A Periodic Federal Science Update

NSF Testifies on FY 2018 Budget Before House Appropriations Subcommittee – On June 7, Dr. France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) testified before the House Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Representative John Culberson (R-TX).  NSF’s budget request for FY 2018 is about 11% below the level appropriated for FY 2017.  During the hearing, Dr. Cordova and Chairman Culberson discussed extensively the importance of sustained funding for basic research using the sustained support provided over the last four decades in gravitational wave detection as a specific example.  Dr. Cordova, in response to issues raised by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the ranking member on the subcommittee, discussed the impact of the FY 2018 budget request noting a 10% reduction in the number of new proposals funded and an expected decline in the success rate from 21% to 19%. 

Rep. Kilmer (D-WA) asked about the importance of support for the geosciences, particularly as it relates to public safety.  He noted the additional reductions proposed for the geosciences in NASA and NOAA.  He stressed his concern that the reduction in resources will result in the loss of information important for earthquakes and tsunami preparations that impact the west coast. 

Rep. Cartwright (D-PA) expressed concern that the U.S. will lose vital scientific talent as a result of the Administration’s proposed reductions.  Dr. Cordova stressed that NSF will do the best it can to support the very best science with the resources available.  Rep. Cartwright also expressed his support for balanced support for all scientific and engineering disciplines while expressing concern for proposals that would have Congress making disciplinary funding decisions.

Chairman Culberson stressed the constraints and composition of the federal budget, emphasizing that 70% of the total goes for entitlement and debt financing, 15% for defense, and 15% for non-defense spending – the component in which the NSF is funded.  He encouraged the scientific community to communicate with decision makers and recognize the need to get entitlement spending and overall federal spending under control. 

Chairman Culberson also asked questions about how the developing Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), formerly the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, (ATST), could contribute to space weather research important to NOAA and NASA.

Rep. Kilmer, as part of his second round of questioning, discussed the need for investment in new scientific instrumentation and asked if NSF was involved in the Administration’s infrastructure initiative.  Dr. Cordova discussed NSF willingness to work with the Administration and the Congress in support of research infrastructure investments. Rep. Kilmer also cited numerous reports and findings that expressed significant concerns about the reduction in U.S. investment in science and technology.  Dr. Cordova talked about her concern about the potential loss of U.S. leadership in science and technology given the pace upon which our international competitors are increasing their own investments.  Rep. Cartwright expressed concern with the proposed reductions in research support for risk and resilience activities.

Dr. Cordova’s testimony and an archived audio recording of the hearing is available here.

NIH Announces Information on Next Generation Researchers Initiative -- NIH and its stakeholder community have for many years been concerned about the long-term stability of the biomedical research enterprise. Too many researchers vying for limited resources has led to a hypercompetitive environment. Many highly meritorious applications go unfunded. This has often resulted in misaligned incentives and unintended consequences for talented researchers at all career stages who are trying to succeed and stay in science.  The current environment is particularly challenging for many new- and mid-career investigators. To that end NIH is announcing a series of actions to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators by extending the payline for early stage investigators aiming to fund those proposals that score in the top 25 percent.  For more information on this initiative and its impact on NIH awardees click here.  The NIH Director’s statement on this matter can be found here.

Air Force Announces Funding Opportunity in Corrosion Research – the U.S. Air Force Academy Center for Aircraft Structural Life Extension (CAStLE) performs a range of structural integrity research tasks in support of Air Force, Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and other government, academic and commercial sponsors. CAStLE pursues a range of engineering mechanics, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, corrosion engineering and material science research efforts, with more emphasis on applied research, and that part of development not related to a specific system or hardware procurement. The interaction between corrosion and cracking damage mechanisms and their effect on the structural integrity has been a long standing interest of CAStLE. There is DoD level interest in material degradation in structures—to include corrosion, cracking and other service-related damage mechanisms. This solicitation is focused on fundamental research that can lead to the future development of capabilities to prevent and control corrosion and degradation of materials and structures of systems and facilities, with the ultimate goal of reducing costs, improving availability of systems, and increasing the safety of military assets, which also serve interest and use to the general public. Projects must be new research efforts. Proposals for the continuation of existing research projects funded under previous grant or cooperative agreement awards are not desired. Collaboration among proposing institutions is strongly encouraged.  More information is available in the solicitation which can be downloaded here.