A Periodic Federal Science Update

Federal Government Funded Until February 8 – The Federal Government is operating under the authority of a fourth limited stop-gap funding resolution – a Continuing Resolution (CR) – that runs until February 8.  House and Senate negotiators are continuing discussions regarding either another extension of the CR and/or new spending limits for defense and non-defense spending for FY18 and FY19.  These new spending limits are important pre-requisites for completing the pending FY18 appropriations bills.  Other issues impacting the negotiations on an extension of the current CR include immigration and border security issues. 

NIH Asking for Research Ideas for Use of Data Collected by All of Us Research Program – The NIH All of Us Research Program is working to build one of the largest, most diverse datasets of its kind for health research, with one million or more volunteers nationwide, who will sign up to share their information over time. Researchers will be able to access participants’ de-identified information for a variety of studies to learn more about the biological, behavioral, and environmental factors that influence health and disease. Their findings may lead to more individualized health care approaches in the future.  NIH is requesting the science community submit research ideas that would make use of the data being collected.  The information provided will be used at an All of Us Research Priorities Workshop on March 21–23, 2018, to identify key research priorities and requirements (such as data types and methods) for future versions of the All of Us protocol. The deadline for submitting a use case for the All of Us Research Priorities Workshop is February 23, 2018.  Suggestions for research topics should be submitted here.

Dr. James Reilly Nominated to be Director of the United States Geological Survey, Department of the Interior -- Dr. Reilly currently serves United States and allied militaries as a subject matter expert on space operations, and he is a technical advisor supporting the National Security Space Institute of the U.S. Air Force. Previously, Dr. Reilly held management positions in academia, as well as at TAEUS Corp., and PhotoStencil, Corp. in Colorado Springs. During his 13-year career at NASA, he flew 3 spaceflight missions conducting 5 spacewalks for a total of over 856 hours in space. Prior to NASA, he was chief geologist at Enserch Exploration, Inc., working projects around the world including in Antarctica and on the continental slope of the Gulf of Mexico. He earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in geosciences from the University of Texas at Dallas.  Dr. Reilly’s nomination will be considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing on Natural Hazards -- Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chaired a full committee hearing on January 31 to discuss natural hazards, including volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and avalanches, and the effectiveness of early warning monitoring systems to minimize risks and protect local communities. The committee received testimony from experts from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Forest Service, the Mayor of Kodiak, Alaska, Washington State Geological Survey, the Alaska Earthquake Center, and Colorado Geological Survey. The accuracy and timeliness of early warning alerts for natural hazard events is critically important for local communities. Dr. David Applegate, USGS associate director of natural hazards, highlighted the capabilities of an ongoing project to improve early warning earthquake monitoring systems, particularly on the West Coast. When the magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Alaska last week, many monitoring systems worked well and alerts were issued quickly, but Dr. Mike West from the Alaska Earthquake Center noted that there were also a number of failures, some of which were not caused by the earthquake. Dr. West concluded his testimony by advocating for redundancies to be built into hazards preparedness plans, in order to avoid lapses in monitoring. 

Senator Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She has introduced or cosponsored several bipartisan hazards bills, including the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act and the National Landslide Preparedness Act, in the 115th Congress. Both bills are included in her broad Energy and Natural Resources Act, which currently awaits consideration on the Senate floor. Senator Murkowski is also the lead cosponsor of S. 1768, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s, (D-CA), National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act. An archived video of yesterday’s hearing is available on the committee’s website.

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on America COMPETES Legislation – On January 30, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to review the implementation of the America Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA).  The witnesses were Dr. France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF); and Dr. Walter Copan, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  The hearing was chaired by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) who, along with Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) worked together to enact AICA into law.  Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ranking Minority Member of the full committee, used his opening statement to express his concerns about how our international competitors – such as China – are beginning to challenge the U.S. leadership in science and technology.  The Committee and the panelists discussed specific programs and research projects that have resulted in either significant scientific breakthroughs, applications that have spurred economic development, advancements in health care and related technologies, and identified the need to attract more women and minorities into science and engineering.

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Aquaculture – On January 30, Chairman John Thune (R-SD) convened a full committee hearing entitled, “Growing the Future: Opportunities to Support Domestic Seafood Through Aquaculture.”  Chairman Thune opened the hearing by noting the promise of domestic aquaculture and seafood production but also noted the “confusing regulatory maze” that confronts those in the U.S. seeking to enter or expand their activities in domestic aquaculture. “Permits for an aquaculture farm may be required from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, the Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration.  This overlapping web of federal jurisdiction and lengthy, sometimes unending permitting process can take ten years or more – scaring many investors away.  Too often, this results in entrepreneurs taking their skills, talents, and ideas overseas to a more business-friendly environment.”

Witnesses for this hearing included: Mr. Donald Kent, President and CEO of Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute; Dr. Kelly Lucas, Director, Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center; Mr. Mark Luecke, Managing Director and CEO of Prairie AquaTech; and Mr. Barton Seaver, Director for Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative Center for Health and the Global Environment.  To view an archived version of this hearing as well as copies of the witnesses’ testimony, please click here.   Most of the discussion focused on the benefits of aquaculture as way to provide healthy seafood, enhance coastal economic resiliency, and other benefits.  They also mentioned the important role Sea Grant plays in assisting local communities with these matters.  But witnesses and Members also talked about the complex, and often times uncertain, process of obtaining federal permits and working through other regulatory processes that make it difficult to operate economically viable operations.  Witnesses also discussed the need for sound environmental practices for domestic aquaculture operations and taking advantage of best practices and new technologies.  Witnesses also talked about the importance of research, public private partnerships, education, and outreach for both producers and consumers.

House Science Committee Calls for GAO Report on Sexual Harassment in the Scientific Community – On January 18, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a joint bipartisan letter to the General Accountability Office (GAO) to request a report on sexual harassment by federally funded researchers, specifically looking at NIH, NSF, USDA, DOE and NASA. In the letter, Reps. Smith and Johnson specifically ask for information on Title IX compliance programs at federal grant-making agencies and agency policies and processes related to sexual harassment that may fall outside of Title IX requirements. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 put a system in place designed to ensure that institutions receiving federal funding provide all students, regardless of sex, equal access to educational programs and activities.