Cattle in the United States release the greenhouse gas methane (known as “enteric methane”) from their digestive systems, which is equivalent to the amount of methane that leaks from fossil fuel infrastructure. Addressing enteric methane in cattle represents an opportunity to reduce the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint by 3% and simultaneously improve cattle productivity by ~6%. However, current solutions only address, at most, 10% of these emissions, and the U.S. has spent under $5m per year on R&D over the past five years to address this critical climate area.
Therefore, to establish long-term U.S. leadership and export competitiveness, we recommend regulatory simplification and an $82m per year U.S. Department of Agriculture research and innovation program. These common-sense recommendations would create a win for producers and a win for the environment by advancing solutions that easily drop into existing farm practices and convert avoided methane into increased milk and meat production.
Challenge & Opportunity
Cattle and other ruminants digest their food via anaerobic (oxygen-free) fermentation. This unique system allows them to digest roughage such as grasses and other forage and transform it into meat and milk. But it also generates methane. Cattle release on average 6% of the calories they eat as methane, a substantial loss in their potential meat and milk productivity. This methane is in addition to the methane emitted by their manure.
An invisible and odorless gas, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is responsible for 0.5°C of the 1°C of modern global warming (based on the 2010-2019 average). One-third of U.S. anthropogenic methane emissions come from cattle and other ruminants. Solutions may be able to be developed that both disrupt enteric methane production while also increasing cattle productivity. That would help reduce global temperatures and provide benefits for both producers and consumers. Currently, there are a few tested and marketable solutions that use chemicals to disrupt methane-creating microbes in the cattle’s first stomach (the rumen). These are important solutions that need to be evaluated for regulatory approval. However, additional research and development must also be done, to help address the majority of emissions that don’t yet have available solutions, particularly from cattle grazing in pastures. Additional work is also needed to continue developing solutions that consistently lead to a productivity benefit. Focused scientific research could deepen our understanding of cattle metabolism, and advance new solutions for reducing enteric methane further.
Progress on this front also requires improved research tools to measure how much methane cattle emit and relate these methane emissions to their productivity and intake of feed and forage. Access to such research tools enables researchers and innovators to develop and evaluate new solutions. Methane emissions rates vary widely between cattle on the same farm of the same breed, as well as across breeds. Currently these tools are expensive and not widely available. For example, the primary tool available measures twenty cattle per day, costs ~$100,000, and can be found at only a handful of research institutions. That presents a practical problem of access not only for producers but also for non-specialist scientific innovators. Making those tools more accessible, for example via fee-for-service centers at leading U.S. Land Grant institutes, would make them more affordable for producers and researchers. That would help unlock the creativity of U.S. innovators, and provide evidence that their solutions have a positive climate impact and are feasible for producers and acceptable to consumers.
Even when new solutions are found and proven, innovators still face a 10-year FDA approval process. This is uncompetitive and restrictive compared to other countries. Since much faster approval is possible in Australia, Brazil, and Europe, innovators have an incentive to launch their products and build their businesses there rather than in the USA. And as climate-aware export markets develop, slow FDA approval will cost U.S. producers market share and market opportunity. We therefore recommend that the FDA be given authority and direction to evaluate new methane-reducing products for safety on an accelerated timeline, while maintaining critical human and animal safety standards. This would help the U.S. position itself as a global leader in a potential multi-billion dollar market while upholding its climate commitments.
Plan of Action
I. FUND BASIC & APPLIED LIVESTOCK ENTERIC METHANE RESEARCH
Total Funds Needed: $50,000,000 per year
Developing science-based, effective livestock enteric methane solutions depend on a detailed understanding of cattle microbiology as well as practical understanding of what makes solutions easy to adopt. These solutions have the potential to not only decrease enteric methane emissions but could unlock a new frontier of efficiency for the U.S. livestock sector, helping build a more resilient and productive food system. Increasing funding for basic and applied research could accelerate development of new methods, and rapidly build a portfolio of scalable potential solutions. Capacity funding will increase the near- and long-term throughput for solution development and shorten the idea to market timeline for these products. Competitive funding will drive innovation in sectors and geographies that have significant implementation barriers, such as those applicable to pasture operations, and can accelerate adoption of proven solutions. The Committee on Appropriations, has recognized the innovation potential increased public funds can make possible, and has encouraged USDA-NIFA to prioritize advancement of enteric fermentation solutions.
We recommend competitive and capacity funding within USDA-NIFA, including AFRI, Hatch, Animal Health and Disease, and other programs be appropriated to:
Basic research in livestock methane microbiology to create a knowledge base that will support development of new win-win solutions and accelerate our understanding of host-microbiome interactions.
Applied livestock methane solutions research based on livestock methane biology knowledge. This work should prioritize solutions that reduce methane in new ways; that simultaneously increase the production of milk or meat; and that have the potential to be in a long-duration (e.g. once per year) product formulation compatible with grazing cattle. Such technology already exists for cattle nutrition and disease prevention.
Perform surveys and other social science research to understand barriers and opportunities to low-cost and low-complexity implementation for American producers and ranchers. This research will help guide the development of new solutions and tailor the design and deployment of solutions among the diversity of U.S. operations. Together, this will maximize the global market potential of U.S. innovation.
We recommend Congress request of USDA a full-accounting and report of its current spending on enteric methane R&D across all its programs.
