Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

Senate Starts Work on FY20 Appropriations Bills as Congress Returns – Funding Deadline Looms -- Congress has until October 1 to fund the government in order to avoid a shutdown.  Most believe Congress will enact a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to extend current spending levels. Though the House has passed 10 of its 12 annual funding bills, the Senate has yet to pass any of their FY 2020 appropriations bills as they waited until a deal was reached to re-set the spending caps for FY 2020 and FY 2021.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has started to mark up some of their bills this week as they marked up the Defense Appropriations Bill and the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.  The Labor-HHS-Education bill and State-Foreign Operations were postponed.  The Commerce-Justice-Science bill and the Interior-EPA bill are expected to be marked up during the week of September 23.  In the meantime, the House has taken initial steps towards passing a Continuing Resolution which will be needed when current funding expires on October 1.

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NOAA Hurricane Forecast for Dorian Caught in its Own (Twitter) Storm – According to numerous press reports the President did not appreciate that the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Alabama had issued a tweet apparently contradicting his own tweet regarding the path of Hurricane Dorian.  The President’s tweet indicated the hurricane might strike Alabama.  The NWS Birmingham office said Dorian would not hit Alabama.  This led to a series of events, some of which are in dispute, where the White House apparently asked the Department of Commerce to have NOAA retract the Birmingham tweet.  In a statement posted on the NOAA website on September 6, NOAA criticized the National Weather Service’s Birmingham office for issuing a definitive tweet on September 1 that there would not be “any” impacts from Dorian in the state.  Some press reports suggest that White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney ordered the Secretary of Commerce to have NOAA address the issue.  Additional reports suggest that Secretary Ross called for the firing of NOAA policy officials if the NOAA leadership failed to take the action requested.  Both of these allegations have been denied by the respective parties.

This incident has led to a number of investigations being initiated including one by the NOAA Chief Scientist to determine if the matter violated NOAA’s scientific integrity policy; one by the Department of Commerce Inspector General; and one by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  Statements expressing serious concerns with NOAA’s actions and/or in strong support for the work of the NWS have been issued by the American Meteorological Society, former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Richard Spinrad, former NOAA Science Advisor and currently the President of the Marine Technology Society, and Andrew Rosenberg former NOAA Deputy Director for NMFS currently with the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others.

Acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs appeared before the annual meeting of the National Weather Association in Huntsville, Alabama earlier this week, in which he addressed the situation candidly in an effort to begin to heal the rift this situation has created within the weather enterprise. 

NSF Announces Funding Opportunity for Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) – NSF has released its latest program announcement offering up to $53 million to support research and related activities in cybersecurity and privacy, in one or more of the following areas: computing, communication and information sciences; engineering; education; mathematics; statistics; and social, behavioral, and economic sciences. Proposals that advance the field of cybersecurity and privacy within a single discipline or interdisciplinary efforts that span multiple disciplines are each welcome.  More information on this NSF funding opportunity can be found here.

USGS Awards More Than $12.5 Million for Earthquake Early Warning System -- The U.S. Geological Survey has awarded more than $12.5 million to seven universities and a university-governed non-profit to support operation, improvement and expansion of the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system for the West Coast of the United States. The awards are for the first year of a new set of two-year cooperative agreements with the California Institute of Technology; Central Washington University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Oregon; the University of Washington; the University of Nevada, Reno; UNAVCO, Inc.; and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich). Additionally, the USGS has purchased about $1.5 million in new sensor equipment to expand and improve the ShakeAlert system. These efforts, as well as other operation, improvement and expansion work that the USGS is conducting, are the result of $21.1 million in funding to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program for ShakeAlert approved by Congress earlier this year.

