February 5, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Administration: Selected Previews of FY17 Budget Emerge
  • Agriculture Research: Full Funding to be Requested for Agriculture and Food Research Initiative in FY17
  • NSF: Mathematicians and Statisticians Encouraged to Propose for Sustainability Programs
  • Health Research: Cancer “Moonshot” Details Begin to Take Shape
  • NASA: CubeSats to be Carried on Inaugural Launch of Space Launch System


Although the federal budget is due to be released February 9, and embargoed until then, it is typical that some major initiatives are previewed in advance. Anticipated funding levels for cancer research, opioid addiction programs, agriculture research, and computer literacy programs have been cited in various agency announcements.

This year, as detailed herein for agriculture and health research, part of the government-wide investments in R&D will be requested as mandatory spending, a proposal sure to be strongly debated within Congress. For these programs, budgetary offsets, plausible ongoing funding mechanisms, and any enabling legislation will need to be clearly identified.

Agriculture Research

Concerned over declining public investment in agriculture research and a loss of global competitiveness in agricultural productivity, Congress enacted the 2008 Farm Bill which created the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) within the USDA as a flagship external grant program for basic research. The Bill authorized up to $700M per year through 2018. The President’s annual requests and congressional appropriations have fallen far short of this number. In FY16, the Administration requested $450M and Congress provided $350M. One result of this has been that less than 25% of the highly rated proposals have been funded.

In anticipation of the formal release of the President’s FY17 budget on February 9, the USDA announced the request for the full $700M would be met. Of this amount, $375M will be proposed as discretionary spending and $325M as mandatory spending.

Since its inception, AFRI has become a major contributor to administration-wide initiatives such as climate change, pollinator health, and antimicrobial resistance.

Read More: USDA Press Release, SoAR Foundation Press Release,


The NSF has established several interdisciplinary programs aimed at sustainability and sustainable infrastructure.  They are the Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS); Critical Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Systems and Processes (CRISP); Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events (PREEVENTS); and various Global Change and Earth Systems Modeling programs.

Now, the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences has issued a special Dear Colleague Letter encouraging members of the mathematics and statistics community to note these funding opportunities and contribute to the development of solutions to these important but inherently complex problems. Participation in multidisciplinary research teams investigating these dynamic, coupled systems will contribute to addressing the sustainability grand challenges of interest to many universities.

Health Research

Although a full proposal will be included in the President’s budget request, some details of the Administration’s Cancer “Moonshot” initiative have begun to emerge. In association with the first meeting of the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force this week, the office of the Vice President announced $1B would be identified to ramp up the overall initiative.

The Moonshot Initiative would augment the FY16 estimated spending by $200M. In FY17 an additional $755M in mandatory funding will be proposed for new cancer-related research activities at both NIH and the FDA (currently only about $150M of the NIH budget is derived from mandatory funding, and that is limited to Type I diabetes programs).

It is also anticipated the White House will include policy proposals to enhance the sharing of cancer research data. The Departments of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs will fund centers of excellence focused on specific cancers and will conduct large longitudinal studies to identify risk factors.

Read More: The Hill, Politico, Science Insider


NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is intended to enable deep space human exploration and provide a launch vehicle for large scientific payloads. A major challenge has been to define a launch manifest that maintains a minimum launch cadence of at least once per year, and fully utilizes the SLS lift capacity. The pace of human exploration missions alone will not meet these requirements, thus NASA has entertained the possibility of scientific payload concepts such as the Europa Orbiter and Lander.

The inaugural launch of SLS, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is targeted for 2018 as an unmanned test flight. As an initial step in defining a scientific role for SLS, NASA has announced that mission will include a fleet of 13 CubeSats as secondary payloads. These include scientific payloads selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and several technology and exploration related missions. These missions would exploit the capabilities for CubeSats to operate and conduct science in deep space.

Read More: NASA Press Release, NASA Spaceflight.com


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