Nuclear Notebook: Nuclear Weapons Sharing, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans M. Kristensen, Senior Research Fellow Matt Korda, Research Associate Eliana Johns, and Scoville Peace Fellow Mackenzie Knight.

This issue’s column examines the current state of global nuclear sharing arrangements, which include non-nuclear countries that possess nuclear-capable delivery systems for employment of a nuclear-armed state’s nuclear weapons.

Read the full “Nuclear weapons sharing, 2023” Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, or download a PDF using the button on the left side of this page. The complete archive of FAS Nuclear Notebooks can be found here.

Unlocking American Competitiveness: Understanding the Reshaped Visa Policies under the AI Executive Order

The looming competition for global talent has brought forth a necessity to evaluate and update the policies concerning international visa holders in the United States. Recognizing this, President Biden has directed various agencies to consider policy changes aimed at improving processes and conditions for legal foreign workers, students, researchers, and scholars through the upcoming AI Executive Order (EO). The EO recognizes that attracting global talent is vital for continued U.S. economic growth and enhancing competitiveness. 

Here we offer a comprehensive analysis of potential impacts and beneficiaries under several key provisions brought to attention by this EO. The provisions considered herein are categorized under six paramount categories: domestic revalidation for J-1 and F-1 Visas; modernization of H-1B Visa Rules; updates to J-1 Exchange Visitor Skills List; the introduction of Global AI Talent Attraction Program; issuing an RFI to seek updates to DOL’s Schedule A; and policy manual updates for O-1A, EB-1, EB-2 and International Entrepreneur Rule. Each policy change carries the potential to advance America’s ability to draw in international experts that hugely contribute to our innovation-driven economy.

Domestic Revalidation for J-1 and F-1 Visas

The EO directive on expanding domestic revalidation for J-1 research scholars and F-1 STEM visa students simplifies and streamlines the renewal process for a large number of visa holders. 

There are currently approximately 900,000 international students in the US, nearly half of whom are enrolled in STEM fields. This policy change has the potential to impact almost 450,000 international students, including those who partake in optional practical training (OPT). The group of affected individuals consists greatly of scholars with advanced degrees as nearly half of all STEM PhDs are awarded to international students.

One of the significant benefits offered by this EO directive is the reduction in processing times and associated costs. In addition, it improves convenience for these students and scholars. For example, many among the several hundreds of thousands of STEM students will no longer be obligated to spend excessive amounts on travel to their home country for a 10-minute interview at an Embassy.

Aside from saving costs, this directive also allows students to attend international conferences more easily and enjoy hassle-free travel without being worried about having to spend a month away from their vital research waiting for visa renewal back home.

Expanding domestic revalidation to F and J visa holders was initially suggested by the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee in January 2008, indicating its long-standing relevance and importance. By implementing it, we not only enhance efficiency but also foster a more supportive environment for international students contributing significantly to our scientific research community.

Modernization of H-1B Visa Rules

The EO directive to update the rules surrounding H-1B visas would positively impact the over 500k H-1B visa holders. The Department of Homeland Security recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to reform the H-1B visa rules. It would allow these visa holders to easily transition into new jobs, have more predictability and certainty in the renewal process and more flexibility or better opportunities to apply their skills, and allow entrepreneurs to more effectively access the H-1B visa. Last year, 206,002 initial and continuing H-1Bs were issued. The new rules would apply to similar numbers in FY2025. But what amplifies this modification’s impact is its potential crossover with EB-1 and EB-2 petitioners waiting on green cards—currently at over 400k petitions. 

Additionally, the modernization would address the issue of multiple applications per applicant. This has been a controversial issue in the H-1B visa program as companies would often file multiple registrations for the same employee, thus increasing the exhaustion rate of yearly quotas, thereby reducing chances for others. This modernization could potentially address this problem by introducing clear rules or restrictions on the number of applications per applicant. USCIS recently launched fraud investigations into several companies engaging in this practice.

Updates to J-1 Exchange Visitor Skills List

The EO directive to revamp the skills list will synchronize with evolving global labor market needs. Nearly 37k of the J-1s issued in 2022 went to professors, research scholars and short term scholars, hailing from mainly China and India (nearly 40% of all). Therefore, this update not only expands opportunities available to these participants but also tackles critical skill gaps within fields like AI in the U.S. Once the J-1 skills list is updated to meet the realities of the global labor market today, it will allow thousands of additional high skilled J-1 visa holders to apply for other visa categories immediately, without spending 2-years in their countries of origin, as laid out in this recent brief by the Federation of American Scientists.

Global AI Talent Attraction Program

Recognizing AI talent is global, the EO directive on using the State Department’s public diplomacy function becomes strategically important. By hosting overseas events to appeal to such crucial talent bases abroad, we can effectively fuel the U.S. tech industry’s unmet demand that has seen a steep incline over recent years. While 59% of the top-tier AI researchers work in the U.S., only 20% of them received their undergraduate degree in the U.S. Only 35% of the most elite (top 0.5%) of AI researchers received their undergraduate degree in the U.S., but 65% of them work in the U.S. The establishment of a Global AI Talent Attraction program by the State Department will double down on this uniquely American advantage.

Schedule A Update & DOL’s RFI

Schedule A is a list of occupations for which the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has determined there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available. Foreign workers in these occupations can therefore have a faster process to receive a Green Card because the employer does not need to go through the Labor Certification process. Schedule A Group I was created in 1965 and has remained unchanged since 1991. If the DOL were to update Schedule A, it would impact foreign workers and employers in several ways depending on how the list changes:

Foreign workers with occupations that are on Schedule A do not have to go through the PERM (Program Electronic Review Management) labor certification process, a process that otherwise takes on average 300 days to complete. This is because Schedule A lists occupations for which the Department of Labor has already determined there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available. An updated Schedule A could cut PERM applications filed significantly down from current high volumes (over 86,000 already filed by the end of FY23 Q3). While the EO only calls for an RFI seeking information on the Schedule A List, this is a critical first step to an eventual update that is badly needed.

Policy Manual Updates for O-1A, EB-1, EB-2 and International Entrepreneur Rule

The EO’s directive to DHS to modernize pathways for experts in AI and other emerging technologies will have profound effects on the U.S. tech industry. Fields such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum computing, Biotechnology, etc., are increasingly crucial in defining global technology leadership and national security. As per the NSCAI report, the U.S. significantly lags behind in terms of AI expertise due to severe immigration challenges.

The modernization would likely include clarification and updates to the criteria of defining ‘extraordinary ability’ and ‘exceptional ability’ under O-1A, EB-1 and EB-2 visas, becoming more inclusive towards talents in emerging tech fields. For instance, the current ‘extraordinary ability’ category is restrictive towards researchers as it preferentially favors those who have received significant international awards or recognitions—a rarity in most early-stage research careers. Similarly, despite O-1A and EB-1 both designed for aliens with extraordinary ability, the criteria for EB-1 is more restrictive than O-1A and bringing both in line would allow a more predictable path for an O-1A holder to transition to an EB-1. Such updates also extend to the International Entrepreneur Rule, facilitating startup founders from critical technology backgrounds more straightforward access into the U.S. landscape.

Altogether, these updates could lead to a surge in visa applications under O-1A, EB-1, EB-2 categories and increase entrepreneurship within emerging tech sectors. In turn, this provision would bolster the U.S.’ competitive advantage globally by attracting top-performing individuals working on critical technologies worldwide.

Enhanced Informational Resources and Transparency

The directives in Section 4 instruct an array of senior officials to create informational resources that demystify options for experts in critical technologies intending to work in the U.S. The provision’s ramifications include:

Streamlining Visa Services 

This area of the order directly addresses immigration policy with a view to accelerating access for talented individuals in emerging tech fields. 

Using Discretionary Authorities to Support and Attract AI Talent

The EO’s directive to the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security to use discretionary authorities—consistent with applicable law and implementing regulations—to support and attract foreign nationals with special skills in AI seeking to work, study, or conduct research in the U.S. could have enormous implications. 

One way this provision could be implemented is through the use of public benefit parole. Offering parole to elite AI researchers who may otherwise be stuck in decades long backlogs (or are trying to evade authoritarian regimes) could see a significant increase in the inflow of intellectual prowess into the U.S. Public benefit parole is also the basis for the International Entrepreneur Rule. Given how other countries are actively poaching talent from the U.S. because of our decades long visa backlogs, creating a public benefit parole program for researchers in AI and other emerging technology areas could prove extremely valuable. These researchers could then be allowed to stay and work in the U.S. provided they are able to demonstrate (on an individual basis) that their stay in the U.S. would provide a significant public benefit through their AI research and development efforts.

Another potential utilization of this discretionary authority could be in the way of the Department of State issuing a memo announcing a one‐​time recapture of certain immigrant visa cap numbers to redress prior agency failures to issue visas. There is precedence for this as when the government openly acknowledged its errors that made immigrants from Western Hemisphere countries face longer wait times between 1968 and 1976 as it incorrectly charged Cuban refugees to the Western Hemisphere limitation. To remedy the situation, the government recaptured over 140,000 visas from prior fiscal years on its own authority, and issued them to other immigrants who were caught in the Western Hemisphere backlog. 

In the past, considerable quantities of green cards have gone unused due to administrative factors. Recapturing these missed opportunities could immediately benefit a sizable volume of immigrants, including those possessing AI skills and waiting for green card availability. For instance, if a hypothetical 300,000 green cards that were not allocated due to administrative failures are recaptured, it could potentially expedite the immigration process for a similar number of individuals. 

Finally, as a brief from the Federation of American Scientists stated earlier, it is essential that the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security extend the visa interview waivers indefinitely, considering the significant backlogs faced by the State Department at several consular posts that are preventing researchers from traveling to the U.S. 

In August 2020, Secretary Pompeo announced that applicants seeking a visa in the same category they previously held would be allowed to get an interview waiver if their visa expired in the last 24 months. Before this, the expiration period for an interview waiver was only 12 months. In December 2020, just two days before this policy was set to expire, DOS extended it through the end of March 2021. In March, the expiration period was doubled again, from 24 months to 48 months and the policy extended through December 31, 2021. In September of 2021, DOS also approved waivers through the remainder of 2021 for applicants of F, M, and academic J visas from Visa Waiver Program countries who were previously issued a visa.

In December 2021, DOS extended its then-existing policies (with some minor modifications) through December 2022. Moreover, the interview waiver policy that individuals renewing a visa in the same category as a visa that expired in the preceding 48 months may be eligible for issuance without an interview was announced as a standing policy of the State Department, and added to the department’s Foreign Affairs Manual for consular officers.  In December 2022, DOS announced another extension of these policies, which are set to expire at the end of 2023. 

As the State Department recently noted: “These interview waiver authorities have reduced visa appointment wait times at many embassies and consulates by freeing up in-person interview appointments for other applicants who require an interview. Nearly half of the almost seven million nonimmigrant visas the Department issued in Fiscal Year 2022 were adjudicated without an in-person interview. We are successfully lowering visa wait times worldwide, following closures during the pandemic, and making every effort to further reduce those wait times as quickly as possible, including for first-time tourist visa applicants. Embassies and consulates may still require an in-person interview on a case-by-case basis and dependent upon local conditions.”

These changes would also benefit U.S. companies and research institutions, who often struggle to retain and attract international AI talent due to the lengthy immigration process and uncertain outcomes. In addition, exercising parole authority can open a new gateway for attracting highly skilled AI talent that might have otherwise chosen other countries due to the rigid U.S. immigration system. 

The use of such authorities can result in a transformational change for AI research and development in the U.S. However, all these outcomes entirely depend upon the actual changes made to existing policies—a task that many acknowledge will require serious thoughtfulness for walking a balance between remaining advantageously selective yet inclusive enough.

In summary, these provisions would carry massive impacts—enabling us to retain foreign talent vital across sectors including but not limited to education, technology and healthcare; all fuelling our national economic growth in turn.

Nuclear Notebook: Pakistan Nuclear Weapons, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans M. Kristensen, Senior Research Fellow Matt Korda, and Research Associate Eliana Johns.

