Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Week of November 20, 2023

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A 2016 chart of the U.S. allocation of radio spectrum.


National Spectrum Strategy Includes ‘Moonshot’ Sharing Effort

The Biden administration released a 26-page National Spectrum Strategy
last week that aims to better manage the nation’s crowded radio frequency spectrum. An accompanying presidential memorandum
directs agency actions to promote wireless technology innovation and establishes a process for resolving disputes over reallocations of spectrum bands. The strategy states the U.S. will conduct an in-depth study of five spectrum bands
covering 2,786 megahertz of spectrum that could be repurposed to support applications such as wireless broadband, drones, and satellite operations. The U.S. also will develop a National Spectrum R&D Plan and establish a “national testbed” for dynamic spectrum sharing research. These actions are part of what the strategy describes as a “moonshot” effort to “advance research, create investment incentives, and set forth measurable goals for advancing the state of technology for spectrum access” within 18 months. The R&D plan will be developed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In a White House rollout event,
OSTP Director Arati Prabhakar acknowledged that conversations about spectrum allocations can be “quite contentious and pretty difficult,” noting applications range widely from telecommunications and safety systems to scientific research and environmental monitoring. She also said the memorandum “opens the door to the kind of innovation that can change how we use the spectrum” and reflected on her experience overseeing a spectrum sharing R&D initiative when she was director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. While the Biden administration has grand plans for sharing finite spectrum bands more effectively, Congress has yet to reinstate the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority, which lapsed in March 2023.

5th National Climate Assessment Released

On Nov. 14, the Biden administration released the Fifth National Climate Assessment,
a quadrennial report that examines the impacts of climate change and strategies for reducing present and future risk. Assembled by the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program, the report concludes with very high confidence that global average temperatures have increased due to human activities and that observed warming in the continental U.S. and Alaska is significantly higher than the global average. It also finds with high or very high confidence that heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes have become more frequent and severe in certain regions of the U.S. The report notes the U.S. experienced 18 weather and climate disasters in 2022 with damages exceeding $1 billion, while in the 1980s such events occurred only a few times per year on average. It states the increase is “in part due to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme events and in part due to increases in exposure and vulnerability.” For the first time, the report includes chapters dedicated to the economic impacts of climate action and to climate justice and social systems. Alongside the report, USGCRP launched a climate data “atlas”
to help the public understand the impacts of climate change in their region and the Department of Defense launched a Climate Resilience Portal
to inform its own preparations for climate change.

Science Committee Expands Investigation of Harassment in Antarctica

Leaders of the House Science Committee sent letters
last week to the National Science Foundation and federal contractor Leidos that criticize their handling of harassment and assault among personnel in the U.S. Antarctic Program. The letters expand on their concerns
that Leidos inaccurately told the committee it had received zero allegations of sexual assault since it became the lead logistics contractor for the program. Leidos later stated that it had in fact received 19 allegations of sexual harassment and four of sexual assault since late 2016. The committee’s letters say that continued conversations with witnesses have further called into question the accuracy of information provided to Congress. They also express concern that NSF and Leidos have not adequately prioritized the safety of victims and that NSF has not done enough to address cultural issues within the program that contribute to harassment. “The apparent inadequacy of these investigations and others ultimately falls to the NSF for failing to conduct sufficient oversight of its contractors and subcontractors and not requiring them to meet expectations,” wrote Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). “We hope to better understand NSF’s actual role and why witnesses have described a lack of NSF involvement in investigating their reports and keeping them safe.” The letter concludes with a long list of questions regarding NSF’s harassment policies and contracting procedures and what changes it plans to implement. The committee is also seeking extensive documentation related to the matter, including email correspondence, Leidos performance reviews, and incident reports.

DOJ Grant Fraud Settlement with Stanford Criticized by Science Committee Chair

Last week, House Science Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) accused
the Department of Justice of providing a “sweetheart deal” in its recent settlement
of a grant fraud case against Stanford University. The department had alleged Stanford violated the False Claims Act by failing to disclose the foreign ties of 12 faculty members who applied for federal research grants with the Army, the Navy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation between 2015 and 2020. The settlement agreement, reached in September, lists identifying numbers for the grants involved in the case and notes that the undisclosed ties of one professor were with the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Fudan University in China. Under the settlement, Stanford will pay $1.9 million and admit no wrongdoing. In a letter to the Justice Department, Lucas argued that the settlement is “far below the actual size of the grants and the triple damages that the False Claims Act would require if the case had come to completion.” Lucas also asked the department why it did not bring charges against Stanford before pursuing a settlement, how many research security cases it has declined to prosecute, and what countries had provided funds to the lead personnel involved in the grants. In an interview
with the Health Care Compliance Association, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Corcoran said the grant personnel also had support from Germany, Japan, Israel, Korea, Australia, and India.

House Punts Votes on Commercial Space and Quantum Bills

The House Science Committee has delayed votes on the Commercial Space Act
and the National Quantum Initiative Reauthorization Act
until after Thanksgiving. The committee adopted amendments
to both bills during a meeting on Nov. 15, but committee Democrats pushed to delay consideration of the Commercial Space Act in part because the National Space Council released its own legislative proposal
just before the meeting that does not align with the committee’s legislation. Democrats also raised concerns with certain provisions of the committee’s legislation, which so far only has Republican co-sponsors. Committee Republicans have proposed to create a mission authorization system in the Commerce Department, whereas National Space Council’s proposal involves both the Commerce Department and Department of Transportation in oversight roles. Under the White House proposal, the Department of Transportation would oversee human spaceflight through the Federal Aviation Administration and would also regulate commercial space stations and the transportation of items in space. The Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce would oversee uncrewed spacecraft not covered by the Transportation Department, such as those involved in manufacturing objects in space or removing space debris.

US-China Talks Include Focus on Climate, Student Exchanges

A White House readout
of last week’s meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping in San Francisco identified shared priorities for cooperation amid the current competitive dynamic between the U.S and China. The two leaders reached an agreement
to resume a climate cooperation working group and pursue emissions reduction initiatives. The White House said they also “encouraged the expansion of educational, student, youth, cultural, sports, and business exchanges.” Xi said in a speech
to U.S. business executives that China is prepared to invite 50,000 Americans over the next five years to participate in educational and exchange programs. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also told reporters
that the U.S. and China agreed to “start consultations” on extending the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement that lapsed
in August.

Congressional Commission Presents Pessimistic View of US-China Relations

The U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission presented a pessimistic view of U.S.–China relations in its annual report
to Congress, released on Nov. 14, the same day President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping met in person. The commission asserts that “while the top-level contacts reflected a general desire, at least by the United States, to improve the relationship with Beijing and create an air of normalcy, the new normal is one of continuing, long-term strategic and systemic competition.” The commission concludes China is actively seeking to outpace the U.S. in deploying artificial intelligence, space vehicles, and other emerging technologies for military use, and that U.S. efforts to limit such advances through export controls and investment restrictions
remain insufficient. The commission also states that although China’s educational and research pipelines
still have major shortcomings that leave them dependent on foreign talent and technology, they are rapidly advancing in key areas. It cites research
from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that concludes China operates eight or more of the top 10 institutions in several cutting-edge fields, including nanoscale materials, supercapacitors, electric batteries, and photonic sensors.

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