June 17, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: Progress on Appropriations Bills
  • DOD: DARPA Announces Program to Predict and Limit Contagious Disease
  • USDA: Supporters of Agricultural Research Issue Report on Retaking the Field: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research
  • Climate Change: GAO Issues Report on Adaptation Approaches


The tragedy in Orlando this week prompted an immediate debate on gun control, interfering with progress on appropriations bills in the Senate. The Commerce, Justice and Science Bill, approved by subcommittee on April 21 and undergoing markup in full committee, was stalled by a proposal to offer gun control amendments.  The procedural block is expected to be resolved, however the delay increases the likelihood of a continuing resolution or government shutdown in October,which would affect NASA, NSF, NOAA and NIST.

The Senate also voted the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill out of committee, and the bill is now awaiting Floor action.  Within the bill, the U.S. Geological Survey would receive $1.068 billion, a slight increase over current spending levels but $100 million short of the FY17 request level.

Meanwhile, the House passed the FY17 Defense Appropriations Bill.  In their present forms, versions of the Defense Appropriations bills in both the House and Senate would reverse the Administration’s proposed decreases in science and technology funding, but would fall short of restoring basic (6.1) research to the FY16 level.

Read More: The Hill, Computing Research Association


In order to more rapidly identify and limit the spread of contagious respiratory diseases, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced the launch of project Prometheus.  The intent is to identify a minimal set of biomarkers that predict contagiousness during the short period following infection but before symptoms appear, normally about 24 hours.  These biomarkers would characterize the body’s molecular-level responses by indicating immune cell system activation, viral replication, and other measurable indicators of the severity or presence of some disease state.  A proposer’s day will be held June 27 in Chicago.

Read More:  DARPA Press Release


The Supporters of Agriculture Research (SoAR) Foundation has issued a report entitled Retaking the Field: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research.  The report calls attention to the overall stagnation in federally funded domestic agricultural research, and a possible connection to a decline in U.S. agricultural productivity.  Growth in the USDA research budget has been less than 1% since 2003, with comparable growth in U.S. agricultural output.  By contrast, China has tripled its investment in the agricultural sciences and agricultural output has mirrored this investment.

A confluence of emerging technologies, such as genomics and nanotechnology, with daunting problems, such as limited global resources, climate change, and threats of disease, provide the rationale for a new era of investment in agricultural research. The report highlights the efforts of selected universities and the relevance to national priorities in agriculture.

Climate Change

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has listed climate change as a significant financial risk for the federal government due to the potential losses associated with extreme weather events. It is thought that these losses have exceeded $357 billion over the last decade, and will increase in the future. The GAO has recommended the government should focus on disaster resilience by taking actions to mitigate vulnerabilities to the effects of severe weather and to adapt to the effects of climate change. A focus on the post-disaster environment creates a reactionary strategy, which could limit states’ ability to plan and prioritize for maximum risk reduction.

Now, in an effort to examine lessons learned from other governments, the GAO has released a report entitled Selected Governments Have Approached Adaptation through Laws and Long-Term Plans.  The report compares the actions of other governments that enhance resilience against losses by hazard mitigation (actions to limit the impact of extreme weather events), and climate change adaption (actions to adjust to extreme weather events).  Some governments, such as the UK, have aligned their individual approaches with broader resilience strategies, for example, combatting terrorism and health pandemics.  These strategies have helped other governments identify priorities for resource allocations.


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