This issue’s column finds that Pakistan is continuing to gradually expand its nuclear arsenal with more warheads, more delivery systems, and a growing fissile material production industry. We estimate that Pakistan now has a nuclear weapons stockpile of approximately 170 warheads.

Read the full “Pakistan Nuclear Weapons, 2023” Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, or download a PDF using the button on the left side of this page. The complete archive of FAS Nuclear Notebooks can be found here.

Trust Issues: An Analysis of NSF’s Funding for Trustworthy AI

Below, we analyze AI R&D grants from the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (NSF CISE) directorate, estimating those supporting “trustworthy AI” research. NSF hasn’t offered an overview of specific funding for such studies within AI. Through reviewing a random sample of granted proposals 2018-2022, we estimate that ~10-15% of annual AI funding supports trustworthy AI research areas, including interpretability, robustness, privacy-preservation, and fairness, despite an increased focus on trustworthy AI in NSF’s strategic plan as well as public statements by key NSF and White House officials. Robustness receives the most allocation (~6% annually), while interpretability and fairness each obtain ~2%. Funding for privacy-preserving machine learning has seen a significant rise, from .1% to ~5%. We suggest NSF increases funding towards responsible AI, incorporating specific programs and solicitations addressing critical AI trustworthiness issues. We also clarify that NSF should consider trustworthiness in all AI grant application assessments and prioritize projects enhancing the safety of foundation models.

Background on Federal AI R&D

Federal R&D funding has been critical to AI research, especially a decade ago when machine learning (ML) tools had less potential for wide use and received limited private investment. Much of the early AI development occurred in academic labs that were mainly federally funded, forming the foundation for modern ML insights and attracting large-scale private investment. With private sector investments outstripping public ones and creating notable AI advances, federal funding agencies are now reevaluating their role in this area. The key question lies in how public investment can complement private finance to advance AI research that is beneficial for American wellbeing.

Figure 1.

Inspiration for chart from from Our World in Data

The Growing Importance of Trustworthy AI R&D

A growing priority within the discourse of national AI strategy is the advancement of “trustworthy AI”. Per the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, Trustworthy AI refers to AI systems that are safe, reliable, interpretable, robust, demonstrate respect for privacy, and have harmful biases mitigated. Though terms such as “trustworthy AI”, “safe AI”, “responsible AI”, and “beneficial AI” are not precisely defined, they are an important part of the government’s characterization of high-level AI R&D strategy. We aim to elucidate these concepts further in this report, focusing on specific research directions aimed at bolstering the desirable attributes in ML models. We will start by discussing an increasing trend we observe in governmental strategies and certain program solicitations emphasizing such goals.

This increased focus has been reflected in many government strategy documents in recent years. Both the 2016 National AI R&D Strategic Plan and its 2019 update from the National Science and Technology Council pinpointed trustworthiness in AI as a crucial objective. This was reiterated even more emphatically in the recent 2023 revision, which stressed ensuring confidence and reliability of AI systems as especially significant objectives. The plan also underlined how burgeoning numbers of AI models have necessitated urgent efforts towards enhancing safety parameters in AIs. Public feedback regarding previous versions of this plan highlight an expanded priority across academia, industry and society at large for AI models that maintain safety codes, transparency protocols, and equitable improvements without trespassing privacy norms. The NSF’s FY2024 budget proposal submission articulated its primary intention in advancing “the frontiers of trustworthy AI“, deviating from earlier years’ emphasis on sowing seeds for future advancements across various realms of human pursuits.

Concrete manifestations of this increasing emphasis on trustworthy AI can be seen not only in high-level discussions of strategy, but also through specific programs designed to advance trustworthiness in AI models. One of the seven new NSF AI institutes established recently focuses exclusively on “trustworthy AI“. Other programs like NSF’s Fairness in Artificial Intelligence and Safe-Learning Enabled Systems focus chiefly on cultivating dimensions of trustworthy AI research.

Despite their value, these individual programs focused on AI trustworthiness form only a small fragment of total funding allocated for AI R&D by the NSF; at around $20 million per year against nearly $800 million per year in funding towards AI R&D. It remains unclear how much this mounting concern surrounding trustworthy and responsible AI influences NSF’s funding commitments towards responsible AI research. In this paper, we aim to provide an initial investigation of this question by estimating the proportion of grants over the past five fiscal years (FY 2018-2022) from NSF’s CISE directorate (the primary funder of AI R&D within NSF) which support a few key research directions within trustworthy AI: interpretability, robustness, fairness, and privacy-preservation.

Please treat our approximations cautiously; these are neither exact nor conclusive responses to this question. Our methodology heavily relies upon individual judgments categorizing nebulous grant types within a sample of the overall grants. Our goal is to offer an initial finding into federal funding trends directed towards trustworthy AI research.


We utilized NSF’s online database of granted awards from the CISE directorate to facilitate our research. Initially, we identified a representative set of AI R&D-focused grants (“AI grants”) funded by NSF’s CISE directorate across certain fiscal years 2018-2022. Subsequently, we procured a random selection of these grants and manually classified them according to predetermined research directions relevant to trustworthy AI. An overview of this process is given below, with details on each step of our methodology provided in the Appendix.

  1. Search: Using NSF’s online award search feature, we extracted a near comprehensive collection of abstracts of grant applications approved by NSF’s CISE directorate during fiscal years 2018-2022. Since the search function relies on keywords, we focused on high recall in the search results over high precision, leading to an overly encompassing result set yielding close to 1000 grants annually. It is believed that this initial set encompasses nearly all AI grants from NSF’s CISE directorate while also incorporating numerous non-AI-centric R&D awards.
  2. Sample: For each fiscal year, a representative random subset of 100 abstracts was drawn (approximating 10% of the total abstracts extracted). This sample size was chosen as it strikes a balance between manageability for manual categorization and sufficient numbers for reasonably approximate funding estimations.
  3. Sort: Based on prevailing definitions of trustworthy AI, four clusters were conceptualized for research directions: i) interpretability/explainability, ii) robustness/safety, iii) fairness, iv) privacy-preservation. To furnish useful contrasts with trustworthy AI funding numbers, additional categories were designated: v) capabilities and vi) applications of AI. Herein, “capabilities” corresponds to pioneering initiatives in model performance and “application of AI” refers to endeavors leveraging extant AI techniques for progress in other domains. Non-AI-centric grants were sorted out of our sample and marked as “other” in this stage. Each grant within our sampled allotment was manually classified into one or more of these research directions based on its primary focus and possible secondary or tertiary objectives where applicable—additional specifics regarding this sorting process are delineated in the Appendix.


Based on our sorting process, we estimate the proportion of AI grant funds from NSF’s CISE directorate which are primarily directed at our trustworthy AI research directions.

Figure 2.

As depicted in Figure 2, the collective proportion of CISE funds allocated to trustworthy AI research directions usually varies from approximately 10% to around 15% of the total AI funds per annum. However, there are no noticeable positive or negative trends in this overall metric, indicating that over the five-year period examined, there were no dramatic shifts in the funding proportion assigned to trustworthy AI projects. 

Considering secondary and tertiary research directions

As previously noted, several grants under consideration appeared to have secondary or tertiary focuses or seemed to strive for research goals which bridge different research directions. We estimate that over the five-year evaluation period, roughly 18% of grant funds were directed to projects having at least a partial focus on trustworthy AI.

Figure 3.

Specific Research Directions


Presently, ML systems tend to fail unpredictably when confronted with situations considerably different from their training scenarios (non-iid settings). This failure propensity may induce detrimental effects, especially in high-risk environments. With the objective of diminishing such threats, robustness or safety-related research endeavors aim to enhance system reliability across new domains and mitigate catastrophic failure when facing untrained situations.1 Additionally, this category encompasses projects addressing potential risks and failure modes identification for further safety improvements.

Over the past five years, our analysis shows that research pertaining to robustness is typically the most funded trustworthy AI direction, representing about 6% of the total funds allocated by CISE to AI research. However, no definite trends have been identified concerning funding directed at robustness over this period.

Figure 4.


Explaining why a machine learning model outputs certain predictions for a given input is still an unsolved problem.2 Research on interpretability or explainability aspires to devise methods for better understanding the decision-making processes of machine learning models and designing more easily interpretable decision systems.

Over the investigated years, funding supporting interpretability and explainability doesn’t show substantial growth, averagely accounting for approximately 2% of all AI funds.

Figure 5.


ML systems often reflect and exacerbate existing biases present in their training data. To circumvent these issues, research focusing on fairness or non-discrimination purposes works towards creating systems that sidestep such biases. Frequently this area of study involves exploring ways to reduce dataset biases and developing bias-assessment metrics for current models along with other bias-reducing strategies for ML models.3

The funding allocated to this area also generally accounts for around 2% of annual AI funds. Our data did not reveal any discernible trend related to fairness/non-discrimination orientated fundings throughout the examined period.

Figure 6.


AI systems training typically requires large volumes of data that can include personal information; therefore privacy preservation is crucial. In response to this concern, privacy-preserving machine learning research aims at formulating methodologies capable of safeguarding private information.4

Throughout the studied years, funding for privacy-preserving machine learning exhibits significant growth from under 1% in 2018 (the smallest among our examined research directions) escalating to over 6% in 2022 (the largest among our inspect trustworthy AI research topics). This increase flourishes around fiscal year 2020; however, its cause remains indeterminate.

Figure 7.


NSF should continue to carefully consider the role that its funding can play in an overall AI R&D portfolio, taking into account both private and public investment. Trustworthy AI research presents a strong opportunity for public investment. Many of the lines of research within trustworthy AI may be under-incentivized within industry investments, and can be usefully pursued by academics. Concretely, NSF could: 



For this investigation, we aim to estimate the proportion of AI grant funding from NSF’s CISE directorate which supports research that is relevant to trustworthy AI. To do this, we rely on publicly-provided data of awarded grants from NSF’s CISE directorate, accessed via NSF’s online award search feature. We first aim to identify, for each of the examined fiscal years, a set of AI-focused grants (“AI grants”) from NSF’s CISE directorate. From this set, we draw a random sample of grants, which we manually sort into our selected trustworthy AI research directions. We go into more detail on each of these steps below. 

How did we choose this question? 

We touch on some of the motivation for this question in the introduction above. We investigate NSF’s CISE directorate because it is the primary directorate within NSF for AI research, and because focusing on one directorate (rather than some broader focus, like NSF as a whole) allows for a more focused investigation. Future work could examine other directorates within NSF or other R&D agencies for which grant awards are publicly available. 

We focus on estimating trustworthy AI funding as a proportion of total AI funding, with our goal being to analyze how trustworthy AI is prioritized relative to other AI work, and because this information could be more action-guiding for funders like NSF who are choosing which research directions within AI to prioritize.

Search (identifying a list of AI grants from NSF’s CISE Directorate)

To identify a set of AI grants from NSF’s CISE directorate, we used the advanced award search feature on NSF’s website. We conducted the following search:

This search yielded a set of ~1000 grants for each fiscal year. This set of grants was over-inclusive, with many grants which were not focused on AI. This is because we aimed for high recall, rather than high precision when choosing our key words; our focus was to find a set of grants which would include all of the relevant AI grants made by NSF’s CISE directorate. We aim to sort out false positives, i.e. grants not focused on AI, in the subsequent “sorting” phase. 


We assigned a random number to each grant returned by our initial search, and then sorted the grants from smallest to largest. For each year, we copied the 100 grants with the smallest randomly assigned numbers and into a new spreadsheet which we used for the subsequent “sorting” step. 

We now had a random sample of 500 grants (100 for each FY) from the larger set of ~5000 grants which we identified in the search phase. We chose this number of grants for our sample because it was manageable for manual sorting, and we did not anticipate massive shifts in relative proportions were we to expand from a ~10% sample to say, 20% or 30%. 

