A Periodic Federal Science Update

Congress Passes Extension of Continuing Resolution Until April 28 – With the current stop gap funding bill (Continuing Resolution or CR) set to expire on December 9, the Congress this week passed an extension to keep federal programs operating at current levels.  At the request of the President-Elect, the House and Senate leadership decided to extend the CR so that the pending full year appropriations bills could be completed with input from the President-Elect once he is sworn in in January 2017.  House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has indicated the CR will be written to the FY 2017 budget cap of $1.07 trillion, not the current FY 2016 spending level of $1.067 trillion in discretionary spending.  

Included in the legislation is $872 million in funding for the House-passed “21st Century Cures Act of 2016,” which boosts medical research, drug approval, and drug abuse efforts. This includes $20 million for the Food and Drug Administration Innovation account, $352 million for the National Institutes of Health Innovation account, and $500 million for states to respond to the opioid abuse crisis.

As part of the negotiations to develop this CR, Congress modified a White House request to delay any possible across-the-board spending cuts, adding a requirement for the Office of Management and Budget to calculate whether a sequester would be necessary.

The provision in the stopgap allows the OMB to delay a final sequestration report and any potential sequester order until after the continuing resolution expires April 28, as long as the temporary spending measure does not exceed the overall $1.07 trillion limit on base discretionary spending in fiscal 2017.  If the stopgap were to exceed the $1.07 trillion limit, the sequester would not be delayed.

Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen to Chair House Appropriations Committee; Rep Nita Lowey Continues as Ranking Democrat -- The House Republican Conference on Friday officially elected Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen to chair the Appropriations Committee next year.  The New Jersey Republican is the longest-serving GOP appropriator after Harold Rogers, R-Ky., the current chairman, who is barred by House Republican rules from wielding the gavel for another term.  Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, meanwhile, was nominated on Friday by the Democratic Steering & Policy Committee as the top Democrat on Appropriations. Her continued service as ranking member on the panel had been expected and is expected to be ratified by the full Democratic Caucus.

Representative Lamar Smith Re-elected Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee -- Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) was elected by his Republican colleagues to serve as chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology for another term on December 2, 2016.  Chairman Smith has served as Chairman of the Science Committee since 2013.  Agencies within the Committee’s jurisdiction include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Committee oversees agency budgets that total $43 billion. 

Senate passes revised version of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (America COMPETES)– On Monday, December 5, 2016, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee released a proposed amendment to S. 3084, the American COMPETES bill.  This amendment was developed in cooperation with the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and reflects a compromise between the provisions of the House’s version – H.R. 1806 and the Senate’s bill.  The bill was passed in the Senate but time ran out and was not able to be taken up in the House prior to its adjournment. 

The purpose of S. 3084 is to maximize the impact of basic research by reducing administrative burdens for researchers, advancing public-private partnerships, enhancing agency oversight, promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and increase research commercialization.  The bill would codify the NSF’s efforts to improve transparency and accountability of its grants, and would update the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). 

The bill also would direct NIST to conduct cybersecurity research in certain areas, and update the interagency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD Program). The bill also includes several sections implementing Committee oversight initiatives, including provisions which would direct the NSF to implement recommendations to improve oversight of its large-scale research facilities construction, conflicts of interest policy, and management of its Antarctic research program. 

It would also direct NIST to implement recommendations to improve laboratory programs and campus security.  The bill would establish an interagency working group led by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to reduce administrative burdens on federally-funded researchers, and would require OMB and Federal agencies to update their policies to encourage engagement and dissemination of research by Federal researchers within the scientific community.  The bill includes a provision raising the micro-purchase limit associated with research grants from $3,000 to $10,000 – identical to the increase provided in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017.  Read more about this science policy legislation here.

Congress Fails to Pass Compromise Version of the Bipartisan Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2016 – As a result of a dispute between Congressional representatives between Georgia and Florida, a compromise version of the long-awaited Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2016 failed to reach the House floor for a final vote.  More information on the dispute between the two delegations can be found here.  

The final version of this bill would have: Focused efforts to improve the understanding of and forecast capabilities for atmospheric events and their impacts; Placed priority on development of more accurate, timely, and effective warnings and forecasts of high impact weather; Supported the development of a research and development and a research to operations plan to restore U.S. leadership in numerical weather prediction and forecasting; Called on NOAA to provide not less than 30% of its weather research funding for extramural research though competitive grants contracts and cooperative agreements; Strengthened tornado and hurricane warning improvement programs; Authorized activities designed to improve sub-seasonal and seasonal forecasts; Supported use of microsatellites (such as COSMIC) and expansion of commercial data buy options; Created a focused urban meteorology research imitative; and Codified NOAA’s Environmental Information Services Working Group and an interagency committee on weather research and forecast innovation to improve coordination and collaboration among the disparate elements of the weather enterprise.

President Obama Issues Updated Executive Order on Invasive Species – On December 5, 2016, President Obama renewed and updated an executive order stating it is the policy of the U.S. to prevent the introduction, establishment, and spread of invasive species, as well as to eradicate and control populations of invasive species that are established.  Of substantial growing concern are invasive species that are or may be vectors, reservoirs, and causative agents of disease, which threaten human, animal, and plant health. The introduction, establishment, and spread of invasive species create the potential for serious public health impacts, especially when considered in the context of changing climate conditions. Climate change influences the establishment, spread, and impacts of invasive species.  This order amends the previous Executive Order on invasive species (Executive Order 13112) and directs actions to continue coordinated Federal prevention and control efforts related to invasive species. This order maintains the National Invasive Species Council (Council) and the Invasive Species Advisory Committee; expands the membership of the Council; clarifies the operations of the Council; incorporates considerations of human and environmental health, climate change, technological innovation, and other emerging priorities into Federal efforts to address invasive species; and improves coordinated, cost-efficient Federal action.

