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                                 March 23, 2019



President Trump's FY 2020 budget request would reduce spending at a number of science agencies by more than 10 percent below current enacted levels, slicing more than $1 billion each from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science and $430 million from the Agricultural Research Service, among other cuts. "While  recognizing the continued importance of R&D spending to support innovation, fiscal prudence demands a more focused approach to the Federal R&D budget," a White House document says. With a big exception for the Pentagon, the budget adheres to the draconian caps contained in the 2011 Budget Control Act. The president underscored this with a March 18 executive order that would enforce a discretionary spending limit of $1.1 trillion for FY 2020--$200 billion below current levels.

The budget raises overall defense spending by putting $164.6 billion into Overseas Contingency Operations, which are not subject to BCA caps. The Pentagon's R&D priorities for FY 2020 are: unmanned and autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and machine learning; hypersonics in the air, sea and on the ground; and directed energy (lasers). The DoD budget gouges Army, Navy, and Air Force’s science and technology accounts by 33.3 percent, 10.4 percent, and 5.6 percent, respectively, and reduces the National Defense Education Program by 32 percent, affecting SMART (Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation) and the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program.  

See a comprehensive analysis by Lewis-Burke Associates of the administration's budget request and additional reporting by the American Institute of Physics.

POWER OF THE PURSE: If the past two years' appropriations offer a reliable guide, Congress will bury the Trump budget and reject most of the proposed cuts. That's the hope of university and research institution lobbyists and their allies on the Hill. Referring to NSF, Jeff Mervis reports in Science, "Last year, Congress turned Trump’s proposed $295 million reduction into an increase of $308 million, and in 2018 it transformed a proposed $820 million cut into a $295 million boost." The Coalition for National Science Funding, which advocates for NSF, is pushing for the agency to get $9 billion in FY 2020--$1 billion more than it receives now and $2 billion above the administration's budget. The group has support for the $9 billion figure from two House champions, Reps G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-W.V).

The Coalition for National Security Research, which backs the Pentagon's science agencies, plans to seek major increases as well, highlighting these programs: University Research Initiatives, Defense Research Sciences, High Energy Laser Research Initiatives, DTRA Basic Research Initiatives, Basic Research Initiatives, the National Defense Education Program, and the Defense-Wide Manufacturing Science & Technology Program. The Energy Sciences Coaltion, meanwhile, is seeking $7 billion for DOE's Office of Science, $1.5 billion more than the administration is requesting. 

POWER OF THE PEN: While Trump swallowed much higher domestic spending than called for in his FY 2018 and FY 2019 budgets, he can veto appropriations. He has also shown a willingness to shut down the government in a fight over money. And to bust the caps on discretionary spending, Congress will first have to reach a bipartisan budget deal. It could get complicated. See below. 

SOUND AND FURY: The president offered full-throated support for campus conservatives who feel their rights are getting trampled by progressive activitists. So universities waited anxiously in the days leading up to release of his Free Speech executive order. But the order, which Trump announced this week in the company of students (above) turned out to be less harsh than some feared. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, it directs 12 federal agencies to "take appropriate steps" consistent with the First Amendment and applicable laws to ensure that institutions receiving federal research or education grants "promote free inquiry" in compliance with applicable federal laws, regulations, and policies. But it omits specific penalties and doesn't spell out how agencies are to determine compliance. It also doesn't appear to threaten student aid money. Still, higher ed representatives were critical, with Association of American Universities President Mary Sue Coleman calling the order "a solution in search of a problem." Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said it could lead to unwarranted micromanagement of research.

RISKS TO INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION: The National Science Foundation is negotiating with JASON, an independent expert group that advises national security agencies, hoping they can "help it respond to growing concerns that international collaborations pose a security risk to the United States," Jeff Mervis reports in Science. Separately, the Los Angeles Times reports that the University of California-Berkeley "is among a growing number of American universities, including such research powerhouses as Stanford, MIT and UC San Diego, that have begun to cut off ties with Huawei [the Chinese tech giant]. The moves come in response to warnings from U.S. law enforcement agencies that Huawei can’t be trusted and could secretly do Beijing's bidding, whether by spying or sabotage." In February, the Department of Energy announced it would ask all "personnel, contracted scientists and future grant recipients" to discloses ties to programs in countries it considers "sensitive." Those employees will be asked to either give up those ties or resign, according to the Wall Street Journal.

