What you can do
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed new rules to monitor the social media of all immigrants to the United States. To oppose this rule, submit a public comment here. Comments must be received on or before October 18, when the new rules go into effect.
- RISE Stronger is presenting a webinar on "Building Coalitions that Last", from 7 to 8:30 pm EDT on Thursday, October 12. Register and learn more here.
House passes FY18 budget resolution
On October 5, the House narrowly passed a budget resolution that would increase defense spending by $72 billion and reduce non-defense spending by $5 billion. The budget includes cuts to education, healthcare, and nutritional assistance, and also contains reconciliation rules that would protect an upcoming tax-reform bill from filibuster. House Democrats—joined by 18 Republicans—voted as a bloc against the resolution and warned that the planned tax cuts would benefit only the wealthiest Americans. The Senate's version of the bill was approved by the Senate Budget Committee on September 29 and will move to the Senate floor later this month. The Senate may not accept the House's proposed mandatory cuts, and the House and Senate will have to resolve their disagreements before reconciliation rules can take effect.
Interior science policy expert resigns; Zinke's mass reassignments investigated
Joel Clement, who was until recently the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the Department of the Interior, resigned on October 4, calling Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's abrupt June reassignment of about 50 staff members part of a "resume of failure." Clement had been placed in an accounting department, with no policy responsibilities, after speaking out about climate change effects on Alaska Native communities. The mass reassignments followed Zinke's accusation that nearly one-third of Interior staff were disloyal to the Trump administration, but the department's Inspector General is investigating whether the reassignments violated the U.S. law. Clement's attorney, Katherine Atkinson, commented that "it's a waste of government money to just arbitrarily move people around in the hopes that they will quit."
National Space Council announces shift in NASA priorities
On October 5, in the first meeting of the National Space Council since 1993, Chairman and Vice President Mike Pence introduced a radical new direction for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The ambitious plan includes a goal to "return astronauts to the Moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond." This the public push by Jim Bridenstine, who has been nominated but not confirmed to be the new Administrator of NASA, to merge public NASA funding with private space industry in an effort to push space exploration. However, this shift in NASA's direction may imperil other aspects of American leadership in STEM research. Without dramatic increases in the overall NASA budget, the new plan will divert funding from NASA's important mission of basic research, which drives innovation in the American technology sector.
Republicans take aim at Endangered Species Act
On October 5, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rejected 25 petitions to include species in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These species include the Pacific walrus, threatened by the loss of ice floes due to climate change, and the Florida Keys mole skink, a lizard native to habitats impacted by Hurricane Irma. The FWS and other Interior Department agencies claim these listings are unnecessary, a view contested by conservation biologists. A day earlier, House Republicans introduced five bills, each of which would weaken ESA protections for animal and plant species and the ability of citizens to advocate for them. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has previously suggested repealing the Endangered Species Act.
Foster proposes changes to NSF EPSCoR eligibility
In September, Rep. Bill Foster (D–IL), the only physicist in Congress, introduced the Smarter EPSCoR Act, which would change the formula used to allocate National Science Foundation research funding to different U.S. states and territories. The National Science Foundation (NSF) deems a state eligible for EPSCoR funding if it receives no more than 0.75% of the agency's research budget; researchers in these states can then compete for EPSCoR grants. Foster's bill would instead rank states' eligibilities based on per capita research dollars, which he argues would distribute funding more equitably. EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) was created in 1979 to make research funding more available to underserved states, and similar programs are now in place at NASA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Departments of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Senate on Recess
The Senate is on recess this week, returning on Monday, October 16. The House remains in session.
- Three Caltech and MIT researchers were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of gravitational waves. Their groundbreaking research was part of the LIGO project, one of the largest research programs ever funded by the NSF.
- The Senate Intelligence Committee has urged Facebook, Google, and Twitter to testify at a November 1 hearing on Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election via propaganda spread on social media. A House hearing before the end of October may also include testimony from these companies.
- Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has signed a proposal to repeal the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which was designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. A public-comment period will be required before the change is implemented.
Have comments or something to add? Contact the RISE Stronger Science & Technology Policy Working Group at [email protected].