Identifying Trustworthy AI Research Directions

We aimed to identify a set of broad research directions which would be especially useful for promoting trustworthy properties in AI systems, which could serve as our categories in the subsequent manual sorting phase. We consulted various definitions of trustworthy AI, relying most heavily on the definition provided by NIST: “characteristics of trustworthy AI include valid and reliable, safe, secure and resilient, accountable and transparent, explainable and interpretable, privacy-enhanced, and fair with harmful bias managed.” We also consulted some lists of trustworthy AI research directions, identifying research directions which appeared to us to be of particular importance for trustworthy AI. Based on the above process, we identify the following clusters of trustworthy AI research:

It is important to note here that none of these research areas are crisply defined, but we thought that these clusters provided a useful, high-level, way to break trustworthy AI research down into broad categories. 

In the subsequent steps, we aim to compare the amount of grant funds that are specifically aimed at promoting the above trustworthy AI research directions with the amount of funds which are directed towards improving AI systems’ capabilities in general, or simply applying AI to other classes of problems.


For our randomly sampled set of 500 grants, we aimed to sort each grant according to its intended research direction. 

For each grant, we a) read the title and the abstract of the grant and b) assigned the grant a primary research direction, and if applicable, a secondary and tertiary research direction. Secondary and tertiary research directions were not selected for each grant, but were chosen for some grants which stood out to us as having a few different objectives. We provide examples of some of these “overlapping” grants below.

We sorted grants into the following categories:

  1. Capabilities
    1. This category was used for projects that are primarily aimed at advancing the capabilities of AI systems, by making them more competent at some task, or for research which could be used to push forward the frontier of capabilities for AI systems. 
    2. This category also includes investments in resources that are generally useful for AI research, e.g. computing clusters at universities. 
    3. Example: A project which aims to develop a new ML model which achieves SOTA performance on a computer vision benchmark.
  2. Application of AI/ML.
    1. This category was used for projects which apply existing ML/AI techniques to research questions in other domains. 
    2. Example: A grant which uses some machine learning techniques to analyze large sets of data on precipitation, temperature, etc. to test a hypothesis in climatology.
  3. Interpretability/explainability.
    1. This category was used for projects which aim to make AI systems more interpretable or explainable, by allowing for a better understanding of their decision-making process. Here, we included both projects which offer methods for better interpreting existing models, and also on projects which offer new training methods that are easier to interpret.
    2. Example: A project which determines the features of a resume that make it more or less likely to be scored positively by a resume-ranking algorithm.
  4. Robustness/safety
    1. This category was used for projects which aim to make AI systems more robust to distribution shifts and adversarial inputs, and more reliable in unfamiliar circumstances. Here, we include both projects which introduce methods for making existing systems more robust, and those which introduce new techniques that are more robust in general. 
    2. Example: A project which explores new methods for providing systems with training data that causes a computer vision model to learn robustly useful patterns from data, rather than spurious ones. 
  5. Fairness/non-discrimination
    1. This category was used for projects which aim to make AI systems less likely to entrench or reflect harmful biases. Here, we focus on work directly geared at making models themselves less biased. Many project abstracts described efforts to include researchers from underrepresented populations in the research process, which we chose not to include because of our focus on model behavior.
    2. Example: A project which aims to design techniques for “training out” certain undesirable racial or gender biases.
  6. Privacy preservation
    1. This category was used for projects which aim to make AI systems less privacy-invading. 
    2. Example: A project which provides a new algorithm that allows a model to learn desired behavior without using private data. 
  7. Other
    1. This category was used for grants which are not focused on AI. As mentioned above, the random sample included many grants which were not AI grants, and these could be removed as “other.”

Some caveats and clarifications on our sorting process

This sorting focuses on the apparent intentions and goals of the research as stated in the abstracts and titles, as these are the aspects of each grant the NSF award search feature makes readily viewable. Our process may therefore miss research objectives which are outlined in the full grant application (and not within the abstract and title). 

A focus on specific research directions

We chose to focus on specific research agendas within trustworthy and responsible AI, rather than just sorting grants between a binary of “trustworthy” or “not trustworthy” in order to bring greater clarity to our grant sorting process. We still make judgment calls with regards to which individual research agendas are being promoted by various grants, but we hope that such a sorting approach will allow greater agreement.

As mentioned above, we also assigned secondary and tertiary research directions to some of these grants. You can view the grants in the sample and how we sorted each here. Below, we offer some examples of the kinds of grants which we would sort into these categories.

Examples of Grants with Multiple Research Directions

To summarize: in the sorting phase, we read the title and abstract of each grant in our random sample, and assigned these grants to a research direction. Many grants received only a “primary” research direction, though some received secondary and tertiary research directions as well. This sorting was based on our understanding of the main goals of the project, based on the description provided by the project title and abstract.

State of the Federal Clean Energy Workforce

How Improved Talent Practices Can Help the Department of Energy Meet the Moment

This report aims to provide a snapshot of clean energy talent at the Department of Energy and its surrounding orbit: the challenges, successes, and opportunities that the workforce is experiencing at this once-in-a-generation moment.

To compile the findings in this report, FAS worked with nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, government agencies, advocacy and workforce coalitions, and private companies over the last year. We held events, including information sessions, recruitment events, and convenings; we conducted interviews with more than 25 experts from the public and private sector; we developed recommendations for improving talent acquisition in government, and helped agencies find the right talent for their needs.

Overall, we found that DOE has made significant progress towards its talent and implementation goals, taking advantage of the current momentum to bring in new employees and roll out new programs to accelerate the clean energy transition. The agency has made smart use of flexible hiring mechanisms like the Direct Hire Authority and Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) agreements, ramped up recruitment to meet current capacity needs, and worked with partners to bring in high-quality talent.

But there are also ways to build on DOE’s current approaches. We offer recommendations for expanding the use of flexible hiring mechanisms: through expanding IPA eligibility to organizations vetted by other agencies, holding trainings for program offices through the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer, and asking Congress to increase funding for human capital resources. Another recommendation encourages DOE to review its use to date of the Clean Energy Corps’ Direct Hire Authority and identify areas for improvement. We also propose ways to build on DOE’s recruitment successes: by partnering with energy sector affinity groups and clean energy membership networks to share opportunities; and by building closer relationships with universities and colleges to engage early career talent.

Some of these findings and recommendations are pulled from previous memos and reports, but many are new recommendations based on our experiences working and interacting with partners within the ecosystem over the past year. The goal of this report is to help federal and non-federal actors in the clean energy ecosystem grow talent and prepare for the challenges in clean energy in the coming decades.

The Moment

The climate crisis is not just a looming threat–it’s already here, affecting the lives of American citizens. The federal government has taken a central role in climate mitigation and adaptation, especially with the recent passage of several pieces of legislation. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) all provide levers for federal agencies to address the crisis and reduce emissions.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is leading the charge and is the target of much of the funding from the above bills. The legislation provides DOE over $97 billion dollars of funding aimed at commercializing and deploying new clean energy technologies, expanding energy efficiency in homes and businesses, and decreasing emissions in a range of industries.

These are robust and much-needed investments in federal agencies, and the effects will ripple out across the whole economy. The Energy Futures Initiative, in a recent report, estimated that IRA investments will lead to 1.46 million more jobs over the next ten years than there would have been without the bill. Moreover, these jobs will be focused in key industries, like construction, manufacturing, and electric utilities.

But those jobs won’t magically appear–and the IIJA and IRA funding won’t magically be spent. That amount of money would be overwhelming for any large organization, and initiatives and benefits will take time to manifest.

When it passed these two bills, Congress recognized that the Department of Energy–and the federal government more broadly– would need new tools to use these new resources effectively. That is why it included new funding and expanded hiring authorities to allow the agencies to quickly find and hire expert staff. 

Now it is up to DOE to find the subject matter expertise, talent, partnerships, and cross-sector knowledge sharing from the larger clean energy ecosystem it needs to execute on Congress’s incredibly ambitious goals. Perhaps the most critical factor in DOE’s success will be ensuring that the agency has the staff it needs to meet the moment and implement the bold targets established in the recent legislation.

Why Talent?

To implement policy effectively and spend taxpayer dollars efficiently, the federal government needs people. Investing in a robust talent pipeline is important for all agencies, especially given that only about 8% of federal employees are under 30, and at DOE only 4% are under 30. Building this pipeline is critical for the clean energy transition that’s already underway–not only for not the federal government, but for the entire ecosystem. In order to meet clean energy deployment estimates across the country, clean energy jobs will need to increase threefold by 2025 and almost sixfold by 2030 from 2020 jobs numbers. This job growth will require cross-sector investment in workforce training and education, innovation ecosystems, and research and development of new technologies. Private firms, venture capital, and the civil sector can all play a role, but as the country’s largest employer, the government will need to lead the way.

To meet its ambitious policy goals, government agencies need to move beyond stale hiring playbooks and think creatively. Strategies like flexible hiring mechanisms can help the Department of Energy–and all federal agencies–meet urgent needs and begin to build a longer-term talent pipeline. Workforce development, recruitment, and hiring can take years to do right – but mechanisms like tour-of-service models (i.e. temporary or termed positions), direct hire authorities, and excepted service hiring allow agencies to retain talent quickly, overcome administrative bottlenecks, and access individuals with technical expertise who may not otherwise consider working in the public sector. See the Appendix for more information on specific hiring authorities.

This paper outlines insights, strategies, and opportunities for DOE’s talent needs based on the Federation of American Scientists’ (FAS) one-year pilot partnership with the department. Non-federal actors in the clean energy ecosystem can also benefit from this report–by understanding the different avenues into the federal government, civil society and private organizations can work more effectively with DOE to shepherd in the clean energy revolution. 

Broadly, we hope that our experience working with DOE can serve as a case study for other federal agencies when considering the challenges and opportunities around talent recruitment, onboarding, and retention.

Where does DOE need talent? 

While the IRA and IIJA funded dozens of programs across DOE, there are several offices that received larger amounts of funding and have critical talent needs currently. 

A Pilot Partnership: FAS and DOE Talent Efforts

In January 2022, FAS established a partnership with DOE to support the implementation of a broad range of ambitious priorities to stimulate a clean energy transition. Through a partnership with DOE’s Office of Under Secretary for Science and Innovation (S4), our team discovered unmet talent needs and worked with S4 to develop strategies to address hiring challenges posed by DOE’s rapid growth through the IIJA. 

This included expanding FAS’s Impact Fellowship program to DOE. This program supports fellows who bring scientific and technical expertise to bear in the public domain, including within government. To date, through IPA (Intergovernmental Personnel Act) agreements, FAS has placed five fellows in high-impact positions in DOE, with another cohort of 5 fellows in the pipeline.

FAS Impact Fellows placed at DOE have proven that this mechanism can have a positive impact on government operations. Current Fellows work in a number of DOE offices, using their expertise to forward work on emerging clean energy technologies, facilitate the transition of energy communities from fossil fuels to clean energy, and ensure that DOE’s work is communicated strategically and widely, among other projects. In a short time, these fellows have had a large impact–they are bringing expertise from outside government to bear in their roles at the agency. 

In addition to placing fellows, FAS has worked to evangelize DOE’s Clean Energy Corps by actively recruiting, holding events, and advertising for specific roles within DOE. To more broadly support hiring and workforce development at the agency, we piloted a series of technical assistance projects in coordination with DOE, including hiring webinars and cross-sector roundtables with leaders in the agency and the larger clean energy ecosystem. 

From this work, FAS has learned more about the challenges and opportunities of talent acquisition–from flexible hiring mechanisms to recruitment–and has developed several recommendations for both Congress and DOE to strengthen the federal clean energy workforce.

Flexible Hiring Mechanisms

One key lesson from the past year of work is the importance of flexible hiring mechanisms broadly. This includes special authorities like the Direct Hire Authority, but also includes tour-of-service models of employment. A ‘tour-of-service’ position can take many forms, but generally is a termed or temporary position, often full-time and focused on a specific project or set of projects. In times of urgency, like the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic or following the passage of large pieces of new legislation, hiring managers may need high numbers of staff in a short amount of time to implement policy–a challenge often heightened by stringent federal hiring guidelines. 

