January 29, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • NSF: National Academy of Public Administration Examines Policies on NSF Construction and Operating Awards
  • Health Research: NIH to Solicit Proposals for Prescription Drug Abuse Research
  • Climate Change: Wind, Solar Power Shown to be Potentially Cost Competitive
  • Science Enterprise: NASA, NSF Issue Statements on Sexual Harassment


Since its inception, NSF has relied on external managing organizations rather than directly operating facilities on its own. In order to maintain its culture of delivering services to the community and to allow NSF staff to remain closely involved with the day-to-day operations of NSF sponsored facilities, these managing organizations operate under cooperative agreements rather than contracts. Over the past several years, questions have been raised by the NSF Inspector General as to whether adequate oversight is actually being exercised, and whether major construction awards are fundamentally different in character and scale such that they should be framed as contracts with specific deliverables for the government.

The NSF and National Science Board requested the National Academy of Public Administration to review these policies in view of the increasing role of major facilities in carrying out the NSF mission.

The report, entitled National Science Foundation: Use of Cooperative Agreements to Support Large Scale Investment in Research, recommends continued use of cooperative agreements for both construction and operation of major facilities.  The report also recommends that NSF should increase its internal management of business practices, its control over project contingency funds, and discontinue the practice of providing management fees to the managing organizations.  These issues will be the subject of a hearing scheduled February 4.

Health Research

An estimated 2.4% of the United States population are nonmedical users of prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs including pain relievers, tranquilizers, and stimulants. Abuse of prescription medication ranks second in prevalence, after marijuana, among illicit drug users.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has released a Notice of Intent to Publish a Funding Opportunity Announcement for Prescription Drug Abuse. The program will focus on factors associated with prescription drug abuse, characterization of adverse consequences, and abuse prevention strategies. Researchers will be encouraged to study the relationship between the prescription medication, the condition for which the medication was prescribed, and the environmental and individual factors contributing to abuse.

Although the release of the funding announcement is not anticipated until May, NIDA NIDA is seeking to engage the community early on to allow potential proposers time to develop responsive projects and collaborations that combine expertise in multiple scientific disciplines.

Also this week, the President formally established the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force which will coordinate the activities of thirteen Federal agencies, departments, and other government organizations. The stated goal of the task force is to “..double the rate of progress in the fight against cancer — and put ourselves on a path to achieve in just 5 years research and treatment gains that otherwise might take a decade or more..”

Read More: Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health , New York Times

Climate Change

A major impediment to the growth of widespread dependence on weather-driven, intermittent, alternative power sources has been the need for surplus generation capacity to provide power during intermittencies. The cost associated with surplus generation and storage could be substantial and reduce the competitiveness of renewable power sources.

Using high spatial and temporal resolution weather data, NOAA and the University of Colorado scientists have now demonstrated variable power systems such as wind and solar can be cost competitive and can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80% compared to 1990 levels. The model shows using an optimized wind and solar production network of a scale comparable to major weather patterns can meet future needs by using a national high-voltage direct current system to supplement the existing grid.

Read More: NOAA Press Release, Science Insider

Science Enterprise

Both NASA and NSF have issued statements over the past several weeks condemning sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in science. These statements are specifically directed at grantee institutions and grantees themselves.

The NSF statement entitled The National Science Foundation (NSF) Will Not Tolerate Harassment at Grantee Institutions left no doubt the policy applies not only to the NSF workplace, but to the entirety of the NSF funded community. “NSF holds responsible the 2,000 U.S. colleges, universities and other institutions that receive NSF funding and requires their implementation of Title IX protections.”

NASA has also strongly communicated harassment policies to grantees in a special public statement. Administrator Charles Bolden said, “I urge all of our NASA grantee institutions to examine closely their current policies and procedures for addressing allegations of misconduct such as harassment. It is critical for educational institutions to address these matters as promptly and equitably as possible. Beyond the law, we must seek to create the kinds of welcoming and supportive program environments in which all students can flourish.”


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