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Federal Research Agencies Release Guidance on OMB’s Administrative Flexibility Changes

In response to a June 18 memo (M 20-26) issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) extending certain administrative flexibilities to federal grant recipients as relief for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, federal research agencies have released guidance statements clarifying the memo’s implications for recipients of research grants. On June 25, both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) released nearly identical sets of guidance in response to the OMB memo explaining how the changes to the flexibilities will specifically affect recipients of their grants. The flexibilities include an allowance to continue charging salaries, benefits, and other applicable program costs to active NIH and NSF awards through September 30, 2020 (assuming that payroll costs have not already been paid through other COVID-19 relief programs), and an extension of the single audit submission deadline by up to three months.

More information is available on the NIH website and the NSF website.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 7), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

Sethuraman Panchanathan Confirmed as Next NSF Director

On June 18, the Senate confirmed Sethuraman Panchanathan to be the 15th Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), an agency that had been without a Senate-confirmed director since France Córdova’s term expired in March. Panchanathan, who was nominated to lead the agency in January, holds a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering and serves as the Executive Vice President of Knowledge Enterprise Development and as Chief Research and Innovation Officer at Arizona State University. He has also served on the National Science Board since 2014.

The timeline for the Senate to consider Panchanathan’s nomination was delayed significantly by the transition away from in-person hearings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interim, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Kelvin Droegemeier served as Acting Director of NSF until Panchanathan was confirmed (see previous COSSA coverage for more details). More information on Panchanathan’s confirmation is available on the Senate website.

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 23), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

SEAN Releases Rapid Consultation on Evaluating Types of COVID-19 Data

The Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN), a collaboration between the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the National Science Foundation (NSF) (see previous coverage), has released its first rapid expert consultation in response to COVID-19. The report, Evaluating Data Types: A Guide for Decision Makers using Data to Understand the Extent and Spread of COVID-19, is intended to assist leaders in understanding the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. It was released alongside an interactive tool to help policymakers explore the information in more detail. The consultation summarizes the benefits and drawbacks of seven specific COVID-19 measurements that decision-makers can consider as they use these measurements to respond to the outbreak: (1) confirmed cases, (2) hospitalizations, (3) emergency department visits, (4) reported confirmed COVID-19 deaths, (5) excess deaths, (6) fraction of viral tests that are positive, and (7) representative prevalence surveys. It also outlines five criteria decisionmakers can use in evaluating such data: representativeness, potential for systematic under- or over-estimation, uncertainty, time range, and geographical area. More about SEAN is available here.

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 23), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

New Proposal Would Rename NSF, Create New Technology Directorate

On May 21, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Endless Frontier Act (S. 3832). A counterpart bill (H.R. 6978) was also introduced in the House by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI). The legislation proposes the establishment of a new Technology Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation (NSTF). While housed within NSF/NSTF, a basic science agency, the overarching goal of the legislation is to infuse funding—$100 billion over five years—specifically for research and development in 10 technology areas of global strategic significance. The 10 areas include: (1) artificial intelligence and machine learning (2) high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware (3) quantum computing and information systems (4) robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing (5) natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention (6) advanced communications technology (7) biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology (8) cybersecurity, data storage and data management technologies (9) advanced energy (10) materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to other key technology areas. The 10 areas would be revisited every 4 years.

Such a focus on technology transfer would be a major departure for NSF, which since its founding has focused on supporting fundamental research across all scientific disciplines and fields. The bill’s sponsors contend that the agencies’ other activities would be left untouched by the legislation. Still, considering the bill’s authorization level for these new technology activities is nearly triple the NSF’s current budget, one could surmise that the proposal would mark a major shift in priority for the 70-year-old agency.

While, as noted earlier, this and other legislation could be attached to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill would first need to work its way through the Senate oversight committees as well as those in the House, which has been working to develop its own, yet-to-be-introduced NSF reauthorization legislation.  COSSA will continue to report on this and other NSF authorizing bills in the months ahead.