Traditional federal hiring is frustrating for both sides. For applicants, filling out applications is complicated and jargony and the wait times are long and unpredictable. For offices, resources are scarce, there are seemingly endless legal and administrative hoops to jump through, and the wait times are still long and unpredictable. In general, tour-of-service hiring mechanisms offer a way to hire key staff for specific needs more quickly, while offering many other unique benefits, including, but not limited to, cross-sector knowledge sharing, professional development, recruitment tools, and relationship-building.

These mechanisms can also expand the potential talent pool for a particular position–highly trained technical professionals can prove difficult to recruit on a full-time basis, but temporary positions may be more attractive to them. IPA agreements, for example, can last for 1-2 years and take less time to execute than hiring permanent employees or contractors. More generally, all types of flexible hiring authorities can give agencies quicker ways of hiring highly qualified staff in sometimes niche fields. Flexible hiring mechanisms can also reduce the barrier to entry for professionals not as familiar with federal hiring processes–broadening offices’ reach and increasing the diversity of applicants.

FAS’s work with DOE has demonstrated these benefits. With FAS and other organizations, DOE has successfully used IPAs to staff high-impact positions. More recommendations on the use of IPAs specifically can be found in a later section. Through its Impact Fellowship, FAS has yielded successful case studies of how cross-sector talent can support impactful policy implementation in the department.

DOE should expand awareness and use of flexible hiring mechanisms.

DOE should work to expand the awareness and use of flexible hiring mechanisms in order to bring in more highly skilled employees with cross-sector knowledge and experience. This could be achieved in a number of ways. The Office of the Chief Human Capital Office (CHCO) should continue to educate hiring managers across DOE about potential hiring authorities available: they could offer additional trainings on different mechanisms and work with OPM to identify opportunities for new authorities. There are existing communities of practice for recruitment and other talent topics at DOE, and hiring officials can use these to discuss best practices and challenges around using hiring authorities effectively. 

DOE can also look to other agencies for ideas on innovative hiring. Agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs run different forms of industry exchange programs that allow private sector experts to bring their skills and knowledge into government and vice versa. Another example is the Joint Statistical Research Program hosted by the Internal Revenue Service’s Statistics of Income Office. This program brings in tax policy experts on term appointments using the IPA mechanism, similar to the National Science Foundation’s Rotator program. Once developed, these programs can allow agencies to benefit from talent and expertise from a larger pool and access specialized skill sets while protecting against conflicts of interest.

DOE should partner with external organizations to champion tour-of-service programs.

There are other ways to expand flexible hiring mechanism use as well. Program offices and the Office of the CHCO can partner with outside organizations like FAS to champion tour-of-service programs in the wider clean energy community, in order to educate non-federal eligible parties on how they can get involved. Federal hiring processes can seem opaque to outside organizations, with additional paperwork, conflict of interest concerns, long timelines, and potential clearance hurdles. If outside organizations better understand the different ways they can partner with agencies and the benefits of doing so, agencies could increase enthusiasm for programs like tour-of-service hiring. At NSF, for example, the Rotator program is well known in the communities it operates within–both academia and government understand the benefits of participating. 

Although these mechanisms and authorities have significant medium- and long-term benefits for agencies, they require upfront administrative effort and cost. Even if staff are aware of potential tools they can use, understanding the logistics, funding mechanisms, conflict of interest regulations, and recruitment and placement of staff hired through these mechanisms often requires investment of time and money from the agency side and can overwhelm already stressed hiring managers. 

Congress should increase funding for DOE’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer.

In order to support DOE in using flexible hiring mechanisms more effectively, Congress should direct more funding to the agency’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer. In FY23, the office has not only continued to execute on mandates from the IIJA and the IRA, but has introduced new programs aimed at modernizing the office and improving on hiring. These programs and tools, including standing up talent teams to better assess competency gaps across program offices and developing HR IT platforms to more effectively make data-driven personnel decisions, are vital to the growth of the office and in turn the ability of DOE to follow through on key executive priorities. Congress should increase funding to DOE’s Human Capital office by $10M in FY24 over FY23 levels. As IRA and IIJA priorities continue to be rolled out, the Human Capital office will remain pivotal to the agency’s success. 

Congress should increase DOE’s baseline program direction funds. 

A related recommendation is for Congress to further support hiring at DOE by increasing the base budget of program direction funds across agency offices. Restrictions on this funding limits the agency’s ability to hire and the number of employees it can bring on. When offices are limited in the number of staff they can hire, they have tended to bring on more senior employees. This helps achieve the agency’s mission but limits the overall growth of the agency – without early career talent, offices are unable to train a new generation of diverse clean energy leaders. Increasing program direction budgets through the annual appropriations process will allow DOE to have more flexibility in who they hire, building a stronger workforce across the agency.

Clean Energy Corps and the Direct Hire Authority

Expanded Direct Hire Authority has been a boon for DOE, despite some implementation challenges. Congress included DHA in the IIJA, in order to help federal agencies quickly add staff to implement the legislation. In response, DOE set an initial goal of hiring over 1,000 new employees in its Clean Energy Corps, which encompasses all DOE staff who work on clean energy and climate. DOE also requested an additional authority for supporting implementation of the IRA through OPM. To date, the program has received almost 100,000 applications and has hired nearly 700 employees. We have heard positive feedback from offices across the agency about how the DHA has helped hire qualified staff more quickly than through traditional hiring. It has allowed DOE offices to take advantage of the momentum in the clean energy movement right now and made it easier for applicants to show their interest and move through the hiring process. To date, among federal agencies with IIJA/IRA direct hire authorities, DOE has been an exemplar in implementation.

The Direct Hire Authority has been successful so far in part because of its advertisement; there was public excitement about the climate impact of the IIJA and IRA, and DOE took advantage of the momentum and shared information about the Clean Energy Corps widely, including through partnerships with non-governmental entities. For example, FAS and Clean Energy for America held hiring webinars, and other organizations and individuals have continued to share the announcement. 

Congress should extend the Direct Hire Authority.

Congress should consider extending the authority past its current timeline. The agency’s direct hire authority under the IIJA expires in 2027, while its authority requested through OPM expires at the end of 2025 – and is capped at only 300 positions.  With DOE taking on more demonstration and deployment activities as well as increased community and stakeholder engagement with the passage of the IIJA and IRA, the agency needs capacity–and the Direct Hire Authority can help it get the specialized resources it needs. Extending the authority beyond 2025 and requesting that OPM increase the cap on positions is more urgent, but the authority should continue past 2027 as well, to ensure that DOE can continue to hire effectively. 

Congress should expand the breadth of DHA. 

Additionally, Congress should expand the authority to other offices across DOE. It is currently limited to certain roles and offices, but there are additional opportunities within the department to support the clean energy transition that don’t have access to DHA. This is especially important given that offices with the direct hire authority can pull employees from offices without–leaving the latter to backfill positions on a much longer timeline using conventional merit hiring practices. Expanding the authority would support the development of the agency as a whole. 

Beyond just removing the authority’s cap on roles supporting the IRA, expansions or extensions of the authority should increase the number of authorized positions to account for a baseline attrition rate. The authority limits the number of positions that can be filled – once that number of staff is hired, the authority can no longer be used for that office or agency. As with any workplace, federal agencies experience a normal amount of attrition, but the stakes are higher when direct hire employees leave the organization because of the authority’s constraints. Any authorization of the DHA in the future should consider how attrition will impact actual hires over the authorization period. 

In order to bolster support for expanding the authority, DOE can take steps to share out successes of the program. The DHA has been a huge win for federal clean energy hiring, and publicizing news about related programs, offices, funding opportunities, and employees that would not exist but for the support of the Clean Energy Corps would help make the connection between flexible hiring and government effectiveness and would generate excitement about DOE’s activities in the general public.

DOE should highlight success stories of the Clean Energy Corps.

As part of a larger external communications strategy, DOE should highlight success stories of current employees hired through the Clean Energy Corps portal. These spotlights could focus on projects, partnerships, or funding opportunities that employees contributed to and put a face to the achievements of the Clean Energy Corps thus far. Not only would this encourage future high-quality applicants and ensure continued interest in the program, but would also advertise to Congress and the general public that the authority is successful and increase support for more flexible hiring authorities and clean energy funding. 

There are also some opportunities to improve DOE’s use of the authority and make it even more effective. With so many applications, hiring managers and program offices are often overwhelmed by sheer volume – leading to long wait times for applicants. Some offices at DOE have tried to address this bottleneck by building informal processes to screen and refer candidates–using their internal system to identify qualified applicants and sharing those applications with other program offices. But there may be additional ways to reduce the backlog of applications. 

DOE should conduct a review of DHA’s use thus far.

DOE should conduct an assessment of the use of the Direct Hire Authority in relevant offices. The program has been running for over a year, and there is enough data to review and better understand strengths and areas of growth of the authority. The review could be an opportunity to highlight and build on successful strategies like the informal process above–with program offices who currently use those strategies helping to scale them up. It could also assess attrition rates and compare them to agency-wide and non-DHA attrition rates to understand opportunities to improve or share out successes around retention. Finally, the review could also act as a resource for Congress to help justify the authority’s renewal in the future. 

Use of IPA Agreements

One of the most well-known tour-of-service programs is the Intergovernmental Personnel Act. When used effectively, it can allow agencies to share cross-sector knowledge, increase their capacity, and achieve their missions more fully. As noted previously, DOE has made use of IPAs in some capacities, but barriers to expanding the program still exist. First, the DOE maintains a list of ‘IPA-certified’ organizations, including non-profits that must first certify their eligibility to participate in IPA agreements. According to OPM, if an organization has already been certified by an agency, this certification is permanent and may apply throughout the federal government. This is an effective practice that theoretically allows DOE to bring on IPAs from those organizations more quickly – without the additional administrative work necessary to research and vet each organization multiple times. 

However, when FAS engaged DOE to expand the Impact Fellowship to the agency, FAS was asked to re-certify its eligibility separately with DOE despite already having conducted IPA agreements with other agencies. As of May 2021, DOE has only approved 22 organizations for IPA eligibility. With the clean energy ecosystem booming, this leaves a large amount of talent potential going untapped. 

DOE should amend its IPA directive.

One solution to this issue would be for DOE to amend its IPA directive, which was last updated in 2000, to automatically approve IPA eligibility for organizations that have been certified by other agencies. Agencies such as NSF, USDA, GSA, and others also maintain lists of IPA-eligible organizations, providing DOE a readily available pool of potential IPA talent without certifying those organizations independently. This solution could expand the list of certified organizations and reduce DOE’s internal administrative burden. Organizations that know they will go through an initial vetting process once rather than multiple times could redouble efforts to build that partnership with DOE. 

DOE should work with outside organizations to share strategies. 

The previous recommendation on educating eligible non-federal organizations on tour-of-service mechanisms applies here as well. Organizations like FAS with a proven track record of setting up IPA agreements with agencies can share best practices, success stories, and champion the program in the broader non-profit ecosystem. However, agencies can also develop externally facing IPA resources, sharing training and ‘how-to’ guides with nonprofits and academic institutions that could be good fits for the program but aren’t aware of their eligibility or requirements to participate.


Recruitment is another area where we learned lessons from our work alongside DOE. FAS and Clean Energy for America held recruitment information sessions for people interested in working for DOE, spotlighting offices who needed more staff. One strategy that helped target specific skill gaps within the agency was developing ‘personas’ based on certain skill sets, like finance and manufacturing. These personas were short descriptions of a specific skill set for an industry, consisting of several highlighted experiences, skills, or certifications that are key to roles in that industry. This enabled our team to develop a more tailored recruitment event, conduct targeted outreach, and execute the event with a more invested group of attendees. 

DOE should identify specific skills gaps to target recruitment efforts.