II. CREATE PUBLIC FEE-FOR-SERVICE TESTING FACILITIES FOR LIVESTOCK METHANE
Funds Needed: $15,000,000 per year
Access to methane test facilities, from the laboratory to the dairy barn, is a bottleneck. It limits how many innovative ideas for solutions can be tested. Only a small number of institutions worldwide have the tools needed to test methane, and outside access to those tools is limited. We recommend funding be authorized and appropriated for innovation-enabling research infrastructure to USDA-ARS through USDA Equipment Grants and USDA-AFRI. This funding would:
Authorize and establish a nationwide network of fee-for-access livestock methane research facilities. This equips the USDA-ARS laboratories with research measurement equipment and technical staff by partnering with U.S. land grant universities that already possess the necessary research cattle management expertise. Joint investment with them and partial support from research users will quickly make the U.S. an international leader in livestock methane research.
Develop a national center for pre-livestock testing and screening of potential products. This will serve as a user facility. Specialized cattle researchers shouldn’t be the only ones who can test new ideas for reducing livestock enteric methane. Accessible facilities can unlock innovation from the U.S.’ world-leading biology researchers.
III. FUND DEVELOPMENT OF LOW-COST CATTLE METHANE MEASUREMENT TECHNOLOGY
Funds needed: $15,000,000 per year
What is measured guides innovation and management, and what we measure easily and consistently, we improve. Producers measure milk production on every cow, every day, leading to a 300% productivity increase since 1950. But for all producers and most researchers, livestock methane production is invisible: current livestock methane measurement equipment costs about $100,000 for a system that measures 20-30 cattle per day. We recommend authorizing and appropriating $15 million per year to USDA-NIFA, Division of Animal Systems in order to:
Develop lower-cost measurement systems so every research barn can measure livestock methane. U.S. land grant universities have over ten thousand research cattle. Equipped with measurement systems, they could all provide livestock methane research data.
Develop farm-integrable measurement systems that make methane emissions and costs visible to U.S. producers, enabling them to experiment and innovate. Methane is a loss for livestock production. If producers can see it, they’ll work to decrease methane and improve their bottom line.
A $15 million annual budget for this technology development will lead to rapid improvements. Part of this would fund interdisciplinary projects that bring engineers from across industry and livestock experts together. We recommend another part be framed as a grand challenge to achieve cost and performance targets connected to a government procurement market-shaping program.
IV. MODERNIZE THE US FOOD, DRUG, AND COSMETIC ACT
Funds Needed: $2,000,000 per year
Current anti-methane feed additives are regulated as drugs, requiring a ten-year approval process. As European export markets increasingly regulate emissions, this may lead to a lack of competitiveness for U.S. products. To address this, Congress asked the FDA to review options to accelerate the approval of environmentally beneficial additives. One mechanism to shorten the regulatory timeframe of approval is to amend an existing approval pathway which exists for feed additives. Legislation has been introduced (Innovative Feed Enhancement and Economic Development Act of 2023) which would, in part, amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to include Zootechnical Animal Feed Substances as a category under the feed additive petition process. This could reduce the approval timeline for environmentally beneficial additives by 5-fold.
We recommend Congress continue to support the modernization of the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and authorize and appropriate an additional $2 million per year to the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Veterinary Medicine, for personnel resources and infrastructure to robustly evaluate new anti-methane solutions for safety and efficacy and make new solutions available to farmers.
V. SUPPORT ADOPTION OF ENTERIC METHANE MITIGATION STRATEGIES THROUGH EXISTING PROGRAMS
Funds Needed: No Additional Funding
In a recent survey, fewer than 30% of U.S. producers indicated they would be willing to adopt an enteric methane solution if they had to bear the cost. Government or other funding assistance was the second most important factor influencing the use of potential solutions behind increased productivity. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is the flagship program administered by USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service and can provide financial assistance for the implementation of conservation practices, including practices that reduce greenhouse gasses. In order to promote the adoption of enteric methane mitigation solutions, we recommend USDA-NRCS:
Review conservation practice standards to include new enteric methane mitigation solutions when applicable and include mechanisms to incentivize established methods to reduce enteric methane (i.e. lipid supplementation). Encourage regular updating of practice standards to rapidly incorporate new solutions as they are approved for use, and train technical assistance providers on the implementation of enteric methane mitigation strategies.
Enteric methane is responsible for ~15% or 0.16℃ of current warming. Protein production from animal agriculture is expected to increase in the coming decades to meet increased capita and per capita consumption. Early research on methane mitigating feed additives have demonstrated enteric methane reductions up to 90% in animal trials. Technology nearing regulatory approval has demonstrated 20-30% reductions. However, these solutions aren’t yet applicable to grazing cattle. With increased research and deployment efforts, enteric methane mitigation can help meet future protein demand with fewer animals and reduce overall warming by more than 10%.
Today, no products are approved by the FDA to reduce enteric methane emissions. However, some nutritional approaches are effective, including feeding higher amounts of lipids in an animal’s diet, since lipids increase the calories available for the animal, but do not promote methane production. However, lipids can be expensive for producers and to ensure animal health, no more than a few percent of an animal’s diet can come from lipids.
Other products currently being investigated include chemicals and natural products like 3-NOP, seaweed, and even probiotics. While dietary modification for lipids and supplementation with feed additives show promise in feedlot and confined operation settings, none of the emerging solutions are applicable to grazing systems. Research areas of interest include developing breeding strategies for low methane producing animals, anti-methane vaccines, and novel delivery mechanisms for grazing animals.
