Author Archives: Laura Dean

August 12

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

August 12, 2016

NSF: Data Science Experts Urged to Partner With Brain Initiative Projects
NASA: Comments Solicited on Draft AO for New Frontiers Mission Competition
NIH: National Institute of General Medical Sciences to Establish Centers for HIV/AIDS-Related Structural Biology
Homeland Security: DHS To Establish Center of Excellence for Quantitative Analysis
Cybersecurity: White House Commission Solicits Input
Research Enterprise: National Academy of Sciences Releases Study on Science Literacy
Perspectives: The Real Data Revolution in Higher Education by Brandon Busteed

NSF
The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is a major research focus for both the NSF and for the NIH. The NSF has now issued a Dear Colleague Letter calling attention to the large and complex data sets being generated by the initiative and the emerging need to focus more attention on managing, integrating and analyzing these diverse data types. The letter encourages experts in informatics, software and cyberinfrastructure to partner with brain researchers. The letter recommends that researchers contact program managers in their respective program areas including Advances in Biological Informatics, Software Infrastructure for Sustained Innovation, and Data Infrastructure Building Blocks.

NASA
NASA’s New Frontiers planetary exploration program offers principal investigators the opportunity to pursue specific missions defined by the community as high priority. They are medium-class missions with a cost cap of $850 million not including a launch vehicle. Present missions include the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Juno mission to Jupiter and the soon to be launched OSIRIS-Rex mission to the asteroid Bennu.
NASA has now released a draft AO and is requesting community comment for the next set of missions. In the past, community comments have led to notable changes and improvements in such NASA solicitations.
Read More: SpaceRef

NIH
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has announced its intention to establish centers of excellence that will support the characterization of macromolecular complexes for HIV/AIDS. In addition to a scientific focus on HIV research, the Centers for HIV/AIDS-Related Structural Biology will be expected to possess capabilities for determination of high resolution molecular structures by one or more means. In addition to X-ray crystallography, these may include NMR and cryo-electron microscopy, small angle x-ray scattering, and mass spectrometry. It is expected that methods unique to one Center will be made available to other Centers on a collaborative basis. Each center is also expected to have a technology focus that would push the state-of-the-art in macromolecular structural determination.

Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Office of University Programs (OUP) has issued a pair of solicitations to establish a lead and partners for a Center of Excellence (COE) for Homeland Security Quantitative Analysis (DHS-16-ST-061-HSQA-LEAD and DHS-16-ST-061-HSQA-PARTNER).). Valued at up to $40 million over a ten year period, the centers are intended to be university based and work closely with DHS and others to identify the most critical knowledge and technology gaps on an on-going basis. The Center and its partners would be expected to enhance the application of analytic tools that support real-time decision making to address homeland security-related threats and hazards and develop the next generation of mathematical, computational, and statistical theories to advance quantitative analysis capabilities of the homeland security enterprise.
Read More:Nextgov

Cybersecurity

The White House Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity was established earlier this year to make recommendations to the nation for actions that can be taken over the next decade to strengthen cybersecurity in both the public and private sector.  Now, a Request for Information has been issued to obtain community input on current and future challenges, and promising and innovative approaches to address those challenges.  Among the areas the Commission seeks to explore are: emerging technology trends and innovations; the effect these technology trends and innovations will have on the digital economy; the effect these technology trends and innovations will have on cybersecurity; and, economic and other incentives for enhancing cybersecurity.

Read More: Nextgov

Research Enterprise

Society’s willingness to undertake voluntary collective action, for example in addressing climate change or genetic engineering, is often predicated on assumptions about the role of public science literacy.  At the request of NIH, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of science literacy and science communication experts to reexamine the state of science literacy in the US, compare it with other developed countries, and assess the linkages to science policy development and science funding.  The report, entitled Science Literacy:  Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences, has been released in pre-publication form.

Perspectives
In a Gallup Opinion piece, Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education and Workforce Development, comments on The Real Data Revolution in Higher Education.  He argues that to improve higher education, some of the most important outcome measures to track are related to expectations, experiences, emotions, and outcomes of students, alumni, staff and faculty. These consumer oriented measures are important indicators of the performance of academic instructions. He advocates a “Consumer Reports” type ranking of universities in addition to the traditional national rankings based on selectivity, endowment size, graduation rates, etc.

