Global Cyberattack Affects Hundreds of Thousands

A global cyberattack, involving ransomware called WannaCrypt, affected over 200,000 computers in over 150 countries through the weekend, after first emerging on Friday, May 12. The attack exploited a flaw in Windows computers that was originally used by the National Security Agency (NSA) before being leaked earlier this year. A statement from Microsoft highlighted the need for governments around the world to "consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits" and reiterated its call for "a new 'Digital Geneva Convention' to govern these issues, including a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them."

Trump Signs Executive Order on Cybersecurity

One day before the cyberattack, on Thursday, May 11, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure. The order focuses on cybersecurity of federal IT networks, critical infrastructure, and the nation. The order requires many federal agencies to review the state of computer security both in the government and in the private sector and offer a number of reports within 45 to 240 days. Other than generating reports, it is unclear whether any tangible actions will result from the order.

FCC to Vote on Net Neutrality This Week

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote at its meeting this Thursday, May 18, on Chairman Ajit Pai's plans to dismantle the Obama administration's 2015 rules on net neutrality (see the full notice here). In the meantime, the FCC has been flooded with over 1 million comments, as the public speaks out about the proposed rule change. The comment period is open until July 17. However, FCC "Sunshine Agenda" rules prohibit comments during the week before the meeting are currently in effect, meaning that, according to the FCC, public comments during the next few days "will be associated with, but not made a part of, the record in the proceeding." However, comments "made by the public after the end of the Sunshine Agenda period will be made part of the record of the proceeding."

Scientists and Senators Speak Out About EPA Board Scientist Dismissals

It was reported recently that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not be reappointing 12 members of its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), which advises the agency's Office of Research and Development and deals with non-regulatory scientific issues, paving the way to replacing university researchers on the BOSC with more industry representatives. On Monday, May 9, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt requesting all documents related to this decision. Carper stated his concerns about Pruitt's "denying the science that forms the basis of sound environmental regulation", citing in addition his concerns over removal of climate change information from the website. The current chair of the BOSC, a professor at the University of Minnesota and a previous member of the EPA's Science Advisory Board, also expressed concerns over the dismissals, saying "I worry that this is part of a larger sensibility, of putting science behind and promoting deregulation."

Census Director Resigns

Census Bureau Director John Thompson has resigned in the midst of a fight over the budget for the upcoming 2020 Census, and after a congressional hearing in which Thompson was grilled about cost overruns for new technology programs. The leadership gap comes at a crucial time for the Census Bureau, which is on a tight time schedule for ramping up to 2020. The Census provides population data used in redistricting and in allocating dollars for federal spending programs, as well as housing and demographic information used by a wide variety of researchers. Experts fear that the funding problems and lack of strong leadership could lead to undercounts or even fraud, which would undermine public trust in the Census. A former staff director of the House census oversight subcommittee told Time magazine: "At the very heart of the Census is nothing less than political power and money. It is the basis, the very foundation, of our democracy and the Constitution's promise of equal representation."

Questions Remain on DOE and ARPA-E Grant Funding

In April, the Department of Energy (DOE) stopped payment on previously awarded Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grants worth tens of millions of dollars. In early May, E&E News reported that the DOE said it "will honor all commitments for funds previously obligated for grants and cooperative agreements" but with the caveat that it "will review all DOE financial assistance programs to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective way possible in alignment with the administration's priorities." However, it is not clear that ARPA-E awards have been unfrozen yet, and on Monday, May 8, House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), asking him to take action under the Impoundment Control Act.

House to Consider Rapid DNA Act

The House is scheduled this week to consider the Rapid DNA Act, which is supposed to "establish a system for integration of Rapid DNA instruments for use by law enforcement to reduce violent crime and reduce the current DNA analysis backlog." The House Committee on the Judiciary voted on April 27 to report the bill to the full House.

Action Items

  • The National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) advises the Department of Justice on scientific standards for forensic science. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not renew the NCFS when its term ended on April 23--a move that could lead to more wrongful convictions. Take action by providing a public comment: find out more here.

Questions to Ask Your Member of Congress

  • How will you make sure that EPA's moves to add more industry representatives on scientific boards don't undermine its ability to produce sound science that protects the public interest?

Highlights from Partner Organizations

  • More than 1 million people participated in the March for Science on April 22, the organizers recently announced, "making the March for Science the largest global science event in history."