Office of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
The House Science Committee is meeting on Thursday to advance legislation that divides up its $45.5 billion portion of a $3.5 trillion spending package that Democrats aim to pass using Congress' budget reconciliation procedure, circumventing Republican opposition. A draft version of the legislation released by the committee over the weekend includes the following spending proposals:
Other House committees have begun work on their pieces of the reconciliation package as well. The House Natural Resources Committee is meeting on Thursday to continue consideration of spending proposals for its $25.6 billion allocation. These include $3 billion to establish a Civilian Climate Corps across several agencies, $375 million for the U.S. Geological Survey, and $300 million for recapitalizing NOAA vessels. Additional funds for R&D are expected to be proposed by other committees, and the administration has requested that a portion of its newly released $65 billion pandemic preparedness plan be funded through the reconciliation legislation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said last month that she plans for all House committees to advance their components of the legislation by Sept. 15 and that her caucus is developing the package in cooperation with Senate Democrats. However, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) published an op-ed on Sept. 2 calling for a “strategic pause” on the package, citing the national debt, inflation levels, and his concern the spending could hamper response to potential future emergencies such as a worsening of the pandemic or an economic crisis. The reconciliation package cannot be enacted without Manchin’s support, and opposition from him or other Democrats could result in the package being derailed or scaled back considerably while also jeopardizing prospects of the bipartisan infrastructure package the Senate passed last month.
Duke University’s Center for Innovation Policy is hosting an event on Thursday to discuss the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), a 2,376-page legislative package the Senate passed in June that is primarily aimed at countering the Chinese government’s growing technological and geopolitical influence. The three panelists are Kei Koizumi, chief of staff for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Ronnie Chatterji, chief economist of the Department of Commerce; and Stuart Benjamin, a professor specializing in telecommunications law. The Biden administration has broadly endorsed both the USICA and counterpart legislation passed by the House. However, it has not commented on tensions between the bills, such as their competing visions for a new directorate within the National Science Foundation and how they propose to diversify the distribution of federal R&D funds across institutions. The Senate bill would require that at least 20% of all NSF and Department of Energy research funds authorized by the bill go to jurisdictions supported by the EPSCoR program, which sets aside funds for states and territories that have historically received a lesser share of agency funding, whereas the House’s NSF for the Future Act proposes a state-agnostic approach that uses a broader range of criteria. On Sept. 1, a bipartisan group of 34 senators and 26 representatives sent a letter to congressional leaders advocating for the EPSCoR expansion provision to be included in the final bill.
On Wednesday, the congressionally chartered U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission is holding a hearing to review the Biden administration’s stance on export controls and foreign investment reviews, among other topics. The commission will hear testimony from the acting head of the Bureau of Industry and Security, which implements export controls on commercially available products, followed by a panel of experts from outside government. A recent staff paper by the commission argued that BIS has failed to adequately implement controls on “emerging and foundational technologies” as required by a 2018 law. BIS announced plans in June to advance the rulemaking process for controls related to certain technologies. In July, President Biden’s nominated former Defense Department official Alan Estevez to lead BIS, who will oversee that process if confirmed by the Senate.
At a meeting last week, members of the Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee expressed disappointment that the long-range strategic plan it approved in February did not lead to higher budget proposals for fiscal year 2022 to begin implementing its vision of developing a U.S. fusion-power industry. The administration has proposed nearly flat funding of $675 million for DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences program in fiscal year 2022, while the Senate has proposed a 2% cut and the House a 4% increase. Program head James Van Dam pointed out that budget request level would keep the program on track with the “modest growth” scenario DOE established for the planning exercise, which would allow it to fund only a few of the highest-priority facilities and programs endorsed by the plan. Nevertheless, Van Dam said the plan has been generally well received, especially by the House Science Committee, and DOE Office of Science Acting Director Steve Binkley noted that it took several years for DOE’s High Energy Physics program to see major budget increases in response to its influential P5 planning report.
Van Dam acknowledged that funding constraints motivated DOE to propose cutting the next annual U.S. contribution to the international ITER fusion experiment by 9% to $221 million, saying, “It's to fit things within the bottom line. And this is a little unfortunate.” Later in the meeting, U.S. ITER project lead Kathryn McCarthy noted that the U.S. is behind in its hardware obligations to the project by $97 million, which has delayed certain project activities. She also stated that while Congress directed DOE to prepare updated baseline cost and schedule estimates for the project by June of this year, DOE viewed the deadline as unrealistic and plans to provide the baseline by December 2022. In its last report to Congress on the matter in 2016, DOE estimated that the U.S. share of the construction costs through 2035 would be near $5 billion, of which it had already spent about $1 billion. In its draft proposal for the reconciliation bill, the House Science Committee has included $1.3 billion for U.S. contributions to ITER over the next five years and another $1.3 billion for non-ITER fusion activities.
