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February 12, 2018
In conjunction with the fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request, President Donald Trump released his Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America on February 12. The proposal asks Congress to act soon on infrastructure legislation that will stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new investment over the next ten years, shorten the process for approving projects to two years or less, address unmet rural infrastructure needs, empower state and local authorities, and train the American workforce of the future. The plan would address “traditional” infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and airports, in addition to drinking and wastewater systems, waterways, water resources, energy, public lands, and Brownfield and Superfund sites.
The plan calls for $200 billion in federal investment over ten years, leaving $1.3 trillion to come from local and state governments or the private sector. Half of the federal investment would be made available for an infrastructure incentives program, $50 billion for rural infrastructure, $20 billion for a new transformative projects program, $20 billion for existing financing programs, and $10 into a federal capital financing fund. The proposal also establishes a Department of the Interior maintenance fund using federal mineral and energy revenues to address the backlog of maintenance on public lands.
Furthermore, the President’s infrastructure plan outlines strategies to improve permitting timelines. Similar to a list of actions proposed in the Federal Register last fall, the plan directs the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to rewrite its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidance for the first time since 1978. It proposes to establish a “One Agency, One Decision” review structure in which a sole agency would play the lead role in reviewing a single combined document and administering one decision within a two-year deadline. Other provisions of the proposal include authorizing federal agencies to accept funding from non-federal entities to support environmental and permitting reviews, eliminating the interagency review team for mitigation banking, prohibiting the ability of federal agencies to intervene in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proceedings, and authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to review and approve permits for pipelines crossing National Park Service lands.
The proposal addresses supporting the technical workforce needed for infrastructure projects by expanding Pell Grant eligibility, enacting a modified version of the House-passed Strengthening Career and Technical Education or the 21st Century Act (H.R.2353), reforming federal work study programs to encourage apprenticeship, and requiring states utilizing federal funds for infrastructure projects to accept workers with out-of-state licenses.
Infrastructure initiatives and funding will ultimately be decided by Congress, which is expected to hold upcoming hearings to discuss infrastructure proposals.
Sources: E&E News, Library of Congress, White House
February 23, 2018
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is moving forward with major plans to reorganize his department, which includes agencies such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The reorganization plan could potentially affect tens of thousands of federal government employees who may be required to relocate.
Each of the nine agencies within the Department of the Interior (DOI) currently operate under separate and unique regional structures. The Secretary’s proposal would change this management structure by establishing unified regional boundaries for all Interior bureaus in an effort to reduce administrative redundancy, shift resources to the field, and improve interagency coordination. According to the DOI’s Reorganization Q&A webpage, they are still evaluating options and may decide to treat the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement differently, since those agencies are mainly concerned with offshore areas.
Secretary Zinke first laid out details of his widely-anticipated reorganization plan in a two-day meeting with senior officials on January 14 and 15. He later defended the proposal during a town hall meeting for all DOI employees on February 1, explaining that the plan will not cut jobs or bureaus but will improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of DOI and help streamline its mission. Additional details of the reorganization were provided in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget Request released on February 12, which included $18 million to help initiate the Department’s internal reorganization plan.
The initial proposal included a new organizational map (dated January 3, 2018) that defined 13 common regions based on geographic basins and watersheds, rather than state boundaries. The plan would designate regional directors to serve two-year terms, with the position rotating between the different Interior bureaus. State directors and field managers from all bureaus inside a given region would be required to report to the regional director.
Following push-back from numerous Western state governors and members of Congress from both parties, the Secretary revealed in an interview with the Associated Press on February 23 that he is revising his original plan to better incorporate their stakeholder feedback. The redrawn map (as of February 15, 2018) still divides the Interior into 13 regions, but avoids splitting up states like Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah into multiple regions.
Sources: Associated Press, E&E News, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington Post
February 27, 2018
As the #MeToo movement affects industries across the country, the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology convened a hearing titled “A Review of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct in Science” to review sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct in science. The hearing highlighted the need to reform workforce culture in the scientific sphere and showcased modern and relevant policies that federal agencies and scientific organizations are implementing to address harassment.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10) opened the hearing by describing a sexual harassment case involving a University of California, Berkeley astronomer. She expressed concerns that efforts by the committee to encourage female participation in science starting from the pre-kindergarten classroom would be eventually stifled by the fear of sexual harassment in the workplace, thus effectively perpetuating a gender wage gap due to women ending their pursuits of scientific careers with high earning potential. Other committee leaders highlighted national studies that address sexual harassment in their opening statements. For instance, Subcommittee Ranking Member Dan Lipiski (D-IL-3) mentioned that the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine is conducting a study on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia, and Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) shared that he and Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) sent a letter last month to the Government Accountability Office requesting a report on sexual harassment in the scientific community.
Hearing witnesses shared stories, research, and new initiatives addressing sexual harassment. Dr. Kathryn Clancy, Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, described the two main forms of sexual harassment: “come-ons” (the type most reported by the media) and “put-downs” (the most prevalent and frequent form). Her research shows that sexual harassment tends to be more prevalent in male-dominated work environments and those with organizational tolerance towards harassment. Dr. Clancy’s research found high numbers of women reporting sexual harassment in the field sciences (71 percent across their careers), and planetary scientists regularly observe sexist remarks from coworkers (79 percent from peers, 44 percent from supervisors, and 85 percent from others in the workplace over just the last five years). Attorney Kristina Larsen reiterated Dr. Clancy’s findings, providing specific examples of harassment from clients who she has represented. In her testimony, Ms. Larsen highlighted three main issues facing victims in the scientific field: confusion about where to get help, secrecy of investigations, and harm to the abused throughout the process.
Christine McEntee, Executive Director of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), noted that AGU formally adopted a revised ethics policy in September 2017 with new language that defines harassment, bullying, and discrimination as scientific misconduct. She also commended the American Astronomical Society and American Geosciences Institute for recently adopting similarly strong policies on harassment. In addition, she promoted implementing training, including bystander intervention, and positive approaches such as recognizing institutions that advance positive work-climate and equity issues.
Rhonda Davis from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Diversity and Inclusion talked about NSF’s recent efforts to eliminate sexual harassment and misconduct, as announced by the agency on February 8. NSF proposed a new award term and condition that would make it clear the agency expects to be notified when an awardee organization finds that an NSF-funded investigator or co-investigator has committed sexual harassment, so NSF can take decisive action, as appropriate, using all the tools at their disposal. NSF employees also received a notice clarifying how sexual harassment complaints within the agency are to be reported and handled. NSF created a web portal (NSF.gov/harassment) where any scientists can file a report and find NSF policies on harassment. NSF will solicit feedback on this new award term and condition proposal through the Federal Register process within the next several weeks.
Sources: American Geophysical Union, National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, National Science Foundation, Nature, PlosOne, U.S. House Committee on Science