Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

Continuing Resolution Extended, Government Shutdown Averted for the Time Being – Facing a deadline of December 7 when U.S. government funding for about 25% of the Federal Government would have expired, and coming in the midst of the death of former President George Bush, the Congress and the White House agreed this week to an extension of the current continuing resolution until December 21.  House and Senate Members of the Appropriations Committees and their staff have been working to resolve their differences between the remaining seven unfinished FY 2019 appropriations bills.  The unfinished bills cover such agencies as NSF, NOAA, NASA, EPA, USGS, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Homeland Security.  According to some observers, most of the funding issues associated with these bills have been resolved.  The major outstanding issue, however, remains funding for the southern border security wall.  In the past the President has said he might veto any appropriations measure that does not include funding for the border security wall.  Members seem anxious to complete the FY 2019 appropriations process before the 115th Congress adjourns by the end of this calendar year leaving a “clean slate” for the 116th Congress in January 2019.

House Republicans Select Their Leaders for Congressional Committees – In the 116th Congress which convenes in January 2019, Democrats will be in the majority and thus control the Congressional committees.  Republicans, in the minority, will occupy the ranking minority member positions on each committee and last week the Republican caucus ratified their leadership’s choices for the next Congress – including:

·      Agriculture: Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Texas;

·      Appropriations: Rep. Kay Granger, Texas;

·      Armed Services: Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas;

·      Budget: Rep. Steve Womack, Arkansas;

·      Education and the Workforce: Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina;

·      Energy and Commerce: Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon;

·      Financial Services: Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina;

·      Foreign Affairs: Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas;

·      Homeland Security: Rep. Mike D. Rogers, Alabama;

·      Judiciary: Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia;

·      Natural Resources: Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah;

·      Oversight and Government Reform: Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio;

·      Science, Space, and Technology: Rep. Frank D. Lucas, Oklahoma;

·      Small Business: Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio;

·      Transportation and Infrastructure: Rep. Sam Graves, Missouri;

·      Veterans’ Affairs: Rep. Phil Roe, Tennessee; and

·      Ways and Means: Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas;

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who will serve as minority leader next year, made the leader's customary appointments for two other committees: Select Intelligence: Rep. Devin Nunes, California; and House Administration: Rep. Rodney Davis, Illinois.  Appointments for ranking member on Rules, Ethics and the Joint Economic panel are yet to be made. House Democrats have not officially announced their chairmen for the new Congress.

New Poll Finds the Public Backs Federal Spending on Science and Technology -- A new poll shows strong public support for Federal spending on science and technology research. Eight in 10 registered voters approve of the federal government using taxpayer funds to invest in scientific research, according to the results released by the Science Coalition, a group of research universities. Fully 94 percent of respondents said they believe it is important for the United States to be the global leader in scientific research and technology; 72 percent of voters expressed the belief that scientific research helps grow the U.S. economy; and 60 percent said they supported the federal government investing more in scientific research, according to the survey taken in mid-November.   Additional information on this poll can be found here.

White House Releases New Interagency STEM Education Strategic Plan – On December 4, the White House, released a new interagency STEM education strategic plan.  The plan lays out the federal government's role in furthering STEM education by working with state and local stakeholders, the education community and American employers. Its goals include building a STEM-competent citizenry, creating a STEM-ready workforce and removing barriers to STEM careers, especially for women and underrepresented groups.  NSF is partnering with other federal agencies in support of NSF INCLUDES National Network, a program dedicated to making a lasting impact on diversifying the STEM workforce of the future. Partners include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  Statements from each of the participating federal agencies and a STEM factsheet that accompanies the report are attached.

In support of the White House strategy, NSF is also announcing a $10 million commitment to its newly launched Data Science Corps, which will provide basic training in data science to existing workforces at the local, state and national levels, teaching new skills and offering new experiences.  NSF also expects to fund 200 internships of up to $55,000 for graduate students in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The NSF INTERN program provides opportunities for graduate students currently supported by other NSF awards to gain experiences in industry and other non-academic settings, preparing them for their careers.  In addition, NASA has announced a new collaboration in support of the NSF INCLUDES network. Over the coming months, NASA will work with the NSF INCLUDES community to better understand how NASA's unique assets can support the partners in the NSF INCLUDES network as they seek to broaden participation in STEM careers. As part of this effort, the NASA Advisory Council Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM education will be elevated to the status of a permanent, standing committee.

NSF Announces Support for STEM Workforce Development Utilizing Flexible Learning Environments -- NSF seeks new proposals and supplemental funding requests to existing awards that support flexible personalized learning to prepare the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce of the future. NSF envisions projects that collectively apply to all learners, from young children to those already in the workforce. In particular, NSF would like to support research that complements an anticipated future funding opportunity made possible by a gift from the Boeing Corporation, which was announced on September 24, 2018.  The Boeing gift established a partnership between NSF and Boeing to accelerate training in crucial skill areas for the future U.S. workforce. It will be used to support design, development, implementation, and analysis of online courses in model-based engineering, model-based systems engineering, mechatronics, robotics, data science and sensor analytics, program management, and artificial intelligence. These courses will use personalized learning systems to maximize their effectiveness for diverse learners.  More information, including how to respond to this NSF announcement, can be found here.

NIH to Restrict its R15 AREA Program to Undergraduate Institutions; Creates Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP) for Certain Graduate Schools -- The goal of NIH’s AREA program has been to support meritorious research while exposing undergraduates to research and strengthening the research environment of schools that have not been major recipients of NIH support. The AREA program has also supported graduate students at eligible schools, and students at eligible health professional schools.  As of January 2019, NIH is shifting its approach in the way it uses the R15 activity code. While NIH will continue to provide R15 research enhancement opportunities for health professional and graduate schools, the name, AREA, will be reserved for grants to undergraduate-focused institutions that do not receive substantial funding from NIH.

NIH will also offer R15 opportunities to support graduate schools of arts and sciences and health professional schools that grant baccalaureate or advanced degrees. This effort will be called the Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP). For these grants the applicant organization (all components) may not receive research support from the NIH totaling more than $6 million per year in total costs in 4 of the last 7 years.

Another change for 2019 involves how an institution determines eligibility and how that is reflected in the application. Since early this year the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, who historically has funded the majority of AREA projects, has been piloting the inclusion of a signed letter in the application from the Provost or similar official with institution-wide responsibility verifying the eligibility of the applicant institution at the time of application submission. The pilot has been successful and as of January 24, 2019, NIH will no longer maintain its list of institutions ineligible for R15 grants. For R15 applications submitted for due dates on or after February 25, 2019, NIH will rely on the institutional letter verifying eligibility that will be required in the application as part of the letters of support attachment.

Additional information on these NIH programmatic changes can be found here.