March 18, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: Efforts to Develop Budget Resolution Encounter Difficulty
  • NASA: House Appropriations Hearing Addresses the Europa Mission, Earth Science
  • NSF: Budget Hearings Focus on NSF Priorities, and Research in the National Interest
  • NIH: Mandatory vs. Discretionary Funding for Research Dominates Budget Hearing
  • Defense Research: DARPA to Enhance Learning Using Peripheral Nervous System Feedback


The House continued its struggle to reach a consensus over a Budget Resolution. Fiscal conservatives refused to back a leadership effort to bring a bill to the floor based on the discretionary budget caps included in last year’s bipartisan budget agreement. That agreement provided an FY17 spending level about $30 billion above the post-sequestration levels contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The House Budget Committee successfully adopted a measure that proposes $30 billion reduction in mandatory spending programs to offset the increase in discretionary spending, however it is unclear whether this could be adopted by the Full House and would likely encounter opposition in the Senate.

In order to maintain their commitment to pass all twelve appropriation bills by the beginning of the fiscal year and avoid a continuing resolution or omnibus spending bill, House and Senate leaders may need to proceed without a formal budget resolution.

In preparation for bringing the appropriations bills to the floor with or without a Budget Resolution, the Subcommittees of jurisdiction were active in holding budget hearings this week. Some of the hearings related to science agencies are addressed herein.

Read More: House Budget Committee Process Document , Politico


The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science held a hearing on the NASA budget request. Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) signaled his support for NASA overall, and in particular the Europa mission, part of the Outer Planets and Ocean Worlds program created by the Congress in FY16. He criticized the underfunding of critical NASA programs and the reduction in NASA discretionary funding by $1 billion in FY17. Stating his commitment to provide NASA the resources it needs, he implied that the Subcommittee would restore this cut. Other discussion focused on NASA’s Earth Science program with some members concerned that this research should be carried out by other Federal agencies. Administrator Bolden defended the Earth Sciences as fundamental to NASA’s mission.

Read More: Recorded Transcript


The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science held a hearing to review the NSF budget request. In addition to overall funding, the hearing touched on policy issues that have affected the perception of NSF priorities in the past. Specifically the Subcommittee explored the impact of providing specific directorate level appropriations that would define the balance between physical sciences and social and geoscience sciences. NSF Director France Cordova stated her objections to this approach based on the premise that this would remove flexibility in agency decision-making, and would politicize the priority setting process.

The Subcommittee also sought assurance that the NSF grant process will now explicitly address the national interest. Director Cordova stated that all solicitations now include a national interest element, and the grant proposal abstracts now reflect a non-technical paragraph that articulates the national interest.

Read More: Recorded Transcript


Echoing other Appropriations hearings this week, the House Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education, expressed a desire to restore discretionary funding to the NIH to replace the $1 billion in mandatory funding contained in the President’s request. Comments from both sides of the aisle implied support for stable funding that would not depend on the establishment of a mandatory funding mechanism. However, Some versions of the 21st Century Cures bill, still under discussion in both the House and Senate, have contained a provision that would establish such mandatory funding. These contradictions will need to be resolved in the final forms of the Appropriations Bill and the 21st Century Cures bill.

Read More: Recorded Transcript

Defense Research

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has pursued a range of programs aimed at capitalizing on the connections between the human peripheral nervous system, which includes the skin, muscles and other organs, and the brain.

Now, DARPA has announced a new element of the overall research program called Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT). The objective is to precisely stimulate certain peripheral nerves in the skin to activate regions of the brain involved with learning. Cognitive skill training through this means would reduce the cost and duration of existing conventional military training programs. DARPA has announced a proposer’s day on April 8 to familiarize potential proposers with the program and encourage interdisciplinary collaborations.

Learn More: DARPA Press Release


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