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Congress Rushes to Finish FY 2020 as Schedule Fills

The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR), keeping the government open until December 20 at fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding levels. With less than two weeks left before the current stopgap spending bill expires, appropriators are hoping to finalize all twelve appropriations bills and pass them as soon as possible. In addition to the normal pressures of wrapping up annual appropriations before the holidays, Congressional leaders must also complete their year-end goals related to impeachment. The House has announced plans to vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year and the Senate must clear its schedule as legislative activities will grind to a halt during an impeachment trial. Stay tuned to COSSA’s website and Member Messages for updates related to FY 2020 appropriations.

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Posted in Issue 24 (December 10), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Census Bureau Releases “Demonstration” Decennial Data Products, Working with National Academies to Collect Public Input

On October 29, the Census Bureau released a set of demonstration data products that show how the privacy measures planned for 2020 Census data would have applied to data from the 2010 Census. In a blog post, Census Bureau Chief Scientist John Abowd and Associate Director for Demographic Programs Victoria Velkoff assert that the “methods we used to protect the 2010 Census and earlier statistics can no longer adequately defend against today’s privacy threats.” They describe the new disclosure avoidance techniques planned to protect 2020 Census data and invite researchers and data users to experiment with the new demonstration products and determine if they meet their needs.

To assess the adequacy of the proposed data products, the Census Bureau is sponsoring a workshop on the demonstration data products on December 11-12 conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT). CNSTAT is requesting public comments from users of decennial data products—regardless of whether the demonstration products apply to their work—to inform the agenda of the workshop and to inform the Census Bureau’s final decision making about the 2020 products. CNSTAT seeks detailed input from data users on whether the demonstration products would be adequate, how critical the data products are to their research, how comparable the new products are to the 2010 products, and how to address the tension between privacy and accuracy of 2020 Census data. Full details on information requested and how to submit comments are available on the CNSTAT website. While there is no hard deadline for comments, comments received by December 4 will be the most helpful for the workshop organizers’ planning.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 12), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

National Academies Releases Review of Minerva Initiative

The National Academies of Sciences’ Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences released Assessing the Minerva Research Initiative and the Contribution of Social Science to Addressing Security Concerns, a consensus study report assessing the impact, procedures, and direction of the Minerva Research Initiative. The Minerva Research Initiative is a grant program of the Department of Defense (DOD) that funds unclassified, university-based, basic research in the social sciences relevant to national security. The report discusses the program’s challenges and successes and offers recommendations to strengthen the program’s structure and help broaden its reach and usefulness.

The report includes recommendations for both the Minerva Research Initiative and the Department of Defense. It encourages DOD to ensure the Initiative has a leader with stature in a full-time, civil service position, to evaluate whether additional staff are needed, and to reduce the administrative burden on Minerva-funded grantees by streamlining the IRB process. The recommendations for the Initiative include refining its approach to topic selection, creating a strategic outreach plan, creating a centralized and public-facing database of projects, and broadening its engagement with the research community, including reaching out to early career researchers. Additionally, the study recommends the Initiative work to develop relationships with potential supporters of the program, including leadership at DOD, and to create a more robust monitoring and evaluation for grants. The complete report can be downloaded from the National Academies’ website.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 29), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Nita Lowey, House Appropriations Chair, Announces Retirement

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) announced on October 10 that she will not seek reelection next year after 31 years in Congress. Rep. Lowey became the first woman to Chair the House Appropriations Committee when the Democrats took control of the House in 2019.

Her retirement will lead to a reshuffling among senior Democratic appropriators. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who currently chairs the Energy and Water Subcommittee, is the most senior Democrat on the committee after Lowey, has said that she would be interested in chairing the Committee, but Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), current chair of the powerful Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee, also indicated her intention to run for the role. In addition, there will be a key vacancy on the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee (which funds the National Science Foundation and the Census Bureau) as longtime senior Democrat Rep. Jose Serrano has also announced his upcoming retirement.

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Posted in Issue 20 (October 15), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Senate Makes Progress on FY 2020 Appropriations for NSF, Census, NIH, Education, USDA

With the passage of a continuing resolution through Thanksgiving giving Congress some breathing room to complete fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations, the Senate Appropriations Committee has finally made progress in approving a number of its annual appropriations bills. COSSA has released analyses of three Senate bills that fund agencies important to the social and behavioral sciences:

Full coverage of FY 2020 appropriations, including analyses of the corresponding House proposals, is available on the COSSA website.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 1), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

OSTP Outlines Research Security Priorities

In a September 16 letter to the research community, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegemeier described several of the office’s priorities and planned activities for protecting the security of the U.S. research enterprise. The letter expresses concern over recent efforts by some foreign powers to “exploit, influence, and undermine our research activities and environments,” and concludes that “United States policies and practices must evolve thoughtfully and appropriately” to guard against such attacks. In particular, the letter notes that talent-recruitment programs sponsored by foreign governments have been at the center of several attempts to exploit U.S. research.

OSTP is seeking to discourage and prevent breaches of research ethics, including: “failure to disclose required information such as foreign funding, unapproved parallel foreign laboratories (so-called shadow labs), affiliations and appointments, and conflicting financial interests,” as well as “conducting undisclosed research for foreign governments or companies on United States agency time or with United States agency funding, diversion of intellectual property or other legal rights, and breaches of contract and confidentiality in or surreptitious gaming of the peer-review process.”

The Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE), a committee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) established in May 2019, plans to take up these issues. In addition to the Research Security subcommittee, which will focus on foreign-power interference in U.S. research, JCORE also contains subcommittees on Safe and Inclusive Research Environments, Research Rigor and Integrity, and Coordinating Administrative Requirements for Research.

JCORE’s Research Security work will focus on four areas: (1) Coordinating outreach and engagement with federal agencies and other stakeholders to increase awareness of foreign interference in research; (2) Establishing and coordinating disclosure requirements for participation in federally-funded research enterprise (such as the requirements recently circulated by NSF and NIH); (3) Developing best practices for academic research institutions; and (4) Developing methods for identification, assessment, and management of risk in the research enterprise.

OSTP plans to hold meetings at academic institutions over the coming months to further discuss this issue with stakeholders. COSSA will provide more details as they become available.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 17), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

White House Outlines FY 2021 R&D Budget Priorities

On August 30, Acting Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Russell Vought, with Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), issued a joint memorandum to federal agency and department heads on “FY 2021 Administration Research and Development Budget Priorities.” The memo lays out five key White House priorities as agencies begin working on their budget submissions for the next fiscal year and five “high-priority crosscutting actions” for agencies to maximize success in the science and technology enterprise. This is the first set of R&D priorities released under the leadership of Dr. Droegemeier, who was confirmed as OSTP director in January.

The FY 2021 memo shares priorities with previous Administration guidance, including acknowledging the important role of science and technology to America’s global leadership and emphasizing national security, American energy and environmental leadership, medical innovation, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and space exploration as research and development priorities. While the priorities are similar to those included in the FY 2019 and FY 2020 memos, the FY 2021 memo includes more details about ongoing Administration activities, including The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide, National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, and the Federal Data Strategy.

The memo also includes five actions for agencies to take in order to maximize success in the science and technology enterprise. These direct agencies to build and leverage a diverse, highly skilled American workforce; create and support research environments that reflect American values; support transformative research of high risk and potentially high reward; leverage the power of data; and build, strengthen, and expand strategic multisector partnerships.

Additional details can be found in the memorandum.

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 3), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

NIH Extends Enforcement Delay of Clinical Trials Policy Until September 2021

On July 24, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a notice announcing a further delay of enforcement of clinical trials reporting requirements for NIH-funded research designated as “basic experimental studies with humans.” The enforcement date, originally extended to September of this year, has been pushed to September 24, 2021. A blog post from the NIH Office of Science Policy describes the extension as necessary to address the challenges of reporting requirements for some researchers by continuing to search for common ground with the basic science community.

The notice is the latest iteration of NIH statements relating to changes to NIH’s clinical trial policy. As previously reported, NIH has established a new definition of “clinical trials” which includes some basic behavioral and social science research and mandates new reporting requirements. COSSA previously authored a Hot Topic piece detailing how the changes would affect basic research. Due to negative reactions from the basic science community on concerns of undue burden on the researchers, NIH announced a delay in the enforcement of the clinical trials policy and issued a Request for Information (RFI) to the community on best practices for implementing the policy. Read COSSA’s previous coverage for more details.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 6), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Administration Ends Attempts to Add Citizenship to 2020 Census

On July 11, President Trump announced that he would no longer seek to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census. The announcement appears to resolve over a year of controversy and confusion, which culminated in a tumultuous two weeks that included a Supreme Court ruling stating the question could not be asked unless the Administration could provide a better explanation, an announcement that the Census Bureau had begun printing materials without a citizenship question, a commitment from the Department of Justice to continue fighting to add the question back in, and upheaval in the government’s legal team. Census stakeholders are hoping that the resolution of this issue can allow preparations for the Census to move forward smoothly and allow the community to focus on encouraging full participation in the 2020 Census. COSSA issued a statement praising the decision.

While the Administration will no longer seek to modify the 2020 questionnaire, President Trump signed an executive order that directs the Census Bureau to compile estimates of citizenship using existing data from administrative records. However, the order has little practical impact on the Census Bureau, as it already had access to the majority of the data in question and in fact originally proposed producing such estimates as a less costly and more accurate alternative to adding a citizenship question to the decennial census.

Congressional committees have shifted their focus from the citizenship question to ensuring an accurate count on the 2020 Census. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hosted Census Director Steven Dillingham, along with representatives of the Government Accountability Office, last week and the House Oversight and Reform Committee will examine how to reach an accurate census count later this week.

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Posted in Issue 15 (July 23), Update

Census Citizenship Question Saga Continues

Despite a decision from the Supreme Court, the fate of the Census citizenship question remains uncertain. While the ruling was expected to be the final word on whether the government could include a question on citizenship on the 2020 Census, the Supreme Court decided on June 27 that the question could only be asked if the government provided a different, more acceptable justification. However, with time running out to begin printing the necessary forms and other lawsuits working their way through lower courts, it was unclear whether enough time remained for the government to provide such a justification. See COSSA’s analysis of the decision for more details.

On July 2, the federal government announced that it had begun printing Census forms without a citizenship question, in what many believed to be an end to the controversy. However, after confusion and contradictory tweets from the President, federal officials said they were still looking for a way to add the question to the Census and intended to continue to fight the legal challenges. The government’s legal team defending the question was also replaced, in a sign that the Administration is not planning to accede to the standing rulings striking the question.

At this stage, many questions remain as to what Census documents are currently being printed, how much time the Census Bureau can realistically hold off on further printing without damaging the Census operation, how the Administration intends to justify the question, and whether enough time remains for the question to proceed through the court system. COSSA will continue to report on developments in the Washington Update.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 9), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

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