rayburn Office Building)

Nmble: Nuclear Power Full Life-cycle Summit (continues Thursday)
Washington Hilton (1919 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC)

Thursday, March 8

National Academies: Space Technology Industry-Government-University Roundtable
8:30 am - 5:00 pm, National Academy of Sciences (2101 Constitution Ave. NW, DC)

ADDED -- Senate: "Business Meeting to Consider Pending Legislation"
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee (366 Dirksen Office Building)

National Academies: “Review of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs at DOE,” kickoff meeting (continues Friday)
Open session: 1:45 - 3:45 pm, Thu; Keck Center (500 5th St. NW, DC)

CSIS: “Intelligence, Innovation, and Inclusion: A Conversation with Sue Gordon, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence”
5:30 - 6:30 pm, CSIS headquarters (1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC)
Webcast available

Friday, March 9

No events start today.

Monday, March 12

DOE/NSF: Nuclear Science Advisory Committee meeting
8:30 am - 4:30 pm, Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport (Arlington, VA)
Webcast available

NIST: Earthquake Hazards Reduction Advisory Committee meeting (continues Tuesday)
8:30 am - 5:00 pm, Mon; 8:30 am - 2:30 pm, Tue
NIST headquarters (Gaithersburg, MD)

National Academies: “Disposal of Surplus Plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” meeting four (continues through Wednesday)
(Albuquerque and Carlsbad, NM)

Know of an upcoming science policy event? Email us at


CU-Boulder Researchers Seek Input on Climate Science Advocacy

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder is requesting participation from academics, researchers, policy actors and journalists in a survey on climate science advocacy. The survey seeks to better understand the range of perspectives on advocacy for evidence-based climate science and for particular policy outcomes across age, political affiliation, gender, and ethnic group.

AMS Seeks Applicants for Summer Policy Colloquium

Registration is open for the American Meteorological Society’s Summer Policy Colloquium, which will be held June 3 to 12 in Washington, D.C. The 10-day immersion program in science policy is aimed at graduate students, faculty, and professionals working in the earth and atmospheric sciences. Limited funding support for graduate students is available from the National Science Foundation.

Optical Society Seeking Government Relations Intern

The Optical Society is currently accepting applications for a spring government relations intern. The intern will assist the society’s external relations department by researching current S&T policy issues and helping prepare for congressional visits days and other events, among other responsibilities. Individuals pursuing a degree in policy or a related field are encouraged to apply.

Wilson Center Seeking S&T Innovation Program Interns

The Wilson Center is accepting applications for summer graduate research internship positions in the Science and Technology Innovation Program. Interns will conduct research and write articles related to special project areas in S&T policy, including open science, emerging technologies and governance, and international implications of science policy. Individuals pursuing a graduate degree are encouraged to apply by March 15.

For additional opportunities, please visit Know of an upcoming science policy opportunity? Email us at

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