The National Science Foundation announced on Sept. 2 that it is establishing two new quantum information science research institutes, each funded at $25 million over five years. The Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation led by the University of Maryland, College Park, will develop methods to certify the correctness of quantum simulations and design algorithms and error correction protocols for large-scale simulators. The Institute for Quantum Sensing in Biophysics and Bioengineering led by the University of Chicago will develop quantum sensors suited to biophysical measurements and support various workforce development initiatives. The institutes join three others NSF established last September as central components of its contribution to the National Quantum Initiative. Separately last month, NSF awarded the University of Arkansas and Montana State University $20 million over six years to establish the MonArk NSF Quantum Foundry, which will develop two-dimensional materials for a variety of QIS applications.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced last week that Woodwell Climate Research Center President Philip Duffy is joining its staff as a climate science adviser. Trained in physics, Duffy has spent most of his career working in climate research and has served as an author and review editor on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments and coordinated the U.S. review of the fifth IPCC assessment. He also previously served on the staff of OSTP and the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program during the Obama administration. Interviewed by E&E News about his new role, Duffy remarked, “My goal really is to help ensure that the policy actions taken on climate by the Biden administration are closely informed by science. In terms of what that looks like on a more granular level, there’s a lot of interest in removing carbon from the atmosphere by storing more carbon into natural reservoirs like forests, wetlands and the ocean, and so forth.” He added that he plans to encourage agencies to conduct research that has immediate relevance to policy deliberations. Meanwhile, at the State Department, Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland, College Park, is joining the staff supporting Special Presidential Climate Envoy John Kerry as the U.S. ramps up preparations for the next UN climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
President Biden announced on Thursday that he is nominating Brad Crabtree to lead the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. An expert in energy and climate policy, Crabtree has been vice president for carbon management at the Great Plains Institute since 2012. As part of that role, he also leads the Carbon Capture Coalition, a national partnership of 80 companies, labor unions, and environmental organizations that advocates for policies promoting the development and deployment of carbon mitigation technologies. Testifying before the House Climate Crisis Committee in 2019, Crabtree advocated for the U.S. to expand and “retool” funding for such technologies. As head of FECM, he would be responsible for implementing the Biden administration’s plans to shift the office’s focus away from fossil energy R&D and toward carbon management, and would potentially oversee demonstration projects proposed in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation includes billions of dollars to scale up carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies, including ones that remove carbon dioxide directly from the air.
The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act on Sept. 2 on a vote of 57 to 2. Both the House and Senate versions of the legislation are now set for floor debate in their respective chambers. Typically, once each chamber has passed its version, a conference committee convenes to hammer out a finalized bill. This year, both versions propose various requirements to undertake planning or report back to Congress on matters relating to R&D, STEM workforce development, relations between the Department of Defense and universities, and stewardship of the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile. So far, no marquee new science and technology initiatives have been put forward, though the Senate Armed Services Committee is proposing to set up a commission that would review DOD’s Planning, Programming, Budget, and Execution management framework, which could eventually lead to fundamental reforms in how the department develops and acquires new technologies.
The American Astronomical Society announced last week that its five peer-reviewed research journals will be fully open access as of Jan. 1, 2022. Under the new policy, subscription fees and paywalls will be eliminated and the journal’s operating costs will be supported by “reasonable” article publication charges. In addition, the society states it will enhance its waiver and discount program to provide “generous” assistance to authors who cannot afford the new fees, and it notes that publication costs can be covered by research grants from agencies such as NASA and National Science Foundation. AAS journals have historically relied on both subscriptions and author fees to cover operating costs, and since 2017 they have provided a “hybrid” option that allows authors to choose whether to make their articles freely available. AAS notes that the new policy makes its journal portfolio “fully compliant with recent open-science government and funding-body mandates like Europe’s Plan S, UK Research and Innovation's open access policy, and others.” (AAS is an AIP member society.)
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AIP is seeking applicants for its 2022-2023 State Department Fellowship program. Fellows work at the department's headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a one-year term on topics at the intersection of science, policy, and international affairs. Qualified individuals at any stage of their career are encouraged to apply. Applicants must have a doctorate in physics or a field closely related to the physical sciences, membership in at least one AIP Member Society, and eligibility for a security clearance, among other qualifications. Applications are due Oct. 15.
The Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering is accepting applications for a two-year fellowship program with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in Hartford. Applicants must have completed an advanced degree in an “environmental and/or energy science-related discipline with a focus on building electrification and/or climate solutions; knowledge of net-zero strategies for building decarbonization; experience working collaboratively with diverse stakeholders from the public and private sectors.” Review of applications will begin on Oct. 8.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is accepting nominations of individuals to serve on its Commercial Remote Sensing Advisory Committee. In particular, the agency is seeking three to five representatives of “key stakeholders in the commercial space-based remote sensing industry and among users of space-based remote sensing data.” Nominations are due Sept. 16.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has opened registration for its Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop, which will be held virtually on Sept. 23 and 24. Registration is free and open to all STEM undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars.