A Periodic Federal Science Update

Congressional Hearing: China’s Pursuit of Emerging and Exponential Technologies – On January 9, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities heard sobering testimony from a number of witnesses in which they described the technological threat China poses to the national security of this Nation.  Mr. William Carter, Deputy Director for the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and others, presented a stark picture of the threat China poses in areas such as artificial intelligence, cyber, space-based capabilities and anti-satellite weapons, electronic warfare and quantum computing.  Mr. Carter said, in his prepared remarks:

Since the Cold War, U.S. national security has been built upon the unparalleled strength of American technology. In the 1950s, the Department of Defense successfully “offset” the Soviet Union’s conventional military superiority by strengthening our nuclear deterrent, and in the 1970s we again cemented our military dominance through innovation in precision munitions, stealth, and a new generation of space based ISR and communications technologies, the so-called “second offset.” Today, this offset dynamic is being reversed. China is pursuing an “offset strategy” of its own to overcome our conventional superiority by winning the race to dominate the next generation of technology…China sees offensive cyber capabilities, anti-satellite weapons, electronic warfare tools, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies as key to enabling [China] to win wars in future, high-tech conditions and offset the advantages of the U.S. military, and has made significant strides in all of these areas.

Mr. Carter lays out a number of recommendations the U.S. should undertake in recognition of the growing technological prowess of China.  A central tenant to his recommendations:

“…should be government investment in R&D and innovation. China has realized the essential role that both public and private R&D investments play in technologies like AI, but the U.S. increasingly depends on commercial R&D alone. Corporate research has a major role to play in advancing our nation’s technological capacity, but the developers in these groups are often only focused on projects with immediate and guaranteed commercial applications. There is little incentive for most companies to fund sustained work on exploratory projects with long incubation periods and uncertain prospects for returns like fundamental research into quantum computing. The federal government is in a unique position to be able to support basic research which may not pay off for 20-30 years, but, like the internet, may prove revolutionary (emphasis added)

“Unfortunately, U.S. commitment to support public sector R&D is flagging. After the July 2017 announcement of China’s new AI development plan, local and provincial governments announced billions of dollars of support to the industry, with the cities of Xiangtan and Tianjin alone pledging a collective $7 billion to MI projects. In comparison, total U.S. government R&D investment in AI was $1.1 billion in 2015, and the Trump administration’s proposed budget would have cut the NSF’s AI research funding by 10%. The U.S. government should be expanding, not curtailing, R&D funding for technologies like AI, leveraging research vehicles like DARPA, IARPA, and the national labs to advance our nation’s technological capacity and ensure we are investing in the capabilities our defense and intelligence communities will need to manage emerging threats in the future…”

Mr. Carter’s complete statement can be found here.

On January 18, the National Science Board will release Science and Engineering Indicators 2018.  The 2016 report provided information that suggested East and Southeast Asia countries had narrowed the U.S. lead in research and development.  The new Indicators will be available here once it is released on January 18.

Another Continuing Resolution Will Need to Considered by the Congress – The current stop gap funding legislation – a continuing resolution or CR – will run out on January 19.  Since December, Congressional negotiators have been meeting in an effort to reach agreement on increasing the statutory spending caps for defense and non-defense programs for FY 2018 and FY 2019.  One proposal under discussion would raise the defense cap by $72 billion in fiscal 2018 and $80 billion in fiscal 2019, while increasing the nondefense cap by $45 billion in 2018 and $50 billion in 2019.  If an agreement to re-set the spending caps has actually been finalized, this would allow the Appropriations Subcommittees to complete negotiations between the House and Senate on the details for a year-long omnibus appropriations bill.  To that end, another CR will be needed that will possibly run until mid-February.  Such a plan would presumably give the Appropriations Subcommittees the time they need to finalize their bills for funding for the balance of the fiscal year.

Novim to Release New Report Entitled Warning Signs: Effects of Proposed Federal Funding Cuts to Environmental and Climate Research and Development Programs -- Novim is a nonprofit scientific research group based at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that specializes in issues of global controversy.  On January 16, Novim will release its latest report – one that analyzes the impact of the Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget for climate and environment research and development (CE R&D).  Warning Signs will look at the impact of the proposed reductions on such issues as research, observations, modeling, assessments, workforce development, and international relations in CE R&D. It will assess the impact of the proposed budget reductions on relevant federal agencies. Warning Signs will be released during a briefing to be held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Tuesday, 11AM at 1200 New York Ave. NW in their main auditorium. On January 16, Novim’s Warning Signs report will be available here.

