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Science Policy Updates

The Office of Government Relations publishes a weekly e-newsletter, the AAAS Policy Alert, which provides an inside look at policies affecting science and technology and the S&T community to AAAS members. AAAS members may sign up to receive the alert on in the Contact Preferences Section.

COVID-19 News in the March 24, 2020 Policy Alert

AAAS Resources

Science Shares COVID-19 Research on International Public Repositories. The journal Science joined more than 30 leading scholarly publishers in making all COVID-19 publications immediately accessible in the National Institutes of Health PubMed Central repository and the World Health Organization’s COVID database. See the tweet from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Science Interviews Anthony Fauci. The journal Science published a new interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), who has become to our nation “the scientific voice of reason about how to respond to the new coronavirus.”

AAAS S&T Policy Forum Postponed. The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Forum scheduled for May 7-8 in Washington, D.C., has been postponed because of the health concerns related to the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is with regret that we postpone this event, however, AAAS’ decision was based on our responsibility to adhere to the soundest policies from scientific and public health experts and to ensure the health and safety of AAAS staff, speakers and participants. We will postpone the forum until fall 2020, likely October 13-14, and we sincerely hope that you will be available to participate. Please check back often for updates by visiting the S&T Policy Forum’s website.


Federal Budget Updates

White House Amends FY 2021 Request, Calls for Other Emergency Funding. Last week, the White House issued an amendment to its FY 2021 budget request, reversing its recommended cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The revised budget adds $1.3 billion to next year’s request for the CDC and $440 million for the NIAID. Both agencies had been slated for sizable reductions. The White House simultaneously called for immediate emergency spending of $46 billion to help several federal agencies deal with COVID-19 virus-related adjustments, though appropriators may far exceed that sum.

Negotiations Continue on Stimulus. On Tuesday morning, Congressional and White House leaders continued negotiations on a massive economic and health stimulus package in the neighborhood of $2 trillion, with hopes of a final deal as early as Tuesday afternoon. In recent days, the Senate has tried and failed to pass its own trillion-dollar response package due to Democratic concerns over scale and oversight, while House Democrats unveiled their own proposal Monday night. The final deal will likely include some mix of direct support for Americans, industry relief, policy changes to further speed virus response and drug development, and funding for states, hospitals, agencies, and other constituencies, though final details await. Last week, Congress adopted a separate stimulus package worth roughly $100 billion, including free coronavirus testing.

OMB Provides Flexibility on Federal Grants. Last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum providing administrative relief and flexibility to recipients of federal funding. The move comes following universities’ calls for such flexibility, as well as a 15 percent increase in extramural research funding. Museums have also called for $4 billion in emergency support. 


Legislative Branch Updates

Congress Considers Remote Voting. Congressional leaders are considering ways to allow lawmakers to vote on legislation without requiring them to congregate in the U.S. Capitol now that at least three members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Lawmakers from both parties have either written to congressional leadership or stated publicly that remote voting should be allowed during this national emergency, though no formal process is in place. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instructed House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) to present a report on the chamber’s voting rules for members to review and is accepting suggestions from fellow members. The report was released on Monday, March 23.

Congress and Administration Negotiate Stimulus Package. Senate Democrats are rushing to finish negotiations with the Trump administration on a massive $1.6 trillion-plus emergency rescue package as the coronavirus spreads and markets continue to dive. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke late into Sunday evening about the terms of the legislation and met again Monday morning, along with White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, to restart talks. Mnuchin appeared optimistic leaving Schumer’s office on Monday, stating, “We knocked off a bunch of things on the list already, and we’re closing out issues.”


Executive Branch Updates

Federal Agencies Respond to COVID-19. Federal agencies have continued to issue guidance and announcements related to the novel coronavirus. The Council on Governmental Relations has an online resource listing institutional and agency responses to the epidemic. Among the announcements of the past week: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stated that it will be shifting non-mission-critical laboratory operations to a maintenance phase to reduce the risk of virus transmission and to protect staff. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instructed researchers that they can alter clinical trial procedures to protect patient safety without prior approval as long as they report the changes. The National Science Foundation (NSF) issued details about how it will implement the OMB memorandum on flexibility for federal grants. The White House announced on Friday that U.S. federal student loan borrowers will be allowed to take a break from monthly payments without incurring interest or penalties for at least the next two months.

COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. The White House OSTP, the Department of Energy (DOE) and IBM have formed the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to bring together partners from industry, academia and federal agencies to “provide access to the world’s most powerful high-performance computing resources in support of COVID-19 research.” Partners have thus far pledged access to 16 supercomputing systems to researchers to help address the epidemiology, bioinformatics and molecular modeling of COVID-19. Researchers interested in conducting studies on the virus are asked to submit proposals to the consortium for review and matching with a national computing resource. Read more about the consortium here and submit a proposal here.   

COVID-19 Open Research Database. Last week, researchers from five organizations — the Allen Institute for AI, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Microsoft, and the National Library of Medicine — released a new open database of publications on the novel coronavirus disease. The database, which was requested by OSTP, includes more than 29,000 scientific articles that are machine-readable and available for data and text mining. Text and data-mining tools will be openly available to researchers around the world through Kaggle, a machine learning and data science community owned by Google Cloud.


State and Local Updates

States Act on COVID-19. The National Governor’s Association (NGA) put together a website cataloging actions taken by governors and state and territorial leaders in response to COVID-19 that highlights key actions and resources. The National Conference of State Legislatures has also launched a website providing a full list of coronavirus-related state legislation.

Groups Request Suspension of Public Comment Periods During Pandemic. Groups representing state and local government officials — including the National Governors Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Conference of State Legislatures — sent a letter to the White House requesting a suspension of public comment periods during the pandemic. “The extreme impact on normal working and living conditions will impair the ability of not only state and local officials, but also the general public, issue experts and others to provide thoughtful and meaningful participation and involvement in potential federal government actions that directly affect millions of people,” the letter states.

Pandemic Hampers State Legislative Action. Ramifications of the novel coronavirus now include suspension of state pollution control activities in several states, including Illinois, where vehicle emissions testing has been suspended. In Maryland, concerns over the coronavirus have truncated the legislative session, stranding bills such as the Climate Solutions Act of 2020, which would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2030 and set the state on a path toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2045.


International Updates

Coronavirus Stalls UN Progress on Climate. Five years after the Paris Agreement was adopted, governments around the world are under pressure to submit tougher climate plans to the United Nations ahead of the 2020 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26), scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November. However, the novel coronavirus has put on hold critical coordination meetings and workshops, and that could result in a delay in countries’ climate plans and, ultimately, stall efforts to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.


Other COVID-19 News

Higher-Ed Groups Seek Guidance on Visas During COVID-19. Last week, the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and other higher education groups sent a letter to the Department of State seeking additional guidance on the immigration status of foreign students, researchers and scholars in the U.S. during the COVID-19 closures. The organizations also requested clarification regarding procedures for processing visa applications for new student admissions.