July 15, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: Stop-Gap Spending Bill Increasingly Likely
  • NSF: Comments Solicited on Polar Programs
  • NASA: Comments Invited On Draft Solicitation for Medium Explorer Mission
  • Climate Change: New Data Shows Feedback Effects of Clouds on Global Warming


This week was the last opportunity for Congress to make progress on appropriations bills before an extended seven week August recess. With little progress made, debate shifted to the duration of a stop-gap spending measure and how long it should be in place, with no clear resolution.

In the House, the full Appropriations Committee marked up the Labor, HHS spending bill, while the Interior and Environment bill was considered on the floor.  Both of these are historically difficult to pass and normally attract a large number of contentions policy provisions.

For NIH, the Labor, HHS bill provides $33.3 billion, $1.25 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $2.25 billion above the President’s discretionary budget request. Efforts by Democrats to increase specific funding for the Cancer Moonshot initiative were defeated. The bill provides $5.34 billion for the National Cancer Institute, an increase of $341 million above the discretionary request, but less than the $5.43 billion Senate counterpart. Republican lawmakers have pointed out that a full budget justification and spending plan for the initiative will not be available until December and specific funding increases should be predicated on that report.

Read More: The Hill


In 2013, the Office of Polar Programs was consolidated into the Geoscience Directorate as a division level organization. Now that the new organizational alignment has been in place for three years, the NSF has issued a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) soliciting community and public comment on how the overall mission of the Polar Programs division has fared. An analysis accompanying the DCL shows that the overall budget for Polar Programs from 2011 to 2015 has nearly recovered the spending level that was in the years place prior to the reorganization. Part of this increase is attributable to new investments in logistics and infrastructure over this period.

Since 2011, proposal pressure has increased sharply by over 20%, far outstripping proposal pressure in other Geosciences divisions. The proposal success rate for polar programs declined from 44% to 22% from 2011 to 2015.

The DCL invites comments until July 21 on three specific questions:

  1. “Are there particular successes or failures that, in your opinion, arise directly from the relocation of the Office of Polar Programs into GEO?
  2. Given the data and trends available, your direct interaction with PLR, and NSF’s budgets in general, please comment on the extent to which PLR’s current role within NSF supports and anticipates the needed science and operations investments in polar regions. Has NSF PLR served the needs of the science and engineering research community as well as possible in light of the current budget realities?
  3. What, if any, changes might be made to enable NSF PLR to most effectively perform all of its important functions?”

The White House has also issued a request for public input on various scientific challenges and global implications for the Arctic. This request was issued in anticipation of an Arctic Science Ministerial meeting to be held September 28. The request is also aimed at strengthening the observational program and data sharing especially with other international researchers.


The Explorers Program is the longest continuous scientific flight program in NASA.  Comments have now been invited on a draft solicitation for the next Astrophysics Medium Explorer Mission (MIDEX).  Astrophysics MIDEX missions are intended to provide principal investigator led flight opportunities in moderate cost range which can be accomplished in a three year time frame.  The cost cap for a MIDEX mission is $250 M in FY 2017 dollars, not including the cost of the Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV).

Climate Change

Up to 85% of anthropogenic global warming is due to the amplification feedback effects of water vapor. Generally, the feedback is due to the increase in the altitude and latitude of clouds as global temperatures increases. Thus the role of clouds is crucial to our understanding of the climate system and the applicability of models. However, disparities between models and observations of the cloud distribution and the inability to validate this key mechanism have been one of the largest uncertainties in global warming. Now, a new study has provided strong evidence that the signature of this feedback mechanism can be seen in the historical satellite record. The study reassessed the satellite data accounting for sensor degradation and satellite orbital precession. The results provide a consistent picture of the performance of model predictions and the migration of cloud cover over the past several decades.

Read More: Washington Post , Carbon Brief


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