Washington’s Week in Science
Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities
Top Stories of the Week
- Congress: Alternatives to Budget Resolution Considered
- NSF: Proposals Solicited for US Ignite Gigabit Research and Applications
- Climate Science: New Paper Suggests Significant Climate Impacts from Ice Sheet Collapse, Opinion Polls Show Increased Concern Over Climate Change
- Science Enterprise: American Academy of Arts and Sciences Report: Serving the Public Good
This week had been targeted for passage of a House Budget Resolution that would initiate the process for achieving the leadership’s goal of passing all twelve appropriations bills. However, strong opposition by fiscal conservatives has called into question the chances for successful passage of any budget resolution this year.
Passage of a Budget Resolution is seen as an important step in maintaining an orderly process and avoiding end of year stop-gap funding and budget chaos. However, it is also the primary vehicle by which enforceable spending reductions can be established. The House Budget Resolution which was introduced this week would reduce funding for many science agencies, and also recommend a significant shift in research policy.
Overall, fiscal conservatives maintained their opposition based on the higher discretionary spending levels contained in the bipartisan budget agreement of last year. Thus, attention turned to other alternatives. One feature of the 1974 Budget Act allows appropriations bills to be considered on the floor beginning May 15 in the absence of a budget resolution. This would start the appropriations process, however it would result in a schedule delay and a challenge to complete all bills before October 1.
Although Speaker Ryan stated his continued commitment to passing a budget resolution, the Appropriations Subcommittees began planning for individual bills based on an assumed top line spending level consistent with the bipartisan budget agreement. The amount each Subcommittee would receive, called the 302 (b) allocation, remains a significant uncertainty which will need to be resolved when Congress returns April 12.
In 2012 the NSF and White House established the US Igite Program. A public-private sector effort, it promotes the development of next generation Gigabit applications and compatible infrastructure. The fundamental goal of the program has been to resolve a mismatch between the needed investments in gigabit applications and the availability of the advanced network infrastructure that would incentivize such investment. Through NSF funding, new gigabit application concepts and prototypes have been developed in areas ranging from advanced manufacturing to emergency preparedness, and have in turn demonstrated the value of making the necessary infrastructure investments.
NSF solicitation NSF 15-508, entitled Networking Research and Application Prototypes Leading to Smart & Connected Communities, outlines two focus areas for proposers, each aimed at different ends of the problem. Focus Area 1 seeks innovative application ideas and prototypes that enhance advanced networking technologies as part of the overall Smart and Connected Communities initiative. Focus Area 2 is aimed at fundamental research related to gigabit networking infrastructure.
In a paper published this week in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, climate scientist James Hansen presents evidence for a far greater impact from global warming on a time scale much shorter than that currently assumed by policymakers. The paper, entitled Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2 °C Global Warming Could be Dangerous is notable not only for its methodology, but also because the journal has included the past revisions of the paper as it evolved, and over 60 comments, critiques, and criticisms from other climate scientists. The paper attempts to quantify the result of rapid collapse of ice sheets, and the potentially catastrophic outcome for sea level rise and extreme weather events. Published comments, both pro and con, illustrate the complexities of climate science, especially in matching historical records to models.
In other climate news, a Gallup Poll conducted in early March suggests an increase in the level of concern over human induced climate change. Increases were also noted for the percentage of Americans that believe that climate change will occur, has already begun, and will pose a serious threat to our quality of life. A record 65% of Americans associate climate change with human activity, greater than any past survey. Increases are seen in groups identifying as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. These trends represent a reversal in public opinion since 2009 when a confluence of economic and political factors had acted to diminish US concern and belief in climate change.
Another study released this week the American Meteorological Society and the George Mason Center for Climate Communication shows that 96% of its members believe that climate change is occurring, and over 80% believe that humans are responsible for half or more of this change. This represents an increasing trend among climate professionals.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences initiative, the Lincoln Project, seeks to document the benefits and challenges faced by public research universities. The report entitled Public Research Universities: Serving the Public Good provides quantitative data on the contribution of public universities to education, research and discovery, and local and national economic growth. The report also cites evidence for public universities as strong local centers of cultural learning, housing museums, theaters, and athletic centers. Such community service and engagement has greatly enriched the value such institutions to the local well-being.
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