Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

FY 2019 Appropriations Process Update – With the new fiscal year set to begin on October 1, Congress has been rushing to pass a number of pieces of legislation to fund the Federal Government.  For research programs in the Department of Energy, they are part of a so-called, “minibus” appropriations act that in addition to the Energy Department also includes funding for the Legislative Branch and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs.  In this minibus, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would receive a 5 percent funding increase for fiscal year 2019, bringing its total budget to $6.59 billion. The additional funding will advance work on exascale computing, user facility upgrades, and quantum information science, among other priority areas. The final conference report for this minibus was cleared for the President’s signature and presented to the White House on September 18th.  The White House has issued a statement indicating the President intends to sign this into law giving these agencies funding for all of FY 2019.

A second minibus containing USGS programs is in the Agriculture/Interior-EPA/Financial Services/Transportation-HUD bill for FY 2019.  House and Senate negotiators continue to meet in an effort to resolve their differences.  Media reports suggest that most of the funding issues have been resolved but a number of policy issues (controversial policy riders) have yet to be resolved.

A third minibus containing NIH and DOD R&D funding is in the Defense/Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Act.  Within this bill, defense basic research would increase by nearly 12%; applied research grows by 7%; and DOD science and technology grows by 8%.  The Labor-HHS-Ed portion of the bill includes $39.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of $2 billion, and $3.8 billion to combat the opioid crisis, an increase of $206 million.  

Attached to this minibus is a Continuing Resolution that will fund the rest of the Federal Government until December 7 at current levels.  The CR includes funding for the National Science Foundation, NASA, NOAA, NIST, the rest of the Department of Commerce, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Also in the CR is funding for the Department of Homeland Security which includes FEMA and border security programs.  The CR would also cover the various agencies in the other minibuses in case the Congress is unable to complete action on them by the start of the new fiscal year. The Senate passed the conference version of the minibus/CR on September 19th. The bill is now pending in the House which could take it up next week.

Nomination of Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier to be White House Science Advisor – On September 5 the full Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee gave voice vote approval for the nomination of Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier to be the next Science Advisor to the President.  The next step in the confirmation process will be a Senate vote which could come at any time as steps have been taken in the Senate to clear his nomination for final approval.  A number of other Administration nominees related to science and technology are awaiting Senate floor action in addition to Dr. Droegemeier, including James Morhard to be Deputy NASA Administrator; Barry Meyers to be NOAA Administrator; and Lane Genatowski to be the Director of DOE’s ARPA-E.

NSF Announces New Measures to Protect Against Harassment -- NSF has taken the next steps in its agency-wide effort to ensure the research and learning environments it supports are free from harassment, publishing a term and condition that requires awardee organizations to report findings and determinations of sexual harassment, as well as establishing a secure online portal for submitting harassment notifications.  On Sept. 21, 2018, NSF published a term and condition for awards, to become effective 30 days after publication, that will require awardee organizations to notify the agency of: any findings or determinations that an NSF-funded principal investigator or co-principal investigator committed harassment, including sexual harassment or sexual assault; and the placement of the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on administrative leave, or of the imposition of any administrative action relating to a harassment or sexual assault finding or investigation.  NSF will consult with the awardee organization, and determine what action is necessary under NSF's authority. NSF actions may include substituting or removing principal investigators or co-principal investigators, reducing award funding, and -- where neither of those options is available or adequate -- suspending or terminating awards. It is NSF policy that all personnel supported by NSF awards must comport themselves in a responsible and accountable manner during the award performance period at awardee institutions, field sites, facilities, conferences, workshops, online and everywhere NSF-funded science and education is conducted.  For details on the new requirements, see the NSF fact sheet.

 NIH Issues Statement on Sexual Harassment – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins issued a statement about the pervasive problem of sexual harassment in science and to reaffirm NIH’s commitment to address it.  Additionally, to increase the agency’s transparency on the issue, NIH launched a new, central website on its anti-sexual harassment activities that comprehensively outlines NIH policies, practices, and initiatives as both an employer and a funding agency to address sexual harassment wherever NIH-funded research activities take place.

NSF Issues Funding Opportunity for Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs -- NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) initiated the National Network of Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs (BD Hubs) program in FY 2015. Four Big Data Hubs (BD Hubs) Midwest, Northeast, South, and West were established. The BD Hubs provide the ability to engage local or regional stakeholders, e.g., city, county, and state governments, local industry and non-profits, and regional academic institutions, in big data research, and permit a focus on regional issues. These collaborative activities and partnerships play a critical role in building and sustaining a successful national big data innovation ecosystem. This new solicitation continues the operation of a national network of BD Hubs. It builds on demonstrated strengths of the program, which has grown to include a set of BD Spokes affiliated with the BD Hubs, and is responsive to the recent developments in data science. The BD Hubs will continue to nucleate regional collaborations and multi-sector projects, while fostering innovation in data science. The NSF BD Hubs program is aligned with NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) Big Idea. NSF has allocated an estimated $16 million to support successful proposals.  Proposals for this solicitation are due by December 18, 2018.

NOAA Awards More Commercial Weather Data Contracts -- NOAA has made a second round of awards under its commercial weather data pilot program.  Three companies — Spire, GeoOptics, and PlanetIQ — will provide space-based radio occultation data through July 31, 2019.  Congress directed NOAA to initiate the commercial weather data pilot program in the FY2016 appropriations act for the agency. NOAA submitted an implementation plan to Congress in the spring of 2016 and later awarded contracts to Spire and GeoOptics. The companies operate, or plan to operate, constellations of small satellites that use signals from the Global Positioning System (GPS) for radio occulation to make measurements of temperature and water vapor throughout the lower parts of the atmosphere. 

NOAA Announces Marine Debris Removal Funding Opportunity -- The NOAA Marine Debris Program has announced its FY19 “Marine Debris Removal” federal funding opportunity. Projects awarded through the removal grant competition will create long-term, quantifiable ecological habitat improvements for NOAA trust resources, with priority consideration for efforts targeting derelict fishing gear and other medium- and large-scale debris. Projects should also foster public awareness of the effects of marine debris to further the conservation of living marine resource habitats, and contribute to the understanding of marine debris composition, distribution and impacts.  The submission period for removal proposals will extend from August 20 - October 29, 2018. For more information on this FY19 grant opportunity see Grants.gov and the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s website.

DARPA Announces New Funding Opportunity in Artificial Intelligence -- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office (DSO) is issuing a Disruption Opportunity (DO) Special Notice (SN) inviting submissions of innovative basic or applied research concepts in the technical domain of artificial intelligence and game theory. In particular, DARPA is interested in understanding the feasibility of applying recent developments in these areas to complex military decision making in changing multi-agent environments with imperfect information. The goal of Serial Interactions in Imperfect Information Games Applied to Complex Military Decision-Making (SI3-CMD) is to demonstrate the feasibility of applying techniques from artificial intelligence, game theory, and decision sciences to complex military decision making. In particular, Phase 1 is intended to produce a detailed feasibility analysis and Phase 2 an initial pilot demonstration on a real or realistic problem that includes most if not all of the characteristics described in the Introduction.  Additional information regarding this DO can be found here.