A Periodic Federal Science Update

Congress and the FY17 Continuing Resolution – With two days to spare until a potential Federal Government, Congress passed and the President has signed into law a stop-gap funding measure known as a continuing resolution (CR).  The CR provides funding for agencies to continue to carry out ongoing programs at a level close to last year’s level until December 9.  No new programs can be started under the CR.  The CR was held up initially by Senate Democrats who objected to the fact the CR contained no funding for the Flint, Michigan water crisis.  In the end an agreement was reached to deal with the Flint water crisis in the water resources bill that is currently up for negotiation between the House and Senate.  While most programs will have the authority to operate until December 9 at a rate equal to last year, most agencies will obligate funding a level below what is allowable due to the uncertainty associated with the FY17 funding situation.  Specific guidance is being issued by the various agencies.  House and Senate leaders are talking about combining a number of stand-alone appropriations bills into several so-called “minibuses” during the lame duck session that begins after the November elections in an effort to pass year long appropriations bills by the time the new CR expires.

GAO Testifies on Opportunities to Further Streamline Research Grant Administration – in a hearing before the House Research Subcommittee on September 29, the GAO concluded that selected administrative requirements in OMB’s government-wide grant guidance generally focus on protecting against waste, fraud, and abuse of funds; in contrast, the requirements in agency-specific guidance generally focus on promoting the quality and effectiveness of federally funded research. Selected universities and stakeholder organizations identified the following common factors that add to their administrative workload and costs for complying with the requirements: (1) variation in funding agencies’ implementation of requirements, (2) development of grant proposal documentation at a stage when details of a research project remain uncertain, and (3) recent policy reforms that resulted in certain requirements becoming more prescriptive. OMB and funding agencies’ streamlining efforts resulted in some reductions to universities’ administrative workload and costs for complying with selected requirements, but these reductions were limited.  More information is available here.

GAO Report on NIH Indirect Costs -- Research organizations that apply for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding participate in an indirect cost rate-setting process, which involves submitting a rate proposal; reviewing the proposal and having it audited by a third-party agency at the cognizant agency's request; and finalizing (negotiating) the rate for the organization. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have designated three primary cognizant agencies to set indirect cost rates for federal financial assistance funded by NIH:

·      HHS's Cost Allocation Services (CAS),

·      NIH's Division of Financial Advisory Services (NIH-DFAS), and

·      the Department of Defense's (DOD) Office of Naval Research (ONR).

These cognizant agencies are responsible for ensuring that negotiated indirect cost rates comply with OMB guidance and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), as applicable.

GAO found that while the three agencies had designed controls for setting indirect cost rates, deficiencies in the design of some of these controls could result in the waste of federal resources. The deficiencies GAO identified are as follows:

·      None of the three agencies has updated its internal guidance to reflect current OMB guidance or changes in agency requirements, such as documentation requirements.

·      ONR relies on audits by the Defense Contract Audit Agency to ensure the adequacy and         compliance of indirect cost proposals that it processes, but ONR has not included acceptable time frames in its internal guidance for when these audits are to be completed or what steps are to be taken when audits result in qualified opinions or when a prior audit opinion is rescinded.

·      All three cognizant agencies' internal guidance lacks detailed instructions to supervisors on their review responsibilities over the indirect cost rate process.

·      CAS and ONR have not developed internal guidance addressing differences in negotiating indirect cost rates with certain types of research organizations, such as universities and hospitals.

·      ONR and NIH-DFAS have not developed mechanisms to track key milestones for the indirect cost rate-setting process.

NOAA Announces Hurricane/Hazardous Weather Research Funding Opportunity – NOAA Research has released a funding opportunity from the NOAA OAR Office of Weather and Air Quality (OWAQ). There will be three separate competitions resulting from this announcement, one for each of the three high impact weather testbeds supported by OWAQ’s U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP):

·      Joint Hurricane Testbed (JHT),

·      Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT), and

·      the Hydrometeorology Testbed (HMT).

These funding competitions will focus on new applied research, development, and demonstration of high impact weather and water research. The ultimate goal would be NWS's transition of project outcomes to operational weather and water forecasting services in three to five years from now. The High Impact Weather Testbed program, a component of the USWRP, supports projects that transition applied research to operations and services through close collaboration with NOAA. Its focus is on mature projects that are ready or nearly ready to be tested in a NOAA quasi-operational forecasting environment through one of the above testbeds. It is in these testbeds where project outcomes, such as new data or products, improved analysis techniques, or better statistical or dynamic models and forecast techniques, will be presented to operational forecasters in a quasi-operational environment (a testbed) and evaluated for potential future implementation in the NWS forecast offices at the local, regional, and/or national center levels to improve services to the public.

