FYI This Week highlights upcoming science policy events and summarizes news from the past week.
An artistic conception of the proposed Mars Sample Return mission, which NASA is considering for launch in the mid-2020s. The mission would be one element of the exploration architecture at the heart of the agency’s “Moon-to-Mars” agenda.
(Image credit – NASA JPL)
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will consider a new bipartisan bill on Wednesday that would update congressional policy for NASA for the first time since the early months of the Trump administration. In the interim, the administration has reoriented the agency’s human exploration activities by creating the Artemis program, which is aiming to conduct a crewed lunar landing in 2024. Although the new legislation broadly endorses Artemis, it would only commit NASA to establishing “sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.” It would also extend NASA’s commitment to operating the International Space Station from 2024 to 2030, rejecting the administration’s proposal to divest its support for it. In general, the bill proposes no major policy changes for the agency’s science activities. However, it would give explicit approval for a Mars sample return mission and, without specifying a timetable, require the agency to undertake at least one science mission to Mars that enables the “selection of one or more sites for human landing.” The bill would also provide backing for NASA’s recently expanded plans in lunar science and planetary defense and require the agency to support searches for “technosignatures” of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Lawmakers in the House have generally aired more skepticism of NASA’s Artemis plans than those in the Senate. At a subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, the House Science Committee will continue to probe whether NASA can meet its goal of a crewed lunar landing in 2024 and how it can build on activities on and around the Moon to send humans to Mars. The subcommittee will hear from former astronaut Tom Stafford, who chaired the panel that produced the 1991 America at the Threshold report outlining a lunar and deep space exploration agenda that was to have culminated with a Mars mission this year. Former aerospace executive Tom Young will also testify. In 2000, Young chaired the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team that scrutinized NASA’s Mars science program following two mission failures, and he has generally been a go-to choice for leading independent technical review panels, most recently one that examined the James Webb Space Telescope’s latest delay. In August, the National Space Council gave NASA 60 days to produce a plan for its current Moon-to-Mars science and exploration program. NASA has not publicly announced if it has completed that document.
Aside from the NASA policy bill, the Senate Commerce Committee will consider two bills that pertain to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at its Wednesday meeting. The LEGEND Act, introduced last month by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), would direct NOAA to make publicly available the computer code and data underlying its operational model developed through its planned Earth Prediction Innovation Center, and would require the agency to “periodically review” model improvements proposed by external researchers for potential integration into the model. The second bill aims to address sexual harassment at NOAA by allowing reports of harassment or assault to be submitted “anonymously” rather than “confidentially,” requiring the agency to “thoroughly and promptly” investigate all reported instances of harassment or assault, and “refer the matter to the appropriate law enforcement authorities” if crimes may have been committed. Introduced last week by Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill differs substantially from a 2015 bill that would have directed NOAA to adopt a uniform policy for confidential reporting of harassment or assault, among other provisions. Among 19 other bills on the agenda is the bipartisan Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act, which would establish an interagency group to coordinate relevant research and training programs.
The House Science Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial plans to restrict itself from basing regulations on scientific studies whose underlying data are not publicly available. Representing EPA at the hearing is Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, a longtime career official who is currently the acting head of the agency’s Office of Research and Development. Following EPA’s testimony, the committee will hear from a panel of five scientists, including Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences from 2009 to 2019; Brian Nosek, director of the Center for Open Science; and David Allison, a member of the National Academies study panel that produced a report on reproducibility and replicability issues in science earlier this year. In justifying its proposal, EPA has asserted increased transparency is necessary in light of a “replication crisis” that has called swaths of past research into question. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the Science Committee in September that the agency plans to accept public comment on a modified version of the rule to be published in 2020.
On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing to review President Trump’s nomination of Dan Brouillette to take over as energy secretary from Rick Perry, who plans to leave the post on Dec. 1. Brouillette has served as deputy secretary since August 2017, when the Senate confirmed his nomination for that position on a vote of 79 to 17. It is unlikely there will be substantial new opposition to Brouillette’s elevation. However, the progress of his nomination could be slowed if, for instance, committee member Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) again puts up procedural hurdles to gain assurances related to the storage of nuclear waste in her state. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) has suggested DOE’s resistance to cooperating with the House’s impeachment inquiry could also cause problems. "That is the kind of nuance that makes appointments in this atmosphere a lot more complicated than they normally would be,” he told reporters.
