March 11, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: Senate Urged to Begin Appropriations Process Without a Budget Resolution
  • NASA: Appropriations Hearing Focuses on “Honest Budgeting”
  • NIH: Senate Begins Action on Biomedical Research Bill
  • DOE: Mission Innovation Program Encounters Hill Opposition
  • Defense Research: Air Force Releases Solicitation for Defense University Research Instrumentation Program
  • Climate Science: National Academy Releases Report on Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change


While, House members were on recess this week, the budget debate shifted to the Senate. Democratic Senators, seeking to protect discretionary spending levels reached in last year’s bipartisan budget agreement, called upon Speaker McConnell (R-KY) to proceed with the appropriations process without a formal budget resolution. In a letter to the Speaker, Democratic leaders urged the spending limits adopted in last year’s agreement be honored as a basis for assigning appropriations subcommittees their individual spending allocations. This would preempt the contentious debate in the House in which fiscal conservatives have called for reductions in mandatory funding to offset the increase in discretionary spending limits in the agreement.

The rules of the Senate allow the Appropriations Committee to proceed to make subcommittee allocations, called 302(b) allocations, by April 15. Although the 12 individual appropriations bills have not been passed on time in over 20 years, this goal has been embraced by both Republicans and Democrats this year.

Read More: Morning Consult


In an effort to expedite appropriations bills, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittees began hearings on their respective agencies this week. The Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science took up the NASA budget request. As expected, the Committee criticized the proposed $763 million in mandatory funding for NASA. Of this, nearly $300 million would be allocated to space science. The mandatory funding is linked to a hypothetical tax on oil imports however the administration has not proposed specific legislation that would establish the funding mechanism.

Read More: Recorded Transcript


In an effort to promote biomedical research and speed up drug and medical device reviews, the House passed the 21st Century Cures Act last year on a bipartisan basis.  This year, the Senate intends to develop a counterpart comprised a number of smaller bills, which were marked up by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this week.  Statements from Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) emphasized the need for sustained research funding to ensure initiatives such as the “Cancer Moonshot,” the Precision Medicine Initiative, the BRAIN Initiative, and other proposals become longer term commitments by NIH.

Although there has been a high level of bipartisan consensus on the bills thus far, the issue of mandatory funding for financing biomedical research, originally included in the 21st Century Cures Act, remains a major contentious issues. NIH funding issues are expected to be taken up by the committee in April.


The Mission Innovation program embodied the commitments made by the President and other world leaders at last year’s climate summit in Paris to dramatically increase clean energy research and innovation. The FY17 budget proposal includes a 20% increase in clean energy R&D across 12 agencies. For DOE this includes $600 million in additional discretionary spending, compared to FY16, and a stream of mandatory spending.

Hearings held thus far by the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee have made it clear that the entanglement of discretionary and mandatory spending, together with the offsetting reductions in other DOE energy research programs, would undercut support for the proposed clean energy increases.

Read More: Recorded Transcript, AIP Bulletin

Defense Research

The Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), administered through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research, has been a major source of university funding for the acquisition or improvement of major equipment providing research capabilities that enhance research-related education relevant to the DOD mission.

The call for FY16 is contained in PA-AFRL-AFOSR-2016-0001. Proposals should address the impact of the equipment on the institution’s ability to educate students, and address research needs of interest to the Air Force.

Read More: Research Interests of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Climate Science

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Fifth Assessment Report, concluded “Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950.  Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions.”  Despite this top level consensus finding, occasional misattribution of severe weather events has occurred in the media and in the scientific literature.  In order to to examine the current state of science by which the link between extreme weather events and anthropogenic climate change can be established, the National Academy of Sciences sponsored a special workshop held in October 2015 which resulted in the report, Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change.  The report examines different attribution approaches and the robustness of attribution science.

Rather than ask the question “was this event caused by climate change”, the report reframes the question as “are events of this severity becoming more likely because of climate change.” Attribution should be based on sound physical principles, a consistent observational baseline, and numerical models that can replicate the result. Generally, episodes of high heat or extreme cold can be attributed with high confidence. There is little or no confidence in attributing severe convective storms, fire, or cyclones to human induced climate factors.


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