A Periodic Federal Science Update – May 27, 2016

House Appropriations Committee Reports Out FY17 Appropriations for NSF, NOAA, and NASA:  On May 24, the full House Appropriations Committee marked up and reported out the FY17 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill which contains funding recommendations for NSF, NOAA, and NASA as well the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, and other agencies. This summary is similar to the provided in the May 18th Federal Science Update except it reflects the results the May 24th full committee mark up.

Overall, the bill funds the Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other related agencies.  The legislation contains $56 billion in total discretionary funding, an increase of $279 million over fiscal year 2016 and $1.4 billion above the President’s request for these programs. The bill targets these increases to programs of national importance, such as federal law enforcement, national security (including cybercrime and counter-terror activities), economic development, illegal drug efforts, trade enforcement, and space exploration programs.  

National Science Foundation (NSF):  The bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.4 billion, which is $57 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $158 million below the President’s request.  Research and Related Activities is increased by $46 million targeted to programs that foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience and STEM education. Reductions are made in equipment and construction costs.

The bill funds the NSF Research and Related Account at $6 billion – an increase of $46 million over FY 2016.  NSF had sought an increase of about $100 million in discretionary funding.  Within the funds provided the Committee calls on NSF to fund the Experimental Program to Stimulate Research at $170.7 million, the BRAIN initiative at $146.9 million, and $48 million for the International Ocean Drilling Program.

Rep. Honda offered and the withdrew an amendment at the full committee mark up to add over $500 million to the NSF research account – an amount that would have resulted in a $6 billion research account.  Rep. Honda did not have the required offset so he made the case for increasing NSF’s research account and then withdrew the amendment.  He offered and withdrew a similar amendment to increase the NASA earth science research program.

There is no language in the report restricting the funding of the geosciences or the social sciences as there was last year.  Directorate funding decisions would be made by NSF pending the outcome of the FY 2017 appropriations process.  The report directs NSF to allocate sufficient support to its national research facilities such as the current academic fleet, its Federally Funded Research and Development Centers and its high performance computing centers to enable the conduct of cutting edge research.  The Committee also calls on NSF to submit a five-year schedule for the deployment of the academic fleet that maximizes research opportunities in a cost effective and transparent manner.

The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account is funded at $87.1 million, $106 million below the request.  The reduction comes the Committee’s proposal to eliminate funding requested for two new regional class research vessels.  The Education and Human Resources account is funded at $880 million, level with FY 2016.  A total of $35 million is provided for the I-Corp program – a $5 million increase of FY 2016.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):  The bill funds NOAA at $5.6 billion, which is $185 million below the enacted level and $268 million below the President’s request. Funding is targeted to the National Weather Service, which receives $1.1 billion – $12 million above the President’s request.  The bill also includes full funding for the continuation of the current Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program to help maintain and improve weather forecasting to warn communities about potentially devastating natural disasters. 

Under the Committee’s recommendations, the National Ocean Service (NOS) operations will be funded at $475.14 million.  The Committee is providing $139.570 million for navigation, observations and positioning ($4 million below the request and nearly $10 million below FY 2016 and the Senate’s recommendation); $31.5 million for integrated ocean observing regional system observations; and $25 million for hydrographic survey contracts.  

The Committee rejects the proposed termination of the Regional Modeling Grant program and the proposed decrease for hydrographic research and technology development.  There is $70 million for coastal science, assessment, response and restoration and $9 million for related competitive external research.  The Committee is recommending $65 million for CZM grants ($10 million below FY 2016); $26 million for the coral reef program; $49 million for sanctuaries and marine protected areas; and $20.5 million for the National Estuarine Research Reserve system ($2.5 million below FY16).

The Committee’s report, under the IOOS program, urges NOAA to examine ways to increase the use of autonomous gliders and procure additional gliders as appropriate.  The Committee encourages NOAA to pursue innovative bathymetric technology to support the hydrographic surveying program.  The Committee urges the marine debris program to continue to reduce and prevent plastic debris from entering the oceans.  On harmful algal blooms the Committee calls out its concern for harmful algal blooms especially in the Great Lakes and supports the work of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science on Harmful Algal Blooms.  Within the competitive external research program, the Committee calls for a focus on the conservation of corals and coral reef ecosystems within U.S. waters.

