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Trump nominates Rep. Bridenstine to head NASA

On Friday, September 1, the Trump administration announced that, as expected, it would be nominating Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to be Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The position requires confirmation from the Senate, and Bridenstine will likely face opposition from Senate Democrats due to statements he made in 2013 downplaying climate change. However a University of Oklahoma official insists that Bridenstine does believe the climate is warming and carbon dioxide is a contributing factor. Both Senators from Florida, Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R), oppose the nomination on the grounds that the agency should be led by a "space professional, not a politician." Bridenstine has worked closely with NASA during his time in Congress, focusing on space matters and seeking a role for the government that emphasizes being a pioneer in technology. He has previously written about the potential for commercializing moon missions, and there is speculation he may seek to shift the agency towards the moon rather than Mars.

EPA public affairs official now reviewing all awards and grant applications

All Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awards and solicitations for grant applications are now being reviewed by a former Trump campaign aide in the EPA public affairs office. The official, John Konkus, has reportedly instructing staff to eliminate the any mention of climate change from grant solicitations issued by the agency. Konkus, who has no background in environmental science, has also canceled several grants, including domestic and international clean-air initiatives promoted by both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. This is part of a growing trend of political interference in science in the Trump administration's EPA. The administration has also displayed a willingness to use such funding as a political tool, with promises of funding for allies, and threats of pulling funding from opponents. In July, the EPA placed a two-week hold on grants to Alaska, immediately after Sen. Lisa Murkowski joined two other Republican senators in voting against Trump's health care bill.

White House releases report on updating government IT systems

On Wednesday, August 30, the White House's American Technology Council (headed by Jared Kushner) and Office of Science and Technology Policy posted a report outlining a plan to update the federal government's IT systems. The report suggested adopting third-party cloud computing architecture shared across multiple agencies, while also improving functionality and security of existing "legacy" systems. The White House is requesting feedback on the report by September 20.

Congress returns from recess, postpones net-neutrality hearing

The House and Senate returned from their August recess on Tuesday, September 5. A hearing on net neutrality that had been scheduled for the House Energy and Commerce Committee on September 7 has been postponed indefinitely. More than 20 million comments were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during its public comment period this summer, broadly defending net neutrality--though FCC Chair Ajit Pai appears steadfast in his desire to roll back current protections. Republican committee members had asked tech executives to testify, but several, including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon's Jeff Bezos, had declined. Despite the postponement, representatives from Facebook and AT&T, among others, have confirmed they are engaged in backchannel negotiations with the committee outside the public eye. Democratic members and staffers of the committee report they have not been included in those discussions.

Research universities, especially in Midwest, hit hard by budget cuts

In its latest issue, Washington Monthly highlights how Trump administration proposals to slash the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets would accelerate the decline of university research institutions already at great risk. While both public and private institutions face significant defunding, public universities—which receive nearly 60% of federal research funds—will be more severely impacted. Public universities in the Midwest are hit hardest of all, due to isolation from private companies and major coastal innovation hubs, with significant implications for local economies.

Will sidelining science impair response to Hurricane Harvey and preparedness for future disasters?

As the long period of recovery begins for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, it demonstrates some of the consequences sidelining science and evidence in the policymaking process. Years prior to the storm, officials at the local, state, and national level lobbied against well-documented evidence to dismantle regulation and safety standards, and place critical petroleum and chemical infrastructure in high risk areas. The failure to implement urban planning based on sound science has cost critical infrastructure and contributed to additional loss of life and property. Even while the storm's damage was still being assessed, an EPA spokesperson criticized scientists linking the storm's severity to climate change as efforts to "politicize" the disaster—herself promoting the administration's climate change denial stance in the process. Days before the storm, President Trump signed an executive order revoking an Obama-era rule requiring infrastructure projects to maintain the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard for "climate resilience." Although the order did not immediately impact the toll of Harvey, it continues a long history of efforts in the region to sidestep regulation and safety standards. With critical shortages of basic fuels and chemicals and local communities left to grapple with toxic chemicals, fires, loss of drinking water, and pollution from damaged petrochemical facilities, experts predict the storm's toll will continue to impact industry and average consumers for months or years to come.

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