Methane emissions from manure are largely dependent on whether the manure is exposed to air (methane producing microbes are not productive in oxygen rich environments). Grazing animals for instance generate very little manure methane, because manure is deposited over large areas and is exposed to open air. In confined operations like large dairies, manure is often flushed with water or scraped into a holding pond before it is applied to fields as fertilizer. These liquid manure lagoons quickly become anaerobic (without oxygen) and are an ideal environment for methane producing microbes.
Some enteric methane mitigation compounds could in theory reduce manure lagoon emissions, however the compounds would have to survive the digestive tract of the animal. It is also possible that some compounds could decrease enteric emissions but increase manure emissions. While this has not been demonstrated, prudent experimentalists include this in research studies. Growing efforts to reduce the methane from large manure lagoons include covering the lagoon and capturing the renewable biogas for use as transportation fuel, or electricity production, or processing the manure to separate the solids from the liquids and composting the solids to reduce emissions.
The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission called for input from diverse stakeholders and FAS, along with partners Conservation X Labs (CXL), COMPASS, and the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), answered the call.
Recruiting participants from academia, the private sector, national labs, and other nonprofits, the Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator produced 24 ideas for improving the way the country lives with wildland fire.
‘Cultural Burning’ is a phrase that is cropping up more and more in wildland fire policy discussions, but it’s still not widely understood or even consistently defined.
Liam Torpy of Conservation X Labs sat down with FAS to discuss why ‘cultural burning’ is garnering more attention in the world of wildfire mitigation and management.
FAS: Liam – thanks for joining us. To start, just give us a quick introduction to Conservation X Labs and its mission.
LT: The founders of Conservation X Labs [Paul Bunje and Alex Dehgan] wanted to create a conservation technology organization that, you know, isn’t just doing the same traditional conservation methods of protected areas and command and control. CXL wants to find innovative solutions to these problems that can harness market forces or that develop new technologies that will allow for breakthroughs–because the problems have been increasing exponentially in the conservation field, but the solutions haven’t kept pace. We’re not, in a lot of these critical ecosystems like in the American West with wildfire, or the Amazon, were simply not doing enough. And the problem is getting worse as global forces, like climate change, worsen the problem.
FAS: CXL has been convening what you call “Little Think” events – roundtable discussions aimed at surfacing new ideas in the area of wildfire management – when you decided to partner with FAS on this Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator. Cultural burning became one of the big areas of focus for the recommendations coming out of this process. Some people may be familiar with the idea of “prescribed burning” – using fire to reduce the risk of uncontrolled megafires down the road – but ‘cultural burning’ is something quite different. Can you explain what’s different and why it’s important?
LT: You can read a lot of reports, or see some statutes on the books, legally, that will oftentimes not reference cultural burning at all. Some do – but it’s kind of a footnote that’s put under ‘prescribed burning’ – many publications treat it the same way. But prescribed burning, which can have real ecological benefits, is often only measured by the government using acreage: how much land can we burn?
With cultural burning, there’s not a single definition, because each Tribe has their own version of it. But it’s often to cultivate natural resources or encourage new growth of a particularly important plant. So it’s much more targeted than prescribed burning – it’s suited to the land and the resources a Tribe has. It’s deeply rooted in place-based knowledge.
It’s also a very important method of intergenerational knowledge transfer as well. [Cultural fire practitioners] say sometimes that ‘when you burn together and you learn together’. It’s a way to teach the rest of your group of what resources there are, how to steward them, and how everybody is coming together to manage the land and take care of it.
FAS: So why is there a tension between traditional federal and state fire management methods and cultural burning?
A lot of people I think don’t really recognize this: you think that because a lot of Tribes have reservations, or Tribal trust land or some of their own free land, they can just go and burn as they wish. But the people on the ground that we’ve talked to, including some participants in this accelerator, say Tribal trust land is some of the hardest land to burn on. It’s pretty much considered federal land, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). That means pretty much every time you want to burn on the land, you have to have a burn plan and submit that to the BIA, which is generally very understaffed. Only one person may be looking over those documents. Then a BIA ‘burn boss’ is considered the only person qualified to actually lead the burn – and that is already kind of infringing on the sovereignty of the tribe itself: having their own burn led by this outsider within the federal government. And oftentimes you have to go through a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) permitting process which is a very long and expensive process that requires public comments. There are local air districts that regulate smoke. Then you have to have an approved burn window where they say, okay, the conditions are good. And that often happens very rarely. And so a lot of tribes don’t even attempt to go through this whole process. It’s simply too much administrative burden on them.
FAS: And it’s not just the administrative burden, right? There seems to be some real hesitancy to allowing more cultural burning from the agencies who manage this land, and from communities nearby. Why is that?
LT: The public is often skeptical of both prescribed and cultural burning. They’re scared of fire because of all the megafires. So it’s can be hard to get the public support sometimes. And because of that a lot of these federal agencies that by their nature are very risk averse. They’re unwilling to move forward with some of these plans that can be perceived as risky when it’s easier just to do nothing. Their approach is just when a fire comes through, try to fight it. Say you did the best you could even though it burns down half the forest and becomes a high severity fire.
FAS: Tell us about the Accelerator participants you worked with.
LT: We talked with Nina Fontana, Chris Adlam, Ray Guttierez, and then [FAS’] Jessica Blackband worked with Kyle Trefny and Ryan Reed. Ryan and Ray are both members of Tribes, and the others non-Indigenous, but working in that sphere and trying to support cultural fire. These are already busy people, trying to kind of reestablish some of these traditions and fighting against these institutional barriers. Their first priority may not be to fly out to Washington to talk with federal policymakers or sit down at their computer and develop and research these recommendations. But they have a really deep on-the-ground perspective that a lot of people in Washington that don’t have, and that a lot of people the Commission don’t have.
