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The Week of September 18
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 18
Senate to Vote Monday on National Defense Authorization Act
Last week, floor action on the Senate version of Congress’ annual defense policy bill was bogged down amid disputes over whether to bring a handful of controversial amendments to a vote. One of the amendments, proposed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), would have ended the budget sequestration mechanism for discretionary spending, effectively lifting budget caps on funding for most federal agencies. Another amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) would have nullified restrictions in the bill on a contentious Defense Department-funded medical research program. On Thursday, Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reluctantly decided to call for an end to debate on the bill without considering the amendments, and the chamber voted 84 to 9 to do so. The Senate is now expected to hold its final vote on the bill on Monday, Sept. 18, and amendments could still be added until that vote takes place. FYI briefly summarized some of the bill’s R&D-related provisions last week and will offer a more detailed look after the bill’s passage, when the drive toward a final bill begins.
National Academies Holding Open Science Symposium
On Monday, the recently formed National Academies committee examining “how to move toward open science as the default for scientific results” will convene a public symposium to hear a range of stakeholder perspectives on the subject. The committee will first hear from representatives of the publishing community, including Joerg Heber, editor-in-chief of the Public Library of Science (PLOS); Howard Ratner, executive director of the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the U.S. (CHORUS); Michael Forster, managing director of publications at IEEE; John Inglis, executive director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and co-founder of bioRxiv; and Holly Falk-Krzesinksi, vice president for global academic and research relations at Elsevier. Following panels presenting perspectives from the private sector, foundations, federal agencies, and research libraries, the final session will focus on the views of researchers and scientific societies. Among the presenters is Shelley Stall, director of data programs at the American Geophysical Union, who will discuss a new initiative called Enabling FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) Data, which aims to develop standards that will better connect researchers, publishers, and data repositories in the Earth and space sciences.
Frontiers in Optics Conference Convenes in DC
The Optical Society and the American Physical Society’s Division of Laser Science are holding their Frontiers in Optics + Laser Science meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. OSA has organized a session on Monday afternoon with several government representatives to provide an “opportunity to hear about the latest in science funding as well as network with key program managers.” Speakers include Harriet Kung, head of the Department of Energy’s Basic Energy Sciences program; Ken Caster, a program officer at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research; Lawrence Goldberg, a senior engineering advisor at the National Science Foundation; and Mary Kavanagh, minister-counselor of research and innovation for the European Union delegation to the U.S. On Wednesday morning, American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Rush Holt will deliver a “Rush Hour” talk on the role of science in society and government.
On Monday and Tuesday, a new National Academies committee is launching a study to “provide guidance to the [U.S. Geological Survey] Water Mission Area (WMA) as it works to address the most compelling national water resource and science needs during the next several decades.” The study will produce a report providing recommendations on how the WMA can address the high-priority national water challenges for the next 25 years, including tools and opportunities for interdisciplinary research conducted at various scales. The committee chair is George Hornberger, director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment. The committee will hear from the study sponsor Don Cline, USGS’s associate director for water, and a panel of representatives from federal agencies that have interests in water science and research.
Symposium Spotlighting Small Satellites Research
The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council for Science (ICSU) is holding its third biennial symposium this week in Jeju, South Korea, focused on the use of small-scale satellites for space research. One of the keynote speakers is Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, who, prior to taking that position, chaired a National Academies study of the scientific uses of CubeSats. In his talk, he will review examples of the use of CubeSats and other small satellites in NASA’s science portfolio and discuss a cross-cutting initiative the agency is undertaking to take further advantage of these platforms. The other keynote speaker is Shinichi Nakasuka, a professor at the University of Tokyo and a pioneer in the development of small-scale satellites.
Trump Nominates Walter Copan as NIST Director
On Sept. 12, President Trump nominated Walter Copan to be director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Copan holds a doctorate in chemistry and has dedicated much of his career to facilitating technology transfer between the public and private sectors. He is currently president and CEO of the IP Engineering Group Corporation and a board member of Rocky Mountain Innovation Partners. He served in a variety of roles with the Lubrizol Corporation, a specialty chemicals company, from 1975 to 2003. He also served as a principal licensing executive at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory from 2003 to 2005, as managing director of technology commercialization and partnerships at Brookhaven National Laboratory from 2010 to 2013, and as an advisor to the Federal Laboratory Consortium. Pending confirmation by the Senate, Copan will take over leadership of NIST from Kent Rochford, who has served as acting director since Willie May stepped down on Jan. 4.