DOD’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) Announces Funding Opportunity – ESTCP is the Department of Defense's (DoD) demonstration and validation program for environmental and installation energy technologies. The ESTCP Office is interested in receiving pre-proposals for innovative technology demonstrations that address DoD environmental and installation energy requirements as candidates for funding.  The topic areas for this solicitation include: Innovative Technology Transfer Approaches; Long Term Management of Contaminated Aquatic Sediments; Management of Contaminated Groundwater; Detection, Classification, and Remediation of Military Munitions in Underwater Environments; Department of Defense (DoD) Installation Infrastructure Risk Exposure and Resilience Decision Support Tools; Demonstration/Validation of Fluorine-Free Aqueous Film Forming Foam; Energy Efficiency Technology Demonstrations Integrated with Utility Energy Services Contracts (UESC); Effective Use of Utility and Facility Data to Improve the Management, Operation and Maintenance of Facilities; and Large Scale Energy Storage and Microgrids. Additional information including submittal instructions can be found here.  The due date for all pre-proposals is March 8, 2018 by 2:00 p.m. ET. More information about the solicitation, including instructions and deadlines, is available on the ESTCP website under Funding Opportunities.  ESTCP Director Dr. Herb Nelson and Deputy Director Dr. Andrea Leeson will conduct an online seminar “ESTCP Funding Opportunities” on January 18, 2018, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. ET. This briefing will offer information for those interested in new ESTCP funding opportunities. During the online seminar, participants may ask questions about the funding process, the current ESTCP solicitation, and the proposal submission process.

Senate Passes Coordinated Ocean Monitoring and Research Act – On January 8, the Senate passed, via unanimous consent, legislation to reauthorize the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) program.  IOOS is a network of federal and regional entities that provide information about the nation's coasts and oceans, as well as the Great Lakes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) must: (1) serve as the lead federal agency for the implementation of the IOOS, and (2) establish an IOOS Program Office to oversee daily operations and coordination of the IOOS. The bill outlines the requirements for NOAA as the lead agency. The bill establishes a process for regional associations to certify their regional coastal observing systems. The Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology of the National Science and Technology Council must: (1) conduct an Ocean Chemistry Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment on ocean acidification within a year and every five years thereafter; and (2) develop a plan to deploy ocean acidification sensors prioritized by the threat to coastal economies and ecosystems, gaps in data on ocean acidification, and research needs. The National Science Foundation's research on ocean acidification must include research on: (1) impacts of multiple stressors on ecosystems exhibiting hypoxia (a dead zone that is depleted of oxygen), harmful algal blooms (rapid accumulation of algae), or sediment delivery; and (2) the effects of those impacts combined with changes in ocean chemistry.

Barry Myers Nomination for NOAA Administrator Resubmitted by White House – As expected, this week the Administration resubmitted the nomination of Barry Myers to be the next NOAA Administrator.  Mr. Myers had been approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in December but had not yet reached the Senate floor when they adjourned for the Christmas/New Year’s break. The committee will not have to hold another hearing but it will need to vote again on his nomination in order for his nomination to reach the Senate floor.  The nomination of Dr. Neil Jacobs to be an Assistant Secretary of Commerce at NOAA also did not reach the Senate floor last year but his nomination was widely supported.  As a result, it was held over in the Senate which means the Administration will not have to re-submit Dr. Jacobs’ nomination in order for the Senate to take up that nomination.  The nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to be NASA Administrator has also been re-submitted in accord with Senate rules.  Approving Mr. Myers and Rep. Bridenstine will be more complicated than last year when the split was 52-48. In cases where all Democrats are anticipated to vote no, Republicans now can afford to lose only one vote. That would yield a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice President Mike Pence in his role as President of the Senate.  Two Republican Senators — Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) — are dealing with health issues and their attendance in the Senate is uncertain.  Rumors are that between one and three Republicans have reservations about the Bridenstine nomination, so who exactly is in the Senate chamber when the vote is taken could determine the outcome.  It is unlikely that a nomination would be brought to the floor for a vote if Senate leadership was not certain it would pass.

NSF Invites Proposals for I-Corps Sites -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that builds upon research to guide the output of scientific discoveries closer to the development of technologies, products and processes that benefit society.  In order to contribute to a national innovation ecosystem, NSF established the NSF Innovation Corps Sites Program (NSF I-Corps Sites). Sites are funded at academic institutions, having already existing innovation or entrepreneurial units, to enable them to: nurture students and/or faculty who are engaged in projects having the potential to be transitioned into the marketplace; and develop formal, active, local innovation ecosystems that contribute to a larger, national network of mentors, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors. Networking is an essential component of all of NSF's I-Corps activities - local and national networking activities help advance the goals of I-Corps and contribute to local and national ecosystems for innovation. The purpose of an I-Corps Site is to nurture and support multiple, local teams to transition their ideas, devices, processes or other intellectual activities into the marketplace.  A copy of the NSF solicitation is available here.

Public Comments Requested on Draft of IPCC Report -- The U.S. Department of State seeks expert comment on the second-order draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on “Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5°C Above Pre-Industrial Levels and Related Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Pathways, in the Context of Strengthening the Global Response to the Threat of Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty” (aka the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C).  General information such as the Special Report outline and assessment development timeline/procedures can be found on the USGCRP Open Notices page; more detailed information—i.e., an IPCC guidance note, more background, review instructions, supplementary materials, and the draft report itself (including the first draft of its Summary for Policymakers)—can be found on the USGCRP Review and Comment System. You must first register for the review and agree to the terms before being granted access to the site. Consult the Federal Register Notice for a brief summary of the process.  Comments are solicited from the U.S. scientific community and interested stakeholders. All comments must be input via the USGCRP Review and Comment System by 11:59 p.m. ET, Thursday, 8 February 2018, if they are to be considered by the Federal expert panel tasked with preparing the U.S. transmittal to IPCC.