FAS: Can you give us an example of what kinds of recommendations emerged from the process?
LT: One thing that’s important to understand is that these recommendations are not the be all and end all of this issue. These are steps – often the most basic steps we can take to start to give cultural fire the respect and the place it deserves with fire management. Fire has been functionally banned from the land for over a century – over a century of extreme fire suppression tactics in the American West. A lot of these tribes that previously had been burning for centuries, or sometimes even millennia, weren’t allowed to continue that cycle. It was illegal – it was criminalized. And so that knowledge is just lost. And so some tribes are seeking to regain that knowledge.
There’s a Tribal Ranger Program recommended by Chris Adlam – which is modeled after Canada and Australia – creating permanent long term opportunities for Tribal members to exercise their traditions, to put fire on the land to build up that intergenerational knowledge. These would not be just short-term, one-summer, internship opportunities, but real employment opportunities that allow them to put fire on the land.
Another important recommendation, from Raymond Guttierez, is establishing a federal definition of ‘cultural fire’ and ‘cultural fire practitioner’. Right now, there’s not even really a legally recognized definition for the very practice itself – only for prescribed burning. And it wouldn’t just be one definition, it’d be regionally specific. And Tribes would help develop that in each area.
FAS: What part of the process was most rewarding for you, personally?
LT: I think one of the things that was rewarding is that these participants, in the beginning, were a little skeptical that what they had to say would actually be important, or would be more useful than the information that decision makers in Washington already had at their disposal. But they really did have a lot to say and a lot to contribute to this national conversation. And so I think it was really cool to see just how, by the end, they got validation that they have really useful information and experience that needs to be heard by people in power.
FAS: The Biden Administration has made a point of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into federal decision-making. But guidance from the Executive Branch is one thing – real impact on the ground is another. Do you think Indigenous practices, like cultural burning, are actually gaining support in the communities affected by wildfire?
LT: I think there’s also a broader movement within our society focused on diversity and equity and inclusion. Looking at the historical injustices that Tribes have faced, and trying to give them compensation when they do participate in these processes, and give their input and share their traditional knowledge – we need to make sure we are adequately valuing that. And so I think that’s also another element that’s giving this a boost. Hopefully, we see more and more people in power incorporating these ideas. And really, it’s not just about them incorporating the ideas – it’s about allowing Tribes to lead this movement, and to lead these burns. Some of it is just getting out of their way. Some of it is giving them more of a platform. But what we don’t want is just for the system in place to kind of co-opt the Tribal practices and leave the cultural fire practitioners in the dust.
But I also think having the White House make that statement about Indigenous knowledge is really significant. By getting encouragement from the top that [agencies] should look into cultural burning, or look into place-based knowledge and traditional ecological management, that kind of gives them more of a push to go and form these partnerships. And I think there’s been, there’s more and more attention on these issues. As we look at the wildland fire crisis right now, it’s going out of control. The amount of money that we’re spending on it – asking questions about whatever we’ve been doing for the last century or so is warranted. Before that century of suppression, tribes were getting more fire on the ground. People are looking at this more and more, trying to learn, and giving it the respect that it really deserves, and the attention that it deserves.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federation of American Scientists unveiled 23 actionable policy proposals developed by expert contributors. These recommendations were developed with the aim of contributing to a holistic, evidence-based approach to managing wildland fire in the United States and in response to the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission’s request for stakeholder input in its work to develop a report for Congress .
In partnership with COMPASS, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), and Conservation X Labs, FAS hosted a Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator to collect, refine, and amplify actionable, evidence-based ideas to improve how we live with fire.
The recommendations cover issues across the wildland fire policy spectrum, falling into four categories: Landscapes and Communities, Public Health and Infrastructure, Science, Data, and Technology, and Workforce. Contributors come from academia, the private sector, and nonprofits and have expertise in public health, fire intelligence, forestry, cultural burning, and more.
“The ideas we are presenting showcase how the development of evidence-based policy can be inclusive of more diverse expert input and lead to better results. We are eager to see the final recommendations the Commission ultimately relays to Congress, and how they respond” says FAS Director of Science Policy Erica Goldman.
“These are urgent issues that can only be solved through cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary collaborations. We’re grateful to be at the table and excited to see how these bold ideas can evolve and inform public policy across local and state governments,” says CCST Senior Science Officer Teresa Feo.
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a nonprofit policy research and advocacy organization founded in 1945 to meet national security challenges with evidence-based, scientifically-driven, and nonpartisan policy, analysis, and research. The organization works to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress, and seeks to ensure that scientific and technical expertise have a seat at the policymaking table.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Federation of American Scientists CEO Dan Correa released the following statement on President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget proposal:
“We’re pleased to see the Administration continuing its support for critical investments in science and technology. These investments are vital for achieving national goals like excelling in AI and the bioeconomy, managing wildfire risks, and enhancing STEM training opportunities. It is also crucial to expand funding for tech and innovation hubs across the country. Robust support for science and innovation agencies is necessary to fulfill the national competitiveness vision of CHIPS and Science. But the budget request is only a first step, and we look forward to working with Congress this year to achieve the investments that strengthen American prosperity.”
