June 24, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • White House: President Reports 100 Science, Technology and Innovation Accomplishments
  • Congress: Appropriations Bills for Department of Homeland Security Advance
  • NSF and NIH: Joint Solicitation Issued for Quantitative Approaches to Biomedical Big Data
  • Fusion Energy Research: DOE Report Casts Doubt on National Ignition Facility Success
  • Earth Observations: Request for Information Issued for National Plan for Earth Observations
  • Manufacturing: New Manufacturing Institutes Planned

White House

Following through on his 2009 inaugural speech to “restore science to its rightful place” the White House has issued an Impact Report detailing 100 examples of Presidential initiatives in science, technology and innovation over the past eight years. These range from promoting transparency and openness in science agencies to major health research initiatives, such as Precision Medicine, the BRAIN initiative, and initiating the Cancer Moonshot.

The list includes major past accomplishments ranging from the discovery of the Higgs Boson and detection of gravity waves to future advancements from initiatives such as the James Webb Space Telescope, Wide-Field Infrared Telescope, and the Europa mission.

Along with the release of the report, the White House noted that on June 18 Dr. John P. Holdren became the longest serving science advisor since Vannevar Bush, the first Presidential science advisor.


Continuing to push ahead on appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee passed the 2017 Homeland Security Bill.  The bill provides $41.6 million for the DHS University Programs, an increase of 26% over the request level.  This would restore the reductions proposed in the Administration’s request for the university-based Centers of Excellence program and provide funding to maintain at least ten such centers.

In other action, partisan divisions over gun control legislation continued to stall the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill on both sides of the Hill. Discussion has begun to focus on one or more continuing resolutions after October 1.

Read More: Defense Communities


The emergence of biomedical “big data” from a vast array of biological, biomedical, behavioral, social, and environmental databases, and clinical studies has the potential to fulfill the promise of precision medicine. However, the ability to transform these data and images into effective tools for visualization, modeling and analysis is a major challenge. The NSF and NIH have jointly issued solicitation NSF 16-573, entitled Quantitative Approaches to Biomedical Big Data.

The solicitation aims to bring together new teams of quantitative scientists and biomedical researchers who have not previously collaborated nor published together. The call is intended to go beyond standard mathematical, computational and statistical applications. From the total NSF/NIH funding of $5 million, ten to twenty awards will be made.

Fusion Energy Research

A recently released report by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) entitled 2015 Review of the Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Energy Density Science Portfolio provides an update of the various efforts under the National Ignition Campaign to achieve fusion energy.  The most prominent efforts within the program have been the Omega Laser Facility at the University of Rochester, the Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories, and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore National Laboratory.  Completed in 2009 at a cost of $3.5 billion, the original goal for NIF was to achieve ignition by 2012.

The NNSA report concludes that, although progress has been made in achieving ignition, “Barring an unforeseen technical breakthrough and given today’s configuration of the NIF laser, achieving ignition on the NIF in the near term (one to two years) is unlikely and is uncertain over the next five years.” In order to understand the the gaps between the calculated and actual performance of NIF, the report recommends making better use of the Omega and Z facilities to understand the limitations of the physics.

Read More: Physics Today , Science Insider

Earth Observations

The Office of Science and Technology Policy has issued a Request for Information for input into second National Plan for Civil Earth Observations.  The first such national strategy, released in 2013, was mandated by Congress and was intended to be updated every three years.  Thirteen federal agencies are involved in earth observations with activities ranging from building and operating satellites to managing aspects of data distribution.

Agricultural needs, hazard response, ecosystem health, land use change, and long term research depend on a coordinated and well integrated federal system. The RFI lists ten specific questions on user needs and ways in which the federal management of earth observation systems could be improved. Responses are requested by July 15.


The White House has announced the award of the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute to the UCLA led Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, a consortium of over 200 participating organizations from 30 states. This will focus on smart sensors and process controls that will enhance manufacturing efficiency.

In making the announcement, the President also laid out plans for five new manufacturing institutes ranging from robotics to biofabrication. With an eventual goal of fifteen such institutes nationwide, some of these competitions are already underway.

Read More: Manufacturing.gov


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