A Periodic Federal Science Update – June 17, 2016

Senate Begins Debate on FY17 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Bill – This week the Senate began to debate the FY17 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill.  This is the bill that provides funding for NSF, NOAA, and NASA; as well as the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Department of Commerce, and other agencies.  The bill is $563 million above the FY2016 enacted level, $1.6 billion above the President's budget request, and totals approximately $56.3 billion in discretionary spending -- the allocation provided by the Senate Appropriations Committee without including the President’s budget request for new mandatory spending.  

Not surprisingly the Senate floor debate begun this week centered on gun violence given the tragic events in Orlando and the fact that this bill contains funding for the FBI, counter-terrorism, law enforcement, and firearm issues.  Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT) took the Senate floor in the morning on June 15 suggesting he would hold up Senate business until the Senate was ready to enact stronger legislation on gun control such as amendment barring suspects on the terror watch list from buying guns.  Senator Barbara Mikulski and Senator Bill Nelson are sponsoring an amendment to add $175 million to the FBI budget to create 400 new positions to fight terrorism in light of the Orlando shooting.  The extra funding would be designated as emergency funding and thus not subject to the statutory limit for discretionary spending.  Votes on these and other matters will likely result in the floor debate on this bill continuing into next week.  Below is a summary of the NSF, NOAA, and NASA items contained in the Senate’s bill.

The Senate CJS bill funds the National Science Foundation at $46 million above the FY 2016 enacted level of $7.5 billion.  The additional funding will allow for the design and construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels (NSF had requested funding for two RCRV’s in its FY 2017 budget request).  The NSF research account is funded at $6.03 billion and the NSF education and human resources directorate is funded at $880 million – both are level with FY 2016.  The Committee’s report that accompanies this bill notes “funding is provided for basic research across all scientific disciplines (emphasis added) to support the development of effective Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM] programs and to grow the next generation of scientists.” “Across all scientific disciplines” is the Senate’s indication that they will support all of NSF’s research directorates, including the social sciences and geosciences.  

The Senate bill includes $5.7 billion for NOAA, a $33.5 million increase above the FY2016 enacted level for core NOAA operations including: ocean monitoring; fisheries management; coastal grants to states; aquaculture research; and severe weather forecasting. The National Sea Grant College program is funded at a total of $74 million of which $10 million is for marine aquaculture research.  The bill provides full funding for NOAA’s flagship weather satellites. With respect to COSMIC 2 microsatellite program, the Committee provided $8.1 million to support the ground reception and processing of radio occultation satellite data.  No funding was provided for the second set of sensors since NOAA has yet to identify a launch provider for the proposed second set of satellites.  The Committee did provide $3 million to support NOAA’s newly launched assessment and potential use of commercial data in NOAA’s weather modeling and forecasting through pilot purchases of commercial data and $2 million (not the $10 million requested) to establish NOAA’s new research to operations program called Research Transition Acceleration Program (RTAP).

The Senate bill funds NASA at $19.3 billion, or $21 million above the FY16 enacted level. The measure increases funding for NASA's exploration programs, but cuts funding for the Science Mission Directorate. Science would receive $5.4 billion, or $194 million below the FY16 enacted level. The Space Technology Directorate would be level-funded at $687 million.  

House Passes Research Bills Related to Information Technology and Major Research Facilities -- The House of Representatives this week passed two important research bills: the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD)Modernization Act of 2016 (H.R. 5312), introduced by Committee Member Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) and the NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act (H.R. 5049), introduced by Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.).  

The NITRD Modernization Act implements several important policies to help lead the way for future technological innovations and modernize the NITRD Program. The NITRD Program was originally authorized by the High Performance Computing Act of 1991. It is the federal government’s primary research portfolio on transformative high-end computing, high-speed networking, high capacity systems software, cybersecurity, and related advanced information technologies.  This legislation establishes a strategic planning and review process for the NITRD investment portfolio with clear metrics and objectives. Further, this bill works to improve interagency as well as government and private sector coordination and communication. H.R. 5312 also focuses the NITRD investment portfolio on areas of national interest and increasing importance like data analytics, privacy protection and human-computer systems.

The NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act improves the management and oversight of major multi-user research facilities funded by the National Science Foundation. This bill ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent with transparency and accountability. Last year, NSF Director France Córdova agreed to commission a study by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to take a closer look at how NSF could better manage large-scale projects. In February, the Committee heard from the NAPA study committee’s project director about 13 recommendations NAPA made to improve NSF’s management and oversight of cooperative agreements. H.R. 5049 incorporates recommendations made by the NSF Inspector General, auditors, NAPA, and the Science Committee. This bill enhances the role of the NSF Large Facilities Office (LFO) in project management, requires independent cost proposal analysis to ensure responsible construction budgets, requires incurred cost audits, increases agency control over contingency funds, and closes loopholes for management fees.

