A Periodic Federal Science Update

Congressional Negotiators Working to Finalize FY 2018 Omnibus – House and Senate Appropriators are working to resolve their differences and complete a full year omnibus appropriations bill for all non-defense discretionary programs by March 23.  This will include funding for NSF, NOAA, NIH, USGS, NASA, EPA and many other agencies including Transportation, Homeland Security, and Interior.  Earlier this month Congress passed and the President signed into law legislation that raised the statutory spending caps for both defense and non-defense programs.  The statutory spending limits for defense and non-defense programs were increased by 15% and 12% respectively for FY 2018 and by a similar amount for FY 2019 by new two year budget agreement.  This replaced the Administration’s original proposal for FY 2018 which sought to reduce non-defense programs by 10% and increase defense programs by 10%.  With the spending cap on non-defense raised, the Administration offered suggestions as to where to add back spending for FY 2018 should be directed including: $819M to get NSF back to the FY 2017 level; $300M for NASA programs; and $239M for NOAA’s polar satellite program.

NSF Releases Details of its FY 2019 Budget Request – The National Science Foundation (NSF) released more detailed information regarding President Donald J. Trump's Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 NSF budget request to Congress.  The FY2019 budget request would represent a $7.47 billion investment in strengthening the nation's economy, security and global leadership through research in cutting-edge science and engineering. At this proposed level of funding, steady with FY2017 congressional appropriations, NSF would continue its work supporting research that advances national priorities such as growth in manufacturing, defense and cybersecurity.

While continuing to support the programs and offices that help maintain the nation's preeminence in innovation, NSF would accelerate the progress of its "10 Big Ideas for Future Investments" in FY2019, dedicating funding and resources to high-priority areas that integrate multiple fields of science and engineering and create opportunities to partner with industry, private foundations, other federal agencies and the education sector.

Through its Big Ideas Stewardship Funding Model, NSF would commit $30 million to each of six research-focused Big Ideas, for a total of $180 million. Those Big Ideas are: Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR); The Future of Work at the Human Technology Frontier (FW-HTF); Windows on the Universe (WoU): The Era of Multi-messenger Astrophysics; The Quantum Leap (QL): Leading the Next Quantum Revolution; Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL): Predicting Phenotype; and Navigating the New Arctic (NNA).

In response to questions about how the Big Ideas impact funding levels for existing NSF programs the agency said,

Increasingly, collaboration and convergence are necessary to achieving NSF's mission. The Big Ideas and the Convergence Accelerators NSF would prioritize in FY2019 are prime examples of this. NSF must leverage innovation across all supported fields of research to remain at the frontiers of science and engineering. NSF's investment in the Big Ideas and Convergence Accelerators is not a zero-sum game. The fundamental research underlying the Big Ideas has been supported through many NSF programs for a number of years, and in some cases, for decades. This budget request is a reflection of the changing model of science and engineering research today, which defies existing stovepipe thinking and encourages innovative approaches to research through leveraging resources across all fields of science.  NSF will continue planning budget levels for individual programs when the final FY2019 budget is passed.”

The budget request also calls for NSF to invest $60 million in two Convergence Accelerators -- new vehicles to leverage resources across the agency to support the most innovative science, pursuant to the HDR and FW-HTF Big Ideas. The remaining four Big Ideas, which focus on enhancing processes and practices to improve U.S. science and engineering, are emphasized in the budget request as well. This emphasis includes $20 million for NSF INCLUDES, which focuses on creating networks to broaden participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Other highlights under the budget request:

·       The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) construction project would receive $103.7 million. NSF manages all U.S. activities on the continent as a single, integrated program, making Antarctic research possible for scientists supported by NSF and other U.S. agencies.

·       Cybersecurity research would receive $160.6 million, supporting projects that protect and preserve cyber systems while ensuring preservation of individual privacy and usability.

·       NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™), which works to bridge the gap between discoveries and commercialization of technologies, would receive $30 million.

·       CyberCorps®: Scholarship for Service, which supports cybersecurity education and research at higher education institutions, would receive $55 million and engage undergraduate students, with a focus on veterans.