Under the Committee’s recommendations for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a total of $860.8 million is recommended for NMFS operations including $3.5 million for aquaculture (compared to $6.3 million in FY 2016); a directive to maintain funding for marine mammal stranding grants (Prescott program); $10 million is provided for competitive awards to develop and implement agency-independent innovative strategies to improve research, monitoring, and stock assessments of reef fish (such as red snapper) in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) is to be funded at $435.6 million for operations, research, and facilities ($26 million below FY 2016) – including a 20% reduction to climate research with funding proposed to decline from the FY 2016 level of $158 million to $128 million in FY 2017.  NOAA is encouraged to fund academia to perform independent climate model evaluation studies to enable the production of atmospheric data sets from satellite observations.  

Weather and air chemistry research is increased by $15 million over last year for a total of $118.158 million with encouragement to continue research efforts that lead to advances in observational, computing, and modeling capabilities to deliver improvements in weather forecasting and to accelerate this research into operations.  The U.S. Weather Research Program is funded at $8 million, the same as in FY 2016, instead of the requested $16.1 million.  No funding or language regarding the proposed new airborne phased array radar (APAR) program is included in the Committee’s report.  The Senate report provided $4.6 million for APAR in its recommendations.

The Joint Technology Transfer Initiative, begun last year with $6 million is to be increased to $17 million.  The Committee did not provide any of the $10 million requested for the new Research Transition Acceleration Program (RTAP).  

The Committee registered its support for the Multi-Function Phased Array Radar (MPAR) and calls for NOAA to maintain its role in MPAR research.  The Vortex-SE initiative, which focuses on development of better understanding of tornadoes in the southeastern United States is to continue at no less than the FY16 level rejecting the Administration’s proposal to terminate funding for Vortex-SE.

For the National College Sea Grant program, $64 million is provided for base funding for Sea Grant and $2 million is provided for marine aquaculture for a total of $66 million.  This reverses the Administration’s proposed reduction in base funding for Sea Grant and restores it to the FY 2016 level.  The recommendation for marine aquaculture is $7 million below the FY 2016 level.  Within the Sea Grant funding recommendation, the Committee provides $1 million for a competitive award to develop advanced technology for open ocean agrarian mariculture in America’s Exclusive Economic Zone.  The Committee encourages Sea Grant to award competitive grants to address management of the invasive species lionfish.

For the National Weather Service, the Committee is recommending $988.8 million in NWS operations, $12.3 million above the budget request including:

• $223 million for observations;

• $98.4 million for central processing;

• $485.9 million for analyze, forecast, and support;

• $49.6 million for dissemination; and

• $132 million for science and technology integration.

The Committee rejects the proposed elimination of the tsunami hazard mitigation program.  Within the funding for Science and Technology Integration, the Committee supports the proposed increase for an integrated approach to move from research to operations.

Within the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), the Committee provides $58.2 million for the six regional National Centers for Environmental Information which are to be funded at no less than their current operating level.  On the issue of the commercialization of spectrum, the Committee notes the high value of spectrum assignments, and encourages NOAA to consolidate spectrum holdings where appropriate to report to the Committee within 30 days of this bill’s enactment on NOAA’s plans to make spectrum available for auction.

For NOAA education the Committee includes $24.4 million which is $8 million above the request.  Within these funds $14.4 million is provided to continue the Educational Partnership program with Minority Serving Institutions; and $5 million is provided to continue the B-WET regional programs.

Within the procurement account the Committee is providing $370 million for the Polar Follow-On project (level with FY16 and $23 million below the request) and $2.5 million for Space Weather Follow-on.