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a nonprofit policy research and advocacy organization founded in 1945 to meet national security challenges with evidence-based, scientifically-driven, and nonpartisan policy, analysis, and research. The organization works to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress, and seeks to ensure that scientific and technical expertise have a seat at the policymaking table.
Find more ideas aimed at today’s greatest challenges in FAS’ report: Science and Innovation in the 118th Congress. You can also explore further – or submit your own ideas through FAS’ Day One Project.
Just over a year ago, I found myself pausing during a research lab meeting. “Why were all the subjects in our studies of wearable devices white? And what were the consequences of exclusion?”
This question stuck with me long after the meeting. Digging into the evidence, I was alarmed to find paper after paper signaling embedded biases in key medical technologies.
One device stuck out amongst the rest – the pulse oximeter. Because of its crucial role in diagnosing COVID-19, it had caught the attention of a diverse group of stakeholders: clinicians looking to understand the impacts on patient care, engineers working to build more equitable devices, social scientists tracing the history of device and examining colorism in pulse oximetry, policymakers seeking solutions for their constituents, and the FDA, which was examining racial bias in medical technologies for the first time. But what I found as I scoped out this policy area is that these stakeholders weren’t talking to one another, at the expense of coordinated progress towards equity in pulse oximetry.
With all eyes directed towards the FDA’s Advisory Committee meeting on November 1st, 2022, FAS convened a half-day session of stakeholders on November 2nd to chart a research and policy agenda for near-term mitigation of inequities in pulse oximetry and other medical technologies. Eight experts from medicine, engineering, sociology, and anthropology shared insights with an audience of 60 participants from academia, the private sector, and federal government. Collectively, we developed several key insights for future progress on this issue and outlined a path forward for achieving equity now. You can access the full readout here. We’ll dive into the key highlights below:
Through discussions with experts during the forum, three key themes rose to the surface:
- Racial bias in pulse oximetry cannot be fixed by focusing on “race” alone. Existing evidence suggests reducing bias in pulse oximetry requires replacing devices with less-biased ones. This will take time as new devices are developed and will be a significant cost.
- Better calibration for skin tone is vital, but measurement is complicated. The crux of the problem is a comprehensive standard for quantifying the full range of skin pigmentation. This is vital to understanding how pulse oximeter accuracy varies by melanin content.
- Proactively identifying and addressing bias in medical devices will require system-wide efforts. Identification of bias in medical devices has been piecemeal rather than the outcome of proactive, deliberative efforts. Further efforts to address bias in medical devices should engage diverse stakeholders to establish best practices for ensuring equity in medical devices.
Resolving the problem of bias in pulse oximeter devices will likely take several years. But in the meantime, this issue will continue negatively impacting patients. Our participants urged that we need to think about actions that can be initiated this next year that will advance more equitable care with existing pulse oximeters.
Motivating Action for Equity Now
While a daunting problem, a collaborative, multi-stakeholder effort can bring us closer to solutions. We can work together to advance equity in standards of care by:
- Gathering evidence on existing pulse oximeter devices and their use in care [ASAP, start early 2023]. More evidence is required to identify the best approaches to equitable care with existing devices. This evidence gathering process should be initiated over the next year to inform clinicians on
- Establishing consensus to advance the standard of care [start early 2024]. After growing the body of evidence, there will be a need to convene around key conclusions derived from the evidence. Evidence synthesis will need to be generated and care societies will need to make decisions on how clinicians should use pulse oximeters in their care practice.
- Taking action to ensure equitable care nationwide [2024 onwards]. Once the care standards are changed, there is a need for system-wide efforts to communicate these to clinicians nationwide, inform procurement across federal hospitals, and re-evaluate insurance reimbursement standards.
This won’t be easy, but it’s 30 years overdue. We believe correcting the bias will pioneer a model that can be readily applied to combatting biases across the medical device ecosystem, something already underway in the United Kingdom with their Equity in Medical Devices Independent Review. Through a systematic approach, stakeholders can work to close racial disparities in the near-term and advance health equity.
What actions should the federal government take “to ensure that our nation can continue to harness the full power of science and technology on behalf of the American people”?
President Biden posed that question and five more specific ones to his Science Advisor Dr. Eric S. Lander.
“My hope is that you, working broadly and transparently with the diverse scientific leadership of American society and engaging the broader American public, will make recommendations to our administration” on how best to structure the American scientific enterprise, then-President-elect Biden wrote on January 15.
Taking that as an invitation, the Federation of American Scientists’ Day One Project responded last week with a detailed set of actionable proposals for applying science and technology to current social, economic, and environmental challenges.
So, for example, the President asked what policy lessons could be derived from the current pandemic. The Day One Project suggested that a new Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA) modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA). . . could leverage existing federal research programs, as well as the efforts of the private sector, to develop new capabilities for disease prevention, detection, and treatment.”
An Open Source Approach to Pharmaceutical R&D could “tap into the totality of knowledge and scientific expertise that our nation has to offer . . . and enable the nation to work quickly and cooperatively to generate low-cost advances in areas of great health need.”
And there’s much more.
Day One Project Director Daniel Correa is the Acting President of the Federation of American Scientists.
Foreign scientists working in the U.S. are a vital part of the U.S. scientific research enterprise, a new report from the JASON scientific advisory panel said, and this country could hardly do without them. Yet in some cases they pose a challenge to the integrity of U.S. research programs.
“In 2019, eight Americans were awarded Nobel Prizes – half were foreign born,” the JASON report said. “Today, foreign nationals account for the majority of graduate students in many technology fields, including electrical, civil, mechanical, industrial, chemical, and petroleum engineering. They also dominate in fields including computer science and economics, and some universities’ graduate programs likely could not maintain their high level of excellence without foreign students.”
