The White House released a memorandum on 18 July 2014 detailing budget priorities for science and technology in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 federal budget. The annual memo from the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directs departments and agencies to prioritize certain areas of research in their budget submissions.
“In the FY 2016 Budget, agencies should balance priorities to ensure resources are adequately allocated for agency-specific, mission-driven research, including fundamental research, while focusing resources, where appropriate, on the following multi-agency research activities that cannot be addressed effectively by a single agency.”
Among the multi-agency priorities are climate change, earth observation, high-performance computing, and research and development for informed policy-making and management.
Notably, innovation in life sciences, biology, and neuroscience continues to be a priority.
“Agencies should give priority to programs that support fundamental biological discovery research that could generate unexpected, high-impact scientific and technological advances in health, energy, and food security,” stated the memo.
The Administration’s BRAIN Initiative and “National Bioeconomy Blueprint” are listed as sources for ideas for research initiatives in biology. Additionally, the White House would like to see addressing antibiotic resistance as a priority.
Consistent with the White House budget memos released in recent years, the preservation of and access to scientific collections continues to be prioritized. OSTP released a memo in March 2014 on the management of federal scientific collections.
A new report from the National Research Council on the future of field stations and marine labs highlights the value of field observations and offers ways to improve the management of these institutions.
“Often out of sight, field stations are quietly providing essential insights to ecosystems that support life on earth,” said Mark Stromberg, who served on the committee that authored the report. Stromberg is retired from the University of California, Berkeley Hastings Reserve and University of California Natural Reserve System. Despite their importance, everyone is not aware of the value of these institutions. “Field stations must step forward to explain their value to society and in understanding our natural world.”
“We are excited to see the National Academy of Sciences articulate the critical role that field stations, marine laboratories, and nature reserves play in understanding our changing natural world and for creating a scientifically literate workforce capable of competing globally,” said Sarah Oktay, president of the Organization of Biological Field Stations and director of the University of Massachusetts Nantucket Field Station. “Given the large investment in these institutions the report provides useful recommendations in how to best utilize these facilities for the greatest benefit to society. The Organization of Biological Field Stations appreciates the hard work that went into the report and is enthusiastic to explore the mechanisms proposed to ensure we are realizing the full value of these institutions during this period of rapid environmental change.”
Among the report’s recommendations are improved financial management of field stations and better planning for future costs, like equipment replacement. Field stations should also assess cyber-infrastructure needs to facilitate broader networking.
The role of field stations and marine labs in science education was noted, especially given that about three-quarters of U.S. institutions are affiliated with a university. Citizen science programs were recommended as a way to engage the public.
“Enhancing the Value and Sustainability of Field Stations and Marine Laboratories in the 21st Century” is available for free at http://dels.nas.edu/Report/Enhancing-Value-Sustainability/18806.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the creation of a nonprofit corporation that will fund agricultural research. Congress authorized the formation of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) in the 2014 Farm Bill. The federal government provided $200 million for FFAR, which must be matched by non-federal funds.
In his announcement, Secretary Vilsack stated, “every dollar invested in agricultural research creates $20 in economic activity.” In a press release, the Department of Agriculture said, “in a time of federal budgetary restraints, the new foundation is another innovative way to continue and expand investment in agricultural research.”
The foundation’s research will focus on “plant and animal health; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources, and the environment; agricultural and food security; and agriculture systems and technology.” The organization’s 15 voting board members were selected to represent a diverse range of agricultural interests. The board is mostly comprised of university administrators and professors, along with a few nonprofit and industry representatives.
FFAR is modeled on similar organizations that benefit the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Karl Anderson, the Director of Government Relations for the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, called FFAR “the biggest win for us in the farm bill.”
A bipartisan effort to reform management of national labs is underway in the House of Representatives and Senate. The House has passed a bill that aims to streamline oversight of labs within the Department of Energy, ease technology transfer to the market, and pave the way for more public-private partnerships. Sponsored by Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL), the legislation is cosponsored by the chairs and ranking members of the Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Energy Subcommittee, along with three other members.
The bill commissions the Secretary of Energy to submit a report recommending changes to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 “to improve the Department’s ability to successfully transfer new energy technologies to the private sector.” It also directs the Secretary and directors of the National Labs to implement a pilot program to improve cross-sector partnerships with the private sector and other non-federal entities. The program gives contractors at national labs “increased authority to negotiate contract terms, such as intellectual property rights, indemnification, payment structures, performance guarantees, and multiparty collaborations.”
In a statement, Rep. Hultgren said this bill will “improve the labs’ capacity to partner with private enterprise and convert their cutting edge research into marketplace innovation.”
Attention now turns to the Senate, where Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced similar legislation.
The White House last week released the National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, which aims to increase the value of federal agency observations of Earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere. The federal government spends roughly $3.5 billion per year on earth observations across several agencies, which provide an estimated $30 billion in economic benefit per year. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. John Holdren writes that the data provided by these observations “are critical to our understanding of all Earth-system phenomena, including weather and climate, natural hazards, land-use change, ecosystem health, and natural-resource availability.”
The plan is the result of 2010 legislation directing OSTP to establish a mechanism for better coordination and access to observations data across the government. OSTP created the National Earth Observations Task Force in 2011, which informed the new report.
The resulting plan describes federal priorities for managing observation systems through “routine assessments, improved data management, interagency planning, and international collaboration.” Principles of the plan align with the White House’s Big Earth Data Initiative. The U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO) will take center stage in implementation of the plan. USGEO was re-chartered in 2013 with missions “to coordinate, plan, and assess Federal Earth observation activities; to foster improved Earth system data management and interoperability throughout the Federal Government; and to engage international partners through the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations.”
Seeking to lower the amount of time federal research grant recipients spend on administrative work, the House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would establish a working group to make recommendations on streamlining federal regulations and minimizing regulatory requirements on universities conducting federally funded research. Sponsored by Representative Larry Bucshon (R-IN), H.R. 5056 seeks ways to cut the estimated 42 percent of time grant recipients spend on administrative tasks. The working group would submit their recommendations to Congress within one year of the legislation’s enactment.
The House also passed H.R. 5029 aimed at improving international cooperation on science and technology endeavors. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science and Technology Council to seek out and coordinate partnerships that “can strengthen the United States science and technology enterprise, improve economic and national security, and support United States foreign policy goals.”
Dr. Cora Marrett, the deputy director of the National Science Foundation, has announced her retirement effective 24 August. Marrett first joined the agency in 1992 as head of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Directorate. Since 2007, she has served as deputy director and two turns as acting director. Dr. Marrett plans to return to Wisconsin, where her family lives.
“I cannot think of anyone who’s done a better job of protecting the integrity of the agency and retaining the trust of the scientific community. And that trust is essential for the NSF to do its job,” said Neal Lane, former director of the National Science Foundation.
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