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Funding disclosure for researchers, the UN climate conference, and more.
By the FYI Team | January 11, 2024
Credit: House Foreign Affairs Committee
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) holds a report he authored recommending an overhaul of the U.S. export control system.
Michael McCaul (R-TX), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a report in December that calls for the U.S. to revisit its stance of generally exempting fundamental research from export controls. The report recommends the Biden administration revise the presidential policy on research classification to “address China’s acquisition of critical technology and know-how through fundamental research.” It argues that when the policy was created in the 1980s, the Soviet Union could gain relatively little military value from fundamental research, but the term now includes applied research that is of significant military and economic value to China. The report also asserts the exemption is inconsistently applied and enables “more expansive cross-border engagements over which the U.S. government writ large lacks visibility.”
The House passed a bill in December that would expand disclosure requirements for universities and individual researchers receiving gifts or contracts from foreign sources. The Republican-authored bill passed by a vote of 246-170, with 31 Democrats joining in support. The Defending Education Transparency and Ending Rogue Regimes Engaging in Nefarious Transactions (DETERRENT) Act, if passed by the Senate, would lower the current reporting threshold from $250,000 to $50,000 for funding from most countries, with a $0 threshold for “countries of concern,” like China, Russia, and Iran. The legislation would also create new reporting requirements for gifts and contracts awarded to individual researchers at higher education institutions that receive more than $50 million annually in R&D funds, and it would require institutions to receive a waiver to pursue contracts with countries or entities of concern. On a party-line vote, the House rejected an alternative framework proposed by Democrats that would set the threshold at $100,000 for all countries and omit country-specific restrictions.
At the latest UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, NASA unveiled the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Center, an interagency hub that will host a catalog of satellite, airborne, and ground-based observations and will estimate emissions from human activities and natural sources. The center is a cornerstone of the national greenhouse gas monitoring system outlined in a report released in November by the White House. The report recommends beginning with two urban-scale prototype monitoring systems covering Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis, Indiana. Separately at the conference, the U.S. outlined an international strategy for accelerating development of fusion power systems, calling for new multilateral R&D partnerships, the development of global fusion supply chains, and coordination of fusion regulatory frameworks. The U.S. is emphasizing international partnerships as part of a broader reorientation of its fusion program around the goal of deploying a pilot fusion power plant in the 2030s.
In December, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science asked its six federal advisory committees to weigh in by March 2024 on which facility construction and upgrade projects the office should prioritize over the next 10 years. The office has provided each committee a list of projects, respectively spanning its programs in basic energy sciences, fusion energy, high energy physics, nuclear physics, biological and environmental research, and advanced computing. The committees will grade each project on their “potential to contribute to world-leading science” and their “readiness for construction.” The committees are permitted to add additional projects for consideration if they cost more than $100 million.
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