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The Week of September 17
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 September 17
DOE Spending Bill Awaits Trump’s Signature
Congress finalized and passed a three-bill fiscal year 2019 spending package last week that includes funding for the Department of Energy. The Senate approved the package on Sept. 12 on a vote of 92 to 5, and the House sent it on to the White House the next day on a vote of 377 to 20. President Trump is expected to sign it into law in the coming days. The legislation spreads funding increases throughout the department, raising the budget of the Office of Science by 5 percent to nearly $6.6 billion, and boosting applied R&D programs as well. The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, which the Trump administration has twice sought to close down, will be funded at a new record level of $366 million. Nuclear security R&D programs will maintain steady funding. If the legislation is enacted by Oct. 1, DOE will start the new fiscal year with its budget in place for the first time in two decades.
Final DOD, NIH, and DOEd Spending Bills Set for Senate Vote
The Senate plans to vote this week on a finalized fiscal year 2019 spending package covering the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Education. Funding for DOD’s basic research programs is set for an 8 percent increase, while a 5 percent increase for the National Institutes of Health will provide it with a multibillion dollar boost for a fourth year in a row. The legislation also increases funding for STEM education research and Career and Technical Education programs and rejects the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate several DOEd grant programs that states can use to support STEM education. If enacted before the end of the month, it will be the first time since 1996 that Congress has delivered NIH appropriations on time. See FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker for details on selected programs.
Stopgap Funding Included in Latest Spending Package
The spending package up for consideration this week also includes a provision that would fund all agencies not covered in the package near their current levels through Dec. 7. With the November midterm elections around the corner, Republican congressional leaders are eager to avert a government shutdown. The House is expected to vote on the package shortly after its members return from this week’s recess. President Trump reportedly has told congressional leaders that he does not intend to carry out his threat to veto spending bills before the election if they do not contain funding for his proposed border wall.
Prioritization Panel for Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Science Convenes
The National Academies study panel conducting a decadal survey for atomic, molecular, and optical science is holding its second meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. The meeting will begin with a town hall on Wednesday at the Frontiers in Optics + Laser Science annual meeting. The panel will then move to the National Academy of Sciences building where it will hear presentations on quantum information science, ultrafast science, ultracold atoms, quantum simulation, nano-mechanical-photonics systems, and precision measurement. The majority and minority staff directors for the Energy Subcommittee of the House Science Committee are also scheduled to speak. The meeting will be webcast.
Interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Panel Meets
The advisory committee for astronomy and astrophysics programs across NASA, the National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy is meeting this Thursday and Friday at NSF’s headquarters in Virginia. In addition to receiving budget updates from program directors at each agency, the committee will discuss an Exoplanet Science Strategy released this month by the National Academies as well as the preparations for the upcoming astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey. The meeting will be webcast.
(Image credit – INL)
DOE Research Bills Clear Congress
Last week, the House passed the “Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act” and the “Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act” by voice votes. Both now await signature by the president. During floor consideration of the legislation, House Science Committee leaders said the former bill provides the first-ever comprehensive policy direction to the DOE Office of Science, which has not been subject to periodic reauthorization as have other major research agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation. The latter bill authorizes DOE to take steps to promote the development of advanced nuclear reactors, including building a fast neutron source user facility and establishing a National Reactor Innovation Center to aid collaboration with the nuclear industry.
National Quantum Initiative Bill Now Awaits Senate Action
The House also passed the “National Quantum Initiative Act” by a voice vote last week, sending it to the Senate. The House bill would authorize increased resources for quantum information science programs at the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. It also would create a National Quantum Coordination Office to oversee interagency efforts. In urging passage of the legislation, House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said the U.S. must develop a comprehensive quantum R&D strategy in light of the rapidly increasing investments in the field by other countries. Leaders of the counterpart committee in the Senate share similar sentiments, although they are likely to insist some changes be made to the legislation, having advanced a modified version of the House bill in August.
Congress Looks to Bolster Its Access to S&T Advice
The explanatory statement accompanying the Legislative Branch appropriations bill that Congress passed last week directs the Government Accountability Office to develop a plan to replace its existing Center for Science, Technology, and Engineering with a “new more prominent office.” The statement also directs the Congressional Research Service to examine existing advisory resources available to Congress, including GAO, and to assess the need for a separate entity dedicated exclusively to science and technology policy. It notes the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have received “dozens of requests advocating for restoring funding to the Office of Technology Assessment,” which Congress shut down in 1995.
NASA Launches Ice-Measuring Satellite
The Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) launched on Sept. 15 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission, which has an anticipated lifecycle cost of about $1 billion, will use a highly precise laser altimeter to measure minute changes in the elevation of the Earth’s ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice. These observations will allow scientists to track how quickly ice masses are responding to long-term changes in climate and how ice loss affects sea level. The mission replaces the original ICESat, which operated from 2003 to 2010. In the interim, NASA has operated the airborne IceBridge mission to provide continuity in data on the state of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets.
California to Launch Its ‘Own Damn’ Climate Satellite
California Governor Jerry Brown (D) announced on Sept. 14 at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco that the state will partner with Earth imaging company Planet Labs to develop a satellite to monitor and pinpoint sources of greenhouse gas emissions. “With science still under attack and the climate threat growing, we’re launching our own damn satellite,” he declared. The words echo comments he made at the 2016 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, when he said California would take a leading role in climate science if the then-incoming Trump administration divested from it. Although the administration has sought substantial cuts to climate research, Congress has generally maintained funding for climate research and climate-monitoring satellites.
AAAS, NASA Update Discrimination and Harassment Policies
The movement to combat discrimination and harassment in science and to treat them as violations of professional scientific ethics saw two new developments last week. On Sept. 15, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced procedures for revoking the status of its elected fellows. The new policy applies to “cases of proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the Fellow in the view of AAAS otherwise no longer merits the status of Fellow.” It specifies that breaches of professional ethics encompass sexual misconduct and harassment and racial discrimination. On Sept. 10, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine issued a statement emphasizing the agency’s discrimination and harassment policies apply to contractors and other organizations it funds. In a follow-on letter, Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, added that NASA considers harassment to constitute “a serious violation of professional ethics.” The National Science Foundation will hold a media call on Sept. 19 to provide an update on its own policies on harassment perpetrated by recipients of NSF funding.