COSMIC 2 is funded at $16.2 million and $6 million is provided for a Commercial Weather Data Pilot program.  Within COSMIC 2, NOAA is directed to prioritize competitively purchased commercial weather data as a method to acquire new radio occultation data.  NOAA is directed to submit a plan for COSMIC 2 which includes a thorough review of the potential for commercial radio occultation data sources.  If the plan proposes moving forward with additional COSMIC 2 satellites, the plan is to include the total cost to the U.S. Government of developing, procuring, launching and operating COSMIC 2, including a launch plan identifying which agency would incur the launch costs.  Funds for COSMIC 2 are not available for obligation until NOAA submits this plan to the Committee.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):  NASA is funded at $19.5 billion which is $223 million above FY 2016.  Within in this total is $5.6 billion for Science of which $1.6 billion is for earth science and $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion for planetary science.  NASA education totals $115 million under the Committee’s recommendation.  Other NASA funding recommendations in the bill include:  $4.2 billion for Exploration – $153 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. This includes funding to continue the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System flight program and related ground systems. $5.6 billion for NASA Science programs – $8 million above the 2016 enacted level and $295 million above the President’s request. This targets funding to planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics to ensure the continuation of critical research and development programs, while reducing funding for lower-priority research.

Administration Issues Strategic Plan for Big Data – On May 23, 2016 the Administration released  The Federal Big Data Research and Development Strategic Planwhich highlights emerging Big Data capabilities and provides guidance for developing or expanding Federal Big Data research and development (R&D) plansThis Plan is based on a shared vision:  a Big Data innovation ecosystem in which the ability to analyze, extract information from, and make decisions and discoveries based upon large, diverse, and real-time datasets enables new capabilities for Federal agencies and the Nation at large; accelerates the process of scientific discovery and innovation; leads to new fields of research and new areas of inquiry that would otherwise be impossible; educates the next generation of 21st century scientists and engineers; and promotes new economic growth.

NSF Seeking Community Input on Advanced Cyberinfrastructure:  NSF is undergoing a review of its cyberinfrastructure program and is seeking input from the community on a number of key questions, including: Based on the data and trends available here, your interactions with ACI Division, and in the context of NSF's overall mission, indicate the extent to which ACI's current role within NSF supports and anticipates the cyberinfrastructure needed by science and engineering research communities;  Based on the data and trends available at that same link, and your interactions with ACI Division, what additional improvements can you suggest to further ACI's role and contribution to research cyberinfrastructure in support of NSF's mission; and Are there particular positive or negative trends that, in your opinion, arise directly from the realignment of the Office of Cyberinfrastructure within CISE?  Read the entire NSF Dear Colleague on Advanced Cyberinfrastructure here.

Senate Defense Authorization Bill Includes Manufacturing Universities Program:  The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act recently, which included Senator Coon's bipartisan proposal to help U.S. universities strengthen their engineering programs to meet the demands of the modern manufacturing industry. Manufacturing Universities authorizes the Defense Department to support industry-relevant, manufacturing-focused, engineering training at U.S. universities.  Institutions would be selected through a competitive grant-based process and would be required to better align their educational offerings with the needs of modern U.S. manufacturers. The legislation now heads to the full Senate for consideration. 

Manufacturing Universities would establish a program within the Department of Defense charged with designating schools as ‘Manufacturing Universities.’ Designated schools would receive federal grant funding to meet specific goals, including focusing engineering programs on development of industry-relevant advanced manufacturing skills, building new partnerships with manufacturing firms, growing hands-on training opportunities for students, and fostering manufacturing entrepreneurship. The program would be run by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, The National Institute of Standards and Technology, The Department of Energy, and the Department of Education. 

The original bipartisan standalone legislation S. 771 had envisioned the program as being administered by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce.  The current proposal will have this program administered by DOD. 

National Science Board Elects New LeadershipFor the first time in National Science Foundation (NSF) history, women hold the positions of director and National Science Board(NSB) chair, and vice chair. During its May meeting, the board, which serves as the governing body for NSF, elected Maria Zuber, vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as chair and Diane Souvaine, vice provost for research at Tufts University, as vice chair. They replace Dan Arvizu and Kelvin Droegemeier, who both rotated off the board after serving 12 years, the last four as chair and vice chair, respectively.  

NSF Report – Strategic Framework for Investments in Graduate Education FY2016-FY2020:  NSF has issued a new report outlining major goals for investing in graduate education over the next five years.  The development of this strategic framework is in response to a request from the Office of Management and Budget. Get the report here.

DARPA Transformative Design Program:  The Defense Sciences Office (DSO) at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting innovative ideas to transform design, enabling designs that are unimaginable today. DSO is specifically interested in fundamental research to develop new mathematics and algorithms that enable full incorporation of new materials and fabrication methods in design. Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in design. Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice.  Get the program announcement here.