#

August 5, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • NSF: White House Announces Lead NSF Role for Unmanned Aircraft Research
  • NOAA: Ocean Exploration Funding Opportunity Released
  • Defense Research: DARPA Plans an Explainable Artificial Intelligence Initiative
  • Research Enterprise: GAO Issues Recommendations to Streamline Research Grants
  • Higher Education: ITIF Report Recommends Separating Learning from Credentialing
  • Climate Change: State of the Climate Report Documents Impacts on Sea Life

NSF

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has announced a set of actions aimed at promoting the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System.  This is intended to complement the “Small UAS” rule promulgated by the Department of Transportation earlier this year.  Additional rulemaking for Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People is in process and will be open for comments later this year.

The OSTP announcement assigns a lead role to the NSF in carrying out a research and applications program to develop and apply beneficial UAS applications.  With a budget of $35 million, the NSF will address monitoring and inspection of physical infrastructure, disaster response, agricultural monitoring, the study of severe storms, and other areas of intelligent sensing and man/machine interface.

The announcement also cites initiatives that will be taken by the Department of Interior for search and rescue operations, NASA for developing new detect and avoid and command and control technologies, and NOAA for developing precise gravity measurements and enhancing the observational capabilities for the NOAA fleet.

Read More: Nextgov

NOAA

NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), whose mission is to investigate and document poorly known and unknown ocean areas, has released its FY 17 Ocean Exploration solicitation, NOAA-OAR-OER-2017-2004970.  Proposals for this cycle should address the following:  exploration of processes that take place in the water column below 200 meters; exploration of processes associated with seamounts, especially where ocean mining may occur; and, exploration of historically significant submerged features and artifacts associated with WWII.

Defense Research

The rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence has highlighted a critical issue for future autonomous systems that will make decisions and carry out actions on their own. To fully exploit such systems they will need to be able to explain their decisions and actions to human users. Humans will need to be able to understand, trust, and effectively manage this coming generation of AI in order to make practical use of this technology.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is planning a future solicitation for Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI).  By creating new machine learning methods to produce explainable models, XAI aims to develop appropriately trustable man/machine interfaces.

DARPA is planning a proposers day August 11 to outline the XAI program’s technical goals and challenges, as well as provide an opportunity for potential proposers to submit questions to DARPA.

Research Enterprise

Adding to the body of recommendations from academia and Congress to reduce research grant regulatory burdens, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report entitled Opportunities Remain for Agencies to Streamline Administrative Requirements. The GAO observed that the workload for regulatory compliance has led to increased costs for universities, which must invest in new electronic systems and in hiring and training new staff. The report concludes that the costs of regulatory compliance would be greatly reduced by: standardizing requirements for budget materials and purchase justifications; delaying some pre-award proposal requirements, such as detailed budgets, until later in the procurement process; and, allowing universities greater flexibility in handling risks.

Higher Education

The Information Technology and Information Foundation (ITIF) has released a report entitled Why It’s Time to Disrupt Higher Education by Separating Learning from Credentialing. The report argues that traditional degree granting is an outdated and an overly limited way to assess learning outcomes. New learning modes such as community college courses, massively open online courses (MOOCs), self-study and other alternative learning approaches are being strongly driven by emerging information technology, and should be established as alternative credentials. This would make higher education more efficient, less costly, and would empower students as “consumers.” Breaking the legacy connection between teaching students and certifying their academic achievements would disrupt the current academic culture and require employers to assess job qualifications differently, but it would introduce valuable new innovations.

This report adds to the overall debate over pending higher education reforms, including reducing regulatory burdens, streamlining student aid programs, and increasing affordability and accountability. The Higher Education Act has been reauthorized eight times since 1965 and is now past its 2015 extended lifetime. However Congress has not taken up a comprehensive rewrite during this election year despite the attention higher education issues have gotten during the campaigns. This may be a high priority action for the Administration and Congress in the coming year.

Read More: Inside Higher Ed

Climate Change

Each year, NOAA releases a State of the Climate report detailing changes in key indicators of climate change, and their impacts. The report, containing contributions from 450 scientists in 62 countries, finds that 2015 was the hottest year on record as a result of anthropogenic influences and a strong El Niño event. Greenhouse gases, land surface temperature, sea surface temperature, and sea level are all the highest on record.

