Nomination Hearing for Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier for White House Science Advisor

Nomination Hearing for Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier for White House Science Advisor -- On August 23, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, chaired by Senator John Thune (R-SD), held a confirmation hearing that included the consideration of the President’s nomination of Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma, to be the next White House Science Advisor.  Dr. Droegemeier was warmly received by the Committee and was applauded by a number of Members for his help in the development of the last America COMPETEs bill.  He was also recognized for his comments that the Committee’s development of the bill – led by Senator Cory Gardner and Senator Gary Peters -- was a return to the development of science policy as a bipartisan issue.  During his testimony and the ensuring discussion with the Committee, Dr. Droegemeier highlighted the Administration’s science priorities contained in the most recent OMB-OSTP memorandum to the agencies including interagency coordination, regulatory reform, a strong world class academic enterprise, and efforts to ensure the integration of science to help solve pressing problems. In his discussions with various Senators during the hearing he stressed the importance of and pledged to keep science and scientists free from political interference. 

Along with the Committee, Dr. Droegemeier endorsed the importance of focusing on quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and advanced computing – for reasons that related to economic security, national security, and advancement in many fields of science.  During the questioning, he discussed the challenges the U.S. research enterprise faces on the international front – especially with China.  Dr. Droegemeier also stressed the importance of the social sciences to help in the integration of research advancements into societal applications – using as an example the integration of social sciences into severe storm warnings.  On the issue of climate, Dr. Droegemeier was clear that research along with modelling, observations, and data was vital to understanding near term weather issues as well as longer term climate challenges.  STEM education was stressed as was the importance of ensuring a work place free from sexual harassment.  The Chairman indicated a desire to mark up and report out the nomination, as early as next week.  More information on this hearing can be found here.

NIH Statement on Foreign Interference – On August 20, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH issued a Dear Colleague Letter expressing concerns about the integrity of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise.  His letter states, “…NIH is aware that some foreign entities have mounted systematic programs to influence NIH researchers and peer reviewers and to take advantage of the long tradition of trust, fairness, and excellence of NIH-supported research activities….” Dr. Collins cited three areas of concerning including: diversion of intellectual property; sharing of confidential information on grant applications; and failure by some researchers working at NIH-funded institutions to disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments.  NIH is working with other government agencies and the broader biomedical community to identify steps that can help mitigate these breaches of trust and confidentiality.  A copy of Dr. Collins’ Dear Colleague Letter can be found here.

White House CEQ Releases Summary of Inaugural Ocean Policy Committee Meeting -- The White House Council on Environmental Quality last week published a summary of the new interagency Ocean Policy Committee’s inaugural meeting on Aug. 1.  During the meeting the Committee established the Ocean Resource Management (ORM) Subcommittee and Ocean Science & Technology (OST) Subcommittee, pursuant to Sec. 4(b) of the June 2018 Executive Order on Ocean Policy.  The ORM Subcommittee will address ocean management-related regulatory and policy coordination, including through engagement with regional ocean partnerships and stakeholders, and, in furtherance of Sec. 5(c) of the June 2018 Executive Order, has been tasked to do the following: coordinate timely public release of unclassified ocean-related data and other information; conduct outreach to stakeholders such as regional ocean partnerships to identify local and regional data needs; and develop recommendations to streamline the release of unclassified federal data that addresses key regional data needs

The OST Subcommittee will address research and technology issues across agencies, with its functions performed by the existing National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (SOST), and, in furtherance of Sec. 5(d) of the June 2018 Executive Order, has been tasked to do the following: identify priority research and technology needs for federal agencies; and develop a recommended list of priority research and technology needs and propose a related implementation plan

The Committee also agreed to coordinate and support federal agency participation in the National Oceanographic Partnership Program, in support of Sec. 5(e) of the June 2018 Executive Order, with Committee members committing to work with NOPP to conduct outreach to stakeholders and develop recommendations for federal agency engagement. Lastly, the Committee talked about potential opportunities for interagency coordination, with NOAA presenting on potential actions to promote domestic aquaculture and several members highlighting the need to address marine debris issues and related legislation. The Committee expects to hold its next meeting in early December.

