Lawmakers are pressing to wrap up work this week on legislation that will finalize fiscal year 2022 appropriations for federal agencies, as the stopgap measure funding the government is scheduled to expire on Friday. Congress may again resort to passing a short extension of the stopgap to buy more time for the negotiations, which have been complicated by President Biden’s request for emergency funds to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to supplement pandemic recovery and preparedness initiatives. Of the $10 billion requested for Ukraine support, $21 million is for the Commerce Department to “bolster export controls for dual use technology” and $30 million is for the Department of Energy to help Ukraine integrate its electric grid with Europe. Of the $22.5 billion in pandemic funds, $1.5 billion would go to “near-term research and development” of vaccines for future coronavirus variants. The delay in finalizing the fiscal year 2022 budget has pushed back Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2023, which was supposed to be sent to Congress in February and could in principle be released at any point now.
Federal efforts to increase resilience against climate change will be the subject of a House Science Committee hearing on Tuesday and a House Climate Crisis Committee hearing on Wednesday. The hearings come a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a major assessment of the regional risks and impacts of climate change, offering a particularly dire outlook for low-lying coastal communities and lower-income populations. Witnesses at the Tuesday hearing include Rick Spinrad, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Ingrid Kolb, the Department of Energy’s chief sustainability officer; Joel Carney, head of NASA’s Office of Strategic Infrastructure; and Alfredo Gomez, director of the Natural Resources and Environment team at the Government Accountability Office. NOAA, DOE, and NASA were among the 23 federal agencies that released climate change adaptation plans last October, which outline actions each could take to address their own vulnerabilities and improve resilience nationwide. Spinrad also co-leads an interagency panel that is coordinating the federal government’s coastal resilience initiatives, including an effort to direct billions of dollars toward preparing low-lying coastal communities for the impacts of climate change. The Wednesday hearing will feature witnesses from the research community and a nonprofit organization focused on climate adaptation, as well as a local leader from southern Louisiana.
The House Small Business Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which aim to support technology commercialization by fostering partnerships between small businesses and federal science agencies. Launched in 1982, the programs are periodically renewed and are currently set to expire in September, and this week’s hearing is one in a series the committee is holding to examine the case for extending them. A provision extending both programs for five years was included in the America COMPETES Act that the House passed last month. The witness for the hearing is John Williams, director of innovation and technology at the Small Business Administration, which coordinates policy across the 11 science agencies participating in SBIR and STTR.
During a short meeting on Monday, the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel is receiving a charge from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation to recommend actions to improve the position of U.S. particle physics in a global context. The panel is asked to report back by July 1 on questions such as how the U.S. can maintain international cooperation amid competition for talent and resources, and how the country can sustain a reputation as a “partner of choice.” The study will also identify areas where the U.S. is, and can aspire to be, an international leader in high energy physics and what it can do to attract and retain talent, including from underrepresented groups. Previewing the charge at HEPAP’s last meeting, the head of DOE’s High Energy Physics program, Jim Siegrist, said the study would have a short turnaround so that it can feed into the strategic planning process for the field that is now beginning. This week’s meeting will also include an update on preparations for the “Snowmass” meeting scheduled for this summer, which will also inform that process, as well as remarks in appreciation of Siegrist, who is retiring from DOE at the end of the month.
Berkeley Lab is hosting a two-day virtual summit on energy storage this week. Tuesday’s sessions will focus on batteries, exploring technical and policy advances needed to accelerate battery R&D and strengthen U.S. supply chains. The sessions will build on the National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries that the Department of Energy issued last June, which laid out a strategy for securing access to critical minerals, boosting domestic processing and manufacturing capacity, and improving recycling practices. Wednesday’s agenda focuses on deployment of energy storage technologies, including a discussion of recent and anticipated legislative and regulatory actions aimed at spurring deployment. The summit’s keynote speakers include Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, DOE Under Secretary for Science and Innovation Geri Richmond, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director for Energy Sally Benson.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second week, the harms it is causing to scientists and to longstanding international partnerships is compounding:
In his State of the Union address last week, President Biden called on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to increase federal spending on emerging technologies and domestic manufacturing, alluding to pending efforts to reconcile the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act with the House’s America COMPETES Act. He lamented that the federal share of R&D spending as a fraction of gross domestic product has declined during a time of economic competition with “China and other competitors.” Highlighting the two bills’ subsidies for the semiconductor sector, he said that the company Intel is prepared to increase its spending on new domestic semiconductor manufacturing efforts to $100 billion should the legislation pass. Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, who was seated with First Lady Jill Biden during the speech, recently announced plans to build a $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing complex outside of Columbus, Ohio. Later in his remarks, Biden also called on Congress to fund his proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, noting that the agency would support the goals of the Cancer Moonshot initiative he rebooted last month as well as address other diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Biden further used the speech to outline a new “Building a Better America” plan, which would likely be a reworked version ofthe Build Back Better spending bill that collapsed in Congress late last year due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Biden said the new plan would focus on reducing the costs of prescription drugs, childcare, and energy production, which he suggested could involve “combating climate change” by expanding wind and solar energy, offering tax credits to weatherize homes, and lowering the price of electric vehicles. After the speech, Manchin signaled he is open to new legislation linking Biden’s hoped-for clean energy investments with his push to cut off imports of Russian fuels and ramp up domestic fossil fuel production to compensate.
