May 6, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • White House: OMB Provides Agency Guidance for FY18 Budget
  • NASA: Input Sought on University Student Research Challenge Initiative
  • NSF: University Physics Frontier Center Proposals Solicited
  • Advanced Manufacturing: Energy Department Requests Proposals for New Institute to Boost Efficiency in Manufacturing
  • High Performance Computing: NRC Issues Report on Future Directions for Advanced Computing Infrastructure
  • Defense Research: DARPA Seeks Ideas for Harnessing New Materials and Manufacturing
  • Antibiotic Resistance: Pew Report Highlights Improper Antibiotic Prescriptions
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: FAA Lifts Ban on Educational Use of Drones
  • Research Enterprise: National Science Board Issues Statement Regarding Value of Higher Education

White House

Summer is the normal period for federal agencies to develop budget proposals in anticipation of a formal review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the fall. During presidential transitions, the outgoing president traditionally submits a budget with the expectation that it will be modified by the next President. In actual practice, some outgoing presidents have not submitted detailed budgets, and some incoming presidents have not modified the budget proposal during the first year.

The OMB has provided instructions in Memorandum m-16-10 to the federal agencies for the upcoming transition. Essentially, agencies must prepare a “current services” budget and identify special programs or issues that may require special attention by the next president. That is, the budget request will be for a flat budget except for programs that can be justified as requiring significantly different funding.

Read More: Government Executive


The NASA Aeronautics Directorate is seeking information that would lead to the establishment of a University Student Research Challenge program. The Request for Information envisions a program that provides matching funds for U.S. students who have an aeronautics-related research idea aligned with NASA’s strategic objectives. The matching funds would be achieved by crowdfunding platforms and social media outreach. NASA is soliciting public input on nine specific questions until May 31.

Read More: NASA Aeronautics Strategic Objectives


NSF has released solicitation 16-561 for the FY17 Physics Frontier Centers (PFC).  The NSF Physics Frontier Centers are envisioned to enable large university-based collaborations to address major advances in physics.  In addition to scientific investigators, the NSF funds specialized equipment and instrumentation not normally provided in individual investigator grants. Typical award sizes range from $1-5 million per year for five years, and NSF is expected to award 4-6 grants.  Preliminary proposals are due August 1 with full proposals due January 30, 2017.

Advanced Manufacturing

As part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), the Department of Energy has released a solicitation for a Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute. This would be a major initiative on the part of NNMI toward the goal of doubling U.S. energy productivity by 2030. The Institute will focus on developing breakthrough technologies to increase the energy efficiency of manufacturing processes.

NNMI institutes are a suite of linked institutions funded by five-year cooperative agreements up to $70 million. They are intended to be collaborations between small- and medium-sized companies, academic institutions, industrial research organizations, and national laboratories. Federal funding is matched by funding from private industry and other non-federal sources. Proposals for this solicitation are due June 15.

High Performance Computing

Data enabled discovery has emerged as new paradigm for the conduct of science, joining traditional domains of experiment, theory, and modeling.  In 2015, the White House launched the National Strategic Computing Initiative with a goal of ensuring continued U.S. leadership in the development and application of high performance computing systems systems.  A key objective of that initiative was to ensure academic researchers could gain access to such advanced systems.

At the request of NSF, the National Research Council (NRC) has issued a report, entitled Future Directions for NSF Advanced Computing Infrastructure to Support U.S. Science and Engineering in 2017-2020, intended to recommend a framework for future decision making of NSF’s advanced computing strategy and programs.  Enabling transformative research will require leadership from NSF in both simulation and data-driven science.

In implementing its advanced computing infrastructure strategy, NSF has attempted to collect and understand requirements from the various data intensive science communities. However, the NRC committee found the overall planning process for advanced computing resources and programs is not systematic or uniform and is not visibly reflected in NSF’s strategic planning.

Among other recommendations, the report finds NSF should ensure it can support large-scale simulations and data analytics that would otherwise be unavailable to academic researchers. It should also monitor the cost-effectiveness of commercial cloud services and eliminate barriers to cost-effective academic use of the commercial cloud.

In its legislative report accompanying the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee FY17 Senate Appropriations Bill S.2837, the Senate Appropriations Committee directed NSF to prepare a response to the NRC report within 180 days of its completion.

Read More: Information Technology & Innovation Foundation Report

Defense Research

With the advent of new lightweight super strong materials, new concepts for shapes and structures, and new manufacturing methods, traditional computer aided design tools have not kept pace. To address this the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced the TRAnsformative DESign (TRADES) program to develop new design algorithms that can take advantage of the design space that has been enabled by new materials and fabrication methods.

To provide a full description of the vision and goals of the program and funding opportunities that are planned for a future Broad Agency Announcement, a proposer’s day has been scheduled for May 13. DARPA also envisions the proposer’s day will encourage and promote teaming arrangements among participating organizations.

Read More: Defense Systems

Antibiotic Resistance

In 2015, the White House identified antibiotic resistance as a major health issue and issued an action plan intended to reduce the misuse of antibiotics by 50% by the year 2020. No single agency or organization oversees antibiotic use in outpatient facilities in the U.S. The Pew Charitable Trusts, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), undertook an initiative to develop a better understanding of the use patterns and misuse of antibiotics.

In the first of a series of reports from this effort, initial findings have been released suggesting that more than one third of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory conditions are unnecessary. Many conditions, such as colds, sinus infections, middle ear infections, upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, asthma, allergies, influenza, and pneumonia, do not respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics should be prescribed only when a bacterial infection is known or suspected.

Read More: Washington Post, Journal of the American Medical Association

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

A major impediment to research and educational use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has been a requirement that operators possess a pilot’s license and obtain special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under section 333 of the FAA Modernization Reform Act of 2012.  Based on rulemaking activity and comments received over the past two years, FAA has announced a new policy on the educational use of unmanned aircraft systems which, in essence, permits such operations under section 336 of that act which allows model aircraft operations.

The crux of the clarification is “..Faculty teaching aviation-related courses at accredited educational institutions may assist students who are operating a model aircraft under section 336 and in connection with a course that requires such operations, provided the student maintains operational control of the model aircraft such that the faculty member’s manipulation of the model aircraft’s controls is incidental and secondary to the student’s (e.g., the faculty member steps-in to regain control in the event the student begins to lose control, to terminate the flight, etc.).”

The FAA also announced the establishment of an advisory committee that would be an ongoing forum for developing additional policies on safe introduction of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system. It is expected that this advisory committee will address the remaining impediments universities are facing in conducting UAV operations.

Read More: FAA Frequently Asked Questions, The Verge

Research Enterprise

Reacting to a growing crisis facing public research universities, the National Science Board (NSB) issued a statement entitled Sense of the National Science Board Regarding the Broad Value to the Nation of Higher Education.  The statement calls attention to declining federal and state investments in higher education, and declining federal support for basic research which has dramatically affected the ability of academia to engage in cutting edge research.

Supporting the statement, the NSB argues that discovery research at colleges and universities are an essential contributor to our national competitiveness and innovation system. Colleges and universities are foundational for our human capital enrolling over 20 million students in 2013 according to the statement. Finally, rising tuition costs, the result of Federal and State disinvestment, has begun to impact access to high quality education.

The statement echoes similar concerns documented in other recent reports, such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences “An Educational Compact for the 21st Century.”

Read More: NSB Report, NSF Press Release


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