NSF’s annual budget would represent approximately 27 percent of the total federal budget for basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities -- 60 percent when medical research supported by the National Institutes of Health is excluded.  In FY2019, NSF would expect to evaluate approximately 50,600 proposals through its competitive merit review process and make approximately 11,100 new competitive awards. NSF expects that over 93 percent of its FY2019 requested budget would be used to fund research and education grants and research infrastructure in the science and education communities.

Senate Confirms Neil Jacobs for Assistant Secretary of Commerce at NOAA – On February 15 the Senate, by a voice vote, confirmed Neil Jacobs to be the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Assistant Administrator for NOAA Satellite & Information Services.  Dr. Jacobs was nominated in October 2017.  Before coming to NOAA, Dr. Jacobs was Chief Atmospheric Scientist for Panasonic Avionics Corporation.  During his confirmation process, Dr. Jacobs outlined the top three challenges facing NOAA which include: improve weather forecasting and modeling; increase observational and predictive resource capabilities; and manage satellite costs.  Read Dr. Jacobs’ answers to the Senate Commerce Committee’s questionnaire on his views and experience related to serving at NOAA here.  The nomination of Barry Myers to be the next NOAA Administrator remains pending in the Senate.

Department of Interior Seeks Comments on List of 35 Critical Minerals – The Department of the Interior announced it is seeking public comment by March 19, 2018, on a draft list of minerals considered critical to the economic and national security of the U.S. Executive Order 13817 directed DOI, in coordination with other agencies, to publish a list of critical minerals in the Federal Register for review and comment.  The USGS compiled the list and is seeking comments on its proposed list.  The draft list of minerals includes 35 mineral commodities, such as aluminum—used in almost all sectors of the economy; the platinum group metals—used for catalytic agents; rare-earth elements—used in batteries and electronics; tin—used as protective coatings and alloys for steel; and titanium—overwhelmingly used as a white pigment or as a metal alloy. Under the Executive Order, a “critical mineral” is a mineral identified to be a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic and national security of the United States, the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption, and that serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a product, the absence of which would have significant consequences for the economy or national security.  The list of critical minerals and information on commenting on the proposal can be found here

DARPA to Hold Proposers Day for Forthcoming Solicitation -- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office (DSO) is sponsoring a Proposers Day to provide information to potential proposers on the objectives of an anticipated Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the SIGMA+ initiative (sensors thrust). The Proposers Day will be held on March 7, 2018 from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM at the Executive Conference Center (4075 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22203). The event will be webcast for those who would like to participate remotely. Advance registration is required both for attending the Proposers Day in person and for viewing the webcast. The SIGMA program began in late 2014 as an effort to significantly advance scalable detection capabilities against radiological and nuclear (RN) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats from non-traditional, clandestine attack vectors. SIGMA developed and networked thousands of high-capability, low-cost detectors to demonstrate large-scale, continuously streaming physical sensor networks for the RN interdiction mission. SIGMA capabilities have been tested and operationalized with federal, state, and international partners.  The SIGMA+ initiative will build on SIGMA by developing a persistent, real-time, early detection system for the full spectrum of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) WMD threats at the city-to-region scale. Specific targeted capabilities for each threat mode will focus the envisioned sensor, advanced intelligence analytics, and adversary modeling developments under one shared infrastructure and ubiquitous mobile sensing strategy.

NAML, COL, and Sea Grant Association Meetings in Washington Next Week – Numerous organizations concerned with funding for ocean and coastal science and education will be meeting in Washington next week in an effort to inform agency and Congressional decision makers on the importance of strengthening the investment in research and education.  The National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML) will be meeting on Sunday and Monday (March 4 and 5).  Scheduled to meet with NAML members will be senior officials from NSF and NOAA.  The agenda for the NAML meeting can be found here.  The Sea Grant Association is meeting on Wednesday and Thursday and will also hear from senior NOAA leadership as well as meeting Members and Congressional staff to discuss fully funding the Sea Grant program in FY 2019.  The Consortium for Ocean Leadership will hold its annual Public Policy Forum on Wednesday.  The theme for this day long policy forum is partnership building.  More information on the COL Public Policy forum can be found here.