On March 3, the top Republicans on the House Science and Oversight Committees sent a letter to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy seeking internal records concerning allegations that OSTP leaders verbally abused their staff. Addressed to acting OSTP director Alondra Nelson, the letter alleges that she and other senior OSTP leaders were “complicit” in former director Eric Lander’s creation of a “toxic work environment” at the office. Lander resigned last month after reporting by Politico revealed he had frequently berated subordinates. Citing “information reviewed by committee Republicans,” the letter also alleges that other OSTP leaders beyond Lander “yelled at staff, mocked career employees’ political affiliations, and retaliated against staff when they raised these issues to OSTP ethics attorneys.” It also states the ethics attorneys were “derisively characterized as ‘rule followers,’” citing information provided by a “whistleblower.” The letter does not specifically accuse Nelson of abusive behavior, but it calls her promotion to acting director “troubling” and also suggests she and other OSTP staff have used an encrypted messaging service to sidestep federal records laws. Separately last week, Politico reported that OSTP leaders have attempted to tamp down on leaks to the press, which it learned about from a leaked recording of an internal OSTP meeting on the subject.
Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science and Innovation Geri Richmond made her first appearance before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee since her nomination hearing last August. While the subject of the hearing was legislation pending before the committee, Richmond answered questions on a variety of subjects, including DOE’s ongoing efforts to increase coordination between its basic research programs and the development and deployment of energy technologies. Chairing most of the hearing, Committee Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) brought up issues such as U.S. dependence on Russian sources for high-assay low-enriched uranium and certain medical isotopes, DOE’s process for vetting researchers with Chinese citizenship to work at its national labs, and the department’s resistance to making the head of its grid cybersecurity office a Senate-confirmed position. In addition, Barrasso and Committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-WV), among other members, pushed a proposal to vastly expand DOE funding for EPSCoR states and territories, which have historically received a small share of federal R&D funds relative to other states. Richmond expressed interest in increasing the geographical distribution of funding but also a reluctance to impose a “quota” on it, citing issues such as receiving institutions’ grant-management capability and the potential to infringe on the “principles of merit-based allocation” of funds. In a discussion of STEM education, Richmond advocated for increasing graduate students’ stipends as a measure for retaining talent, particularly from underrepresented groups. “We're asking them to work 80 hours a week making basically minimum wage. We have to get those stipends across through all agencies up to at least $45,000 a year,” she said.
At a House Science Committee hearing last week, committee members from both parties suggested NASA has not adequately answered questions about the goals and status of its Artemis lunar exploration campaign. Subcommittee Chair Don Beyer (D-VA) asked, “Are we establishing a sustainable lunar program of unlimited duration, or are we meeting milestones and defined objectives that feed forward to enable the Mars goal? Are we developing national capabilities needed for Moon-to-Mars, or investing in commercial capabilities designed for objectives other than national needs? Is Artemis going to be a national program, or disparate set of projects?” Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) suggested Congress could better support Artemis if it had firmer plans in hand, saying, “I am tired of the narrative that Congress isn't giving NASA the money it needs. NASA needs to give us a robust and accurate budget request so that Congress can authorize and fund appropriately.” In his testimony, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin highlighted that the agency is not managing Artemis as an integrated program and offered some of his office’s most pointed comments to date on the expense of Artemis’ Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew vehicle. “NASA must accelerate its efforts to identify ways to make its Artemis-related programs more affordable. Otherwise, relying on such an expensive single-use, heavy-lift rocket system will, in our judgment, inhibit if not derail NASA’s ability to sustain its long-term human exploration goals of the Moon and Mars,” he remarked.
On Feb. 25, a panel organized by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) recommended physicists “shelve” discussions on Japan hosting the International Linear Collider, a proposed multibillion-dollar particle physics facility that would be tailored to study the Higgs boson, a particle that was first detected in 2012 at CERN in Switzerland. An ILC project has been under consideration for decades, and the Japanese physics community expressed interest in hosting the collider nearly a decade ago, but the government has been reluctant to move forward, citing concerns about cost and insufficient international support. Officials at KEK, a Japanese particle physics lab, have been working to secure pledges from international partners, and in June 2021 ILC proponents submitted a proposal for a “preparatory laboratory” that lays out an organizational framework and work plan for the development phase of the project. However, the MEXT panel argues it would be “premature” to move forward with that effort, which could be seen as an endorsement of the project from Japan. Pointing to “increasing strain in the financial situation of the related countries,” the panel recommends the ILC proponents “reexamine the approach towards a Higgs factory in a global manner” and suggests looking at alternatives such as the proposed Future Circular Collider at CERN.
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The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is accepting input as it develops a framework for the “regular assessment and iterative improvement of agency scientific integrity policies and practices,” building off its initial report on the topic released in January. Among the topics of interest to OSTP are how to ensure the “long-term viability” of policies, practices, and culture through future administrations, and how scientific integrity policies can “address important and emergent issues of our time, including diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility; new technologies; emerging modes of science; and coordination with related policy domains.” Comments are due April 4.
The National Science Foundation is seeking a deputy chief of research security strategy and policy responsible for “all aspects of research security, including proposer disclosure, malign foreign government talent programs, research infrastructure, and cybersecurity.” Among other duties, the incumbent will work to “establish and maintain the appropriate balance that protects intellectual property and pre-publication information while sustaining an open scientific research environment.” Applications are due March 22.
The Energy Futures Initiative, a non-profit clean energy think tank, is seeking a director of research to oversee the organization’s various policy studies, such as its Building to Net Zero initiative, which explores the Biden administration’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions across the U.S. economy by 2050. Applicants with an advanced degree in engineering, science, public policy, economics, or a related field, and at least six years of experience are preferred.