DOE hiring managers and program offices should identify skills gaps in their offices and recruit for those gaps using personas. Personas can help managers more intentionally target outreach and recruit in certain industries by allowing them to advertise to associations, academic programs, or on job boards that include potential applicants with those skills and experiences. This practice could bolster recruitment and reduce the time to hire by attracting more qualified candidates up front. It also helps offices take a more proactive approach to hiring–a difficult ask for hiring managers, who are often overworked. 

DOE should continue to utilize remote flexibilities.

Another successful recruitment strategy highlighted in our work with DOE has been the use of remote flexible positions. DOE should continue to widely utilize remote flexibilities in job opportunities and recruitment in order to attract talent from all 50 states, not just those where DOE has a physical presence. As the desire for remote employment remains high across the public and private sector, fully utilizing the remote flexibilities can help federal employers stay competitive with the private sector and attract high-quality talent.

Another area of recruitment where DOE could capitalize further is with more partnerships with non-federal organizations. Outside organizations can leverage their networks–helping expand the talent pool, increase diversity, and support candidates through the federal hiring process, competitive or otherwise.  Networks like New York Climate Tech have been tirelessly organizing the climate tech community in New York City, and even plan to start expanding to other cities soon. These types of organizing are invigorating for climate professionals; they can energize existing advocates and evangelize to new ones. Helping connect those networks to government opportunities–whether prize competitions, job opportunities, or grants–can strengthen cross-sector relationships and the clean energy workforce overall. 

Such efforts would also support federal recruitment strategies, which are often not as visible as they could be given the sheer amount of work required for proactive outreach. Earth Partners, a climate tech venture capital firm, partnered with the Office of Clean Energy Deployment to hire for high-impact positions by leveraging its own network. 

DOE should use partner organizations to broadcast hiring needs. 

DOE Office of the Human Capital Officer, hiring managers, or program offices should consider how they can partner with other organizations to broadcast hiring needs. These can be larger clean energy associations and member organizations like Clean Energy for America, New York Climate Tech, FAS, and Climate Power, or they could be energy sector affinity groups like Women In Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) and the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE). Coordinated social media campaigns, partnered recruitment events, or even sending out open positions in those organizations’ regular newsletters could help broaden DOE’s recruitment reach. Because of the momentum in the clean energy community, non-federal organizations have built out substantial recruitment infrastructure for potential applicants and can help publicize positions. 

DOE should build a presence at campus hiring events.

Similarly, DOE hiring managers should build and maintain a presence at higher education hiring events. There are a number of ways to bring more early career staff into government, but DOE can focus on recruiting more intentionally from universities and community colleges. The agency should cultivate relationships with university networks–especially those of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs)–and develop recruitment messages that appeal to younger populations. DOE could also focus on universities with strong clean energy curricula–in the form of recognized courses and programs or student associations. 

DOE should expand partnerships with external recruitment firms.

Some positions, of course, are harder to recruit for. In addition to mid-level employees, government also needs strong senior leaders–candidates for these positions don’t often come in droves to recruitment events. Some DOE offices have found success with using private recruitment firms to identify candidates from the private sector and invite them to apply for Senior Executive Service (SES) level positions in government. This practice, in addition to bringing in specific executive recruitment, also helps career private-sector applicants navigate the government hiring process. 

DOE should learn from current strategies and continue to partner with private recruitment firms to identify potential SES candidates and invite them to apply. Using recruitment firms can help simplify position description language and help guide candidates through the process. DOE currently uses this successfully for certain skill set gaps, but should seek to expand the practice for recruitment needs that are more specific. 

DOE should develop its own senior talent recruitment strategy. 

Longer term, DOE should develop its own senior talent recruitment strategy. This strategy can be developed using lessons learned from private recruitment firms or from meeting with other agencies to understand best practices in the space. SES positions require different candidate management strategies, and if DOE aims to attract more non-federal talent, developing in-house expertise is important.

DOE already has the infrastructure for strategies like this. Offices involved in IIJA implementation are building office-specific recruitment strategies. These strategies consider diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, as well as skill sets and high-need positions within offices. Incorporating senior talent needs into these strategies could help uncover best practices for attracting quality leaders, and expanding these recruitment strategies beyond just IIJA-oriented offices could support workforce development across the agency more broadly. 

The Path Forward

DOE has made significant progress on the road to implementation, hiring hundreds of new employees to support the clean energy transition and carry out programs from IIJA, IRA, and the CHIPS and Science Act. The agency still faces challenges, but also opportunities to grow its workforce, improve its hiring processes, and bring in even more high-quality, skilled talent into the federal government. We hope DOE and Congress will consider these recommendations as they continue to work toward a stronger clean energy ecosystem in the years to come.

Appendix: Overview of hiring authorities


The Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Mobility Program that allows temporary assignment of personnel between the federal government and state/local/tribal governments, colleges/universities, FFRDCs, and approved non-profit organizations. According to a 2022 Government Accountability Office report, IPAs are a high-impact mechanism for bringing talent into the federal government quickly, yet they’re often underutilized. As detailed in the report, agencies’(including DOE) can use the IPA Mobility Program to address agency skills gaps in highly technical or complex mission areas, provide talent with flexibility and opportunities for temporary commitments, and can be administratively light touch and cost effective, when the program is implemented correctly. The report noted that agencies struggled to use the program to its full effectiveness, and that there’s an opportunity for agencies to increase their use of the program, if they can tackle the challenges. 

Direct Hire

The Direct Hire Authority allows agencies to directly hire candidates for critical needs or when a severe shortage of candidates exists. This authority circumvents competitive hiring and candidates preferences, allowing agencies to significantly reduce the time involved to hire candidates. It also presents an easier application process for candidates. DHA must be specially granted by OPM unless a governmentwide authority already exists–as it does for Information Technology Management, STEM, and Cybersecurity. For example, DOE was granted a DHA for positions related to implementing the IIJA and IRA.

Excepted Service

EJ and EK

EJ and EK hiring authorities are a form of “excepted service” unique to DOE. According to DOE, the EJ authority is used to enhance the Department’s recruitment and retention of highly qualified scientific, engineering, and professional and administrative personnel. Appointments and corresponding compensation determined  under this authority can be made without regard to the civil service laws.” The EK authority is similar, but more specific to personnel whose duties will relate to safety at defense nuclear facilities of the Department. The EK authority is time-limited by law and must be renewed.

Schedule A(r)

Also known as the “fellowship authority,”  Schedule A(r) facilitates term appointments for 1 to 4 years. This authority is especially helpful for:

Experts and Consultants

According to the department’s HR resources, DOE uses Experts and Consultants to, “provide professional or technical expertise that does not exist or is not readily available within DOE or to perform services that are not of a continuing nature and/or could not be performed by DOE employees in competitive or other permanent full-time positions.” Typically, Expert and Consultants can be used for intermittent, part-time, or term-limited, full-time roles.

Understanding and using these flexible hiring authorities can help DOE expand its network of talent and hire the people it needs for this current moment. More details on flexible hiring mechanisms can be found here.

Nuclear Notebook: French Nuclear Weapons, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans M. Kristensen, Senior Research Fellow Matt Korda, and Research Associate Eliana Johns.

This issue’s column reviews the status of France’s nuclear arsenal and finds that the stockpile of approximately 290 warheads has remained stable in recent years. However, significant modernizations regarding ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, submarines, aircraft, and the nuclear industrial complex are underway.

Read the full “French Nuclear Weapons, 2023” Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, or download a PDF using the button on the left side of this page. The complete archive of FAS Nuclear Notebooks can be found here.

Applying ARPA-I: A Proven Model for Transportation Infrastructure

Executive Summary

In November 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which included $550 billion in new funding for dozens of new programs across the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Alongside historic investments in America’s roads and bridges, the bill created the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure (ARPA-I). Building on successful models like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Advanced Research Program-Energy (ARPA-E), ARPA-I’s mission is to bring the nation’s most innovative technology solutions to bear on our most significant transportation infrastructure challenges.

ARPA-I must navigate America’s uniquely complex infrastructure landscape, characterized by limited federal research and development funding compared to other sectors, public sector ownership and stewardship, and highly fragmented and often overlapping ownership structures that include cities, counties, states, federal agencies, the private sector, and quasi-public agencies. Moreover, the new agency needs to integrate the strong culture, structures, and rigorous ideation process that ARPAs across government have honed since the 1950s. This report is a primer on how ARPA-I, and its stakeholders, can leverage this unique opportunity to drive real, sustainable, and lasting change in America’s transportation infrastructure.

How to Use This Report

This report highlights the opportunity ARPA-I presents; orients those unfamiliar with the transportation infrastructure sector to the unique challenges it faces; provides a foundational understanding of the ARPA model and its early-stage program design; and empowers experts and stakeholders to get involved in program ideation. However, individual sections can be used as standalone tools depending on the reader’s prior knowledge of and intended involvement with ARPA-I.

An Opportunity for Transportation Infrastructure Innovation

In November 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) authorizing the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure (ARPA-I), among other new programs. ARPA-I’s mission is to advance U.S. transportation infrastructure by developing innovative science and technology solutions that:

ARPA-I will achieve this goal by supporting research projects that:

ARPA-I is the newest addition to a long line of successful ARPAs that continue to deliver breakthrough innovations across the defense, intelligence, energy, and health sectors. The U.S. Department of Defense established the pioneering Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1958 in response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite to develop and demonstrate high-risk, high-reward technologies and capabilities to ensure U.S. military technological superiority and confront national security challenges. Throughout the years, DARPA programs have been responsible for significant technological advances with implications beyond defense and national security, such as the early stages of the internet, the creation of the global positioning system (GPS), and the development of mRNA vaccines critical to combating COVID-19. 

In light of the many successful advancements seeded through DARPA programs, the government replicated the ARPA model for other critical sectors, resulting in the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy within the Department of Energy, and, most recently, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health (ARPA-H) within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Now, there is the opportunity to bring that same spirit of untethered innovation to solve the most pressing transportation infrastructure challenges of our time. The United States has long faced a variety of transportation infrastructure-related challenges, due in part to low levels of federal research and development (R&D) spending in this area; the fragmentation of roles across federal, state, and local government; risk-averse procurement practices; and sluggish commercial markets. These challenges include:

The Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill awarded ARPA-I its initial appropriation in early 2023. Yet even before that, the Biden-Harris Administration saw the potential for ARPA-I-driven innovations to help meet its goal of net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, as articulated in its Net-Zero Game Changers Initiative. In particular, the Administration identified smart mobility, clean and efficient transportation systems, next-generation infrastructure construction, advanced electricity infrastructure, and clean fuel infrastructure as “net-zero game changers” that ARPA-I could play an outsize role in helping develop.

For ARPA-I programs to reach their full potential, agency stakeholders and partners need to understand not only how to effectively apply the ARPA model but how the unique circumstances and challenges within transportation infrastructure need to be considered in program design.

Unique Challenges of the Transportation Infrastructure Landscape

Using ARPA-I to advance transportation infrastructure breakthroughs requires an awareness of the most persistent challenges to prioritize and the unique set of circumstances within the sector that can hinder progress if ignored. Below are summaries of key challenges and considerations for ARPA-I to account for, followed by a deeper analysis of each challenge.

Lower Federal R&D Spending in Transportation Infrastructure 

Federal R&D expenditures in transportation infrastructure lag behind those in other sectors. This gap is particularly acute because, unlike for some other sectors, federal transportation R&D expenditures often fund studies and systems used to make regulatory decisions rather than technological innovation. The table below compares actual federal R&D spending and sector expenditures for 2019 across defense, healthcare, energy, and transportation as a percentage of each sector’s GDP. The federal government spends orders of magnitude less on transportation than other sectors: energy R&D spending as a percentage of sector GDP is nearly 15 times higher than transportation, while health is 13 times higher and defense is nearly 38 times higher.

Agency ^1Actual federal R&D spending, 2019Value added by industry and % of U.S. GDP, 20192019 federal R&D spending as % of sector GDP
Defense$54.69 billion$732 billion (3.4%)7.5%
Health and Human Services$38.51 billion$1,452 billion (6.8%) ^22.7%
Energy$18.27 billion$607 billion (2.8%) ^33.0%
Transportation$1.10 billion$610 billion (2.9%) ^40.2%
Expand Footnotes

1. The comparison of federal R&D spending and sector expenditures for 2019 is similar to those for the years 2020 and 2021.

