A Periodic Federal Science Update

Chairman Lamar Smith Announces Retirement from Congress – Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, announced last week that he would not run for re-election in 2018 after serving 32 years in the Congress.  Rep. Smith’s retirement and House term limits for committee chairmanships, will open up the chairmanship of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee at the start of the new Congress in January 2019.  Possible candidates to be the next Chairman of the House Science Committee include Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL).

U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) Releases Climate Science Special Report– Last week, the Administration released the fourth National Climate Assessment reportmandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990.  The report concludes: Global annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1.8°F (1.0°C) over the last 115 years (1901–2016). This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. The last few years have also seen record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes, and the last three years have been the warmest years on record for the globe. These trends are expected to continue over climate timescales….This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence…

NSF Announces Recruitment for new Assistant Director for Biological Sciences -- The National Science Foundation is initiating a national search for the Assistant Director for Biological Sciences (BIO). NSF seeks assistance in the identification of candidates to lead the Directorate during the coming years. The next Assistant Director will have opportunities to shape future research and education in the biological sciences as well as ensure that BIO is a key participant in NSF’s expanding efforts to support convergence research.  The Assistant Director, BIO, manages a budget of approximately $750.0M and a portfolio comprising the various fields of biology, including the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI), the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS), the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), and the Emerging Frontiers Office (EF). Dr. Roger Beachy, National Science Board member and Professor at Washington University in St. Louis will Chair the Search Advisory Committee. NSF is looking for candidates with the following qualifications: outstanding leadership; a deep sense of scholarship; and a grasp of the issues facing the biological sciences, especially in the areas of education and fundamental research.  Recommendations should be submitted to the AD/BIO Screening Committee via e mail (biosrch@nsf.gov) or at the following address: National Science Foundation, Office of the Director, 2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria, VA, 22314.  NSF requests that recommendations be submitted by November 10, 2017.  Additional information can be found here.

National Academies Releases Report:  Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth’s Climate -- A recently released report from the National Academies’ Ocean Studies Board, Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth’s Climate, highlights the need for and challenges in setting up regular, consistent, and long-term collection of ocean observations to determine how Earth’s climate is changing and will change into the future. A public briefing on November 14th featuring the study’s co-chairs, Mary Glackin of The Weather Channel and Robert Weller of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, will be held to discuss the report.  More information on this webinar can be found here.

Nominations for NASA Administrator and DOC/NOAA Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observations and Prediction Move Forward – With a party line vote of 14–13, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the nomination of Rep. James Bridenstine to the by the next NASA Administrator.  In answers to post-hearing questions, Rep. Bridenstine responded to a question regarding his support for NASA earth sciences posed by Senator Todd Young in the following way:  “I support NASA’s Earth Science mission.  As a Representative from and resident of the state of Oklahoma, I have a keen appreciation for the role space plays in helping us save lives, protect property, and produce energy and food. NASA’s Earth Science mission is critical to facilitating these activities, both through the programs that NASA operates itself as well as acting as the procurement agent for NOAA’s weather satellites. If confirmed, NASA will continue to follow the guidance of the Earth Science decadal surveys and I will advocate within the Administration and with Congress to see that the agency is able to carry out the recommendations of those decadal surveys.” Rep. Bridenstine responded to numerous other post-hearing questions, all of which can be found here.

Dr. Neil Jacobs nomination to be NOAA’s Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observations and Predictions, was favorably reported out of the same committee yesterday on a voice vote.  In a series of additional post-hearing questions and answers, Dr. Jacobs discusses his views on NOAA use of commercial data, use of unmanned systems to improve forecasts, NOAA’s GOES-R and JPSS satellite programs.  Read Dr. Jacobs’ answers to these and other questions here.

Senate floor action on the disposition of these nominations is the next step in their confirmation process.  A date for Senate action has not yet been released.

SECURE Act Approved by House Resources Committee Along Party Lines – Earlier this week the House Resources Committee approved legislation to increase energy development on public lands and waters by reducing federal regulations, streamlining the permitting process and creating a revenue-sharing partnership with coastal states.  This legislation includes a provision that revokes the President’s authority to designate new national marine monuments and prevents the President from blocking areas of the outer continental shelf from oil and gas drilling.  The bill also contains changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act making it easier to obtain necessary approvals from the Department of Interior with respect to the taking of marine mammals.  Additional details on this legislation can be found here.