DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — April 4, 2018

Published biweekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Touchpoint gathers updates from inside and around the technology transfer (T2) community. News is collected from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided in addition to our streamlined synopses. For more information and Touchpoint-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Budget Bulletin

Final FY 2018 Appropriations Favor DOE Office of Science Despite Trump Budget-Cutting Request

For the first time since 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science received its largest budget increase appropriated for fiscal year (FY) 2018. The Office’s budget was raised to $6.3 billion, which is $869 million higher than FY 2017. This follows a congressional rejection of President Trump’s request to cut the Office’s budget by 17 percent—funding was maintained at $5.4 billion.

All six suboffices received budget hikes, with the Advanced Science Computing Research and the Biological and Environmental Research arms receiving $532 million and $673 million, respectively. Trump’s budget-cutting request originally suggested that these two subdivisions be reduced by 18% and 43%, respectively, from their FY 2017 values. A graphic representation of the final DOE Office of Science funding can be found here.

NSF FY 2019 Budget Request Update Outlines Strategic Goals, Highlights Research Commitments

In our last T2 Touchpoint, we briefly touched on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) budget request for FY 2019. Earlier this week, NSF published a summary brochure elaborating on some of the request details, its strategic goals, and commitment to progressing research and development (R&D) activities across scientific disciplines. We previously reported that funding would remain at a flat $7.5 billion, a figure which has mostly remained intact—the request stands at $7.472 billion, a decrease of $32 million from actual FY 2017 numbers. Whether this affects the successful funding of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, which we previously said would necessitate a budget increase, is unknown at this time. The ideas are listed in the brochure with no budgetary data attached. Each idea will be piloted in 2019.

The NSF provided also several “FY 2019 Budget Highlights” in the pamphlet, which forecasts that 8,400 new research grants will be supported from the $6.2 billion allocated to Research and Related Activities. Furthermore, the ongoing construction of several research equipment and facilities projects, including Regional Class Research Vessels, will receive a portion of $94 million. These vessels provide the U.S. Academic Research Fleet (ARF) with additional resources for oceanographic study.

The FY 2019 budget request feeds into the NSF Strategic Plan for FY 2018-2022. Titled “Building the Future: Investing in Discovery and Innovation,” the Plan includes three Strategic Goals.

  1. Expand knowledge in science, engineering, and learning through investments in ideas, people, infrastructure, and research practices.
  2. Advance the capability of the nation to meet current and future challenges, including pressing societal impacts and an increasing, modernizing STEM workforce.
  3. Enhance NSF’s performance of its mission by attracting, retaining, and empowering a talented and diverse workforce while continually improving agency operations.

The Strategic Plan and its trio of Goals are united by the Agency Priority Goal to expand public and private partnerships to enhance the impact of NSF’s investments and benefit society.

Policy Pulse

Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act Has Troubling Implications for Research

Last month, a House bill was passed restricting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to using only publicly available data for scientific studies. The proposed Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act complicates studies that would benefit from peer-reviewed research or the use of medical records. As such, several organizations such as the American Lung Association and American Public Health Association have raised their concerns in a letter to Congress.

While supporters claim the Act would dramatically reduce spending on private research and ensure that transparent evidence informs EPA decision-making, its critics believe that a reliance on public information would increase flawed arguments regarding environmental pollution and related health issues, as well as harmfully retool the quality standards governing scientific journals.  The Honest Act may be reserved only for the EPA—an agency continuously making headlines for counterintuitive operations—but its implications for the future of R&D should be monitored.

Agency Activities

OPM Gives Agencies One Year to Identify Gaps in Cyber Workforce

In order to analyze skill shortages and understaffing in mission-critical roles in the federal cyber sphere, this past Monday the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a memo to guide agencies to classify and report their vacancies in Work Roles of Critical Need. These Work Roles are defined as positions with the greatest shortages in staffing and proficiency levels, as well as their relevance to mission-critical functions. After determining the root causes of these shortages (e.g., retention, performance management, etc.), agencies must submit an Action Plan by April 2019 to establish targets for counteracting these issues. Updates to Work Roles and an agency Action Plan must be annually reported to OPM until April 2022.

The first agency to track its workforce needs has been the Department of Education, according to Nextgov.   

NSF Increases MagLab Funding by $184 Million

After approval from the National Science Board last August, the NSF renewed funding support for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) for another five years. According to a news release, the $184 million investment shows a 9-percent increase over the last funding period. MagLab has been used to advance research in the next-generation electronics and medicine fields, and currently has the most powerful magnet in the world used to study complex structures. MagLab also holds a magnet that can repeatedly produce a magnetic field 2 million times stronger than the Earth’s.

In 2016, Florida State University scientists used MagLab to improve the performance of qubits, the building blocks of quantum computers. Quantum computers use modern applied physics to process computations faster than traditional binary systems. This computing model has broad implications for industries grappling with large datasets, and may be further researched considering this increased funding.

DC Dispatch