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The Week of May 15
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 May 15
First Trump Budget Request Set for May 23 Release
With fiscal year 2017 appropriations now finalized, lawmakers are turning to the fiscal year 2018 appropriations cycle with fewer than five months until the new fiscal year begins. Under budget law, overall discretionary spending is set to decline $5 billion to $1.065 trillion, constraining Congress’s ability to increase agency budgets. Within that cap, President Trump has proposed $54 billion in further cuts to nondefense spending to offset an equivalent increase in defense spending. If the president sticks to the budget blueprint he released in March, these nondefense cuts will fall in part on the science agencies, with the Department of Energy Office of Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Institutes of Health in line for especially deep cuts. Trump will submit his official budget request — with further details and proposed funding levels for programs at the science agencies — on May 23. However, Congress will have the final say on all federal agency budgets.
House Appropriators to Discuss the Future of Biomedical Research
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will convene an oversight hearing on advances in biomedical research. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins will testify, accompanied by the directors of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease; Cancer; Heart, Lung, and Blood; Mental Health; and Drug Abuse. They are expected to speak on current and future NIH projects and initiatives. The president’s budget blueprint proposed cutting the NIH budget by $5.8 billion or 18 percent.
Technical Workforce Program Reform Discussions on Tap
On Wednesday, the House Education and Workforce Committee will consider a bill to update the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Funds made available through this act can be used to support career-focused, experiential STEM education programs, as highlighted in a recently released resource document created by the Department of Education. Separately, the National Academies is holding an event on Thursday to mark the release of a report entitled “Building America’s Skilled Technical Workforce,” which assesses programs designed to prepare workers for technical jobs that do not require baccalaureate or higher degrees. Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), co-chair of the Committee on The Supply Chain for Middle-Skill Jobs that produced the report, is among the speakers.
Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Convening
On Monday, the National Academies’ Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) is convening its 2017 spring meeting. The event will include a session on next-generation computing for the U.S. weather and climate enterprise, focused on computing and data needs for improving climate modeling. The BASC is also currently scoping a potential new decadal survey on the needs and priorities of the U.S. weather enterprise, first proposed last year by University Corporation for Atmospheric Research President Antonio Busalacchi.
Climate Discussion Heats Up in the Arctic Circle
Members of the House Science Committee traveled to Alaska and Greenland last week to learn more about the research conducted in the Arctic Circle. While in Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska, members visited the National Science Foundation’s Barrow Arctic Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Barrow Observatory, and met with local leaders. Meanwhile, the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting convened on May 11 in Fairbanks, where the U.S. handed over its two-year chairmanship of the council to Finland. Arctic nations approved a joint declaration on arctic science cooperation that stresses “the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.” However, during the meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided no indication as to where the Trump administration stands on the Paris climate agreement.
Perry Confronts Nuclear Energy Challenges During Facility Tour
Energy Secretary Rick Perry toured DOE facilities last week, promoting the department’s work in general and nuclear energy in particular. At Idaho National Laboratory, Perry voiced his support for building a new fast-neutron reactor at the lab, saying the U.S. needs to stay competitive with Russian and Chinese research capabilities. At Los Alamos, he hinted that an official announcement concerning the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is forthcoming, but that the “real message was sent by the [Trump] administration when they put $120 million in the line item to get Yucca back up.” He vouched for the repository’s safety, calling it “the most studied place on Earth.” Perry then went to DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which recently resumed operations following a major accident at the site in 2014. Coincidentally, during Perry’s trip a less severe accident occurred at the nuclear waste cleanup project at DOE’s Hanford site. On May 11, Perry issued a statement, saying, “This week's incident is a reminder that the men and women who work for the Department of Energy do incredible work, but that work does not come without risk. Thankfully, the system worked as it should and all are safe.”
ARPA–E Grant Freeze Controversy Remains Unresolved
On May 8, House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to the comptroller general asking him to investigate the Advanced Research Project Agency–Energy’s reported withholding of funds to previously obligated grants. While Energy Secretary Rick Perry has indicated that ARPA–E will honor its funding commitment, in her letter Johnson states that Perry’s response did not satisfactorily address her concerns. She is asking the comptroller general to file a civil suit, if necessary, to compel compliance. Suspicions surrounding the situation at ARPA–E are exacerbated by the Trump administration’s recent proposal to eliminate the agency. However, Congress is continuing to support it, increasing its fiscal year 2017 budget by 5 percent in the appropriations bill enacted on May 5.
NSF Updates NSB on Astronomy Governance Restructuring Plans
Among the many topics the 25-member National Science Board discussed at its May 9-10 meeting was the National Science Foundation’s plans to create a National Center for Optical-Infrared Astronomy (NCOA). In a presentation to the board’s Committee on Awards and Facilities, the acting director of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, Jim Ulvestad, described the rationale for forming NCOA, which would oversee operations of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the Gemini Observatory, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. NSF plans to ask the NSB to approve the NCOA framework in 2018. Video of the full meeting is available here, and speakers’ presentations are posted here.