Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

Congress Reaches Agreement on Border Security Package; Sends Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY 2019 to the President – Earlier this week, House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on a border security package that includes $1.4 billion for physical barriers within an overall Homeland Security bill that totals $49.4 billion in regular spending plus additional funds set aside for future disaster-related emergencies.  The final bill also includes the six other domestic appropriations bills:  Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.  

The actual bill language for the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2019 can be found here.  The accompanying Joint Explanatory Statement for the entire FY 2019 consolidated appropriations bill can be found here.  A summary of selected science, technology, education, and conservation program funding decisions within these bills can be found here.  A summary of the entire consolidated appropriations bill, division by division, can be found here.

The House and Senate moved quickly to pass this omnibus appropriations measure and send it to the White House in advance of the expiration of the current continuing resolution set to expire at midnight on February 15.  Signing the omnibus appropriations measure into law provides funding to all the agencies covered in these seven bills for the balance of FY 2019.

Left out of the omnibus spending agreement for 2019 is a $12 billion disaster supplemental appropriations measure.  More than a dozen Senators from both parties have gone on record with Congressional leaders insisting that the disaster supplemental appropriations bill be put to a floor vote as soon as the Congress returns from a 10 day recess the week of February 25.

As for FY 2020, the Administration is expected to release its FY 2020 budget request beginning on March 11 with an overview.  More details are expected to be released the following week.

White House Issues Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence -- A new executive order signed by President Trump on February 11, 2019, is intended to maintain American leadership in artificial intelligence (AI) research and development (R &D).  The order directs certain federal agencies to pursue various strategic objectives to promote and protect American advancement in AI.  Those agencies are to be identified by the National Science and Technology Council Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence Select Committee.  In addition, any of such agencies that perform R&D are directed to make AI an R&D priority. Among other things, the executive order also: directs the heads of all federal agencies to “review their Federal data and models to identify opportunities to increase access and use by the greater non-Federal AI research community in a manner that benefits that community, while protecting safety, security, privacy, and confidentiality.”  More specifically, the agencies are directed to “improve data and model inventory documentation to enable discovery and usability, and [to] prioritize improvements to access and quality of AI data and models based on the AI research community’s user feedback”; directs the OMB Director, in coordination with other officials, to issue a memorandum to the heads of all agencies that (1) informs the development of regulatory and non-regulatory approaches by such agencies regarding technologies and industrial sectors that are either empowered or enabled by AI and advance American innovation, and (2) considers ways to reduce barriers to the use of AI.  A draft of the memorandum is to be issued for public comment before it is finalized; and directs the Secretary of Commerce, through the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to issue a plan for federal engagement in the development of technical standard and related tools in support of reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Holds Hearing on the State of Climate Science – On February 13, the House Science Committee under the chairmanship of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) held their first hearing of the new Congress focusing on the climate change the science underlying climate change.  Witnesses highlighted the impacts of warming temperatures: sea-level rise, extreme weather, the spread of pests and worsening human health.  They also called for additional research focused on assisting communities develop increased resiliency to better adapt to changing conditions, more support for enhanced modelling and predictive capabilities particularly in terms of seasonal forecasting, and additional research on the consequences of climate change with respect to human health.

The witnesses at the hearing were the leading experts who worked on the IPCC report on global warming and the National Climate Assessment released last year.  They were:  Dr. Natalie M. Mahowald, Irving Porter Church Professor of Engineering, Faculty Director for the Environment, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University; Dr. Robert Kopp, Director, Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, and Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University; Dr. Jennifer Francis, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center; Dr. Joseph Majkut, Director of Climate Policy, Niskanen Center; and Dr. Kristie L. EbiRohm & Haas Endowed Professor in Public Health Sciences, Director, Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHanGE) University of Washington.  Copies of the witnesses’ testimony and an archived video of the two hour hearing can be found here.

Chairman of House Natural Resources Committee Calls for Withdrawal of NOAA Administrator Nomination Over Sexual Harassment Settlement – Chairman Raul Grijalva of the House Natural Resources Committee called on the President to withdraw the nomination of Barry Myers to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Myers is the former chief executive of AccuWeather, which paid out a recently reported $290,000 settlement as part of an agreement that states the company subjected women to “sexual harassment and a hostile work environment” during his tenure.