These new agreements include work to incorporate real-time GPS observations into ShakeAlert. The USGS and its university and nonprofit partners will also further the development of scientific algorithms to rapidly detect potentially damaging earthquakes, more thoroughly test the warning system, and improve system performance. In addition, sensor networks will be upgraded and new seismic stations will be installed to improve the speed and reliability of the warnings. The ShakeAlert partners will also continue user training and education efforts, in collaboration with state and local partners, and add more ShakeAlert pilot users. In 2018, the USGS estimated that it would cost $39.4 million in capital investment to complete the ShakeAlert system on the West Coast to the point of issuing public alerts, and $28.6 million each year to operate and maintain it. This is in addition to current support for seismic and geodetic networks.

DOE Seeks Nominations for its New National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee – The Department of Energy (DOE) is establishing the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee as authorized in the National Quantum Initiative Act. The Committee will provide advice and recommendations to the President, Secretary of Energy, and the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science (SCQIS) on the National Quantum Initiative (NQI). This advice will include assessments of trends and developments in quantum information science and technology (QIST), implementation and management of the NQI, whether NQI activities are helping to maintain United States leadership in QIST, whether program revisions are necessary, what opportunities exist for international collaboration and open standards, and whether national security and economic considerations are adequately addressed by the NQI. Nominations for members must be received by October 4, 2019.  More information on the Committee and the nomination process can be found here

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) Releases New Report Prioritizing Productivity in Federal R&D Policy to Drive Growth – On September 12, the ITIF released a new report entitled Why Federal R&D Policy Needs to Prioritize Productivity to Drive Growth and Reduce the Debt-to-GDP Ratio.  The report lays out a productivity-focused agenda for federal science and engineering research and analyzes the effect it will have on GDP growth and the federal budget.  According to ITIF, the greatest driver of economic progress since the industrial revolution has been the development and adoption of new technologies, especially technologies that boost productivity. Historically, federal funding for scientific and engineering research has played a key role in this process. But government spending on research and development (R&D) has fallen significantly as a share of GDP over the last 40 years, and current R&D is not focused on advancing technologies that drive productivity. To get back on track, Congress and the administration should make boosting productivity an explicit mission for federal R&D and devote more direct and indirect funding to R&D that is focused on developing technologies for that purpose. Because of the growth it will induce and the tax revenues that will generate, expanding productivity-focused federal research spending will play a key role in reducing the future debt-to-GDP ratio. ITIF makes the following recommendations in their new report: 

  • Congress should expand the rate of the Alternative Simplified Credit for research from 14 percent to at least 25 percent.

  • Congress should expand federal funding for R&D by $40 billion a year and target it to enhancing productivity.

  • Congress should allocate a share of this additional funding to industry R&D consortia to support productivity-enhancing R&D, using the current Manufacturing USA Institutes as a model.

  • Congress should direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a program whereby they award $1 million per year for five years to the top 200 or so academic researchers doing work in areas that would boost productivity, such as artificial intelligence and robotics.

  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should craft a national research roadmap for key productivity-enhancing technologies.

  • OSTP should task all federal agencies that fund research with conducting an analysis of where their research investments can have the largest impact on productivity.

  • Congress should require OSTP to establish multiagency, productivity-related R&D initiatives to identify not only key areas of R&D that have a significant potential impact on productivity, but also future areas of promise and areas where cross-agency coordination is needed.

  • Congress should use this information to guide budget allocations, increasing funding for agencies that better demonstrate that their R&D efforts boost productivity.

ITIF believes that if these increases in productivity-focused R&D boost productivity from the 1.4 percent growth projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to 3.4 percent a year (a rate similar to the one enjoyed in the 1960s when federal R&D was a much higher share of GDP than today), this rate would add $1.2 trillion per year in net federal revenues in 2039. It would reduce the projected annual deficit in 2039 from $2.6 trillion to $1.3 trillion. And it would reduce the projected debt-to-GDP ratio from 176 percent to 92 percent.

Finally, the report reviews and rejects seven possible issues and concerns with such a policy thrust, including (1) we cannot afford the investment; (2) it is government picking winners; (3) it will hurt the nation’s basic science system; (4) eliminating tasks through productivity growth does not increase GDP; (5) there is nothing government can do to increase long-term growth rates; (6) growth is no longer possible; and (7) this will hurt workers and lead to higher levels of unemployment.