A Periodic Federal Science Update

Administration Releases New Draft Ocean Science and Technology Priorities Plan – On the heels of a new executive order related to the National Ocean Policy, and a flurry of news articles (including one in the New York Times) suggesting NOAA was dropping climate as part of its mission statement (which has since been refuted by NOAA management), the Administration has published for public review and comment a long awaited draft report of updated ocean science and technology priorities for federal agencies.  This report, prepared by the interagency subcommittee on ocean science and technology, has been under development since 2016 and is now out for public comment.  It is an update to the 2007 report on federal ocean science priorities, Charting the Course for Ocean Science.

Science and Technology for America’s Oceans: A Decadal Vision identifies pressing research needs and areas of opportunity within the ocean S&T enterprise for the coming decade, 2018-2028. This vision identifies five goals to advance U.S. ocean S&T and the Nation in the coming decade: (1) Understand the Ocean in the Earth System; (2) Promote Economic Prosperity; (3) Ensure Maritime Security; (4) Safeguard Human Health; and (5) Develop Resilient Coastal Communities. Each goal is supplemented with specific objectives and actionable priorities to achieve those objectives.  Areas of immediate ocean research and technology opportunities include: fully integrate Big Data approaches in Earth system science; advance monitoring and predictive modeling capabilities; improve data integration in decision support tools; support ocean exploration and characterization; and support ongoing research and technology partnerships.  

This last item could be leading up to the re-invigoration of the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP).  NOPP facilitates partnerships between federal agencies, academia, and industry to advance ocean science research and education. Through this collaboration, federal agencies can leverage resources to invest in priorities that fall between agency missions or that are too large for any single agency to support.  The new EO on National Ocean Policy and the FY 19 Senate Appropriations Report on NOAA also includes support for NOPP’s re-invigoration.

The draft ocean science and technology report says "...Two cross-cutting topics emerged as critical components among all goals in this document. They include the modernization and management of ocean-related research infrastructure, including ocean-observing and modeling capabilities, and an educated, diverse, and dynamic workforce. State-of-the-art research infrastructure provides the United States with unique competencies, allows for advances in discovery, minimizes potential economic and societal losses, and ensures the S&T workforce has the capabilities it needs to conduct world-leading ocean research. Infrastructure and advanced technologies such as airborne, underwater, and land-based assets support U.S. ocean research and technology interests. Modernized technologies, and improvement in capabilities such as data acquisition and high-performance computing, are two related priorities relevant to all goals in this document. U.S. economic well-being and global leadership in S&T depends on an ocean-literate society and a well-trained workforce of the future. A strong “blue” workforce will enable the Nation to address tomorrow’s ocean needs and contribute more jobs, enhanced production, and national prosperity..."

he executive summary concludes with following statement, "This document presents a decadal vision for an innovative and collaborative ocean S&T enterprise that promotes American security and prosperity while conserving the marine environment for present and future generations. Carrying out the research goals will require investments in and coordination of ocean S&T across all levels of government and private industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations over the long term. These goals will be achieved over years, working with Federal and non-Federal partners to direct and leverage the necessary resources. Additionally, while this document will provide important guidance to Federal agencies on ocean S&T priorities, implementation of this plan is dependent upon available resources and will vary year to year."

The Administration is requesting comments from the community on this draft report by August 27, 2018.  More information can be found here.  Comments should be sent to oceandecadalvision@ostp.eop.gov .

Congressional Budget Office Issues Report on Increasing Federal Budget Deficits – On June 26, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual long term budget outlook report.  With serious implications for future discretionary spending for defense and non-defense activities, the CBO report concludes, “If current laws remain generally unchanged, CBO projects, federal budget deficits and debt would increase over the next 30 years—reaching the highest level of debt relative to GDP in the nation’s history by far.”

At 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), federal debt held by the public is now at its highest level since shortly after World War II. If current laws generally remained unchanged, CBO projects, the deficit would approach 100 percent of GDP by the end of the next decade and 152 percent by 2048. That amount would be the highest in the nation’s history by far. Moreover, if lawmakers changed current law to maintain certain policies now in place—preventing a significant increase in individual income taxes in 2026, for example—the result would be even larger increases in debt. The prospect of large and growing debt poses substantial risks for the nation and presents policymakers with significant challenges.

In this report, CBO presents its projections of federal spending, revenues, deficits, and debt for the next three decades and describes some possible consequences of those budgetary outcomes. 

NIH Could Receive $2 billion or 5.4% Increase Based on the Senate’s Recommendation – This week, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee approved the fiscal year (FY) 2019 bill funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to the committee’s summary , the bill provides $39.1 billion, an increase of $2 billion, or 5.4 percent, above FY 2018. Within the total for NIH, increases are provided for Alzheimer’s disease research, the BRAIN initiative, the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, the All of Us precision medicine initiative, and research on a universal flu vaccine. The bill provides increases to every Institute and Center to continue investments in innovative research to advance fundamental knowledge and speed the development of new therapies, diagnostics, and preventive measures to improve the health of all Americans. 

