On Thursday, officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will provide an update on the Biden administration’s views on research security policy at the second meeting of the National Science, Technology, and Security Roundtable, a congressionally chartered advisory group. Jason Matheny, who has just taken on a high-level position at OSTP, will discuss the Biden administration’s outlook on science and technology issues involving China. Matheny was most recently the founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology and a member of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its final report last week. He was previously director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. In addition, OSTP staff member Aaron Miles will discuss the memorandum issued by President Trump on Jan. 14 that establishes requirements for research security policies across federal agencies and the accompanying set of “recommended practices” for non-federal institutions. The Biden administration has not indicated if it plans to modify the documents, which were motivated in part by statutory requirements directing OSTP to develop research security guidance and common disclosure requirements for federal grantees.
The National Academies is kicking off a workshop on Friday on international collaboration in scientific research, focusing on the role of the Global Research Council, a collaborative organization comprising heads of science funding agencies from around the world. Leaders from government science agencies in China, Japan, Russia, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and Brazil will discuss perspectives on basic research, and a corresponding panel on the U.S. perspective will feature leaders from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force, and the Kavli Foundation. Former State Department science and technology advisers Bill Colglazier and Vaughan Turekian are convening the workshop, which continues next week. Separately, on Thursday a National Academies roundtable is discussing the state of U.S. leadership in international standards-setting with representatives of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Apple, and telecommunications company Omnispace.
China’s latest five year plan, set for approval this week, establishes a target of increasing government funding for R&D by at least 7% annually, including a 10.6% boost for basic research this year. Priority R&D areas identified in the plan include artificial intelligence, quantum information science, microelectronics, brain sciences, biotechnology, advanced medicine, and exploration of space, the deep sea, and polar regions. According to reports on a draft of the plan released last week, it also indicates China intends to expand its national lab system and work to attract more scientists from other countries. The National Science Foundation’s latest Science and Engineering Indicators report estimates that China’s government and non-government R&D spending amounted to $496 billion in 2017, equal to about 2.2% of its gross domestic product, while the U.S. spent $549 billion, or 2.8% of GDP. According to NSF, as of 2017 China had already passed the U.S. in total spending on “experimental development” but was still spending less overall on basic and applied research.
The National Academies is hosting a webinar on Tuesday to mark the release of its study on how the careers of women in STEM fields have been affected by the pandemic. The study assesses how the shift to remote work may have exacerbated existing challenges faced by women in academia and it discusses potential positive outcomes of the disruptions to the research system. The report will be presented by study committee chair Eve Higginbotham, the inaugural vice dean for inclusion and diversity at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, and committee members Reshma Jagsi, a radiation oncology professor at the University of Michigan, and Erick Jones, the associate dean for graduate studies in engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. The study’s sponsors include the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Congress is continuing its wide-ranging examination of climate change impacts across sectors with a series of hearings this week that will inform its legislative work:
The Senate voted 84 to 15 last week to confirm Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) as commerce secretary. In her new role, Raimondo will oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and is responsible for matters such as implementing key provisions of the CHIPS for America Act and finalizing export controls aimed at protecting certain sensitive classes of technology from exploitation by rival nations. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is convening a hearing on Wednesday to consider the nomination of Don Graves as deputy commerce secretary and is preparing to consider the nomination of Eric Lander as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Consult FYI’s Federal Science Leadership Tracker to stay up to date on the appointment process for key science agency positions.
Last week, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins issued an apology to individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have “endured disadvantages due to structural racism” and said that NIH is committed to “identifying and dismantling any policies and practices that may harm our workforce and our science.” Collins noted NIH has begun to identify potential actions through an initiative called UNITE, composed of five internal working groups focused on different aspects of the issue, and said that the agency plans to create a grant program that will spend $60 million over five years on health equity research, with a portion of the funds targeted to minority-serving institutions. The initiatives were first announced at a Feb. 26 advisory committee meeting, during which the panel released a report on “racism in science” that it developed in the wake of last summer’s nationwide protests against police brutality. NIH is collecting further input on how it can improve its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through April 9.
President Biden issued interim guidance on his national security priorities last week as his administration prepares a full replacement to President Trump’s national security strategy. Biden states he plans to “double down on science and technology investments” and identifies various priority areas, including “foundational computing technologies,” domestic manufacturing, 5G telecommunications, clean energy, and biotechnology. He adds that his administration will “join with like-minded democracies to develop and defend trusted critical supply chains and technology infrastructure” and will work to “forge new agreements on emerging technologies, space, cyber space, health and biological threats, climate and the environment, and human rights.” Describing China and Russia as key rivals, he states the administration will engage them in dialogues on “emerging military technological developments that implicate strategic stability.” On China specifically, he states the administration will confront “coercive economic practices that hurt American workers, undercut our advanced and emerging technologies, and seek to erode our strategic advantage and national competitiveness,” while also seeking to cooperate on shared challenges such as climate change, global health security, arms control, and nonproliferation.