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) is also announcing another separate federal funding opportunity that is a companion to this funding opportunity and similarly supports projects to transition new research to NWS operations through the Collaborative Science, Technology, and Applied Research (CSTAR) Program. The current OAR testbed funding opportunity supports mature projects that are ready or nearly ready for testbed collaborations and demonstrations, while testbed demonstrations are not required with the CSTAR funding opportunity.

NSF Announces Funding Opportunity for Infrastructure Management for Extreme Events (IMEE)—NSF’s IMEE program supports fundamental, multidisciplinary research on the impact of hazards and disasters upon civil infrastructure and society. The program is focused upon research on the mitigation of, preparedness for, response to, and recovery from multi-hazard disasters. Community and societal resilience and sustainability are important topics within the research portfolio of IMEE. The program is deeply multidisciplinary, integrating multiple perspectives, methods and results from diverse areas in engineering, social and natural sciences, and computing. Among these are civil, mechanical, transportation and system engineering; sociology, cognitive science and psychology, economics, geography, political science and urban planning; geology, biology and meteorology; and applied computing. Methodological innovations that span multiple, diverse disciplines are strongly encouraged. Topics within the scope of the program include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Mitigation research focusing upon issues such as the analysis of structural and non-structural mitigation effectiveness, local capacity building for risk reduction, and social and physical vulnerability analyses; 
  • Preparedness research focusing on warning, risk communication, evacuation, multi-hazard emergency planning, and the effectiveness of pre-disaster planning; 
  • Response research focusing on infrastructure interdependencies and cascading effects, innovation and improvisation, and the role of new and emerging communication and computing technologies; and
  • Recovery research examining links between disaster recovery and disaster mitigation, resilience metrics and models, resilience of interdependent infrastructure processes and systems, and social factors related to economic recovery and resilience.

Proposals in response to this solicitation are due by January 13, 2017.  More information on this funding opportunity can be found here

Capitol Hill Oceans Week – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has announced that the next Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW) will take place June 13 – 15, 2017.  This event will move from the Newseum, where it was held this year, to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington D.C.  To receive updates on this annual event subscribe to the NMSF mailing list here.

NSF Update on PREEVENTS Program -- The NSF Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) has supported, and continues to support, basic research in scientific and engineering disciplines vital to understanding these natural hazards and extreme events, through multiple core programs in the directorate as well as participation in cross-NSF activities like the Interdisciplinary Research in Hazards and Disasters (Hazards SEES) program. The Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events (PREEVENTS) program is designed as a logical successor to Hazards SEES and is one element of the NSF-wide Risk and Resilience activity, which has the overarching goal of improving predictability and risk assessment, and increasing resilience, in order to reduce the impact of extreme events on our life, society, and economy. PREEVENTS provides an additional mechanism to support research and related activities that will improve our understanding of the fundamental processes underlying natural hazards and extreme events in the geosciences.

PREEVENTS seeks projects that will (1) enhance understanding of the fundamental processes underlying natural hazards and extreme events on various spatial and temporal scales, as well as the variability inherent in such hazards and events, and (2) improve our capability to model and forecast such hazards and events. All projects requesting PREEVENTS support must be primarily focused on these two targets. PREEVENTS has a two track proposal system, with Track 1 proposals meant to support conferences that encourage new scientific directions in natural hazards and extreme events and Track 2 proposals for research projects in a multitude of sizes, with durations up to five years. Track 1 proposals are accepted at any time and are generally less than $50,000; interested PIs should contact the PREEVENTS team listed in the FAQ.  

To date, PREEVENTS has co-funded 34 proposals for a total of $9 million across all GEO divisions. The projects covered a wide range of natural hazards, including earthquakes, coastal erosion/flooding, severe thunderstorms/monsoons, volcanoes, space weather, sink holes, and extreme pollution. Through co-funding, PREEVENTS has enabled other GEO programs to support projects they might not otherwise have been able to; for instance, opening a door for early career scientists to be competitive.

NSF’s Emerging Frontiers in Engineering Research and Innovation -- The Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program of the NSF Directorate for Engineering serves a critical role in helping NSF focus on important emerging areas. This solicitation is a funding opportunity for interdisciplinary teams of researchers to embark on rapidly advancing frontiers of fundamental engineering research. For this solicitation, NSF is requesting proposals that aim to investigate emerging frontiers in the following two research areas:

  • Advancing Communication Quantum Information Research in Engineering; and
  • New Light, EM (Electronic) and Acoustic Wave Propagation: Breaking Reciprocity and Time-Reversal Symmetry

Additional information can be found here.