The House LHHS Subcommittee approved the NIH funding bill on June 15 and recommended a $1.25 billion increase for the agency. The House’s recommendation also states the funding recommended provides an increase for every institute and center at NIH; states that the Appropriations Committee expects NIH to support an increase in the number of new and competing Research Project Grants with a focus on early-stage investigators and investigators seeking first-time renewals; and rejects the proposal in the Administration FY 2019 NIH budget request that would limit the percentage of research salaries that can be charged to NIH grants. The committee also requested that NIH include an analysis of how the proposed salary cap would impact academic institutions and the number and average costs of NIH grants in the agency’s FY 2020 budget request.

Letter of Intent Deadline for NSF’s PREEVENTS Approaches – The deadline for submitting a letter of intent to NSF’s ongoing Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events Program (PREEVENTS) is July 27, 2018.  NSF and the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) have supported basic research in scientific and engineering disciplines necessary to understand natural hazards and extreme events, including through the Interdisciplinary Research in Hazards and Disasters (Hazards SEES) program and multiple core programs in the GEO Directorate.  PREEVENTS is a successor to Hazards SEES and is one element of the NSF-wide Risk and Resilience activity, which has the overarching goal of improving predictability and risk assessment, and increasing resilience, in order to reduce the impact of extreme events on our life, society, and economy.  PREEVENTS provides an additional mechanism to support research and related activities that will improve our understanding of the fundamental processes underlying natural hazards and extreme events in the geosciences. PREEVENTS is focused on natural hazards and extreme events, and not on technological or deliberately human-caused hazards.  PREEVENTS seeks projects that will (1) enhance understanding of the fundamental processes underlying natural hazards and extreme events on various spatial and temporal scales, as well as the variability inherent in such hazards and events, and (2) improve our capability to model and forecast such hazards and events.  In addition, PREEVENTS projects will improve our understanding of the effects of natural hazards and extreme events and will enable development, with support by other programs and organizations, of new tools to enhance societal preparedness and resilience against such impacts.  More information on this NSF funding opportunity can be found here.

National Sea Grant Advisory Board Releases Biennial Report to Congress – The National Sea Grant Advisory Board has published its biennial report on The State of Sea Grant – 2018 Biennial Report to Congress.  In its transmittal letter to Congress, the Board said, “…The National Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant) continues to provide relevant, useful, valuable, and timely science, extension, and education to coastal and Great Lakes regions that result in more jobs and safer and more productive communities. Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coast, and these numbers are growing. The challenges this nation will face along our coasts in the next 50 years will differ from those of the last 50 years, owing largely to the effects of a changing climate including more extreme storms, sea-level rise, changing ocean and Great Lakes temperatures, and ocean acidification. Sea Grant continues to be well-positioned to address these challenges. The Sea Grant model of organizational effectiveness through research, extension, and education activities leads to expert driven and stakeholder engaged action that is economical, socially equitable, and ecologically sound—all of which are necessary to tackle these thorny issues. Sea Grant is founded on strong partnerships with academia, private industry, local communities, and state and federal agencies that leverage additional expertise and funding to achieve Sea Grant’s mission ‘to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine, and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment… ‘.

Appropriators Meet with the President – Science and Technology Raised by Members Present – On June 26, the President met with the leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to discuss funding key priorities in the FY 2019 budget process.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), when recognized by the President, had the following exchange:

THE PRESIDENT:  Lamar, do you have anything to say?

SENATOR ALEXANDER:  Sure, Mr. President.  First, thank you.  Thank you for having us.  And on the appropriations bill, we have two parts to our budget.  One part is going through the roof.  That’s the entitlement part.  The part we’re working on has gone up, over the last 10 years, about the rate of inflation.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office, will go up about the rate of inflation.

And these are, for the most part, things you and I have — that you have advocated.  As you’ve said, more than half is defense.  So that’s good.

Another thing that’s good is our national laboratories.  Secretary Perry went to Oak Ridge last week.  We’re in a competition with China to see who has the number-one supercomputing.  Thanks to the last two appropriations bills you signed, we are now number one in supercomputing in this country, which we need to be.

THE PRESIDENT:  We just moved ahead.  That’s right.

SENATOR ALEXANDER:  We moved ahead.  Now, Senator Blunt has chaired a committee today that just reported out, for the fourth consecutive year, record funding for the National Institutes of Health.  You’ve got great people over there working on curing cancer and other things.

So I would suggest that a part of your America First agenda would be the items that our appropriations for science, technology, and research (emphasis added)— you’ve signed two appropriations bills that do that.  Secretary Perry, Senator Blunt — those things.  I think that fits your America First agenda.