NOAA Announces Series of Public Meetings on Strategic Plan -- NOAA has announced that the agency will host a series of listening sessions around the country to provide information and receive stakeholder input on implementation of the Commerce Department’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan (including the development of priority objectives), with a focus on implementation of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, reducing the seafood trade deficit, supporting maritime commerce, fisheries, recreation, and tourism. The announcement notes that in carrying out the Strategic Plan, NOAA will work to help reduce extreme weather impacts in part through seasonal and sub-seasonal forecasts, expand marine aquaculture, reduce regulatory burdens for wild-caught fisheries, implement and enforce minimum standards for imported seafood, increased foreign market access for U.S. seafood products, expand precision maritime navigation products, increase ecotourism through the National Marine Sanctuaries Program, harness the deep sea through ocean exploration, and reenergize the National Oceanographic Partnership Program.  Meetings will take place as follows:

  • Thursday, Aug. 30: Norman, OK (topics: implementation of Weather Act)

  • Friday, Aug. 31: Juneau, AK (topics: reducing seafood trade deficit and promoting maritime commerce and tourism)

  • Monday, Sept. 10: St. Petersburg, FL (topics: advancing commercial/recreational fisheries, technology development, and tourism)

  • Wednesday, Sept. 12: Madison, WI (topics: implementation of Weather Act)

  • Tuesday, Oct. 4: Seattle, WA (topics: implementation of Weather Act)

  • Tuesday, Oct. 23: Charleston, SC (topics: improving efficiency of U.S. ports, reducing seafood trade deficit, and expanding exploration of EEZ)

  • Thursday, Nov. 1: Durham, NC (topics: implementation of Weather Act, reducing the seafood trade deficit, and ocean exploration)

  • Friday, Nov. 9: San Diego, CA (topics: improving efficiency of U.S. ports, promoting domestic aquaculture production, and expanding exploration of EEZ)

Senate Commerce Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Harmful Algal Blooms – On August 28, the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard will hold a hearing to examine the impact of recent harmful algal bloom events in the U.S. and provide an update on current research, technology and monitoring techniques.  Witnesses are expected to be:  Dr. Don Anderson, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Director of the Coastal Ocean Institute; Mr. Ivory Engstrom, Director of Special Projects, McLane Research Labs, Inc.; and Mr. Bryan Stubbs, Executive Director and President of the Board, Cleveland Water Alliance.  The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:30PM in Room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building. 

Dr. Karen Marrongelle Named as NSF’s new Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources – this week the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the selection of Dr. Karen Marrongelle to serve as Head of the Education and Human Resources Directorate, which supports fundamental research that enhances learning and teaching, and broad efforts to achieve excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, at all levels and in all settings.  Since 2014, Dr. Marrongelle has served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Portland State University, overseeing 24 departments and programs and 2,000 employees. During her tenure as dean, she has worked to implement student inclusivity measures, establish public-private partnerships to support research, and optimize the school’s use of grants from NSF and other funding organizations.  Dr. Marrongelle will begin her NSF appointment Oct. 1, 2018.  More information on Dr. Marrongelle can be found here.

DARPA Issues Funding Opportunity in Artificial Intelligence -- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is issuing an Artificial Intelligence Exploration (AIE) Opportunity, inviting submissions of innovative basic or applied research concepts in the technical domain of automated knowledge discovery, curation, and application. This AIE Opportunity is soliciting proposals to develop approaches to build, maintain, and reason over rich models of complex systems (physical, biological, social, engineered, or hybrid systems) by interpreting and exposing scientific knowledge and assumptions in existing model code and documentation, identifying new data and information resources automatically, extracting useful information (causal relations, correlations, context, parameters, etc.) from these sources, integrating this useful information into machine-curated expert models, and executing these models in robust ways.  Additional information regarding this funding opportunity can be found here.