January 15, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • White House: State of the Union Message Highlights Medical Research, Climate, Energy
  • Congress: Priority Set for Passing Regular Spending Bills
  • NIH: Funding Opportunity Announced for Use of 3D Printing for Implantable Devices
  • NASA: Wide-Field Infrared Telescope Achieves Major Programmatic Milestone
  • Defense: DARPA Anticipates Funding Announcement for Fundamental Limits of Photon Detection

White House

In his last State of the Union Address, President Obama returned to several science-oriented themes that have characterized past addresses. In particular, the President singled out medical research and climate and energy issues. Such statements normally presage specific new initiatives that may be included in the President’s FY 17 budget submission, now scheduled for February 9.

The President stated that a new national effort to cure cancer would be undertaken and that Vice-President Biden would take on a special leadership role. This follows from Vice President Biden’s recent plea to apply a “moonshot” like focus to cancer research, leveraging advances in genomics and precision medicine. His proposal would increase resources, access to information, and coordination among segments of the research community. Biden initiated meetings with cancer researchers this week to gain support for the effort. Current spending on cancer research by NIH is over $5.5 B and the National Cancer Institute is the largest of the agency’s research institutes. The President’s proposal is expected to receive broad bipartisan support.

In the area of climate research, the President framed the issue as making technology work for us, not against us. Stating that 2014 has emerged as the hottest year on record, he characterized a widespread agreement within the US business community, the military, and the science community that the science is sound. He also alluded to the recent commitment made by 200 nations in Paris to address the problem, and substantially increase investments in clean energy sources.

Read More: New York Times , Politico , The Hill


With the overall discretionary spending level already set, and realities of an election year, Congress is not expected to take on major legislative and budgetary challenges this year. However, Republican caucuses meeting this week have expressed a desire to pass all twelve individual appropriations bills before October 1, and avoid continuing resolutions and threats of government shutdowns. It has been over two decades since this has been accomplished. Proposals to restructure the budget process and modify Senate rules that allow for a filibuster have been discussed, but are unlikely to receive bipartisan support.

Read More: Roll Call


NIH has released a solicitation for phased innovation awards for the Use of 3D Printing for Creation of Implantable Devices. Infants and children needing implantable devices often require multiple recurring surgeries to replace the devices as they grow. This solicitation anticipates that 3D printing, which additively builds up layers of materials based on digital models, can address some features of this problem by producing devices precisely fitting the patient’s anatomy. Biocompatible materials, and even biological cells, may potentially be used in advanced 3D printing. Five awards up to $275 K per year are anticipated.


The FY 16 Omnibus Appropriations Bill singled out the Wide-Field Infrared Telescope for accelerated funding. Adding $76 M to the request level of $14 M, the bill directed NASA to achieve Key Decision Point A (commitment to enter the formulation phase) by January 15, 2016. During this phase, the agency establishes teams to conduct a broad range of technical and scientific studies leading ultimately to a project cost and schedule baseline. The intent of the language was to ensue scientific synergy and overlap with the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. This would also enable NASA to keep pace with the European Space Agency mission, Euclid, which addresses similar science goals regarding the study dark energy.

In December, NASA selected twelve science definition teams, each composed of university and government based scientists, which will work with NASA over the next five years on science requirements, mission design and scientific performance predictions.

Read More: Space News

Defense Research

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced its intention to issue a Broad Agency Announcement in January for the Fundamental Limits of Photon Detection (Detect) program. The program aims to establish the limits of photon detector performance by developing new models of photon detection using superconductor detectors, semiconductor detectors, and biologically based detectors.

DARPA seeks to increase the pool of potential academic, industry and government proposers by sponsoring a Proposer’s Day on January 25.  The event will familiarize potential proposers with the goals of the Detect program and facilitate and promote potential teaming arrangements.


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