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July 15, 2017



Trying to win House passage of all spending bills by the August congressional recess, the House Appropriations Committee has nearly completed work on bills funding the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy. While landing heavy blows at DOE, such as cutting off Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, and NIST, the various panels generally rejected deep cuts proposed by the White House.

CQ reports that House GOP leaders aim to find out early next week if there's enough support to pass an omnibus appropriations measure containing all 12 spending bills in the next couple of weeks. Doing so would represent a triumph for Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), left, "who first raised the idea of passing an omnibus ahead of the August recess."

WINNERS: NASA would get $19.9 billion, $219 million above the current level, including $4.6 billion for Exploration – $226 million above this year; $5.9 billion for Science programs – $94 million above this year. "This targets funding to planetary science and astrophysics," the committee says, "while reducing funding for lower-priority research." See a summary and the committee's report.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would get a 3.2 percent ($1.1 billion) increase to $35.2 billion. According to ScienceInsider, the spending measure "would also explicitly block a proposal by the Trump administration to slash by two-thirds the payments that NIH disburses to cover the overhead costs of the research it funds." (NSF may not be so lucky - see more below.) Favored programs include Alzheimer’s research, the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, and regenerative medicine. 

LOSERS: Appropriators provided $9.6 billion - $1.6 billion below 2017 levels - for energy programs at the Department of Energy, which include basic and applied research. They slashed Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by almost $1 billion, defunded ARPA-E, and denied funding for the Critical Materials Energy Innovation Hub, the Energy Water Desalination Hub, or the six Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation (CEMI) Institutes. They also trimmed $47 million from nuclear energy and $33 million from fossil energy. The Office of Science was kept at the current $5.4 billion level.

House appropriators funded the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at $865 million – $87 million (10 percent) below the 2017 level. They also cut the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by $710 million.

LEFT FLAT: The House panel would provide $7.3.billion for the National Science Foundation – $133 million less than in 2017 - while keeping Research and Related Activities at the current level. of $6 billion.

FINE PRINT: As they doled out - or denied - money to research agencies, House appropriators appended some instructions, including:

HELMET SAFETY, IoT, AND RESILIENCY: Noting a correlation between football-related collisions and traumatic brain injuries, lawmakers said a number of academic institutions "have substantial capabilities and knowledge of these issues, and NIST should work cooperatively with the academic community to examine advanced helmets and equipment and in developing new testing standards to ensure player safety." The panel also urged NIST to start an Internet of Things research initiative "and partner, as appropriate, with academic entities and industry." The institute should also "partner with academic research institutions that have expertise in mitigating the effects of natural disasters to study and recommend best practices for resilient planning and construction."

OVERHEAD AND 'BROADER IMPACTS': Appropriators cited Government Accountability Office findings that the proportion of NSF grant money going for overhead has generally been increasing and that guidance can be a bit squishy. NSF is instructed to follow any recommendations GAO comes up with. Lawmakers also underscored provisions of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act on merit review, reiterating a long list of "broader impacts" criteria.

WHY THE DELAY? Striking a note of impatience, appropriators reminded NSF that "over the past several years, this Committee has encouraged NSF to create a program within (Education and Human Resources) to focus on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)," and in FY 2017 supplied $15 million for such a program. "The Committee provides the same level of funding for fiscal year 2018" and wants the agency to report back how it is being spent. The panel also urges NSF "to form partnerships with Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities with respect to cybersecurity research."

ASTEROID BOUNTY: House appropriators want NASA "in cooperation with the domestic commercial space industry, to conduct an assessment and submit a report . . . on the utilization of asteroid based natural resources to support U.S. government and commercial space exploration missions and timeframes for when such resource extraction could possibly occur." 

GI BILL EXPANSION: Government Executive reports that "[a] bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would remove the 15-year deadline for veterans to access GI Bill educational benefits, and significantly expand access to the program for members of the National Guard and Reserve."


SELECTIVE SWEETENERS: Unbowed by Congress's generally negative response to his fiscal 2018 proposals, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has instructed agencies to adhere to his previously issued numbers in preparing their 2019 budgets and keep working on shrinking the federal workforce. But his latest guidance adds an exception: Agencies can identify certain "effective programs" that may allow them to exceed the limits. "OMB will closely scrutinize these requests, and . . . may accommodate a limited number of them within the FY 2019 Budget."

BANKER FOR DOE SCIENCE POST: Raising some eyebrows in the research community, President Trump has nominated a non-expert, Paul Dabbar, as the energy department's undersecretary for science. An investment banker with J.P. Morgan, he would succeed Obama appointee Franklin Orr, professor emeritus of petroleum engineering at Stanford. Kristina Johnson, Chancellor-elect of the State University of New York, has also held the post. ScienceInsider reports: "According to federal campaign finance records, Dabbar has made substantial donations to Republican candidates and JP Morgan's own political action committee."



HIGHER REACH: An advisory group urges the European Commission to double funding for the successor to Horizon 2020, the $88 billion research program that will end in 2020, the American Institute of Physics reports. "The framework of the new program is still uncertain, in part due to ongoing negotiations around the UK’s expected withdrawal from the EU in 2019."


VIRTUAL REALITY AND BIOMATERIALS are two of the topics at next week's third Global Grand Challenges Summit in Washington, sponsored by national academies of engineering of the U.S., U.K., and China. The day before it opens, student teams from North Carolina State, Penn State, University University of California San Diego, University of Denver, and the University of Southern California will present business models in competition with teams from the other two countries. DC will also host the FIRST Global Challenge.  


COMMITMENT: Bevlee Watford's pledge as president to embrace diversity of all types in ASEE is "not just lip service," society Managing Director Nathan Kahl writes on the website LinkEngineering. "Among the things she’s passionate about, a diverse engineering education community is perhaps the foremost." Putting words into action, ASEE "will co-host the 1st Annual Conference of the Collaborative for Inclusion and Diversity in Engineering and Information Technology. Under the banner 'Alone we are Strong; Together We are Stronger,' the conference will bring together all those working to achieve increased participation for all under-represented groups."