This year’s report also details substantial impacts on sea life. These include: changing behavior of Arctic walruses as a result of loss of sea ice; declines in some Antarctic penguins species; threats to polar fish species in the Barents Sea as a result of warm water fish intrusions; and, an abnormally large toxic algal bloom in the Northwest Pacific.

#

Contact Us for more information

July 29, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • National Academy of Sciences: Gulf Research Program Funding Opportunity Announced
  • NIH: Proposals Requested for Center of Excellence for Integrative Health
  • NASA: GAO Issues Warning on Space Launch System, Orion Crew Capsule
  • Climate Research: NRC Releases Report on Climate Variability
  • Elections: Democratic Campaign Platform Unveiled

National Academy of Sciences

In 2013, in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) established a special Gulf Research Program to provide research grants, fellowships and carry out other related activities activities in order to increase the safety of oil systems and mitigate risks to the environment and communities.  Now, together with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NAS has announced the availability of grants for Enhancing Coastal Community Resilience and Well-being in the Gulf of Mexico Region.  The program is seeking proposals to build integrative teams, community involvement initiatives, information dissemination, and scientific research.  A webinar outlining the intent of the program and this competition will be held August 11.

NIH

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has issued a request for proposals for Centers of Excellence for Research on Complementary and Integrative Health.  The mission of the centers will generally be to advance the NCCIH strategic plan which outlines five major objectives and a number of research priorities.  Up to three awards will be made to teams that can address unifying themes that encompass multi-project, multi-disciplinary collaborations.  Awards are limited to $1.25 million per year in direct costs.

NASA

In 2009, the incoming Obama Administration made the decision to cancel NASA’s Constellation launch vehicle program in reaction to the substantial cost overruns and schedule slips that were emerging. Now, the next Administration may face the same issue for Constellation’s replacement, the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion crew capsule. Together, SLS and Orion are estimated to cost $23 billion through the first SLS flight. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued warnings on both the SLS and Orion.

At the direction of the House Appropriations Committee, the GAO examined the budget reserves for both programs and the likelihood they would achieve their stated schedule milestones. Noting the substantial technical progress made to date, the GAO concluded that the goal of achieving first launch SLS by November 2018 and of Orion by 2021 were unrealistic and both would require additional funding to achieve their schedule goals.

These major funding decisions will confront the transition team as the next Administration takes office. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on July 13 on reasserting US leadership in space exploration warning against major changes in policy and priorities during presidential transitions.

Read More: Space News, SpacePolicy Online , Washington Post

Climate Research

Between weather, which changes on a daily basis, and climate change, which takes place on a centuries basis, there is climate variability, which refers to changes on the scale of years to decades. Our understanding and prediction of climate variability is important for decision making in sectors such as infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, and energy.

An ongoing debate within the climate research community has been whether or not there has been a slowdown, or hiatus, in global mean surface temperature between 1998 and 2014. This slowdown was not predicted by most models and researchers have proposed a number of explanations. These have included changes in aerosol emissions from human activity, shifting ocean currents, volcanic eruptions, and solar variability. However, such potential causes and changes on the decadal time scale are poorly understood. In addition, there are uncertainties in the treatment of the satellite or sea surface temperature data itself, which could affect model results.

A workshop held in September 2015 brought together leading scientists to share their research and current understanding of climate variability on decadal timescales of 10 to 30 years. The workshop report, Frontiers in Decadal Climate Variability, has now been released.

The participants agreed with the current consensus that over the long term, the planet as a whole is warming steadily. Climate variability, however, can cause the rate of warming to shift over periods lasting from years to a few decades. A key finding of the workshop is that “A slowdown in the rise of GMST (global mean surface temperature) is not equivalent to a slowdown in global warming. Viewed over long time periods (50+ years), there is a persistent increase in GMST. However, it remains important to understand the decadal variability in GMST that is observed over shorter time periods.”

The workshop concludes that addressing the gaps in knowledge of decadal climate variability and improving predictions could lead to better-informed climate change attribution studies and a better informed decision-making process.

Elections

As a part of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, the Democratic party has released its 2016 campaign platform.  Throughout the document, the concept of science-based decision making receives prominent attention.

