Re-posted from the American Institute of Physics.
Highlights of developments in Washington impacting the physical sciences community from the FYI Science Policy Bulletin, a publication of the American Institute of Physics
During what a participant described as “one of the more facilities-centric days on the science board in recent memory,” board members spent a lion’s share of the public sessions discussing ways to improve their understanding and oversight of the National Science Foundation’s portfolio of large-scale research facilities.
The House is poised to consider stand-alone legislation sponsored by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith that would require recipients of National Science Foundation grant funding to justify research as “in the national interest,” based on a definition related to NSF’s mission and founding charter.
The President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request is a mixed bag for science, with proposed increases for some science agencies hinging on new mandatory spending that Congress is unlikely to embrace.
The President requests a 6.7 percent funding increase for the National Science Foundation in fiscal year 2017, raising the agency’s budget to just under $8 billion. However, without a proposed new mandatory funding stream requiring additional legislative approval, the foundation would only see a 1.3 percent increase.
The President is requesting a 5.2 percent increase in discretionary funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology for fiscal year 2017, which would raise its budget to just over $1 billion. The President also is proposing $1.99 billion in new mandatory funding, of which $1.89 billion is for 27 new manufacturing innovation institutes by 2025.
In a year when overall spending is being held steady, the Department of Energy and its science programs stand out as winners in the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, with discretionary funding increases of 4.2 percent for the Office of Science and 20.3 percent for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy that grow even larger when the Administration’s proposals for mandatory funding are included.
One element of the President’s request for a 2.9 percent funding increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration has already received considerable congressional attention: the proposed termination of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.
Following a 7.1 percent spending increase in fiscal year 2016, the President is proposing to cut NASA’s discretionary budget by 5.3 percent in fiscal year 2017, with the largest reductions falling on the agency’s exploration and, to a lesser extent, science programs.
Although the Department of Defense’s overall spending on research, development, testing, and evaluation would grow 2.6 percent to $71.8 billion under the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, spending on the Science and Technology Program would decrease by 4.1 percent to $12.5 billion.
Funding for research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would see a 7.8 percent leap forward under the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, most of which is aimed at restoring deep cuts to climate research that began in fiscal year 2011.
The House voted mostly along party lines to approve a bill sponsored by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith that aims to bring National Science Foundation research in line with the “national interest,” but the bill faces strong opposition from the White House and many House Democrats, including committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson.
The Department of Energy and two of its advisory bodies largely concur with the findings of the congressionally-chartered Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories. The Commission’s report is the latest in a long series of studies which have discovered a dysfunctional relationship between the Department and the national labs.
The priorities of the committee majority in 2016 include continued focus on transparency and accountability of federal research, directorate-level funding for the National Science Foundation, and sustained funding for NASA space missions. Alternatively, the committee’s minority members are prioritizing an overall increase in and stability for federal research and development funding.
At a hearing marked by bipartisan praise and positive exchanges about physics interspersed with laughter, members of the House Science Committee commended witnesses from the National Science Foundation, Caltech, Louisiana State University, and MIT, for leadership on a long-term scientific collaboration that led to the groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves.
Longtime NASA supporter and powerful appropriator Rep. John Culberson testified in support of legislation which would overhaul governance of the space agency to help insulate it from turnovers in presidential administrations and Congress. Committee members viewed the legislation as well-intentioned, but some questioned the details and argued that Congress, not the Administration, has ultimate responsibility for ensuring stability of purpose at NASA.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress are backing, with near unanimity, a bill that would promote collaboration on research and development of advanced fission and fusion energy reactors across the Department of Energy’s national labs, universities, and the private sector.
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