On June 21, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a plan to reform and reorganize executive branch departments and agencies of the federal government, following President Donald Trump’s March 13, 2017, executive order (E.O. 13781) intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch. The plan outlines over eighty recommendations for structural realignment across the executive branch, including changes to geoscience-related federal agencies.
On May 24, President Donald Trump nominated Dr. Christopher Fall for the position of Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE Office of Science is the nation’s largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, supporting fundamental energy research at DOE laboratories and more than three hundred institutions of higher education in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia. Dr. Fall is currently the acting head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
On April 10, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a Dear Colleague Letter, titled “Towards a New Approach for the Provision of Marine Seismic Capabilities to the U.S. Research Community,” announcing its decision to divest of the marine seismic research vessel Marcus G. Langseth by 2020. Early career geophysicists and groups such as the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) have replied to NSF with letters expressing concern about divestment of the vessel and limited options to continue cutting edge seismic research in deep-ocean crustal imaging.
The EPA released a new proposed rule, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, in the Federal Register on April 30. The rulemaking summary states, “the proposed regulation provides that when EPA develops regulations, including regulations for which the public is likely to bear the cost of compliance, with regard to those scientific studies that are pivotal to the action being taken, EPA should ensure that the data underlying those are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”
The Senate unanimously confirmed Dr. James Reilly as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey on April 9. In April, the Senate also voted to confirm Andrew Wheeler as Deputy Administrator of the EPA, Representative James Bridenstine as Administrator of NASA, and Michael Pompeo as Secretary of State. To track the confirmation process of key geoscience presidential nominations from the Trump Administration, visit AGI’s Federal Nominations page.
The White House tapped Wells Griffith this month to join the National Economic Council as the leader of its international energy efforts, including the Administration’s climate positions. Mr. Griffith currently serves as the principal deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy’s office of international affairs. The appointment is for a term of three months, but could lead to a more permanent position.
Congress responded to President Donald Trump’s infrastructure proposal through a series of hearings in which committee members questioned the heads of key federal agencies regarding funding mechanisms, permitting processes, and other logistical aspects of the proposal. Although the White House has been pushing for Congress to complete an infrastructure overhaul by the end of the year, senior administration officials conceded in a phone call with reporters on March 28 that pieces of President Trump's infrastructure plan are likely pass via smaller infrastructure-related bills, as recently suggested by congressional leadership, instead of the broad package proposed last month.
On March 6, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. James Reilly to be Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski welcomed Dr. Reilly in her opening statement, acknowledging her initial surprise that an astronaut was nominated to run the USGS, but imparting her confidence in Dr. Reilly’s extensive geoscience education and career. Senators at the hearing questioned Dr. Reilly about protecting scientific integrity, defending USGS funding, and specific issues facing their respective states.
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. 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.
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.