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 26), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NSF, National Academies Launch Network to Connect Social Scientists to COVID-19 Policymakers

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have formed the Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN) to connect social and behavioral science researchers with decision-makers who are leading the response to COVID-19. SEAN will respond to the most pressing social, behavioral, and economic questions that are being asked by federal, state, and local officials by working with appropriate experts to quickly provide actionable answers. The network will be overseen by NASEM’s Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats and an executive committee co-chaired by Robert Groves of Georgetown University and Mary T. Bassett of Harvard University. More information is available in the press release announcing the network’s formation. One of the first public activities under the new network is the creation of a weekly archive of public opinion survey data and reports related to COVID-19. COSSA will continue to report on SEAN’s activities as more information becomes available.

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Posted in Issue 10 (May 12), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

White House Announces Appointments for PCAST and NSB

On April 20, the White House announced the appointment of several individuals for key positions in the Administration including two seats on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and four seats on the National Science Board (NSB), the advisory body to the National Science Foundation (NSF). This wave of nominations for PCAST follows an announcement from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director and PCAST Chair Kelvin Droegemeier that several future PCAST nominees would come from academia rather than industry (read previous COSSA coverage for more details). The two nominees for PCAST are:

  • Abraham “Avi” Loeb, Professor and Chair of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University
  • Daniela Rus, Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The four nominees for the NSB are:

  • Aaron Dominguez, Provost and Professor of Physics at the Catholic University of America
  • Dario Gil, Chief of Research at IBM
  • Sudarsanam Babu, Professor and Chair of Advanced Manufacturing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Roger Beachy, President of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Roger Beachy currently serves on the NSB and has been reappointed for a second term while the three other appointees would be new members of the advisory body. Since there are eight members with expiring terms on the NSB this year, four more appointments have yet to be announced.

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Posted in Issue 9 (April 22), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NSF Announces Fairness in Artificial Intelligence Collaboration with Amazon

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking research proposals for the NSF Program on Fairness in Artificial Intelligence in Collaboration with Amazon, a program seeking to support research on how to ensure fairness in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The program is partially funded by Amazon, although the company will not have a role in the award selection process. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of artificial intelligence research, many fields of the social and behavioral sciences may be supported by this program including information science, statistics, cognitive science, and psychology. Some of the research topics that may be supported include:

  • Designing fair artificial intelligence systems,
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability in artificial intelligence systems,
  • Understanding factors that affect the integrity of algorithms,
  • Developing ethical decision-making systems, and
  • Detecting biases in algorithms and artificial intelligence systems.

Proposals will be accepted through July 13, 2020. More information can be found on the NSF website.

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Posted in Issue 9 (April 22), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier Named Acting NSF Director

Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), has been named the acting director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) until the Senate confirms a permanent successor to the previous NSF Director, France Córdova. Córdova finished her six-year term heading the agency in March 2020 (see previous COSSA coverage for more details). The White House announced the nomination of Sethuraman Panchanathan as NSF Director in January 2020, however the timeline for the Senate to consider Panchanathan’s nomination has been made unclear by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to his tenure as OSTP Director, Droegemeier served two terms on the National Science Board, the governing body for NSF, and nearly a decade as vice president for research for the University of Oklahoma. The news release can be found on the NSF website.

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Posted in Issue 8 (April 14), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

NSF Creates Resource Webpage for Information on COVID-19

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has established a resource webpage compiling relevant information about NSF activities addressing the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. Some of the resources available on the webpage include a FAQ about NSF awards, a document describing NSF’s implementation of an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directive, a Dear Colleague Letter inviting research proposals through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program, and a list of  NSF deadlines that have changed due to COVID-19. This resource page is frequently updated to include the most relevant and accurate information.

In addition, on March 30, leadership from the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) circulated a letter to the social and behavioral science community providing additional details on NSF’s COVID-19 resources and encouraging proposals from SBE fields.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

France Córdova Ends Tenure as NSF Director; Timeline for Confirming New Director Unclear

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Córdova finished her six-year term as the head of the agency on March 31, 2020. Córdova, an astrophysicist and former Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California at Santa Barbara, served as NSF Director since 2014. A farewell message from Córdova to NSF staff is available on the NSF website.

In January 2020, the White House announced the nomination of Sethuraman Panchanathan to succeed Córdova as NSF Director (see COSSA’s previous coverage). However, no hearing has yet been scheduled for Panchanathan’s consideration for the Senate-confirmed position due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Due to these complications in the schedule, the timeline for the Senate to consider Panchanathan for NSF Director remains unclear. COSSA will provide more details as they become available.

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Posted in Issue 7 (March 31), Update, Volume 39 (2020)

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