The platform statement focusses a great deal on climate science and climate related actions and policies.  The platform includes a section entitled Combat  Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice extending many of the initiatives begun under the Obama administration.  It affirms the validity of the science underpinning climate change and pledges to build a clean energy economy.

A section entitled Pursuing Our Innovation Agenda: Science, Research, Education, and Technology links investments in research to economic gains, and emphasizes information technology and high-speed internet access.  It also gives special attention to NASA and its achievements in understanding our place in the universe, and its ability to inspire and educate.

Finally, as part of its health care plank, the platform includes a section on Enabling Cutting-Edge Medical Research. It advocates a “fully funded” National Institutes of Health, the only clear reference to science funding.

Read More: Carbon Brief , The Daily Dot , NASA Watch

#

Contact Us for more information

July 22, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • NSF: Lead Role in Advanced Wireless Research Initiative Outlined
  • NASA: Heliophysics Explorer Opportunity Announced
  • Climate Change: Global Temperature On Track for a Record
  • Elections: Republican Campaign Platform Unveiled

NSF

On July 15, the White House announced a new initiative for Advanced Wireless Research intended to result in super-fast, ultra-low latency, high-capacity networks which are up to 100 times faster than what is available today.  The announcement cited a lead role by the NSF in investing up to $400 million over the next 7 years in academic research that can utilize advanced wireless testing platforms developed by private-public partnerships.

The NSF has announced the establishment of a Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) Project Office to manage the development of these platforms and carry out fundamental research on communications technologies, networking architectures and new applications. A webinar providing additional information is scheduled for July 28.

Read More: Tech Crunch

NASA

Heliophysics explorer missions are principal investigator (PI) led missions that provide frequent flight opportunities for the heliophysics community.  NASA has released three solicitations for explorers; a Small Explorer class mission; Stand Alone Missions of Opportunity; and, a solicitation for a US participating investigator in a non-NASA mission.  The cost cap for the Explorer mission is now set at $165M in FY 2017 dollars, including access to space, but not including any contributions. The sum of contributions of any kind to the entirety of the investigation is limited to one-third (1/3) of the proposed mission cost.  Final proposals are due October 14.

Read More: Planetary News

Climate Change

Both NASA and NOAA have reported that 2016 is on track to break the record set in 2015.  The combination of El Nino and anthropogenic influences have resulted in increases of 1.3 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, above the baseline when global temperature records began.  This increase approaches the limit of 1.5 degree increase agreed to in Paris last year as a long term goal for limiting global warming.  One consequence of this year’s warming trend is a record low Arctic ice mass since satellite records have been available.  The Arctic sea ice mass was more than 11% below its average extent.  The Antarctic sea ice was also diminished, the 13th smallest on record.

Read More: New York Times ,  AP

Elections

As part of the GOP convention in Cleveland, the 2016 Republican Platform was released.  It differs from the 2012 platform in several ways.  Whereas the 2012 platform contained an expansive and ambitious set of goals for NASA space science, medical research, and workforce development, the 2016 platform is more limited in terms of specificity, but implies a number of policy changes.

For NASA, it focuses on the emerging private sector space program and the need to nurture free-market entrepreneurship. Retaining a feature of the 2012 platform, it also advocates launching more scientific missions as an element of overall competitiveness and innovation.

It takes aim at “bogus science” and “scare tactics” resulting in excessive environmental regulation, barring US agricultural product exports, and impediments to energy independence.

Finally, it aims to appeal to the tech community by promoting greater wireless development and broadband access. However, it abandons the 2012 platform advocacy for increasing the flow of foreign work visas for highly educated immigrants, a policy sought by Silicon Valley.

Read More: Morning Consult

#

Contact Us for more information

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

Congress

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

NSF

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.

NASA

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

#

Contact Us for more information

July 8, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • White House: Administration Announces New Actions to Advance Precision Medicine
  • Congress: House Appropriations Committee Acts on NIH Funding Bill
  • NIH: Specialized Centers Announced for Mental Illness
  • Homeland Security: Countering Violent Extremism Grants Announced
  • Climate Change: White House Seeks Public Comment on 4th National Climate Assessment

White House

A key feature of the Precision Medicine Initiative announced by the President in January 2015, is the establishment of cohort of up to one million volunteers participating in a longitudinal research effort to amass data on genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle.  Now the Administration has announced an investment of $55 million to build partnerships with health care providers including regional medical centers, community health centers and the Veterans Administration.  Regional centers include Columbia University, Northwestern University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Pittsburgh.  The community health centers are expected to assist in recruitment efforts for the research cohort.

