November 10, 2017
Capitol Update

In this issue:


NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD REPORTS ON NSF PEER REVIEW

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board (NSB) recently released a new report on the NSF Merit Review Process for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The report covers proposals and awards, success rates, diversity of participation, award types by sector and institution, and other metrics on the efficiency and efficacy of the peer review process. 

There has been a period of relative stability in the rate of proposal submissions and awards since FY 2012.  In FY 2016, NSF acted on 49,285 competitively reviewed full proposals similar to the number of proposals acted on in 2015. The average funding rate varies by NSF directorate, from a low of 20%  in Engineering, to a high of 31%  in Geoscience. In FY 2016, 76 % of program funds awarded went to academic institutions which is a 2 % drop from FY 2015.

FY 2016 saw a continuation of the recent emphasis on standard grants with 41% of funds being awarded as new standard grants compared to 10% as new continuing grants and 16% as continuing grant increments and supplements.

Among proposals from Principal Investigators (PIs), who provided information on their gender, race, ethnicity, or disability status, the proportion of proposals from PIs who identified themselves as female was 27%. The proportion of proposals from under-represented racial or ethnic minorities was 8.3%, and the proportion from PIs with a disability was 1.4%.

The full report is available for download: https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=242997&org=NSB&from=news


SENATE HEARING ON ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE DRILLING

As part of Republican efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas extraction, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine the technology, environmental, and budgetary issues at play. 

When ANWR was designated as a wildlife reserve back in the 1980s, Congress allowed for future consideration to permit energy exploration in a 1.5-million-acre section, known as the “1002 area,” of the 19-million-acre refuge near the Arctic coast. Proponents argue that technology developments in the last decade, such as horizontal drilling, allowed increased extraction with a reduced environmental footprint, enabling environmental sensitive development in ANWR.

The hearing had an extensive panel of witnesses -- federal, state, industry, conservation, Indian and scientific organizations speaking on both sides of the issue.  Alaska Governor Bill Walker testified on the benefits of opening the 1002 area to development, outlining the history of similar developments nearby and how new developments would have only a limited impact on the reserve. A representative of the Gwitch’in native peoples expressed opposition in the hearing, because the area is a crucial source of nutrition and culture for them. The government of Canada has also opposed opening the Arctic Refuge and the 1002 area because it believes in permanent protection of the refuge to protect Caribou herds and natural habitat areas.
The testimony of witnesses and an archived video are available at this link: https://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings-and-business-meetings?ID=97CD66D2-BD9D-49AD-87EB-DE4C68A888DF
The House Natural Resources Committee also held a markup this week on Offshore-Onshore Energy measures, including opening legislation (H.R. 4239) from Representative Steve Scalise to open the outer continental shelf of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Eastern Gulf areas to oil and gas development.

For more information, please visit: https://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=403266


CRS REPORTS ON CIVILIAN NUCLEAR WASTE DISPOSAL

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) requires that spent nuclear fuel be placed in a deep geologic repository, with later amendments restricting repository site studies to Yucca Mountain, Nevada. However, opposition in the State of Nevada cites excessive water infiltration, earthquakes, volcanoes, human intrusion, and other technical reasons for opposition to the repository, leaving civilian nuclear waste stored at sites across 37 states.  A new Congressional Research Report (CRS) on civilian nuclear waste disposal outlines the history of civilian nuclear waste disposal in the U.S. and recent developments on the Yucca Mountain impasse in Congress.

Licensing and design work for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository was halted under the Obama administration, but the Trump administration has requested funds to restart Yucca Mountain licensing in its FY2018 budget submission to Congress. The House-passed omnibus appropriations bill for FY2018 (H.R. 3354, H. Rept. 115-230) includes the administration’s proposed funding for Yucca Mountain. However, the FY2018 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee (S. 1609, S. Rept. 115-132) fails to provide funding. 

Despite lack of appropriated monies for Yucca Mountain activities since FY2010, a federal appeals court on August 13, 2013, ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to continue the licensing process with previously appropriated funds. The safety evaluation report was completed on January 29, 2015 indicating the repository would meet NRC standards after specific additional actions were taken, such as acquisition of land and water rights.

Additionally, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future during the Obama administration came out with a final report on January 26, 2012, recommending a “consent based” process for siting nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities.  The policy decision was made that the Yucca Mountain repository should not be opened due to lack of support from the state of Nevada and closing the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), which had run the program.

Currently, the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) has responsibility for the program, and called for a pilot interim storage facility for spent fuel from closed nuclear reactors to open by 2021 and a larger storage facility to open by 2025. A site for a permanent underground waste repository would be selected by 2026, and the repository would open by 2048. DOE issued a draft consent-based nuclear waste siting process on January 12, 2017.