But some foreign scientists — often, but not only, from China — violate U.S. norms of scientific ethics by improperly sharing sensitive research information and technology without authorization.
“Anecdotes abound of foreign scholars in research groups passing on sensitive information, and some JASON members had experienced this in their own research groups,” the report said. On the other hand, “some examples of what has been interpreted by the intelligence community and law enforcement as theft by foreign researchers actually appears to be the collegial sharing of academic work.”
Although the magnitude of unambiguously unethical activity is not clearly known, “there are enough verified instances to warrant concern. . . These actions pose a threat to the U.S. fundamental research enterprise,” the JASONs said. See Fundamental Research Security, December 2019.
In this case, however, the proper response is not greater secrecy but greater transparency, the JASON report said.
“It is neither feasible nor desirable to control areas of fundamental research beyond the mechanisms put in place by [the 1985 National Security Decision Directive] NSDD-189” which held that unclassified basic scientific research should be otherwise unrestricted. “It is not possible to draw boundaries around broad fields of fundamental research and define what is included and what is excluded (government controlled) in that discipline of inquiry,” the JASONs said.
Instead, they recommended, the concept of research integrity needs to be expanded to require full disclosure of all affiliations and personal commitments — such as ties to foreign military or security organizations.
“A failure to make the proper disclosure must then be treated as a violation of research integrity and should be investigated and adjudicated” just like plagiarism or falsification of data. Increased clarity and explicitness regarding the boundaries of permissible sharing of unpublished research information is also needed.
Actual theft or espionage is of course punishable by law. But as a general principle, foreign scientists who immigrate to the United States should be treated like any other citizen, the JASONs wrote, and they “should be judged on their personal actions and not by profiling based on the actions of the government and political institutions of their home country.”
A common understanding of the foreign threat to fundamental research has been hampered by secrecy and miscommunication between academic institutions and U.S. intelligence officials, the JASONs found.
Intelligence briefings “have been met with disbelief and derision” by some academic audiences who doubted the legitimacy of classification barriers to full disclosure. The IC briefers in turn “may feel distrusted and dismissed by those they believe they are trying to help.”
The JASONs recommended that the National Science Foundation facilitate more effective communications between the academic community and intelligence and law enforcement agencies, “including encouraging the declassification of information related to foreign influence in fundamental research.” (More from NSF, Science, Nature, C&EN)
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Unlike the JASONs, a recent Senate staff report suggested that more secrecy might be the answer to foreign misappropriation of U.S. research activities. “The administration should consider updating NSDD-189 and implement additional, limited restrictions on U.S. government funded fundamental research.” See Threats to the U.S. Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans, staff report, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, November 22, 2019.
The JASONs specifically rejected this approach, arguing that it was not at all practical and would in fact be counterproductive.
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The congressional intelligence committees have recognized the disconnect between the IC and academia that was described by the JASONs.
The committees are “aware that academia is not always kept apprised by the interagency of a complete picture of potential activities and threats in the research community, such as improper technology transfer, intellectual property theft, and cyber-attacks directly attributed to nation-state governments,” said a new statement on the FY 2018, 2019 and 2020 intelligence authorization act which was recently adopted in the FY2020 defense authorization bill.
The new intelligence legislation therefore “include measures to promote increased information sharing across the interagency and with academia,” the committee statement said.
Among those measures is a requirement for a new unclassified “report listing Chinese and Russian academic institutions that have a history of improper technology transfer, intellectual property theft, cyber espionage, or operate under the direction of their respective armed forces or intelligence agencies.”
In July, the Planetary Society’s Lightsail 2 spacecraft demonstrated the viability of “solar sailing,” becoming “the first spacecraft in Earth orbit propelled solely by sunlight.”
But the practicality of solar sailing was first described six decades earlier by physicist Richard L. Garwin.
“It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of solar radiation pressure for the propulsion of satellites or space ships within the solar system,” he wrote in the Journal of the American Rocket Society in March 1958, when he was 30 years old. “Although the acceleration is numerically small, the velocity changes in reasonable times by significant amounts.”
This week, Garwin reflected on this and other episodes in his lifetime of problem solving and technical innovation. He spoke to post-doctoral researchers from the Harvard Physics Department. See Serendipities from Long Ago by Richard L. Garwin, keynote address, September 11, 2019.
How did he come up with solar sailing?
“As physicists do, I had been thinking about how things worked or could work and learned about radiation pressure, as did everybody in high school,” he said.
Not everyone grasped the concept immediately, Garwin noted.
“I recall that when the Chief Scientist of the U.S. Air Force was asked about this proposal at a press conference, he explained that even if it would work, it could only be used for going outward beyond Earth orbit around the Sun and not for going inward, because radiation pressure was radially outward from the Sun.”
“What he missed, of course, was that the fact that the sail was in Earth orbit or, for that matter solar orbit, meant that a reflective sail could be angled so as to provide a force perpendicular to the sail, that would have a component either along the velocity vector or in the opposite direction, so that the orbital velocity component could be increased or reduced; thus, the SS could either gain or lose energy and so spiral in or out from the Sun, or in Earth orbit.”
A new White House budget memo presents science and technology as a distinctly American-led enterprise in which U.S. dominance is to be maintained and reinforced. The document is silent on the possibility or the necessity of international scientific cooperation.