Associated with this, the NIH has also announced awards for a data and research support center, and a participant technologies center, both of which involve university-private sector partnerships. Also included is a Food and Drug Administration initiative to streamline its oversight of genomic tests while continuing to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Read More: Boston Globe Op Ed.

Congress

In an effort to advance as many appropriations bills as possible before October 1, the House Appropriations Committee released the Labor, HHS, Education bill and moved it through Subcommittee.  It provides $33.3 billion for the NIH, $1.25 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $2.25 billion above the President’s discretionary budget request.  Similar to the Senate counterpart, it provides targeted funding for specific medical research programs such as Alzheimer’s disease, Precision Medicine, and the BRAIN initiative, but does not explicitly acknowledge the Cancer Moonshot.  However, each NIH research unit, including the National Cancer Institute, would receive general increases under the bill.  Unlike the Senate counterpart, the House bill does not restore year-around Pell Grants.

This action marks the 12th and final appropriations bill to move through the House Appropriations Committee. In the limited time remaining, Congress will face the task of passing these individual bills, developing a single omnibus piece of legislation, or passing a continuing resolution of up to six months to keep the Government operating until the next administration.

Read More: STAT, AAU Statement

NIH

The National Institute of Mental Health has announced a (P50) specialized center funding opportunity for Advanced Laboratories for Accelerating the Reach and Impact of Treatments for Youth and Adults with Mental Illness (ALACRITY).  The intent of each center is to optimize the effectiveness of therapeutic or preventive interventions for mental disorders; optimize the delivery of mental health services within real world treatment settings; and improve the quality, impact, and durability of optimized interventions and service delivery within diverse care systems.  The centers are also intended to provide opportunities for graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and new investigators to participate in translational mental health research.   Grants are envisioned to be for $1 million for four years.

Read More: NIMH Strategic Plan

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism grant program is available to university researchers as well as local communities.  It seeks to address domestic and international terrorism, and prevent recruitment or radicalization to violence.  The program focuses on identifying the early signs of radicalization to violence and providing appropriate interventions through civic organizations and research insights.  FY16 priorities include the development of efforts to counter the on-line recruitment of violent extremists aimed at U.S.-based individuals. University based proposals should address two specific focus areas: challenging the narrative; and, building capacity of community-level non-profit organizations active in countering violent extremism.

Challenging the narrative proposals could include online awareness campaigns addressing the causes and consequences of terrorism and violent extremism; efforts to engage on-line radicalization narratives with positive counternarratives; speaking tours featuring credible counter-narrative voices; video, audio or digital media campaigns promoting community resilience to violent extremists’ propaganda; and marketing and dissemination of on-line and traditional media counter-narrative campaigns.

Building capacity proposals should address research, evaluation, assessment, data-analytics, marketing, or professional skills to enhance the missions of third-party community-level non-profit organizations that counter terrorism.

Read More: DHS Press Release

Climate Change

The Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires the federal government to produce a national climate change assessment report and update it periodically. The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has led three major climate change assessment reports since 2000, with each report becoming more detailed in its description of research needs, regional impacts, and adaption strategies. The USGCRP has now formally requested public input on the content and scope of the 4th such assessment.

Among other report objectives, the draft outline released by the USGCRP includes a section that will deal with the relative costs of mitigation actions and opportunities. The comment period is open until July 29th.

#

Contact Us for more information

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

#

Contact Us for more information

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.

Congress

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

NSF and NIH

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.

Manufacturing

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

#

Contact Us for more information

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

Congress

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

DOD

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

USDA

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.

#

Contact Us for more information

June 10, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: NIH Receives Budget Boost in Senate Appropriations Bill
  • NSF and NASA: Origin of Life Ideas Lab Announced
  • NIH: Genetic Data Commons Established to Support Cancer Moonshot
  • National Research Council: Report on Gene Drives Released
  • Astronomy: LISA European Gravity Wave Observatory Demonstrates Success
  • Ocean Sciences: GAO Releases Statement on Implementation of Ocean Acidification Plan

Congress

The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee moved forward on an appropriations bill which would provide $34.1 billion in discretionary funding for NIH, a $2 billion increase over current spending, the second major increase in the past two years. Increases were specifically targeted for the Precision Medicine Initiative, Alzheimer’s disease research, the BRAIN initiative, and antibiotic resistance. Every NIH Institute and Center would receive increases under this bill. The legislation received bipartisan support and avoided policy riders and “poison pills.”