2. Excludes GDP value-adds relating to Social Assistance

3. Includes GDP value-adds relating to oil and gas extraction, utilities, and petroleum and coal products

4. Excludes GDP value adds relating to Warehousing

Public Sector Dominance Limits Innovation Investment 

Since 1990, total investment in U.S. R&D has increased by roughly 9 times. When looking at the source of R&D investment over the same period, the private and public sectors invested approximately the same amount of R&D funding in 1982, but today the rate of R&D investment is nearly 4 times greater for the private industry than the government. 

While there are problems with the bulk of R&D coming from the private sector, such as innovations to promote long-term public goods being overlooked because of more lucrative market incentives, industries that receive considerable private R&D funding still see significant innovation breakthroughs. For example, the medical industry saw $161.8 billion in private R&D funding in 2020 compared to only $61.5 billion from federal funding. More than 75% of this private industry R&D occurred within the biopharmaceutical sector where corporations have profit incentives to be at the cutting edge of advancements in medicine.

The transportation sector has one robust domain for private R&D investment: vehicle and aircraft equipment manufacturing. In 2018, total private R&D was $52.6 billion. Private sector transportation R&D focuses on individual customers and end users, creating better vehicles, products, and efficiencies. The vast majority of that private sector R&D does not go toward infrastructure because the benefits are largely public rather than private. Put another way, the United States invests more than 50 times the amount of R&D into vehicles than the infrastructure systems upon which those vehicles operate. 

Market Fragmentation across Levels of Government

Despite opportunities within the public-dominated transportation infrastructure system, market fragmentation is a persistent obstacle to rapid progress. Each level of government has different actors with different objectives and responsibilities. For instance, at the federal level, USDOT provides national-level guidance, policy, and funding for transportation across aviation, highway, rail, transit, ports, and maritime modes. Meanwhile, the states set goals, develop transportation plans and projects, and manage transportation networks like the interstate highway system. Metropolitan planning organizations take on some of the planning functions at the regional level, and local governments often maintain much of their infrastructure. There are also local individual agencies that operate facilities like airports, ports, or tollways organized at the state, regional, or local level. Programs that can use partnerships to cut across this tapestry of systems are essential to driving impact at scale. 

Local agencies have limited access and capabilities to develop cross-sector technologies. They have access to limited pools of USDOT funding to pilot technologies and thus generally rely on commercially available technologies to increase the likelihood of pilot success. One shortcoming of this current process is that both USDOT and infrastructure owner-operators (IOOs) play a more passive role in developing innovative technologies, instead depending on merely deploying market-ready technologies. 

Multiple Modes, Customers, and Jurisdictions Create Difficulties in Efficiently Allocating R&D Resources

The transportation infrastructure sector is a multimodal environment split across many modes, including aviation, maritime, pipelines, railroads, roadways (which includes biking and walking), and transit. Each mode includes various customers and stakeholders to be considered. In addition, in the fragmented market landscape federal, state, and local departments of transportation have different—and sometimes competing—priorities and mandates. This dynamic creates difficulties in allocating R&D resources and considering access to innovation across these different modes.

Customer identification is not “one size fits all” across existing ARPAs. For example, DARPA has a laser focus on delivering efficient innovations for one customer: the Department of Defense. For ARPA-E, it is less clear; their customers range from utility companies to homeowners looking to benefit from lower energy costs. ARPA-I would occupy a space in between these two cases, understanding that its end users are IOOs—entities responsible for deploying infrastructure in many cases at the local or regional level. 

However, even with this more direct understanding of its customers, a shortcoming of a system focused on multiple modes is that transportation infrastructure is very broad, occupying everything from self-healing concrete to intersection safety to the deployment of electrified mobility and more. Further complicating matters is the rapid evolution of technologies and expectations across all modes, along with the rollout of entirely new modes of transportation. These developments raise questions about where new technologies and capabilities fit in existing modal frameworks, what actors in the transportation infrastructure market should lead their development, and who the ultimate “customers” or end users of innovation are.

Having a matrixed understanding of the rapid technological evolution across transportation modes and their potential customers is critical to investing in and building infrastructure for the future, given that transportation infrastructure investments not only alter a region’s movement of people and goods but also fundamentally impact its development. ARPA-I is poised to shape learnings across and in partnership with USDOT’s modes and various offices to ensure the development and refinement of underlying technologies and approaches that serve the needs of the entire transportation system and users across all modes.

Core Tenets of ARPA Success

Success using the ARPA model comes from demonstrating new innovative capabilities, building a community of people (an “ecosystem”) to carry the progress forward, and having the support of key decision-makers. Yet the ARPA model can only be successful if its program directors (PDs), fellows, stakeholders, and other partners understand the unique structure and inherent flexibility required when working to create a culture conducive to spurring breakthrough innovations. From a structural and cultural standpoint, the ARPA model is unlike any other agency model within the federal government, including all existing R&D agencies. Partners and other stakeholders should embrace the unique characteristics of an ARPA.

Cultural Components

ARPAs should take risks. 

An ARPA portfolio may be the closest thing to a venture capital portfolio in the federal government. They have a mandate to take big swings so should not be limited to projects that seem like safe bets. ARPAs will take on many projects throughout their existence, so they should balance quick wins with longer-term bets while embracing failure as a natural part of the process.

ARPAs should constantly evaluate and pivot when necessary.

An ARPA needs to be ruthless in its decision-making process because it has the ability to maneuver and shift without the restriction of initial plans or roadmaps. For example, projects around more nascent technology may require more patience, but if assessments indicate they are not achieving intended outcomes or milestones, PDs should not be afraid to terminate those projects and focus on other new ideas.

ARPAs should stay above the political fray. 

ARPAs can consider new and nontraditional ways to fund innovation, and thus should not be caught up in trends within their broader agency. As different administrations onboard, new offices get built and partisan priorities may shift, but ARPAs should limit external influence on their day-to-day operations.

ARPA team members should embrace an entrepreneurial mindset. 

PDs, partners, and other team members need to embrace the creative freedom required for success and operate much like entrepreneurs for their programs. Valued traits include a propensity toward action, flexibility, visionary leadership, self-motivation, and tenacity.

ARPA team members must move quickly and nimbly.

Trying to plan out the agency’s path for the next two years, five years, 10 years, or beyond is a futile effort and can be detrimental to progress. ARPAs require ultimate flexibility from day to day and year to year. Compared to other federal initiatives, ARPAs are far less bureaucratic by design, and forcing unnecessary planning and bureaucracy on the agency will slow progress.

Collegiality must be woven into the agency’s fabric.

With the rapidly shifting and entrepreneurial nature of ARPA work, the federal staff, contractors, and other agency partners need to rely on one another for support and assistance to seize opportunities and continue progressing as programs mature and shift. 

Outcomes matter more than following a process.

ARPA PDs must be free to explore potential program and project ideas without any predetermination. The agency should support them in pursuing big and unconventional ideas unrestricted by a particular process. While there is a process to turn their most unconventional and groundbreaking ideas into funded and functional projects, transformational ideas are more important than the process itself during idea generation.

ARPA team members welcome feedback.

Things move quickly in an ARPA, and decisions must match that pace, so individuals such as fellows and PDs must work together to offer as much feedback as possible. Constructive pushback helps avoid blind alleys and thus makes programs stronger.

Structural Components

The ARPA Director sets the vision.

The Director’s vision helps attract the right talent and appropriate levels of ambition and focus areas while garnering support from key decision-makers and luminaries. This vision will dictate the types and qualities of PDs an ARPA will attract to execute within that vision.

PDs can make or break an ARPA and set the technical direction.

Because the power of the agency lies within its people, ARPAs are typically flat organizations. An ARPA should seek to hire the best and most visionary thinkers and builders as PDs, enable them to determine and design good programs, and execute with limited hierarchical disruption. During this process, PDs should engage with decision-makers in the early stages of the program design to understand the needs and realities of implementers.

Contracting helps achieve goals.

The ARPA model allows PDs to connect with universities, companies, nonprofits, organizations, and other areas of government to contract necessary R&D. This allows the program to build relationships with individuals without needing to hire or provide facilities or research laboratories. 

Interactions improve outcomes. 

From past versions of ARPA that attempted remote and hybrid environments, it became evident that having organic collisions across an ARPA’s various roles and programs is important to achieving better outcomes. For example, ongoing in-person interactions between and among PDs and technical advisors are critical to idea generation and technical project and program management. 

Staff transitions must be well facilitated to retain institutional knowledge. 

One of ARPA’s most unique structural characteristics is its frequent turnover. PDs and fellows are term-limited, and ARPAs are designed to turn over those key positions every few years as markets and industries evolve, so having thoughtful transition processes in place is vital, including considering the role of systems engineering and technical assistance (SETA) contractors in filling knowledge gaps, cultivating an active alumni network, and staggered hiring cycles so that large numbers of PDs and fellows are not all exiting their service at once.

Scaling should be built into the structure.

It cannot be assumed that if a project is successful, the private sector will pick that technology up and help it scale. Instead, an ARPA should create its own bridge to scaling in the form of programs dedicated to funding projects proven in a test environment to scale their technology for real-world application. 

Technology-to-market advisors play a pivotal role.

Similarly to the dedicated funding for scaling described above, technology-to-market advisors are responsible for thinking about how projects make it to the real world. They should work hand in hand with PDs even in the early stages of program development to provide perspectives on how projects might commercialize and become market-ready. Without this focus, technologies run the risk of dying on the vine—succeeding technically, but failing commercially. 

A Primer on ARPA Ideation

Tackling grand challenges in transportation infrastructure through ARPA-I requires understanding what is unique about its program design. This process begins with considering the problem worth solving, the opportunity that makes it a ripe problem to solve, a high-level idea of an ARPA program’s fit in solving it, and a visualization of the future once this problem has been solved. This process of early-stage program ideation requires a shift in one’s thinking to find ideas for innovative programs that fit the ARPA model in terms of appropriate ambition level and suitability for ARPA structure and objectives. It is also an inherently iterative process, so while creating a “wireframe” outlining the problem, opportunity, program objectives, and future vision may seem straightforward, it can take months of refining. 

Common Challenges

No clear diagnosis of the problem

Many challenges facing our transportation infrastructure system are not defined by a single problem; rather, they are a conglomeration of issues that simultaneously need addressing. An effective program will not only isolate a single problem to tackle, but it will approach it at a level where something can be done to solve it through root cause analysis.

Thinking small and narrow

On the other hand, problems being considered for ARPA programs can be isolated down to the point that solving them will not drive transformational change. In this situation, narrow problems would not cater to a series of progressive and complementary projects that would fit an ARPA.

Incorrect framing of opportunities:

When doing early-stage program design, opportunities are sometimes framed as “an opportunity to tackle a problem.” Rather, an opportunity should reflect a promising method, technology, or approach already in existence but which would benefit from funding and resources through an advanced research agency program.

Approaching solutions solely from a regulatory or policy angle

While regulations and policy changes are a necessary and important component of tackling challenges in transportation infrastructure, approaching issues through this lens is not the mandate of an ARPA. ARPAs focus on supporting breakthrough innovations in developing new methods, technologies, capabilities, and approaches. Additionally, regulatory approaches to problem-solving can often be subject to lengthy policy processes.

No explicit ARPA role

An ARPA should pursue opportunities to solve problems where, without its intervention, breakthroughs may not happen within a reasonable timeframe. If the public or private sector already has significant interest in solving a problem, and they are well on their way to developing a transformational solution in a few years or less, then ARPA funding and support might provide a higher value-add elsewhere.

Lack of throughline

The problems identified for ARPA program consideration should be present as themes throughout the opportunities chosen to solve them as well as how programs are ultimately structured. Otherwise, a program may lack a targeted approach to solving a particular challenge.

