July 1, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • White House: OSTP Requests Information on Artificial Intelligence
  • Congress: Senate Acts on Competitiveness Bill
  • National Academy of Sciences: Report on Research Regulatory Framework Issued
  • NSF: NSF Announces NeuroNext Webinar
  • Cancer Moonshot: New Actions Announced at Summit Meeting
  • Campaign 2016: Candidate Views on Science and Innovation Take Shape

White House

The White House has pointed to the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to hold great promise in areas such as education, health-care, and consumer products, e.g. voice recognition.  However, AI also has the potential for adverse societal impacts.  As rapid advancements are made in AI, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has embarked on a series of four livestreamed workshops to identify challenges and opportunities related to this emerging technology, and is now soliciting public comments.

Input is being sought from consumers, academic and industry researchers, and private companies. Specific focus questions relate to governance issues, societal implications, scientific and technological gaps, potential benefits and potential problems. The comment period closes July 22.

Congress

The White House has pointed to the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to hold great promise in areas such as education, health-care, and consumer products, e.g. voice recognition.  However, AI also has the potential for adverse societal impacts.  As rapid advancements are made in AI, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has embarked on a series of four livestreamed workshops to identify challenges and opportunities related to this emerging technology, and is now soliciting public comments.

Among the provisions, the bill would address basic research policy questions such as reaffirming the merit review process, and endorsing the EPSCoR program. The bill also attempts to address some well recognized research regulatory and administrative burdens, and establishes a research regulatory interagency working group to develop a uniform grant system.

The bill pays particular attention to STEM education issues. It would establish one or more Centers of Excellence for STEM education, which would collect, maintain, and disseminate information to increase participation of women and under-represented groups in STEM fields. Finally, the bill seeks to stimulate innovation, commercialization, and manufacturing in the US.

Read More: Morning Consult, AIP Bulletin

National Academy of Sciences

At the request of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences convened the Committee on Federal Research Regulations and Reporting Requirements and tasked the committee to review the regulatory framework for research funding agencies.  Now, a complete report of the far ranging review has been released, entitled Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research.  The Committee observed that prior recommendations for reforming the research regulatory system have gained little traction, and there is no single fix to the myriad of laws, regulations, policies, rules, guidance, FAQs, etc.

The report addresses its recommendations to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, research agencies, and research institutions. Among other specific issues, the report takes aim at the ongoing NIH effort at reformulating the “common rule” governing the use of human research subjects.

Read More: Science Insider

NSF

On May 27, the NSF released solicitation NSF 16-569, Developing a National Research Infrastructure for Neuroscience (NeuroNex).  This solicitation follows from the NSF announcement to establish a Brain Observatory, as directed in the language accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY 2015.  The solicitation is aimed at two categories of proposals: the development of research resources, instrumentation, neurotechnologies, and the establishment of neurotechnology research hubs; and, establishing theoretical teams to understand the mechanisms governing information processing within a brain circuit and between interacting circuits in the brain as a whole.

Hubs would coordinate and communicate research results, share instrumentation, and unify public and private investments in brain science.   Large electron microscopes, magnetic resonance facilities, nanotechnology laboratories, computational and data centers, and other facilities would be better shared and utilized by the research community through the Brain Observatory concept.  The theory teams would work in coordination with hubs to advance the underpinnings of behavior and cognition.  The NSF has announced a webinar to be held on July 19 to discuss the proposed approach to both of these solicitation features.

Cancer Moonshot

Vice President Biden presided over a Cancer Moonshot national summit meeting involving parallel events in all 50 states.  In fulfilling the promise to double the rate of progress in addressing cancer, the White House announced over a dozen new public-private initiatives.  These include giving researchers easier access to cancer drugs, giving patients easier access to clinical trial opportunities, new initiatives in strategic computing and big data, among others.  The summit also served to highlight increased coordination among the agencies and with the private sector.  The Vice President also pointed to the need to openly share research and clinical data and the legal obligation for federally funded researchers to do so.

Funding for the Moonshot initiative has included incentives for private funding, and over $755 million in mandatory funding for NIH and FDA. Discretionary funding for the program is embedded in the National Cancer Institute (NCI), however a detailed spending plan has not been developed. The FY17 request for discretionary funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was $5.097 billion, a decrease of over 2% below current spending levels.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has provided an overall increase of $2 billion for NIH with proportional increases for each center.  For NCI the bill provides $5.43 billion, an increase of over 4% over current spending, but the the Moonshot initiative itself was not specified.  The Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel will deliver a report later this year detailing specific Moonshot funding plans and is expected to support future year budget requests.

Read More:  STAT

Campaign 2016

Although science and technology have not been prominent so far in either of the presumptive candidates’ platforms, their views are beginning to take shape.  Hillary Clinton has released a fact sheet on technology and innovation addressing STEM and workforce issues, computer science for all, advanced network infrastructure, and increases for NSF, DOE, and DARPA.  These reflect many of the initiatives initiated under the Obama administration.

The Trump campaign platform contains several statements on technology.  These have addressed infrastructure needs and cyber issues.

Read More: Politico, Brookings Brief

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