NSF Releases Growing Convergence Research (GCR) Solicitation -- Growing Convergence Research (GCR) at the National Science Foundation was identified as one of 10 Big Ideas. Convergence research is a means for solving vexing research problems, in particular, complex problems focusing on societal needs. It entails integrating knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines and forming novel frameworks to catalyze scientific discovery and innovation. GCR identifies Convergence Research as having two primary characteristics: Research driven by a specific and compelling problem. Convergence Research is generally inspired by the need to address a specific challenge or opportunity, whether it arises from deep scientific questions or pressing societal needs; and Deep integration across disciplines. As experts from different disciplines pursue common research challenges, their knowledge, theories, methods, data, research communities and languages become increasingly intermingled or integrated. New frameworks, paradigms or even disciplines can form sustained interactions across multiple communities.

A distinct characteristic of convergence research, in contrast to other forms of multidisciplinary research, is that from the inception, the convergence paradigm intentionally brings together intellectually diverse researchers and stakeholders to frame the research questions, develop effective ways of communicating across disciplines and sectors, adopt common frameworks for their solution, and, when appropriate, develop a new scientific vocabulary. Research teams practicing convergence aim at developing sustainable relationships that may not only create solutions to the problem that engendered the collaboration, but also develop novel ways of framing related research questions and open new research vistas. The GCR solicitation targets multi-disciplinary team research that crosses directorate or division boundaries and is currently not supported by NSF programs, initiatives and research-focused Big Ideas. Proposers must make a convincing case that the research to be conducted is within NSF's purview and cannot be supported by existing NSF programs and multidisciplinary initiatives. NSF expects to have about $12 million available to support an estimated 10 awards. A copy of the NSF solicitation can be found here.

NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR): Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science Phase I (HDR TRIPODS Phase I) --  NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) Big Idea is a national-scale activity to enable new modes of data-driven discovery that will allow fundamental questions to be asked and answered at the frontiers of science and engineering. Through this NSF-wide activity, HDR will generate new knowledge and understanding, and accelerate discovery and innovation. The HDR vision is realized through an interrelated set of efforts in: Foundations of data science; Algorithms and systems for data science; Data-intensive science and engineering; Data cyberinfrastructure; and Education and workforce development.

Each of these efforts is designed to amplify the intrinsically multidisciplinary nature of the emerging field of data science. The HDR Big Idea will establish theoretical, technical, and ethical frameworks that will be applied to tackle data-intensive problems in science and engineering, contributing to data-driven decision-making that impacts society. Harnessing the Data Revolution: Transdisciplinary Research In Principles Of Data Science (HDR TRIPODS) aims to bring together the electrical engineering, mathematics, statistics, and theoretical computer science communities to develop the theoretical foundations of data science through integrated research and training activities. Phase I, described in this solicitation, will support the development of small collaborative Institutes. Phase II (to be described in an anticipated future solicitation, subject to availability of funds) will support a smaller number of larger Institutes, selected from the Phase I Institutes via a second competitive proposal process. All HDR TRIPODS Institutes must involve significant and integral participation by researchers representing at least three of the four aforementioned communities.

Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice Funding Opportunity for Research on Gangs and Gang Violence -- The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is seeking applications for the funding of research and evaluation projects that inform efforts to prevent and reduce gang activity, violence, and victimization in the United States.  NIJ is seeking applications for the funding of research and program evaluation projects that inform efforts to prevent and reduce gang activity, violence, and victimization in the United States. Gangs and gang members are responsible for a large amount of crime and violence in many localities; and are responsible for a disproportionate share in those communities most afflicted by crime and violence. NIJ will support scientifically rigorous research and evaluation projects designed to produce findings with high practical utility for youth and adult gang prevention, intervention, enforcement, or reentry strategies.  Applications are due by April 29, 2019.  More information on this funding opportunity can be found here.

Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice AI Funding Opportunity -- NIJ seeks proposals for innovative, investigator-initiated technology research and development (R&D) projects to apply advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to promote the successful reentry of offenders under community supervision. Ideally, the R&D funded through this solicitation will result in fielded AI solutions that remain in use with community supervision agencies at the completion of the project. Proposals are due by May 13, 2019.  The NIJ AI solicitation is available here.