House Passes Eight Remaining Appropriations Bills
The House passed a $1.2 trillion “omnibus” appropriations bill on Sept. 14 on a vote of 211 to 198, composed of the eight remaining spending bills it did not pass before the August recess and the four passed in July’s security-focused minibus. As it stands, the House package exceeds the current cap on spending and would trigger across-the-board spending cuts if Congress and the president do not reach a deal to raise the caps. During floor debate, Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) offered a successful amendment to increase funding for basic research in the physical and biological sciences at the National Science Foundation by $30.2 million, 0.5 percent. Smith justified the increase as funding “the basic research that produces the scientific breakthroughs that fuel technological innovation, new industries, economic growth, and good jobs.” He also said that the measure does not increase NSF’s overall funding level and that the agency “will adjust other areas of spending accordingly.” Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chair John Culberson (R-TX) stood in support of the amendment, and pledged that he “will fight for it in conference.”
Senators Rebut Trump R&D Strategy at National Labs Hearing
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Energy Subcommittee held a hearing on Sept. 12 dedicated to the role the Department of Energy’s national laboratories play in energy technology innovation. The participants highlighted the labs’ collaborative activities with universities and industry as an important aid to bringing technology into commercial use. Both Democratic committee members and Subcommittee Chair Cory Gardner (R-CO), the only Republican present, rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that the private sector would compensate for reduced federal support for later-stage R&D and commercialization activities. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) announced that he is introducing a new bill, the “Energy Technology Maturation Act,” co-sponsored with Gardner and others. The legislation would provide statutory authorization for a program that DOE initiated in 2015 to award funds through its Office of Technology Transitions to commercially promising technology development projects.
Companion to EPA Science ‘HONEST Act’ Introduced in Senate
On Sept. 12, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced the “Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act” with Environment and Public Works Committee Chair John Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) as co-sponsors. The bill is nearly identical to legislation bearing the same name sponsored by House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX). That bill, alongside the “EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act,” was passed by the House on a mostly party-line vote this March. Both HONEST Acts would require EPA to make all scientific and technical information used for a variety of decisions “publicly available online in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” A number of scientific societies have raised concerns about this and other provisions in the bill.
On Sept. 13, Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) introduced legislation that would change the eligibility criteria for the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) from a per-state basis to a per-capita basis. Designed to increase research capacity in states that have historically struggled to garner grant funding, the program currently distributes about $160 million to states that received less than 0.75% of NSF’s total research budget, averaging over a three-year period. Twenty five states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were eligible for EPSCoR funding in fiscal year 2017. “While the goals of this program may have been noble in theory, the flawed eligibility formula means that this program has become just another example of a federal program that preferentially directs money out of states with large populations,” Foster said in a press release announcing the bill introduction. Foster explained his criticisms of EPSCoR to ScienceInsider in 2015 after he offered an amendment to defund the program.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Angus King (I-ME) introduced legislation on Sept. 11 to reauthorize the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Cooperative Geological Mapping Program, which produces public maps and data that can be used for natural hazards mitigation, land and water management, and other activities. In addition, earlier this month Murkowski and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation to permanently reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The bill proposes significant changes to the program, including creating a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant program that would help states incorporate earthquakes into their hazard reduction portfolios. A number of scientific and engineering societies have endorsed the bill.
Pete Domenici, Shaper of US Energy Policy, Dies at 85
Pete Domenici, the longest-serving senator in New Mexico history, died on Sept. 13 at the age of 85. Elected to the Senate in 1972, Domenici became the top Republican on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee in 1995 and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2003, which gave him considerable influence over U.S. energy policy. During his tenure on the committees, he shepherded two major energy policy bills into law and was known as “St. Pete” by some at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories for his strong support of New Mexico’s labs. Domenici retired from Congress in 2009.