Continuing its wide-ranging energy R&D policy review, the House Science Committee is holding a hearing Thursday focused on opportunities to expand support for geothermal power and wave-generated energy. The hearing will feature testimony from David Solan, head of the Department of Energy’s renewable power programs, which are currently funding the Utah-based Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) and Oregon State University's PacWave test site at the Pacific Marine Energy Center. Representatives of each project will testify alongside Solan, as will representatives from industry and academia. The committee has advanced a number of energy innovation bills this year, but has yet to consider a bill specifically supporting geothermal or wave energy. However, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently introduced legislation covering geothermal energy.
Next Monday, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will hold its first meeting since President Trump reconstituted the group and appointed seven of its members in late October. According to the agenda, the council will identify priority topic areas. The White House has said the council will ultimately have 16 members in total and that there are plans to announce more members in the “near future,” pending their completion of the clearance process. It is unclear if additional members will be added before the first meeting.
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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks on Nov. 5 at a conference organized by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.
(Image credit – NSCAI)
Addressing a conference held by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence on Nov. 5, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) revealed he has been circulating a draft proposal in Congress to create a new government entity that would fund “fundamental” research related to technologies such as AI, quantum computing, robotics, and 5G telecommunications. He said the objective is for it to spend $100 billion over five years, with funds going to universities, companies, and other government research agencies. While noting the proposal’s proponents have not settled on how to structure the entity, he said the current idea is to make it a “subsidiary” of the National Science Foundation that works “in concert” with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Citing investments in AI by rival nations such as Russia and China, Schumer argued the proposal ought to attract bipartisan backing. He claimed it already “has some support of some people very close” to President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) but that those people had not as yet succeeded in gaining their “full-throated” support for it.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy hosted a summit last week to explain the work of its Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE) and gather feedback from scientific community leaders. In a speech to kick off the event, OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier stressed JCORE aims to take an integrative approach across its four subcommittees, such as by considering ways to bolster research security while addressing associated changes in administrative burden. Droegemeier elaborated on his view that research environments should “reflect and promote American values” such as transparency, openness, and reciprocity. Without naming any particular countries, he added, “Unfortunately, some other nations do not share America’s values, nor do the values of those nations align with the values of individual researchers.” Conversely, he identified Australia, Canada, the U.K., and Germany as countries that share American values and said science ministers from each are intrigued by the crosscutting approach that JCORE is taking. A transcript of Droegemeier’s speech and a summary of the event produced by OSTP are available here.
Antonio Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, announced last week that he will decline speaking invitations at events if “attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion is not evident in the composition of the panels.” Busalacchi noted he was inspired to take the step after National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins took a similar pledge in June and challenged other leaders in the biomedical community to do the same to decrease the prevalence of all-male speaking panels at scientific conferences. “Although diversity within and among meteorology, oceanography, and hydrology is different than the health sciences, I accept his challenge,” Busalacchi said. “It is now my turn to challenge other leaders in Earth system science to join me.”
On Nov. 6, leaders of the House Science Committee introduced the Rural STEM Education Act. Among its provisions, the bill would direct the National Science Foundation to support research on ways to improve STEM education in rural schools, recommending a funding level of $8 million per year. It further recommends NSF allocate $12 million per year to efforts aimed at broadening participation of rural students in STEM fields. Other provisions would modify the eligibility criteria for federal EPSCoR programs and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program to include consideration for benefits to rural STEM education and workforce development. The House Science Committee will take up the bill on Thursday.
Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
The National Institutes of Health is accepting public input on a proposed overhaul of its data management and sharing requirements, which will update policies dating back to 2003. Among the proposed requirements is that all grant applicants must submit a plan for how the scientific data they generate will be managed and shared. Comments are due Jan. 10, 2020.
The National Academies has just launched a study that will evaluate challenges to U.S. competitiveness in science and technology. To help inform the effort, the Federation of American Scientists has partnered with the National Academies’ New Voices in Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine initiative to accept ideas from the research community. The submissions will also be incorporated into an online resource for policymakers.
The National Science Policy Network and the Journal of Science Policy and Governance have launched their second annual policy memo writing competition for early career scientists. Memos can be submitted on any topic by teams of at least three individuals that are members of a student science policy group. Submissions are due April 1, 2020.
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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