February 19, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: House Members Prepare for a FY17 Budget Resolution, Senate Grapples with Supreme Court Nomination
  • NSF: I-Corps Regional Hubs to be Expanded
  • DOE: Energy Frontier Research Centers Sought
  • Transportation Research: DOT to Solicit Proposals for University Transportation Centers
  • Intelligence Research: IARPA Seeks Training Data to Advance Artificial Intelligence
  • Climate Change: Warm Waters Linked To Sea Star Die Off


Congress was in recess this week and will return to a full agenda the week of February 22. Although the bi-partisan budget agreement of last fall set overall discretionary and defense budget top line numbers for both FY16 and 17, House members have continued to debate the procedural approach to the FY17 budget and whether to advance a formal budget resolution scaling back these spending levels.

A January report by the Congressional Budget Office entitled Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026 found the budget deficit increased as a direct result of the bi-partisan budget agreement, including the year end omnibus spending bill and tax changes.  This has provided a basis for House conservative members to advocate a new round of spending reductions and reforms in mandatory spending in an enforceable budget resolution.  The House may take up a budget resolution the week of February 22nd.

In other news, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia has injected another uncertainty into the Senate plan to pass all appropriations bills in an orderly fashion this year. If Republicans block the nomination for a replacement, Democrats have suggested they could slow down the appropriations process, undercutting the stated goal of the Republican majority.

Read More: The Hill, Roll Call


The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program was established in 2011 to link NSF researchers to other commercially oriented innovators. The overall architecture consists of local I-Corps teams, I-Corps sites which host multiple local teams, and regional I-Corps nodes which administer the I-Corps curriculum and coordinate activities to help support teams. Currently there are over 300 I-Corps teams and 7 nodes. These nodes are presently based in Northern California, Southern California, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Texas, and Washington DC. Nodes are expected to work collaboratively to build a national innovation ecosystem.

NSF has released a solicitation (NSF 16-539) aimed at renewing and expanding the network of I-Corps nodes. NSF will make 4 to 7 awards for new I-Corps nodes, or renewal of existing awards. Principle investigators are intended to be senior administrative personnel at the Dean or Provost level.


Currently, the DOE Office of Science has established 32 Energy Frontier Research Centers, multi-investigator collaborations that involve partnerships among universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit firms.  The Centers are intended to focus on “Grand Challenges” in the way we generate, supply, transmit, store, and use energy.

The DOE has now released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) (DE-FOA-0001514) which would establish new Centers focused on breakthroughs in areas impacting the cost and efficacy of future technologies for nuclear waste cleanup and storage.  Specific topical areas of interest include: 1) methods for characterization, transformation, and separation of nuclear waste; and 2) new materials for long-term storage of nuclear waste.

Read More: Basic Research Needs for Environmental Management

Transportation Research

Initiated in 1987, the Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers (UTCs) are intended to to advance U.S. technology and expertise in transportation through university-based centers of excellence that focus on education, research, and technology transfer. Addressing three levels, National UTCs address nation-wide transportation issues, Regional UTCs work with regional, state, local and tribal transportation agencies to address regional challenges, and Tier 1 centers focus on 1 of 6 specific strategic goals as defined in the enabling legislation. Centers are generally expected to obtain matching funds from non-federal sources.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), enacted in December of last year, authorized funding to establish additional national, regional and Tier 1 UTCs.  DOT has released a special notice in advance of a formal solicitation.

DOT intends to competitively select 5 national UTCs with annual awards for 5 years of between $2 and $4 million each, and 10 regional UTCs with annual awards of between $1.5 and $3 million each. Up to 20 Tier 1 UTCs will also be chosen with annual awards of between $1 and $2 million each.

Intelligence Research

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has issued a Request for Information (RFI), Novel Training Datasets and Environments to Advance Artificial Intelligence (IARPA-RFI-16-03)” in anticipation of a future funding opportunity that would develop training data and resources for advancement of artificial intelligence (AI). The RFI is based on recent findings that artificial intelligence problems may be solvable by making available appropriate training data without the need for significant innovations in the underlying AI algorithms themselves.

The existing approach towards generating massive quantities of static data as a training set could be replaced by a dynamic interactive environment involving feedback loops and reinforcement learning algorithms. IARPA is seeking input from the artificial intelligence research community on training resources, including dynamic interactive systems, which would be most likely to drive progress in machine learning.

Climate Change

Researchers have linked rising ocean temperatures to a major observed “wasting” of sea starfish and death of other crustaceans to what is being called the single largest, most widespread marine disease that has ever been recorded. The observed effects are measureable from as far south as Mexico to as far north as Alaska. Scientists analyzed logs from temperature sensors along the outer coast of Washington and compared them with extensive sea star monitoring data from surveys before, during, and after the outbreaks. As temperatures rose, sea stars from more than 20 different species rapidly succumbed to disease.

Rising ocean temperatures may be a consequence of transient conditions such as El Nino, and long term trends from climate change.

Read More: Washington Post


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