May 20, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: House Appropriations Committee Releases CJS, Defense Spending Bills, Senate Moves Agriculture Bill Forward
  • NSF: Solicitation Issued for Gen-3 Engineering Research Centers
  • NASA: Space Technology Early Stage Innovation Proposals Solicited
  • EPA: Funding Opportunity Announced for Long-term Exposure to Air Pollution and Development of Cardiovascular Disease
  • National Research Council: Report on Genetically Engineered Crops Released

Congress
Acting quickly after the May 15 starting date for spending bills in the House, the Appropriations Committee acted on the FY17 Commerce, Justice, and Science Bill which provides funding for NSF, NASA, NIST, and NOAA. Following the pattern now set by other committees, the proposals for mandatory spending were ignored.
For NSF, the bill provides $7.406 billion, a reduction of $108 million below the FY17 discretionary request level, and slightly below the current spending level. The major change was a reduction of over $100 million from the construction account with the elimination of the request for an oceanographic research vessel. The Research and Related Activities account was set equal to the FY 17 request level.
For NASA space science, the bill provides $5.597 billion, an increase of $294 million above the FY17 discretionary request level. The most substantive change was the specification of $260 million for the Europa mission with an orbiter and lander, an increase of $210 million over the request level.
For NOAA, the bill provides $5.6 billion a reduction of $268 million below the request and $185 million below current spending.
In other House action, the Appropriations Committee also approved the FY17 DOD spending bill. For science and technology (6.1, 6.2, and 6.3), the bill provides $13 billion, a slight increase over current spending levels. For basic research (6.1), which the President’s budget would reduce by 9%, the bill provides $2.1 billion compared to the current level of $2.3 billion.
On the Senate side, the FY17 Agriculture Appropriations Bill was unveiled at subcommittee. For research, the bill includes $1.364 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which is $38 million more than current spending levels. The bill includes $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which is $25 million more than fiscal year 2016. This reflects the FY17 request level for discretionary funding for AFRI but is far short of the $700 million proposed to be achieved through mandatory funding increases.

NSF
The NSF’s Engineering Research Centers (ERCs), university led consortia, have been in place since 1984. The program has been restructured three times as the emphasis has shifted from commercial design, to manufacturing efficiency, and now to the globally competitive environment for innovation. The overall intent is to evolve university engineering education towards real world problems and a direct engagement with industry and foreign collaborators/competitors. The ERCs are expected to include not only university partners, but also provide linkages to industry and to underserved populations of students. ERCs are normally funded for an initial five year period beginning at about $3.5 million per year, and extended up to ten years. Cost sharing is required but must adhere to a specific formula.
The NSF has now released solicitation 15-589 for the next class of ERCs. Proposals may be of two types: open for any engineering topic; or, for Nanosystems Centers. Letters of intent, due September 25th, should specify which category. Viable proposals must outline a compelling vision, and how the center would integrate translational research, workforce development and innovation ecosystem development. The partnership structure must also include an avenue for foreign participation to provide opportunities for domestic students to collaborate globally.
Read More: Templates for Proposal Preparation

NASA
NASA’s Early Stage Innovations program solicits university-led proposals for the study of innovative, technologies that address high priority needs of the space program. Annual calls focus on specific technology needs are generally funded up to $500 thousand for two to three years.
This year’s call, solicitation NNH16ZOA001N-16ESI_B2, is aimed at six specific topical areas. These are: modeling of parachute inflation dynamics; additive manufacturing process modeling; development of electric propulsion; semiconductor failure mechanisms; advanced telescope architectures; and, autonomous human spaceflight. Letters of intent are due June 3.

EPA
Fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) in the environment are believed to pose a great health risks because they can lodge deeply into the lungs. Although the relationship between long-term exposure to PM2.5 and cardiovascular health effects is generally accepted, there remains uncertainties about the shape of the concentration-response relationship. Fully understanding his relationship is critical to public health strategies and regulatory programs.
The EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Program (STAR) has announced funding opportunity EPA-G2016-STAR-B1 seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the total cardiovascular risk associated with exposure to air pollution, including indicators of early damage. The solicitation anticipates the use of human subjects. The solicitation closes August 2.

National Research Council
Since 1985, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has produced eight major assessments of the impacts of genetic engineering on agriculture. In addition the NRC has held a large number of workshops, symposia, and other public examinations.
In 2014, the NRC undertook a new study entitled Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects. The objectives of the study were to review the history of commercially genetically engineered crops, assess the evidence for purported benefits and negative impacts, and review the scientific basis for the current regulatory environment. This rationale for this study was strongly impacted by the recent emergence of the precise gene editing technology known as CRISPER which produces DNA in genetically engineered crops virtually identical to conventionally bred varieties and does not introduce unwanted DNA. This blurring of the lines between genetically engineered and conventional crops strongly impacts the current regulatory basis for safety assessments and calls into question whether the basis for safety assessment should be predicated on the process by which the plant is produced, or the genetic makeup of the crop alone.
Like many reports before it, the current study finds a lack documented adverse health impacts from GM crops. The report does contain some exceptions to this conclusion citing potentially damaging levels of resistance that could be developed for some insects and weeds. The report makes suggestions for establishing a new regulatory framework based on genomics rather than based on the process by which crops are produced. These findings are likely to affect the debate within Congress as to whether the FDA should be required to label GM crops. In addition it will provide the basis for an upcoming White House initiative to overhaul the GM safety rules.
Read More: NBC News, Environmental Law Strategy

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