A Periodic Federal Science Update

Dr. Neil Jacobs Nominated for Senior NOAA Position -- ccording to SpacepolicyOnLine.com , President Trump has nominated Neil Jacobs to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction.  The post would also put him in the second tier of NOAA’s leadership reporting directly to the Administrator.  Dr. Steven Volz, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Satellite and Information Services, is currently filling that spot on an acting basis. Dr. Jacobs is the Chief Atmospheric Scientist at Panasonic Avionics Corporation.  The White House statement explains that he directs R&D for the aviation weather observing program and numerical weather forecasts, and chairs the American Meteorological Society’s Forecast Improvement Group. He has dual B.S. degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of South Carolina, and an M.S. in air-sea interaction and a Ph.D. in numerical modeling from the University of North Carolina. The Administration has yet to nominate anyone to be Administrator of NOAA, but has nominated RADM Timothy Gallaudet (Ret.) to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Deputy Administrator of NOAA.  The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to vote on his nomination on October 4, then it must be voted on by the full Senate.

President Extends Charters of Key Advisory Committees via Executive Order – On September 29, the President Issued an Executive Order extending the terms of a number of advisory committees including the Presidential Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (which advises the President’s Science Advisor for which no nomination has yet been announced.  Other committees whose terms were extended until September 30, 2019 include: The National Medal of Science, the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee which reports to the Department of Commerce; and the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

NSF Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) Announces Reorganization – CMMI’s Infrastructure Management and Extreme Events (IMEE) program has changed to Humans, Disasters and the Built Environment (HDBE). IMEE will no longer accept proposals; active awards in IMEE will be managed by the HDBE Program Director and will remain eligible for supplements and extensions. The HDBE program supports fundamental, multidisciplinary research on the interactions between humans and the built environment within and among communities exposed to natural, technological and other types of hazards and disasters. The program seeks proposals that enrich understanding and explore implications of these interactions, whether through theoretical, methodological or empirical advances, thereby contributing to society's capabilities to learn from, prepare for and respond to hazards and disasters.

President Announces $200 Million STEM Education Initiative to be Managed by the Education Department – On September 25, the President released a Memorandum addressed to the Secretary of Education describing STEM education as a key priority of the Administration. “With the growing role of technology in driving the American economy, many jobs increasingly require skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) – including, in particular, Computer Science…As part of my Administration’s commitment to supporting American workers and increasing economic growth and prosperity, it is critical that we educate and train our future workforce to compete and excel in lucrative and important STEM fields…”  The President calls on the Department of Education to devote at least $200 million in grant funds per year for the promotion of high-quality STEM education, particularly Computer Science.

GAO Issues Report on NSF Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Indirect Costs -- For National Science Foundation (NSF) awards during fiscal years 2000 through 2016, budgeted indirect costs varied from 16 to 24 percent of the total annual amounts the agency awarded. The variation from year-to-year was based on various factors such as by the types of activities supported by the awards and the types of awardee organizations receiving the awards.  NSF has developed internal guidance for setting indirect cost rates (ICR) but has not consistently implemented this guidance and has not included certain details and procedures.  For example, NSF has not consistently implemented its guidance because it has not yet required NSF staff to follow aspects of its guidance, such as using a documentation checklist that NSF developed to verify that an awardee’s ICR proposal package is complete.  NSF did not include details on supervisory activities, such as the criteria to be used by the supervisor of the ICR process for assessing an ICR proposal’s risk level and mitigating risks at each level. And NSF did not include certain procedures, such as for implementing new provisions of federal guidance on setting ICRs. NSF officials described ways that staff implement procedures even though the procedures are not fully detailed or included in guidance. Nevertheless, with complete guidance that includes the missing details and procedures and that is consistently followed, NSF could better ensure that ICRs are set consistently and in accordance with federal guidance on indirect costs and with federal internal control standards.  The GAO report is available here