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December 9, 2016



Five-term Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Donald Trump's reported pick to lead the $12 billion, 70,000-employee Interior Department, currently chairs the House Republican Conference and is a vice chair of the  transition team. "She would be Trump’s point person on public-lands energy development, something he said he wants to expand as president." The Hill reports. As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rodgers (at left) voted for legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. 

'LITMUS TEST': Some Senate Democrats intend to frame support for the president-elect's choice of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency "as a vote against the science of climate change," according to Morning Consult. “This is going to be a litmus test for every member of the Senate who claims not to be a denier,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told reporters on a conference call Thursday. Pruit, Oklahoma's attorney general,  is "a prominent skeptic of climate science and an ardent foe of government action on climate change," ScienceInsider reports

SCIENTIFIC INFRASTRUCTURE: Could Donald Trump's infrastructure plans include not just highways, bridges, and airports but better internet for research universities? So asks Paul Basken, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education. A "leading leading candidate for assistance could be Internet2, a dedicated high-speed, high-volume link serving scientists at more than 300 universities."

HOPEFUL PRAISE: "We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Trump told Time  magazine. He was speaking of  so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to this country by their families as children. Adopting what Politico says was a softer tone than during his campaign, Trump told Time: "They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.” His words were welcomed by Association of American Universities: "We stand ready to work with the incoming administration as it seeks to implement such an approach, which we hope will permit students to continue their education and contribute to American excellence."


'CURES' IS A SURE THING: The 21st Century Cures bill awaits President Obama's signature. ScienceInsider reports that it "dedicates $4.8 billion over the next decade to research initiatives at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and makes an array of changes at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designed to speed the approval of new drugs and medical devices. It also creates a new federal advisory board aimed at cutting burdensome regulation on academic researchers." The Office of Management and Budget gives the measure a strong endorsement, noting that it would fund Obama's "signature biomedical research initiatives, the Precision Medicine and Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN)." In the shortterm, funding is provided in the stopgap spending bill currently stalled in the Senate. According to the Association of American Universities' Weekly Wrap-up, the measure provides $352 million for the NIH Innovation Fund, as well as $20 million for the Food and Drug Administration Innovation Account and $500 million for state grants to respond to the opioid crisis. NIH funding comprises $40 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative; $10 million for the BRAIN Initiative; $300 million for cancer research; and $2 million for clinical research in regenerative medicine.

'CRYSTAL CLEAN WATER IS VITALLY IMPORTANT': If Donald Trump meant what he told the New York Times, he might be receptive to recommendations left behind for him by the current president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST). They include a White House-developed "federal strategy for the research, development, and deployment of adequate and affordable drinking‐water monitoring, treatment, and distribution technologies across the nation’s drinking‐water system, from source to tap"; increased monitoring of drinking-water contaminants, especially for vulnerable populations; data analytics for drinking water systems; "actively funding citizen‐science activities such as home water testing, with an emphasis on including activities focused on drinking‐water sources, small systems, and private wells"; and increased funding of drinking‐water‐related projects through the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. 

NSF TAPS PENN STATE DEAN: Geographer and climatologist William E. Easterling will head the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Geosciences (GEO), "which supports fundamental research spanning the atmospheric, earth, ocean and polar sciences," the agency says. He has been dean of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences since 2007, leading "strategic planning for research initiatives focusing on the food-energy-water nexus, clean carbon energy, additive manufacturing, big data challenges in forecasting, risk and uncertainty in environmental decisions, and more."


GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN POSSIBLE; DURATION UNCERTAIN: Federal agencies could shut down beginning early Saturday if Senate Democrats continue to block action on a stopgap spending bill to fund the government through April 28, 2017, CQ reports. The current measure is due to expire at midnight tonight (Friday). West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III, right, and other coal-state senators have vowed to "block all attempts to pass legislation by unanimous consent in the Senate until the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) healthcare and pension shortfall is adequately addressed" - that is, for a full year. A senior House GOP aide said a brief shutdown would have little effect if averted by Monday, but the Office of Management and Budget is said to be preparing for a funding lapse, according to CQ. The White House is urging Congress to pass a shortterm funding bill and tackle unresolved problems after the holidays.  

DEFENSE BILL AWAITS OBAMA: The fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill, which sets policy for the Pentagon, cleared Congress this week with veto-proof majorities in both houses. The White House had threatened a presidential veto, but "many of the most contested provisions have been removed or modified," according to CQ.

A BRIDGE FOR DREAMERS: The Association of American Universities' Weekly Wrap-up reports that a bipartisan group of four senators was expected to introduce the BRIDGE Act, legislation to allow “provisional protected status” and a reprieve from deportation proceedings for many college students brought to the United States by their parents as young children. According to Politico, the bill would allow "at least 740,000 young immigrants who have gotten deportation reprieves and work permits under Obama to keep those benefits for three more years if they are revoked."

NOT SO FAST: Last week's Capitol Shorts reported that  the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), the latest reauthorization of COMPETES, could be headed for speedy passage. But, in a reminder that it's foolish to predict any action in the Senate, the bill is still pending. It would authorize $7.5 billion for the National Science Foundation for fiscal 2017 and $7.8 billion for fiscal 2018. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is authorized at $974 million in fiscal 2017 and slightly more than $1 billion in fiscal 2018. An accompanying report explains various provisions, including:  

  • A "competitive mid-scale funding opportunity that includes research, instrumentation, and infrastructure," which the report says is "essential to the NSF’s portfolio and advancing scientific understanding." NSF would be required to "evaluate the existing and future
    needs" and develop a strategy to meet them.
  • A working group set up by the Office of Management and Budget "to reduce administrative burdens on federally funded researchers while protecting the public interest
    in the transparency and accountability for federally funded activities." The group would "conduct a comprehensive review of federal science agency grant proposal documents
    and develop, to the extent practicable, a simplified, uniform grant format." 


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF); click here for a larger version. 


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CALL FOR PARTICIPATION: WORKSHOP ON BUILDING RESEARCH CAPACITY FOR STEM FACULTY DEVELOPMENT: Building Research Capacity for STEM Faculty Development is an NSF-sponsored working conference that brings together experts from around the country to develop a national research agenda focused on faculty development in the STEM disciplines. February 16-18, 2017 at Clemson University. Apply here

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