“The five R&D budgetary priorities in this memorandum ensure that America remains at the forefront of scientific progress, national and economic security, and personal wellbeing, while continuing to serve as the standard-bearer for today’s emerging technologies and Industries of the Future,” wrote Acting OMB Director Russell T. Vought and White House science advisor Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier in the August 30 memo.
The document, which is intended to inform executive branch budget planning for fiscal year 2021, contains no acknowledgment that many scientific challenges are global in scope, that foreign countries lead the U.S. in some areas of science and technology, or that the U.S. could actually benefit from international collaboration.
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The White House memo begins by designating the entire post-World War II period until now as America’s “First Bold Era in S&T [Science & Technology].” It goes on to proclaim that the “Second Bold Era in S&T” has now begun under President Trump.
“The Trump Administration continues to prioritize the technologies that power Industries of the Future (IotF),” the memo declares.
Many of the proposed technology priorities are already in progress — including artificial intelligence, robotics, and gene therapy. Some are controversial or disputed — such as the purported need to invest in protection against electromagnetic pulse attacks.
Meanwhile, the memo takes pains to avoid even mentioning the term “climate change,” which is disfavored by this White House. Instead, it speaks of “Earth system predictability” and “knowing the extent to which components of the Earth system are practically predictable.”
Today’s Second Bold Era is “characterized by unprecedented knowledge, access to data and computing resources, ubiquitous and instant communication,” and so on. “Unfortunately, this Second Bold Era also features new and extraordinary threats which must be confronted thoughtfully and effectively.”
The White House guidance suggests vaguely that the Second Bold Era could require a recalibration of secrecy policy in science and technology. “[Success] will depend upon striking a balance between the openness of our research ecosystem and the protection of our ideas and research outcomes.”
This may or may not augur a change in the longstanding policy of openness in basic research that was formally adopted in President Reagan’s 1985 National Security Decision Directive 189. That directive stated that “It is the policy of this Administration that, to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research remain unrestricted.”
* * *
The context for the concern about protecting U.S. ideas and research outcomes is an assessment that U.S. intellectual property is being aggressively targeted and illicitly acquired by China, among other countries.
“China has expansive efforts in place to acquire U.S. technology to include sensitive trade secrets and proprietary information,” according to a 2018 report from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. “Chinese companies and individuals often acquire U.S. technology for commercial and scientific purposes.”
Perceived Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property is one of the factors that led to imposition of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports. See U.S.-China Relations, Congressional Research Service, August 29, 2019.
* * *
At an August 30 briefing on artificial intelligence in the Department of Defense, Air Force Lt. General Jack Shanahan discussed the need to protect military data in the context of AI.
But unlike the new White House memo, Gen. Shanahan recognized the need for international cooperation even (or especially) in national security matters:
“We’re very interested in actively engaging a number of international partners,” he said, “because if you envision a future of which the United States is employing A.I. in its military capabilities and other nations are not, what does that future look like? Does the commander trust one and not the other?”
By analogy, however, the same need for international collaboration arises in many other areas of science and technology which cannot be effectively addressed solely on a national basis, from mitigating climate change to combating disease. In such cases, everyone needs to be “at the forefront” together.
* * *
One way to bolster U.S. scientific and intellectual leadership that the White House memo does not contemplate is to encourage foreign students at American universities to remain in this country. Too often, they are discouraged from doing so, wrote Columbia University Lee C. Bollinger in the Washington Post.
“Many of these international scholars, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, would, if permitted, prefer to remain in the United States and work for U.S.-based companies after graduation, where they could also contribute to the United States’ economic growth and prosperity. But under the present rules, when their academic studies are completed, we make it difficult for them to stay. They return to their countries with the extraordinary knowledge they acquired here, which can inform future commercial strategies deployed against U.S. competitors,” Bollinger wrote on August 30.
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As for the Trump Administration’s pending FY2020 budget request for research and development, it does not convey much in the way of boldness (or Boldness).
“Under the President’s FY2020 budget request, most federal agencies would see their R&D funding decline. The primary exception is the Department of Defense,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
“The President’s FY2020 budget request would reduce funding for basic research by $1.5 billion (4.0%), applied research by $4.3 billion (10.5%), and facilities and equipment by $0.5 billion (12.8%), while increasing funding for development by $4.5 billion (8.3%).” See Federal Research and Development (R&D) Funding: FY2020, updated August 13, 2019.
The Department of Defense decision not to renew the underlying contract for the independent JASON scientific advisory panel drew criticism from a bipartisan, bicameral group of congressmen and senators.
“We believe that cancelling the JASON contract could damage our national security by depriving not only the Pentagon, but also other national security agencies, of sober and sound advice in confronting some of the Nation’s most complex threats,” the members wrote on May 3.
They noted that the National Nuclear Security Administration had recently intervened to sustain the JASONs for the coming year.
“However,” they wrote, “given the national security interests involved in cancellation of the JASON contract, a permanent solution must be found. We encourage you to work with NNSA and the other agencies that utilize JASON to find an appropriate long-term home for JASON, whether it be Research and Engineering, another office, such as Acquisition and Sustainment, or NNSA.”
If the JASONs’ current sponsor at Defense Research and Engineering is indifferent to or uninterested in the work of JASON, it would be pointless to compel continued sponsorship of the group there. But other agencies such as NNSA have an interest in preserving JASON, as does Congress itself.