Appropriations Committees Act on the FY17 Interior-EPA Appropriations Bill – This week both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their respective versions of the FY17 Interior-EPA Appropriations Bill.  This legislation contains funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the Fish & Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and other related agencies.

On June 15 the full House Appropriations Committee met, marked up, and reported out this bill which provides a total of $32 billion for the Department of Interior, EPA and other related agencies.  For the U.S. Geological Survey, the bill provides $1.1 billion which is $18 million above the FY 2016 level.  Funding is targeted to programs dealing with natural hazards, stream gauges, the groundwater monitoring network, and mapping activities. The USGS 3DEP mapping programs is increased by $2.2 million over the FY16 level of $29.6 million.  Also included is $10 million for an earthquake early warning system to help save lives during natural disasters, and $6 million for the accelerated launch of “Landsat 9” – a satellite program that provides land use measurements that are important to local communities for agriculture, forestry, energy and water resource decisions.  The Land and Water Conservation Fund is reduced by $128 million to $322 million.  Within EPA, the bill contains a number of controversial policy riders including:  a prohibition on the EPA from implementing new greenhouse gas regulations for new and existing power plants, and the elimination of funding for greenhouse gas “New Source Performance Standards”; and a prohibition on the EPA from making changes to the definition of “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on June 16, met and marked up their version of this bill.  The Senate bill, which is $125 million below the FY16 level, recommends funding for programs that promote resource development on public lands and funding for important environmental and conservation programs.  For the USGS, the Senate bill recommends $1 billion, a $6 million increase over last year.  Within this amount the Senate is emphasizing energy and mineral resources, mapping, natural hazards, groundwater monitoring and stream gauges.  The bill provides the requested funding for Landsat 9.  The bill provides $292 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  The bill does not include the President’s proposal to create a $50 million grant program to improve coastal resiliency.  Like the House bill, the Senate bill contains a number of controversial policy riders including language that would prohibit EPA from implementing new greenhouse gas regulations; and language that delays efforts to strengthen ozone pollution standards.

NSF Director Proposes “Big” Ideas for Future Investments in Research – At the May meeting of the National Science Board, the NSF Director, Dr. France Cordova, briefed the Board on a set of major new research directions resulting from a strategic retreat held in April with NSF’s senior leadership.  The initiatives are divided into “research big ideas” and ‘process ideas”.  The NSF’s research ideas are: harnessing data; shaping the new human technology frontier; the rules of life; quantum leap – leading the next quantum revolution; navigating the new Arctic; and windows on the universe – the era of multi-messenger astrophysics.  The process ideas include:  convergent research; mid-scale research; and NSF 2050.  More details on each of these ideas can be found here.

NOAA Announces Next RESTORE Act Funding Opportunity -- The NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program has released its next federal funding opportunity (FFO-2017), which is focused on living coastal and marine resources and their habitats (click here for full announcement). This funding competition continues the Science Program’s commitment to producing timely and high-quality scientific findings and products to support the management and sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including its fisheries.  The funding competition has two priorities. A research priority directed at six specific areas of living coastal and marine resource research and a decision-support tool priority directed at improving the tools available for resource management.

Applicants must demonstrate clear connections to relevant management and restoration entities that will use the results of their proposed work. They must also define the specific steps they will use to ensure the application of their findings or the decision-support tool they develop. The amount of funding available in this competition will be up to approximately $17 million and the program anticipates funding between five and ten projects under the research priority and five to ten projects under the decision-support tool priority. Projects may be from one to three years in duration. Letters of intent are due by July 8, 2016 and the deadline for submitting a full application is September 27, 2016. Please see the full announcement for complete instructions on how to submit a proposal. Additional information about FFO-2017 including frequently asked questions can be found on the program’s website.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) Announces $8.5 Million Funding Opportunity for Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grants -- The principal objective of NMFS Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grants solicitation is to implement projects that use a proactive approach to improve or restore coastal habitat to: 1) strengthen the resilience of U.S. marine and coastal ecosystems and decrease the vulnerability of communities to extreme weather and 2) support sustainable fisheries and contribute to the recovery of protected resources. Applications submitted under this solicitation will be selected based on their ability to demonstrate how the proposed project will enhance the resiliency of U.S. marine and coastal ecosystems to the impacts of extreme weather and changing environmental conditions thereby increasing community resilience and improving habitat for species under NOAA jurisdiction. Applications are due by August 16, 2016.  More details are available here. Search for grant opportunity “NOAA-NMFS-HCPO-2016-2004840”.