Forgetting about end users

Human-centered design should be at the heart of how ARPA programs are scoped, especially when considering the scale at which designers need to think about how solving a problem will provide transformational change for everyday users.

Being solutions-oriented

Research programs should not be built with predetermined solutions in mind; they should be oriented around a specific problem to ensure that any solutions put forward are targeted and effective.

Not being realistic about direct outcomes of the program

Program objectives should not simply restate the opportunity, nor should they jump to where the world will be many years after the program has run its course. They should separate the tactical elements of a program and what impact they will ultimately drive. Designers should consider their program as one key step in a long arc of commercialization and adoption, with a firm sense of who needs to act and what needs to happen to make a program objective a reality.

Keeping these common mistakes in mind throughout the design process ensures that programs are properly scoped, appropriately ambitious, and in line with the agency’s goals. With these guideposts in mind, idea generators should begin their program design in the form of a wireframe.

Wireframe Development 

The first phase in ARPA program development is creating a program wireframe, which is an outline of a potential program that captures key components for consideration to assess the program’s fit and potential impact. The template below shows the components characteristic of a program wireframe.

Wireframe template

To create a fully fleshed-out wireframe, program directors work backward by first envisioning a future state that would be truly transformational for society and across sectors if it were to be realized. Then, they identify a clearly-articulated problem that needs solving and is hindering progress toward this transformational future state. During this process, PDs need to conduct extensive root cause analysis to consider whether the problem they’ve identified is exacerbated by policy, regulatory, or environmental complications—as opposed to those that technology can already solve. This will inform whether a problem is something that ARPA-I has the opportunity to impact fundamentally. 

Next, program directors identify a promising opportunity—such as a method, approach, or technology—that, if developed, scaled, and implemented, would solve the problem they articulated and help achieve their proposed future state. When considering a promising opportunity, PDs must assess whether it front-runs other potential technologies that would also need developing to support it and whether it is feasible to achieve concrete results within three to five years and with an average program budget. Additionally, it is useful to think about whether an opportunity considered for program development is part of a larger cohort of potential programs that lie within an ARPA-I focus area that could all be run in parallel.

Most importantly, before diving into how to solve the problem, PDs need to articulate what has prevented this opportunity from already being solved, scaled, and implemented, and what explicit role or need there is for a federal R&D agency to step in and lead the development of technologies, methods, or approaches to incentivize private sector deployment and scaling. For example, if the private sector is already incentivized to, and capable of, taking the lead on developing a particular technology and it will achieve market readiness within a few years, then there is less justification for an ARPA intervention in that particular case. On the other hand, the prescribed solution to the identified problem may be so nascent that what is needed is more early-stage foundational R&D, in which case an ARPA program would not be a good fit. This area should be reserved as the domain of more fundamental science-based federal R&D agencies and offices.

One example to illustrate this maturity fit is DARPA investment in mRNA. While the National Institutes of Health contributed significantly to initial basic research, DARPA recognized the technological gap in being able to quickly scale and manufacture therapeutics, prompting the agency to launch the Autonomous Diagnostics to Enable Prevention and Therapeutics (ADEPT) program to develop technologies to respond to infectious disease threats. Through ADEPT, in 2011 DARPA awarded a fledgling Moderna Therapeutics with $25 million to research and develop its messenger RNA therapeutics platform. Nine years later, Moderna became the second company after Pfizer-BioNTech to receive an Emergency Use Authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine.

Another example is DARPA’s role in developing the internet as we know it, which was not originally about realizing the unprecedented concept of a ubiquitous, global communications network. What began as researching technologies for interlinking packet networks led to the development of ARPANET, a pioneering network for sharing information among geographically separated computers. DARPA then contracted BBN Technologies to build the first routers before becoming operational in 1969. This research laid the foundation for the internet. The commercial sector has since adopted ARPANET’s groundbreaking results and used them to revolutionize communication and information sharing across the globe.

Wireframe Refinement and Iteration

To guide program directors through successful program development, George H. Heilmeier, who served as the director of DARPA from 1975 to 1977, used to require that all PDs answer the following questions, known as the Heilmeier Catechism, as part of their pitch for a new program. These questions should be used to refine the wireframe and envision what the program could look like. In particular, wireframe refinement should examine the first three questions before expanding to the remaining questions.

Alongside the Heilmeier Catechism, a series of assessments and lines of questioning should be completed to pressure test and iterate once the wireframe has been drafted. This refinement process is not one-size-fits-all but consistently grounded in research, discussions with experts, and constant questioning to ensure program fit. The objective is to thoroughly analyze whether the problem we are seeking to solve is the right one and whether the full space of opportunities around that problem is ripe for ARPA intervention.

One way to think about determining whether a wireframe could be a program is by asking, “Is this wireframe science or is this science fiction?” In other words, is the proposed technology solution at the right maturity level for an ARPA to make it a reality? There is a relatively broad range in the middle of the technological maturity spectrum that could be an ARPA program fit, but the extreme ends of that spectrum would not be a good fit, and thus those wireframes would need further iteration or rejection. On the far left end of the spectrum would be basic research that only yields published papers or possibly a prototype. On the other extreme would be a technology that is already developed to the point that only full-scale implementation is needed. Everything that falls between could be suitable for an ARPA program topic area.  

Once a high-impact program has been designed, the next step is to rigorously pressure test and develop a program until it resembles an executable ARPA program.

Applying ARPA Frameworks to Transportation Infrastructure Challenges

By using this framework, any problem or opportunity within transportation infrastructure can be evaluated for its fit as an ARPA-level idea. Expert and stakeholder idea generation is essential to creating an effective portfolio of ARPA-I programs, so idea generators must be armed with this framework and a defined set of focus areas to develop promising program wireframes. An initial set of focus areas for ARPA-I includes safety, climate and resilience, and digitalization, with equity and accessibility as underlying considerations within each focus area. 

There are hundreds of potential topic areas that ARPA-I could tackle; the two wireframes below represent examples of early-stage program ideas that would benefit from further pressure testing through the program design iteration cycle.

Note: The following wireframes are samples intended to illustrate ARPA ideation and the wireframing process, and do not represent potential research programs or topics under consideration by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Next-Generation Resilient Infrastructure Management

A Digital Inventory of Physical Infrastructure and Its Uses

Wireframe Development Next Steps

After initial wireframe development, further exploration is needed to pressure test an idea and ensure that it can be developed into a viable program to achieve “moonshot” ambitions. Wireframe authors should consider the following factors when iterating:

Wireframes are intended to be a summary communicative of a larger plan to follow. After further iteration and exploration of the factors outlined above, what was first just a raw program wireframe should develop into more detailed documents. These should include an incisive diagnosis of the problem and evidence and citations validating opportunities to solve it. Together, these components should lead to a plausible program objective as an outcome.


The newly authorized and appropriated ARPA-I presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to apply a model that has been proven successful in developing breakthrough innovations in other sectors to the persistent challenges facing transportation infrastructure.

Individuals and organizations that would work within the ARPA-I network need to have a clear understanding of the unique circumstances, challenges, and opportunities of this sector, as well as how to apply this context and the unique ARPA program ideation model to build high-impact future innovation programs. This community’s engagement is critical to ARPA-I’s success, and the FAS is looking for big thinkers who are willing to take on this challenge by developing bold, innovative ideas.

To sign up for future updates on events, convenings, and other opportunities for you to work in support of ARPA-I programs and partners, click here.

To submit an advanced research program idea, click here.

Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Weapons, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons, and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans M. Kristensen, Senior Research Associate and Project Manager Matt Korda, and Research Associate Eliana Johns.

This issue’s column examines Russia’s nuclear arsenal, which includes a stockpile of approximately 4,489 warheads. Of these, some 1,674 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases, while an approximate additional 999 strategic warheads, along with 1,816 nonstrategic warheads, are held in reserve. The Russian arsenal continues its broad modernization intended to replace most Soviet-era weapons by the late-2020s.

Read the full “Russian Nuclear Weapons, 2023” Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, or download a PDF using the button on the left side of this page. The complete archive of FAS Nuclear Notebooks can be found here.

Wildland Fire Policy Recommendations

Fire is a natural and normal ecological process, but today’s fires have grown in intensity and cost, causing more destruction to people and property. A changing climate and our outdated policy responses are amplifying these negative effects.

The federal government has many responsibilities for wildland fire management in the United States. Federal entities manage public lands where prescribed burns and wildfires occur, support wildfire response, and conduct research into fire’s impacts. Recognizing that this work will only grow, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorized the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission to develop and deliver a comprehensive set of new policy recommendations to Congress focused on how to “better prevent, manage, suppress, and recover from wildfires.”

About the Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator

In response to the Commission’s call for input, the Federation of American Scientists launched a Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator to source and develop actionable policy ideas aimed at improving how we live with fire. This effort is in partnership with COMPASS, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), and Conservation X Labs, who bring deep expertise in the accelerator topics and connections to interested communities.

Participants come from academia, the private sector, nonprofits, and national labs, and bring expertise across fire ecology, forestry, modeling, climate change, fire intelligence, cultural burning, and more. The Accelerator followed the approach of the FAS Day One Project to provide structured training, support, and policy expert feedback over several months to help participants refine their policy ideas. In the Accelerator’s second phase, a subset of these contributors will publish full memos on FAS’s website with more information about their policy recommendations.

Table of Contents

Landscapes and Communities

Create Federal Indemnity Fund to cover accidental damages from cultural and prescribed fire

Chris Adlam, PhD, Oregon State University

For millennia, the forests of the West were fundamentally shaped by Tribal use of fire, with different Tribes employing unique cultural fire traditions. Unfortunately, Indigenous Cultural Fire Practitioners are now dissuaded from treating both private and public forests with cultural burns because they fear being held liable for the cost of damages in the rare cases in which cultural fires accidentally escape their planned bounds. To allow Cultural Fire Practitioners to work to restore our forests, the federal government must protect them from being held personally liable for the risks of the public service that they are performing. Similar programs are being proposed for prescribed fire; cultural burning should be equally protected and benefited by any Fund that is created.

Congress should establish and fund a Federal Cultural and Prescribed Burning Indemnity Fund to encourage wildfire prevention initiatives and to protect both fire practitioners and landowners from losses incurred from responsibly conducted cultural or prescribed burns that spread beyond their intended range.

Prescribed and cultural burning, in tandem with other treatments, are needed to reduce fuel loads and restore the health of forests that are relied upon for recreation, industry, and drinking water. Fuel treatment is also essential to reducing the cost of catastrophic wildfires, which cost the United States an estimated $14.5 billion dollars in damages and emergency response efforts from 2021 to 2022.

Across the country, prescribed burns have empirically been overwhelmingly safe. According to Chief Randy Moore of the US Forest Service, over 99.84% of prescribed fires on USFS land occur as planned. In a separate review of prescribed burns in the Southern Great Plains, researchers found similar findings that less than 1% of prescribed burns escape. Similar studies have not been conducted to analyze the empirical safety cultural burns, but surveys of relevant research did not uncover an example of an escaped cultural burn. However, the fact that risk cannot be completely eliminated weighs on practitioners and decision-makers, restricting their use of controlled burning. In the event that damages result from a burn, the Fund would seek to minimize the disruption caused by these damages by ensuring that all affected parties would be quickly and fully compensated. By creating this funding structure, landowners would no longer be dependent on individual acts of Congress to receive compensation, as victims of the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire did.

In the past year, states have begun to create similar funds after observing the need to support fire practitioners. California recently created the Prescribed Fire Claims Fund and funded it with $20 million. However, a federal fund is needed to provide coverage on a larger scale, with a scope and financial scale that is not possible for individual states.


To ensure that Cultural Fire Practitioners across the nation are covered, Congress should consider the following actions: 

We recommend that Congress consider FEMA as the primary administrator of the Fund because it administers Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) Grants, which are part of the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program, and because of its post-fire disaster assistance mission. The USDA Forest Service or the Department of the Interior are other potential administrators of the Fund. To encourage state investment, the Fund could require matching funds from states after a certain amount. 