“Members of Congress have long counted on their nonpartisan, independent, science-based advice to inform our decisions on a range of national security issues facing our nation, such as nuclear weapons, space, and emerging technologies,” the members wrote. They posed a series of questions about the Pentagon’s handling of the JASON contract and they asked the Acting Secretary of Defense to cooperate in resolving the issue.
Last week a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of a 2016 JASON report entitled “Counterspace” was denied on appeal by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The unclassified JASON report is exempt from FOIA as deliberative material and because it contains arms export control information, DARPA said.
In a startling blow to the system of independent science and technology advice, the Department of Defense decided not to renew its support for the JASON defense science advisory panel, it was disclosed yesterday.
“Were you aware that [the JASON contract] has been summarily terminated by the Pentagon?”
That was one of the first questions asked by Rep. Jim Cooper, chair of the House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee, at a hearing yesterday (at about 40’20”).
NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty replied that she was aware that the Pentagon had taken some action, and said that she had asked her staff to find out more. She noted that NNSA has an interest in maintaining the viability of the JASON panel, particularly since “We do have some ongoing studies with JASON.”
In fact, JASON performs technical studies for many agencies inside and outside of the national security bureaucracy and it is highly regarded for the quality of its work.
So why is the Pentagon threatening its future?
Even to insiders, the DoD’s thought process is obscure and uncertain.
“To understand it you first have to understand the existing contract structure,” one official said. “This is a bit arcane, but MITRE currently has an Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the purpose of which is to manage and operate the JASON effort. However, you don’t actually do anything with an IDIQ contract; rather, the purpose of the IDIQ contract [is to] have Task Orders (TO’s) placed on it. These TO’s are essentially mini-contracts in and of themselves, and all the actual work is performed according to the TO’s. This structure allows any government agency to commission a JASON study; conceptually, all you need to do is just open another TO for that study. (The reality is slightly more complicated, but that’s the basic idea).”
“The underlying IDIQ contract has a 5-year period of performance, which just expired on March 31. Last November, OSD started the process of letting a new 5-year IDIQ contract with essentially the same structure so that the cycle could continue. They decided to compete the contract, solicited bids, and were going to announce the contract award in mid-March. Instead, what happened is that about two weeks ago (March 28, two days before the expiration of the existing IDIQ contract) they announced that they were canceling the solicitation and would not be awarding another contract at all. Instead, they offered to award a single contract for a single study without the IDIQ structure that allows other agencies to commission studies.”
But “I do not know the reason” for the cancellation, the official said.
And so far, those who do know are not talking. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering) “would not answer any questions or discuss the matter in any way whatsoever.”
The news was first reported in “Storied Jason science advisory group loses contract with Pentagon” by Jeffrey Mervis and Ann Finkbeiner in Science magazine, and was first noticed by Stephen Young.
The JASON panel has performed studies (many of which are classified) for federal agencies including the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, as well as the Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Lately, the Department of Agriculture denied a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of a 2016 JASON report that it had sponsored entitled “New Techniques for Evaluating Crop Production.” The unclassified report is exempt from disclosure under the deliberative process privilege, USDA lawyers said. That denial is under appeal.
The Pentagon move to cancel the JASON contract appears to be part of a larger trend by federal agencies to limit independent scientific and technical advice. As noted by Rep. Cooper at yesterday’s hearing, the Navy also lately terminated its longstanding Naval Research Advisory Committee.
Update, 4/25/19: National Public Radio and Defense News reported that the National Nuclear Security Administration has posted a solicitation to take over the JASON contract from the Department of Defense.
This week the U.S. Navy abruptly terminated its own scientific advisory group, depriving the service of a source of internal critique and evaluation.
The Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) was established by legislation in 1946 and provided science and technology advice to the Navy for the past 73 years. Now it’s gone.
The decision to disestablish the Committee was announced in a March 29 Federal Register notice, which did not provide any justification for eliminating it. Phone and email messages to the office of the Secretary of the Navy seeking more information were not returned.
“I think it’s a shortsighted move,” said one Navy official, who was not part of the decisionmaking process.
This official said that the Committee had been made vulnerable by an earlier effort to reduce the number of Navy advisory committees. Instead of remaining an independent entity, the NRAC was redesignated as a sub-committee of the Secretary of the Navy Advisory Panel, which provides policy advice to the Secretary. It was a poor fit for the NRAC technologists, the official said, since they don’t do policy and were thus “misaligned.” When the Secretary decided to eliminate the Panel, the NRAC was swept away with it.
Did the NRAC do or say something in particular to trigger the Navy’s wrath? If so, it’s unclear what that might have been. “This is the most highly professional crew I’ve seen,” the Navy official said. “They stay between the lines.”
The NRAC was the Navy counterpart to the Army Science Board and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. It has no obvious replacement.
“This will leave the Navy without an independent and objective technical advisory body, which is not in the best interests of the Navy or the nation,” said a Navy scientist.
According to the NRAC website (which is still online for now), “The Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) is an independent civilian scientific advisory group dedicated to providing objective analyses in the areas of science, research and development. By its recommendations, the NRAC calls attention to important issues and presents Navy management with alternative courses of action.”
Its mission was “To know the problems of the Navy and Marine Corps, keep abreast of the current research and development programs, and provide an independent, objective assessment capability through investigative studies.”
A 2017 report on Autonomous and Unmanned Systems in the Department of the Navy appears to be the NRAC’s most recent unclassified published report.
Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly ordered disestablishment of the NRAC in a 21 February 2019 memo.
“This was a sudden and unexpected move according to people I know,” said the Navy scientist. “I have not yet seen an explanation for its termination.”