Dr. Bill Easterling to be Next NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected William E. Easterling to serve as head of the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO), which supports fundamental research spanning the atmospheric, earth, ocean and polar sciences.  Dr. Easterling comes to NSF from Penn State, where he has been dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences since 2007. As dean, Dr. Easterling led strategic planning for research initiatives focusing on the food-energy-water nexus, clean carbon energy, additive manufacturing, big data challenges in forecasting, risk and uncertainty in environmental decisions, and more.  In 2001, he became the founding director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment, the focal point for interdisciplinary research in energy and environmental science and engineering at Penn State.

GEO provides about 61 percent of the federal funding for basic research at academic institutions in the geosciences. These investments improve our understanding of the many processes that affect the global environment, including the planetary water cycle, geologic interactions that cross the land-ocean interface, and the behavior of ice sheets.

A self-described enthusiast of multiple disciplines of science, Dr. Easterling served as professor of geography and earth system science at Penn State since 1999. He has written or co-authored nearly 100 peer-reviewed papers, reports and books. He has served on numerous committees, panels and boards for NSF, the National Research Council and other organizations, and has been a principal investigator on dozens of highly competitive federal awards. He has won numerous awards and honors, including election to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010 for his contributions to climate change and food security science. He was a coordinating lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its 1999-2001 and 2005-2007 reports, having been nominated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Dr. Easterling will begin his NSF appointment in June.

NSF Releases New Cyberinfrastructure Program Announcement -- The overall goal of the Cyberinfrastructure for Emerging Science and Engineering Research (CESER) program is to foster the development of innovative cyberinfrastructure (CI) technologies and new means of leveraging existing CI resources to catalyze emerging areas of potentially transformative science and engineering research, including NSF priority areas, national strategic initiatives, and international collaborative research.  The CESER Program replaces the Strategic Technologies for Cyberinfrastructure (STCI) program. STCI's focus on supporting opportunities to advance technology across the CI ecosystem is incorporated into CESER with a new emphasis on enabling emerging science and engineering research areas.

A key programmatic objective of CESER is to support early-stage efforts by collaborative teams of domain scientists and cyberinfrastructure developers/implementers to identify and address cyberinfrastructure needs in new research areas through the development and deployment of pilot, experimental, and innovative hardware or software systems or other unique cyberinfrastructure activities that enable new pathways to discovery. 

Another program objective is to encourage holistic, systematic, and multidisciplinary CI approaches to address new opportunities to enable science and engineering research. Projects that integrate multiple cyberinfrastructure disciplines – such as computing, data infrastructure, software, workflow systems, and networking - to address an emerging scientific challenge are particularly welcomed. CESER will also support projects that aim to expand the spectrum of research disciplines that, and users who, engage and contribute to a dynamic and enduring national research cyberinfrastructure ecosystem.

NSF Releases New Program Announcement for PREEVENTS -- NSF and the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) have long supported basic research in scientific and engineering disciplines necessary to understand natural hazards and extreme events, including through the Interdisciplinary Research in Hazards and Disasters (Hazards SEES) program and multiple core programs in the GEO Directorate.  PREEVENTS is designed as a logical successor to Hazards SEES and is one element of the NSF-wide Risk and Resilience activity, which has the overarching goal of improving predictability and risk assessment, and increasing resilience, to reduce the impact of extreme events on our life, society, and economy.  PREEVENTS will provide an additional mechanism to support research and related activities that will improve our understanding of the fundamental processes underlying natural hazards and extreme events in the geosciences.

PREEVENTS is focused on natural hazards and extreme events, and not on technological or deliberately human-caused hazards.   The PREEVENTS portfolio will include the potential for disciplinary and multidisciplinary research at all scales, particularly aimed at areas ripe for significant near- or medium-term advances.

PREEVENTS seeks projects that will (1) enhance understanding of the fundamental processes underlying natural hazards and extreme events on various spatial and temporal scales, as well as the variability inherent in such hazards and events, and (2) improve our capability to model and forecast such hazards and events.  In addition, PREEVENTS projects will improve our understanding of the effects of natural hazards and extreme events and will enable development, with support by other programs and organizations, of new tools to enhance societal preparedness and resilience against such impacts.

NSF Releases Program Announcement for Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBs) -- The NSF vision for a Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (CIF21) considers an integrated, scalable, and sustainable cyberinfrastructure to be crucial for innovation in science and engineering. The Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBs) program is an integral part of CIF21. The DIBBs program encourages development of robust and shared data-centric cyberinfrastructure capabilities, to accelerate interdisciplinary and collaborative research in areas of inquiry stimulated by data.  DIBBs investments enable new data-focused services, capabilities, and resources to advance scientific discoveries, collaborations, and innovations. The investments are expected to build upon, integrate with, and contribute to existing community cyberinfrastructure, serving as evaluative resources while developments in national-scale access, policy, interoperability and sustainability continue to evolve.  Effective solutions will bring together cyberinfrastructure expertise and domain researchers, to ensure that the resulting cyberinfrastructure address researchers’ data needs. The activities should address the data challenges arising in a disciplinary or cross-disciplinary context. The projects should stimulate data-driven scientific discoveries and innovations, and address broad community needs, nationally and internationally.

 This solicitation includes two classes of science data pilot awards: Early Implementations are large "at scale" evaluations, building upon cyberinfrastructure capabilities of existing research communities or recognized community data collections, and extending those data-focused cyberinfrastructure capabilities to additional research communities and domains with broad community engagement; and Pilot Demonstrations address advanced cyberinfrastructure challenges across emerging research communities, building upon recognized community data collections and disciplinary research interests, to address specific challenges in science and engineering research.