Department of the Army Announces $80 Million Funding Opportunity for new Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ATB-MII) -- This new funding opportunity is to solicit proposals to initiate and sustain an Advanced Tissue Biofabrication MII (ATB-MII) as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).  The DOD to date has awarded six institutes (1) “America Makes – National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute” in 2012; (2) Lightweight and Modern Metals and  (3) Digital Manufacturing and Design in February 2014; (4) Integrated Photonics MII, now referred to as AIM Photonics in July 2015; (5) Flexible Hybrid Electronics, now referred to as NextFlex in August 2015, and (6) Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles, now referred to as the Advanced Functional Fabrics Of America (AFFOA) in April 2016.  This funding opportunity is for one of two planned FY17 DoD-led Institutes; the ATB-MII is the seventh DoD-led Manufacturing Innovation Institute.  The eighth DoD-led Manufacturing Innovation Institute will be announced under a separate FOA.  The Government intends for this funding to support the establishment of an ATB-MII to advance state-of-the-art tissue manufacturing innovations in cell and biomaterial processing, bioprinting, automation and non-destructive testing technologies. The motivation for the ATB-MII is to increase U.S. competitiveness in advanced tissue biofabrication manufacturing by encouraging insertion of disruptive technologies into multiple biotechnology sectors, streamlining integrated testing technologies and ultimately reducing the barrier to entry for new inventors.  There is a two-step process to apply for this program.  Additional details are available here and at www.grants.gov

The National Microbiome Initiative -- the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has announced a new National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) to foster the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystems. The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function. The goals of the NMI:  Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems; Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data; and Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science, public engagement, and educational opportunities.

The NMI builds on strong and ongoing Federal investments in microbiome research, and will launch with a combined Federal agency investment of more than $120 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and 2017 funding for cross-ecosystem microbiome studies. This includes:
The Department of Energy -- $10 million in new funding in FY 2017 to support collaborative, interdisciplinary research on the microbiome;

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) -- $12.5 million in new funding over multiple years to expand microbiome research across Earth’s ecosystems and in space;
  • The National Institutes of Health -- an additional $20 million into microbiome research in grants in FY 2016 and FY 2017 with a particular emphasis on multi-ecosystem comparison studies and investigation into design of new tools to explore and understand microbiomes; 
  • The National Science Foundation -- $16 million in FY 2017 for microbiome research that spans the spectrum of ecosystems, species, and biological scales; and 
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture – at least $15.9 million for FY 2017 to expand computational capacities for microbiome research and human microbiome research through the Agricultural Research Service, and approximately $8 million for FY 2017 to support investigations through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the microbiomes of plants, livestock animals, fish, soil, air, and water as they influence food-production systems.

Department of Commerce Seeks Nominations to Census Scientific Advisory Committee – The Bureau of the Census within the Department of Commerce is seeking nominations for the Census Scientific Advisory Committee.  This committee advises the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau on the uses of scientific developments in statistical data collection, statistical analysis, survey methodology, geospatial analysis, econometrics, cognitive psychology, and computer science as they pertain to the full range of Census Bureau programs and activities (including: Communications, decennial, demographic, economic, field operations, geographic, information technology, and statistics).  The Census Scientific Advisory Committee provides scientific and technical expertise from the following disciplines: Demography, economics, geography, psychology, statistics, survey methodology, social and behavioral sciences, information technology and computing, marketing, communications, and other fields of expertise to address Census Bureau program needs and objectives. This expertise is necessary to ensure that the Census Bureau continues to provide relevant and timely statistics used by federal, state, and local governments as well as business and industry in an increasingly technologically-oriented society.  More information on submitting nominations for this committee can be found here.  Nominations are due by July 15, 2016.

Dr. Anthony Janetos to Chair NSF’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Research and Education -- Dr. Anthony (Tony) Janetos will serve as the next Chair of NSF’s Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC ERE) beginning on October 1, 2016.  Dr. Janetos is a recognized leader in environmental research, education, and policy. He is currently the Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, and has served as the Director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland. He has held executive leadership positions at a number of institutions and agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the World Resources Institute, and the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment.  He also has an extensive record of service, participating on numerous boards and advisory committees, including the Board on Atmospherics Sciences and Climate of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Department of Energy's Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee. Dr. Janetos has been a member of the AC ERE since he was first appointed in March 2011.  Dr. Janetos becomes the new chairman as Dr. David Skole, Professor of Global Ecology, Remote Sensing and GIS at Michigan State University and the outgoing chairman, steps down after 10 years of service on this advisory committee.