A bipartisan group of senators led by the chairs of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees introduced legislation last week that proposes to create an “International Technology Partnership Office” at the State Department that would coordinate research and technology governance initiatives with other countries. The bill also proposes that Congress allocate $5 billion for an associated partnership fund that would support joint research projects and “technology investments in third-country markets.” To be eligible for participation, countries would have to demonstrate a “strong commitment to democratic values” and have “an economy with advanced technology sectors.” Key technologies identified in the bill include artificial intelligence, 5G telecommunications, semiconductor chip manufacturing, biotechnology, quantum computing, surveillance equipment, and fiber optic cables. The bill is also sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who instructed Senate committees last month to prepare proposals for inclusion in a major competitiveness policy bill he intends to advance this spring
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee finalized its roster last week and named Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) as chair of the Energy Subcommittee, which handles policy for the Department of Energy, replacing Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) as its top Democrat. In addition, Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) is replacing Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as the top Republican on the subcommittee. Hirono is an advocate for renewable energy and energy storage, balancing the focus that Committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-WV) puts on emissions reduction technology in view of his state’s stake in fossil fuels. She also has a significant interest in increasing diversity in the STEM workforce and has been the Senate sponsor of the STEM Opportunities Act, a bill championed by House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) that would prescribe actions to improve equity in federally funded research. With the selection of Hirono and Hoeven, all the congressional positions in FYI’s Federal Science Leadership Tracker have now been filled.
A group of 41 scientists, including seven Nobel laureates, published an open letter last week criticizing the Justice Department’s prosecution of Harvard chemistry professor Charles Lieber, who was arrested in January 2020 as part of the department’s “China Initiative” for allegedly lying to federal investigators about his connections to a university in China. The scientists argue the department is unjustly criminalizing failures to disclose foreign appointments and sources of research funding and charge that some of its investigations “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of modern science, in which open-source practices make discoveries available to all.” They also criticize Harvard for not supporting Lieber’s legal defense, in contrast to MIT’s support for nanoengineering professor Gang Chen, who was arrested on Jan. 14 for allegedly failing to disclose connections to Chinese institutions when applying for a federal grant. More than 200 MIT faculty have signed an open letter in defense of Chen. Lieber is pursuing legal action against Harvard for declining to fund his defense and last week his legal team ruled out the possibility of a plea deal.
Acting Secretary of the Interior Scott de la Vega revoked a policy last week that required the Department of the Interior to favor scientific research with publicly available data when it issues rules or enters contracts. Then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt put the policy in place in 2018 on the grounds it would improve the quality and transparency of scientific information the department employs. However, the revocation order argues that the policy hindered the department from entering contracts for “cutting-edge research,” particularly where proprietary information was involved, and from “utilizing sensitive information (e.g., regarding sacred sites or rare and threatened species) to inform complex policy decisions.” The order also states that the policy had not undergone proper review by career government officials and the scientific community. The revocation was applauded by House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and House Natural Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), who had also opposed a similar action that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2018 and implemented this January only for it to be overturned by a federal judge weeks later.
Responding to a query from congressional appropriators, the National Science Foundation released a report last week that describes its actions leading up to the collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope and its planned next steps. NSF states it expects engineering firms to complete forensic investigations of the cable failures that led to the collapse by December 2021 and estimates the site cleanup will cost between $30 million and $50 million across fiscal years 2021 and 2022. On whether it will seek funds for rebuilding a telescope on the site, NSF indicates it will consider research community priorities identified in forthcoming decadal surveys and a stakeholder workshop it is aiming to hold in April. A group of astronomers affiliated with Arecibo have already advanced a preliminary concept for a new telescope, which they estimate would cost about $450 million.
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The Congressional Research Service is hiring to fill six openings for positions focused on science, technology, and environmental policy. Among them, CRS is seeking a S&T policy analyst focused on emerging technologies, an energy policy analyst focused on climate policy, an environmental policy analyst focused on climate science, and a natural resources policy analyst focused on resilience and risk reduction. Application due dates vary by position.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is hiring a senior policy analyst to work on clean energy innovation policy. Duties will include analyzing a “wide range of policies that have the potential to influence the national and global transition to a low-carbon energy system, such as research, development, and demonstration funding, taxation, and regulation.” Applicants should have an advanced degree in public policy, energy technology, or a related field with three or more years of experience.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science is hiring a senior program associate in its Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights, and Law Program. The incumbent will help to expand judicial education offerings and develop projects that “address the legal and regulatory issues arising in the context of emerging areas of scientific research and technological development.” Applicants should have a law degree or doctorate with three or more years of relevant experience. Applications are due March 23.