APS News

April 2015 (Volume 24, Number 4)

Washington Dispatch


President’s Budget Request
The President released his Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) budget request (PBR) in February and it was predictably dead on arrival. In fact, some members of Congress were already criticizing the request before it was officially released. As a start to negotiations, however, the President’s budget request (PBR) made clear that the Administration prioritizes biomedicine, energy efficiency, climate change, advanced manufacturing, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

For instance, the PBR proposes funding the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE SC) at $5.34B (+5.3%), within which Fusion Energy Sciences would receive a 10.1% cut, whereas Advanced Scientific Computing Research would receive a 14.7% increase (part of which would be devoted to crosscutting climate change research), Energy Efficiency and Renewables a 41.7% increase, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy a 16.1% increase.

The PBR for the National Science Foundation (NSF) reflects the same priorities. Proposed NSF funding is $7.7B (+5.1%). The Education and Human Resources directorate would receive the largest increase at 11.1%, whereas the Mathematics and Physical Sciences (MPS) directorate would see an increase of 2.2%. Within MPS, Physics would receive a boost of 0.9%, Astronomy would rise by 1.0%, and Materials Research would rise by 3.0%.

The Department of Defense Basic Research (6.1) account would be cut 7.9% in the PBR, although the Applied Research (6.2) account would receive a 2.1% increase. The National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) would receive $1.12B (+29.6%), with the Science and Technical Research Services account increasing by 11.7%. NASA Science would receive $5.29B (+0.9%) and the James Webb Space Telescope would be funded at $620M for FY16. The National Institutes of Health would be funded at $31.3B (+3.3%), with much of the increase going toward the President’s precision medicine initiative.

Congressional budgets are expected to adhere to the strict caps set forth by the Budget Control Act of 2011. These caps are $71B below the PBR, split evenly between defense and non-defense.

Chairman Smith and the National Science Foundation
Since taking up the gavel as chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has consistently attacked what he sees as wasteful spending at NSF. Chairman Smith has on multiple occasions tried to advance legislation opposed by the science community, such as the High Quality Research Act and the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act.

While no legislation has passed, the NSF has reacted to Mr. Smith with a series of reforms including the most recent: emphasizing that titles and abstracts of grant proposals need to be written to be easily accessible to the general public. Or, as Mr. Smith put it, “as a public justification for NSF funding.”

At a recent hearing France Cordova, director of NSF, stated she supports the policy provision requiring each grant funded by the NSF to be verified to be in the national interest. APS remains concerned that such a provision might at best be a meaningless waste of time as a checked box and, at worst, limit flexibility to pursue the most interesting scientific leads during a research project. Such flexibility has been a hallmark of NSF and a distinguishing feature of grants as opposed to contracts.

Upcoming Legislation
Work on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) continues, and staff expect bipartisan support once the bill is finished. Sen. Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) office released a draft version of ESEA for a public comment period, which has since closed. The draft version of the bill generally shifted responsibility for achievement from federal to state government. After the public comment period closed, staff from both the majority and minority have been working to refine the draft and meet stakeholder input. Expectations for passage this year remain high.


Science Magazine and Chemistry World recently published stories about a research bank proposal that could shore up funding for science. APS Director of Public Affairs Michael S. Lubell and Tom Culligan, vice president of the The Brimley Group, developed the idea. The stories can be read at the following URLs: http://bit.ly/1MuANDc and http://rsc.li/18DKX7i

The draft Statement on Earth’s Changing Climate, described in the insert of this issue of APS News, is open to the APS membership for commentary. Please check your email for a link to the statement and the comment site.

The POPA Physics & the Public Subcommittee continues its work on a survey focused on overcoming the obstacles of recruiting teachers in the physical sciences. Two proposed APS Statements, one a revision of the APS Statement on Civic Engagement and the second on the Status of Women in Physics, will be made available for APS membership commentary later this year.

The POPA National Security Subcommittee is considering a proposal for a study, to be held in partnership with the Ploughshares Fund, on non-weapons science conducted at the nation’s national security laboratories.

The POPA Energy & Environment Subcommittee has received approval for a study examining ways to address the long-term challenges of helium supply and pricing. As a way to address nearer-term challenges, the APS Office of Public Affairs continues its pilot test of a “helium brokerage” to help APS members manage helium supply delays and price spikes.

A template for study proposals can be found online, along with a suggestion box for future POPA studies.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella
Art Director and Special Publications Manager: Kerry G. Johnson
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik

April 2015 (Volume 24, Number 4)

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Articles in this Issue
New Director of ARPA-E on Transformative Technology
Breeding a Better Robot
Manufacturing Revolution May Mean Trouble for National Security
Planning Africa’s First Synchrotron
National Academies Studies Institutional Influences on Ethics
Programmable Materials
Physicists Look at Animal Behavior
What Makes a Physicist?
NSF and Congress Seek Rapprochement
Sole Physicist in Congress Prepares to Defend Science
APS March Meeting: Know When to Fold 'em
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Education Corner
International News
Washington Dispatch
The Back Page