The bill also expanded Pell Grants to include year around eligibility. The Subcommittee estimated that by including summer grants, this provision would provide one million students an additional Pell grant of about $1,650 during the 2017-18 school year.
In other action, the

Read More: Science Insider

NSF and NASA

Ideas Labs are structured workshops intended to focus on “grand challenge” problems and the transformative research that can address them. NSF and NASA have jointly announced program solicitation 16-570, an Ideas Lab addressing the Origin of Life. Topical proposals should be related to the theoretical framework for the origin of life, understanding plausible pathways for the origin of life, and how this would affect search for life on other worlds. The workshop seeks to examine and differentiate between two prevalent theories of the prebiotic origin of life (known as the “metabolism first” and “RNA first” models).

Preliminary proposals are due August 5. Those selected for full proposals will be invited by December 19.

Read More: Bright Hub

NIH

A major thrust of the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot initiative is to promote the free and open exchange of research data.  Now, the Vice President has announced the establishment of a Genetic Data Commons providing the cancer research community with a unified data repository, enabling data sharing across cancer genomic studies through commonly established data protocols and standardized software algorithms.  The new initiative would begin by combining existing NIH data systems, which includes The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET), and the Cancer Genome Characterization Initiative (CGCI).

Read More: University of Chicago News

National Research Council

In its continuing review of the technological, ethical and safety issues surrounding genetic modification, the National Research Council has now released a pre-publication draft report entitled, “Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values.” A “gene drive” is a gene modified such that it affects not only a trait, but the inheritance of that trait in the reproductive process. Thus, a gene drive can affect an entire population within a dozen generations. It has the potential to quickly eradicate the spread of insect carrying diseases such as Zika and malaria. However, the prospect of artificially biasing inheritance on a population wide basis also presents important biosafety and bioethics questions regarding unintended consequences. The emergence of the CRISPER gene editing technology over the past two years has made the prospect of creating a wide range of gene drives an immediate possibility.

The report reviews the current governance for gene drive technology ranging from individual investigator “best practices,” to existing Federal guidelines by NIH and existing Federal regulations, which are overlapping and not clearly assigned. The report also calls attention to the need for an international governance. It concludes “There is insufficient evidence available at this time to support the release of gene-drive modified organisms into the environment. However, the potential benefits of gene drives for basic and applied research are significant and justify proceeding with laboratory research and highly-controlled field trials.”

Read More: New York Times

Astronomy

The recent success of NSF’s Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in observing a gravity wave event has called attention to the longer term opportunities to further develop gravity wave observational capabilities.  The 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, recommended US participation in the European Space Agency’s gravity wave program, beginning with the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder technology demonstrator launched in December 2015.  A more ambitious mission is planned for around 2034.

Now, the LISA Pathfinder mission has reported success in demonstrating the stability needed for a three spacecraft constellation linked by lasers. NASA has formally committed to partner in the 2034 mission and has formed a community based scientific study team.

Read More: APS News

Ocean Sciences

June 8, designated as World Oceans Day, is an occasion for many organizations to reflect on the issues surrounding the sustainability of our ocean resources.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a statement calling attention to the implementation of the Federal Ocean Acidification and Monitoring Act of 2009 which requires NOAA, NASA, NSF and other federal agencies to take steps to address acidification.  Ocean acidification is occurring due to the uptake of increasing levels of carbon dioxide due to human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels.

Although substantial progress has been made by the participating agencies in establishing focused research and monitoring plans, the GAO found the agencies have yet to 1) clearly establish each agency’s role in implementing the research and monitoring plan and outline the budget requirements for implementing the plan; 2) establish an ocean acidification information exchange; and, 3) develop adaptation and mitigation strategies to conserve marine organisms and ecosystems. The GAO has stated completing these actions are necessary to understand the potential impacts of ocean acidification.

Read More: GAO Report, Brookings Brief

#

Contact Us for more information