NSF BUDGET FINE PRINT: Lewis-Burke Associates reports that cuts to the FY 2020 National Science Foundation budget include these (all comparisons are to FY 2018 levels):

• Graduate Research Fellowships: Down 10 percent to $257 million. Funding would support 1,600 new fellows, down from 2,000 in FY 2018.
• NSF Research Traineeships: Down 8 percent to $50 million. NSF intends to support 12-15 traineeships and up to $8 million in fundamental research on graduate education.
• CAREER: Down 13 percent to $249 million.
• Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU): Down 13 percent to $76 million.
• Hispanic Serving Institutes Program (HSI): Down 67 percent to $15 million as NSF proposes to reverse large increases provided by Congress in recent appropriations bills. Note that the FY 2018 amount included $15 million of carryover from FY 2017. Congress appropriated $40 million for HSIs in FY 2019 appropriations.

QUANTUM LEAP: NSF Director France Córdova tells Nextgov the field of quantum information sciences could be on the verge of a significant breakthrough in the coming years. NSF played a critical role in the “first quantum revolution,” which helped create lasers and computer chips, the publication reports, "and today she said the field 'is ready for its second revolution' in the information sciences. 'If I've had any surprises in the time I've been [NSF director], it's how advanced that particular branch of the field is,' she said. 'The research is at hand and just needs a little more investment. I think that something very exciting will happen' in the next three to five years."

URGE TO CONVERGE: NSF's Convergence Accelerator Pilot has two goals: "to accelerate use-inspired convergence research in areas of national importance, and initiate convergence team-building capacity around exploratory, potentially high-risk proposals in three convergence topics (tracks). . . . NSF is planning to fund approximately 50 Phase 1 awards (up to 9 months and up to $1 million each). Additional funds will be available for a smaller number of Phase 2 awards. The first-step to become part of the NSF C-Accel Pilot is to submit a 2-page Research Concept Outline (RCO), aligned with one of the tracks described below, with a target submission date of April 15, 2019." Learn more.

TAKE THE PLUNGE: The  Department of Energy's U.S. Testing Expertise and Access for Marine Energy Research (TEAMER) Program "will bring together capabilities from universities and the national laboratory system to provide marine energy developers ready-access to unique, world-class testing facilities and expertise. . . . Testing marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) devices is inherently more complex and time consuming than testing other, land-based energy technologies, and as facilities appropriate for testing wave and tidal power systems often have limited availability." Learn more.


ROCKY PATH TO A BUDGET DEAL: In the House, Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) has put the chance of approval of a budget resolution at about 50-50, "and some observers think it is even less, due to divisions in the Democratic caucus over how much should be spent on defense and nondefense, how much taxes should be raised and what policies the tax and spending blueprint should assume," CQ reports. So House leaders are looking for a legislative work-around that would lift caps on discretionary spending. But their plan faces trouble in the Senate, where Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has written a blueprint only slightly more generous than the caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. He would allow only about $15 billion in nondefense discretionary funding outside the caps. He would also "provide instructions to authorizing committees to reduce deficits by a combined $94 billion over five years." What's more, Senate reconciliation rules would let the GOP avoid the 60-vote threshold required to avoid a filibuster.


Lewis-Burke Associates. PBR stands for President's Budget Request.  


CS STUDENTS, TAKE A BOW: Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  finds that while India, China, and Russia produce more computer science graduates than does the United States, "seniors in the United States substantially outperform seniors in China, India, and Russia" and that seniors in U.S. elite institutions outperform seniors in elite institutions in the other three countries. "The skills advantage of the United States is not because it has a large proportion of high-scoring international students." Also, "males score consistently but only moderately higher . . . than females within all four countries." The study says: "the potentially higher skill gains of CS students in the United States compared with the other three countries could be due to higher quality teaching or stronger linkages between college performance and employment outcomes." See a report on this in IEEE Spectrum.

'AMERICA - BUILT BY DREAMERS': So reads a billboard outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters, across Lafayette Square from the White House. The powerful lobby urges a bipartisan compromise to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries as well as immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). "American businesses across a host of industries are very concerned about the uncertain future for their employees who are DACA recipients or TPS beneficiaries. If the DACA rescission and the cancellation of TPS designations are fully implemented, approximately 1 million people who can legally work in the U.S. today will lose their ability to do so," the Chamber says in a statement issued before a March 6 House hearing.


GLAD TIDINGS: A new report from the National Academies identifies "the most promising scientific breakthroughs that could have the greatest positive impact on food and agriculture, and that are possible to achieve in the next decade (by 2030)." The report notes that "with an expanding global population requiring more from an increasingly fragile natural resource base, science breakthroughs are needed now more than ever" and the United States bears a  "tremendous responsibility . . . to support our nation’s well-being and security, and perhaps even global stability." However, "[c]urrent public and private funding for food and agricultural research is inadequate to address critical breakthrough areas." 



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