The full CRS Report is available for download. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33461.pdf


FORUM ON ENSURING THE QUALITY OF REGENERATIVE MEDICINE

Regenerative medicine holds the potential to create living, functional cells, and tissues to be used to repair or replace those that have suffered irreparable damage due to disease, age, traumatic injury, or congenital defects. The Forum on Regenerative Medicine recently hosted a public workshop to examine the challenges and best practices associated with defining and measuring the quality of cell and tissue products in the research and manufacturing of regenerative medicine therapies.

Workshop participants explored what measurements, characteristics, and technologies may be important in the development of safe and effective new products and therapies. For example, one topical area was transitioning from discovery and development to manufacturing. Some of the key highlights of this discussion were that investigators should focus on demonstrating the efficacy of their products before engaging in further product development since understanding potency and biological effects of a given cell or tissue therapy is the most critical aspect of being able to generate reproducible results and reach production scale. Researchers also need to work with clinical-grade reagents, utilize automation to reduce the risk of deviations and error in the manufacturing process, and develop strategic manufacturing process relying on a series of discrete steps to improve the process one step at a time reduces the risk of changing the product’s properties and performance and allows for flexibility within the manufacturing process.

This proceedings is a summary of the workshop are now public and available: https://www.nap.edu/download/24913


SENATORS EXAMINE ENERGY AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Chairman Todd Young of the Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy held a hearing last week entitled, “Energy and International Development.” Attending the hearing were witnesses from the United Nations Secretary-General, Rice University's Baker Institute, the Purpose Climate Lab, and the Energy Systems Network for Fuel Cells.

Ms. Rachel Kyte, Chief Executive Officer and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, testified that in 2015 the international community agreed on a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to secure “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.” Some targets included doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling of the amount of renewable energy in the energy mix. Ms. Kyte also testified that the Paris Climate Agreement would improve mechanisms for energy transition that drive decarbonization, decentralization, and modernization.

Panel two began with testimony from Dr. Todd Moss, a former employee at the State Department under Secretary Condoleezza Rice, who is currently working closely on U.S. energy and development policies as a Senior Fellow at the nonpartisan Center for Global Development and at Rice University’s Baker Institute. Dr. Moss made three main points in his testimony: 1) the need to assist U.S. allies in building modern energy systems that directly serve U.S. economic, national security, diplomatic, and development interests; 2) a recommendation to continue the Power Africa initiative to unlock private investment in the power sector; and 3) even with small-scale distributed power reaching the poor, African countries will still require large-scale power plants and a modern grid.

To watch the hearing and download the testimony from all the witnesses, please visit: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/energy-and-international-development_110117p


COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES SEE SURGE IN COMPUTER SCIENCE

According to a new report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, U.S. colleges and universities need to take urgent steps to deal with the current surge in undergraduate enrollments in computer science courses and degree programs.

Some of the steps recommended by the Academies are adding faculty, academic undergraduate advisers, more administrative support, resources such as lab and office space, and targeted controls on enrollment, or innovative technologies to deliver instruction to a larger number of students. By responding appropriately, they will have a significant impact on the health of the discipline, but should also be cautious in monitoring the effects of their actions on the diversity of the computer science study body—currently a nondiverse discipline.

The number of computing jobs far exceeds the number of computer science graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that employment in computer occupations in and beyond the technology sector grew by nearly a factor of 20 between 1975 and 2015 – nearly double the production of bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science and support services. In particular, expertise in cybersecurity, data science, and machine learning are in high demand. 
For more information, please visit: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24926/assessing-and-responding-to-the-growth-of-computer-science-undergraduate-enrollments

Visit the ASME Public Policy Education Center at http://ppec.asme.org/ for daily news and policy developments, including the following:
Apply for an ASME Congressional Fellowship - http://ppec.asme.org/latest-news/apply-for-a-2018-2019-asme-congressional-fellowship/
Bridenstine Faces Partisan Criticism at NASA Administrator Nomination Hearing - http://ppec.asme.org/home/bridenstine-faces-partisan-criticism-at-nasa-administrator-nomination-hearing/
Soft Robotics Will Pick Fruit with Finesse and Save Your Life Too - http://ppec.asme.org/home/soft-robotics-will-pick-fruit-with-finesse-and-save-your-life-too/
Disruptive Bioengineering – Changing the Way Cells Interact with Each Other - http://ppec.asme.org/latest-news/disruptive-bioengineering-changing-the-way-cells-interact-with-each-other/

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