The Fund could be paired with the development of regionally specific definitions of ‘Cultural Fire Practitioner.’ These definitions of Cultural Fire Practitioners should be developed in processes led by Tribal Nations and organizations. Care should also be taken to ensure that Cultural Fire Practitioners can access the Fund without being subject to undue requirements while burning – requirements that detract from their cultural traditions or add an unmanageable regulatory burden to their work.

To further protect Cultural Fire Practitioners as they carry out vital public services, Congress could also provide Cultural Fire Practitioners with coverage under the Federal Torts Claims Act, similarly to how Tribal contractors, employees, and volunteers are classified as federal employees for the purpose of FTCA coverage. In the past, Tribal medical or law enforcement personnel have received coverage after taking over programs previously administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As policy reforms allow Tribal Cultural Fire Practitioners to practice cultural burns with less interference from the BIA, FTCA coverage would become increasingly beneficial and necessary.

By creating this Fund, Congress would support fire practitioners working on the frontlines of the crisis and the communities most threatened by fire.

Directly fund Tribes to create and implement land stewardship initiatives

Nina Fontana, PhD, University of California, Davis

Across the United States, Tribal nations and organizations have the knowledge and will to lead cultural and prescribed burns. Unfortunately, they are consistently limited by (a) insufficient funds, and (b) burdensome regulatory requirements that often prove overly burdensome to comply with. These two issues are connected. Tribal practitioners are often unable to obtain federal grants for land stewardship purposes because they do not have the capacity to find and apply for them, to compete with state agencies and organizations in the application process, and to comply with the grant requirements, which can conflict with Cultural Fire traditions in fundamental ways.

Congress should appropriate discretionary funds directly to Tribal nations and Tribally-led organizations for fire hazard reduction in order to decrease the administrative capacity needed for Tribes to compete for grants. The funds will be dispersed by regional Tribal liaisons, who will gather and utilize input from local actors to direct grants.

Tribal governments and organizations require direct grant funding to exercise their sovereignty in a rightfully unencumbered manner. When Tribal governments and organizations are provided with adequate funding and are able to direct its usage, Cultural Fire Practitioners (CFPs) are able to design cultural fire projects that fit their unique traditions and local plant communities contained within their lands. In addition, by giving Tribes greater discretion over funds, the federal government would a) decrease the regulatory burden on Tribes, and b) provide greater recognition of cultural burning as a uniquely valuable form of land restoration and place-based knowledge, instead of categorizing the practice as an often-overlooked subset of prescribed burning.

Most importantly, direct funding would allow Tribal governments and organizations to shift crucial capacity away from time-intensive administrative tasks and towards stewarding their ancestral lands. Tribes could expand their fire practitioner workforce, treat larger areas of land, and better conserve important natural and cultural resources.


We recommend that Congress: 

By drawing upon the expertise of communities and Cultural Fire Practitioners, the Tribal liaisons would be able to target funds to groups and landscapes that have the greatest need, ensuring that federal resources are utilized in an effective manner each year.

It is time for the federal government to recognize the deep expertise of Tribes in fire management. By giving Tribes greater influence in determining the use of funds for preventative and mitigative activities, Congress would bring funding structures in line with the rightful sovereignty of Tribes, and it would protect communities and natural resources across the country by clearing the path for more beneficial fire.

Create a categorical exclusion in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for Cultural Burning

Nina Fontana, PhD, University of California, Davis; Chris Adlam, PhD, Oregon State University

One of the original stated purposes of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 is “to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man.” Cultural and prescribed burning directly contribute to this goal. Unfortunately, current interpretations of NEPA require Cultural Fire Practitioners (CFPs) to undertake onerous Environmental Impact Statements before burns on federal or Tribal trust lands, which often prevent Tribes from even attempting to burn in these locations. Because Tribal lands are held in trust by the federal government, CFPs must also comply with NEPA regulations that were designed to govern federal actions. This arrangement limits Tribal sovereignty and imposes an undue burden.

To bring the implementation of NEPA in line with its purpose, NEPA should recognize cultural burning as part of the background condition of our natural environment here in the United States. Tribes have utilized these cultural burning practices for centuries, even millenia, to manage the fire-prone landscapes within the United States, including taking measures to protect ancient wildland urban interfaces in the Southwest. Through this long history, cultural burning has fundamentally influenced what we consider to be our human environment today. For that reason, cultural burning should be classified as a categorical exclusion.

Current guidelines on implementing NEPA include a categorical exclusion for “Prescribed burning to reduce natural fuel build-up and improve plant vigor,” as long as the project does not require the use of herbicides or over 1 mile of low standard road construction (DOE NEPA Guidelines). Additionally, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act categorically excluded “establishing and maintaining linear fuel breaks” for the purpose of wildfire risk mitigation under specific circumstances. 

The following recommendations represent several pathways for Congress to encourage cultural burning. By implementing one or all of these measures, Congress would begin the process of recognizing burning as a sovereign right for Tribes (similar to hunting and plant gathering) and therefore exempt from permitting. 


To these ends, Congress should consider: 

By carrying out these recommendations, Congress would bring the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act in line with its original purpose and create positive impacts on the ground for communities across the nation.

Legally define “Cultural Fire Practitioner” and “Cultural Fire” to encourage Cultural Burning

Raymond Gutteriez, Member of Wuksachi Band of Mono Indians

Cultural Fire Practitioners (CFP) have the knowledge, experience, and willingness to help lead the restoration of more sustainable fire regimes to their ancestral homelands. However, they are currently dissuaded from carrying out cultural burns for a variety of reasons including fear of liability, burdensome regulations, burn bans, and resource constraints. In addition, Cultural Fire Practitioners receive limited support from the federal government for their important work.

As an important first step in encouraging cultural fire, Congress should direct the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of the Interior (DOI) to develop regionally-specific definitions of ‘cultural fire’ and ‘Cultural Fire Practitioner’ through a process led by Tribal governments.

Currently, the federal government does not adequately recognize cultural fire, despite its deep-rooted traditional significance for Tribal Nations and its potential benefits for forest and wildfire management across the country. Because of this lack of recognition and other barriers, many CFPs have not been able to carry out their cultural fire traditions. Those that have continued to implement cultural fire have had to operate with minimal federal support and with higher personal risk. In addition, they have been forced to significantly alter their traditions and practices to fit existing legal processes and definitions that were designed for prescribed burns. These factors have combined to make cultural burning prohibitively difficult to implement on federal, tribal, and state lands. 


In order to provide the proper legal framework needed to enable and support cultural burning, Congress should:

These definitions will create a legal foundation that can be used to expand the role of cultural burners and ease restrictions, in a manner similar to that of California’s own legislation defining cultural burning (CA SB 332; CA SB 926; CA AB 642). In tandem with adopting a formal definition, California implemented a gross negligence standard that limited the financial liability of CFP who take appropriate precautions before a fire. 

Federal agencies can explore opportunities to use the definitions to support cultural burning. For example, federally recognized CFPs could be provided with exemptions from having to obtain formal National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) qualifications and/or from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental assessment process. The federal government could also support creation of an easily accessible federal indemnity fund that provides support to cultural burners.

By codifying these definitions, the federal government would take a key step in elevating the visibility and status of Cultural Fire Practitioners as key partners in land stewardship and wildfire risk reduction and management.

Expand the scope and funding of the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004

Raymond Gutteriez, Member of Wuksachi Band of Mono Indians

Under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 and the Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA) of 2004, Tribes are able to propose and execute projects (called 638 projects) on USFS-managed and BIA-managed land which (i) borders or is adjacent to Indian trust land, and (ii) poses a fire, disease, or other threat to Tribal forest or rangeland or that otherwise requires land restoration activities. Unfortunately, 638 projects are rarely proposed or implemented due in large part to lack of funding and its limited scope of only including tribes that possess land adjacent to federally managed lands.

Congress should appropriate dedicated funding for ‘638’ projects and expand the range of the TFPA to include the ancestral homelands of Tribal Nations.

The aforementioned 638 law was enacted to promote “maximum Indian participation in the Government,” but it fails at this goal in its current form. The initiative has been hampered by the fact that “no specific funding was appropriated or authorized for 638” projects (USFS). Instead, funding is expected to be obtained from other sources of funds for activities on federal lands, which often require prohibitive amounts of administrative burdens for Tribes to compete for and obtain. Additionally, many Tribes are ineligible to participate in 638 projects because they do not possess lands that are adjacent to national forests, even though those national forest lands are part of their ancestral homelands. 


We recommend that Congress consider: 

In addition, these changes can be paired with other efforts to expand Tribal authority and ability to plan, implement, and review prescribed and cultural burns on federal lands.

Reduce federal subsidies for development that might exacerbate fire risk

Max Moritz, Adjunct Professor, UC Santa Barbara

Federal spending on wildfire suppression has ballooned in the past four decades. Despite these efforts, property damage due to wildfire continues to escalate, devastating communities and robbing tens of thousands of people of treasured homes, businesses, and gathering places. 

This is in part because more and more Americans are living and working adjacent to wildlands, where they are more vulnerable to wildfire impacts. In 2020, 4.5 million homes were located in areas of “high or extreme wildfire risk.” To make matters worse, fires on state, local, and private land have doubled in size (on average) since 1991. While decisions about land use and urban planning are made locally, there are important opportunities for crucial guidance at the federal level to help mitigate harm to communities. 

Congress should direct agencies to determine to what extent and through what mechanisms federal dollars are subsidizing development in a manner that perpetuates fire risk.

Where and how we build our communities can influence fire probabilities in the broader region surrounding a particular development, crossing administrative boundaries and even state lines. 

Money from federal agencies supports development of homes and related infrastructure. Failing to identify and address when and how federal funds may be subsidizing development in wildfire hazard risk areas will continue to exacerbate social and economic losses.

The federal government should investigate to what extent and through which programs it is subsidizing development in a manner that exacerbates fire risk. Using this information, Congress and agencies can take action through existing mechanisms to support local and regional planning that is both fire-resilient and equitable. 


Congress should: 

Using this information, Congress can consider whether it would be appropriate to take one or more of the following actions: 

Should the federal government choose to take action on any of the recommendations above, there are important considerations Congress and agencies must keep in mind.

Public Health and Infrastructure

Make smoke management a core goal of wildland fire management 

Alistair Hayden, Assistant Professor of Practice, Department of Public & Ecosystem Health, Cornell University 

Toxic smoke from wildland fire spreads far beyond fire-prone areas, killing many times more people than the flames themselves and disrupting the lives of tens of millions of people. Despite this, wildfire smoke is often reported and managed separately from other wildfire impacts. 

Congress should establish smoke management as a core goal of wildland fire management and create institutional capacity to achieve that goal. 

The 2014 National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy describes a vision for the century: “To safely and effectively extinguish fire, when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a Nation, live with wildland fire.” Significant research conducted since the publication of the Strategy indicates that wildfire smoke impacts people across the United States, causing 10,000 deaths and billions of dollars of economic losses annually. Smoke impacts exceed their corresponding flame impacts; yet, wildfire strategy and funding largely focus on flames and their impacts. 

In order to ensure that all impacts of wildland fire, including smoke, are addressed efficiently and comprehensively, Congress should take actions that establish wildfire smoke management as a core goal of wildfire management. 

To ensure that wildland fire smoke is considered as a core wildland fire hazard, Congress should consider amending relevant legislation to specifically account for smoke. 

For example, Congress could: 

Current interagency wildfire leadership groups occasionally consider smoke in the context of wildland fire impacts and management. To ensure wildfire strategy discussions always include modern smoke-management considerations, these groups should include agencies with expertise on smoke data and impacts (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency, Center for Disease Control, National Aeronautics and Space Administration). 

Congress should therefore:

  1. Amend the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Sec. 70203(b) and the FLAME Act Sec. 3 to include smoke-expert agencies in development of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.
  2. Pass new policy adding smoke-expert agencies to wildfire-policy collaborations, including the National Interagency Fire Center, National Wildfire Coordinating Group, and the Wildland Fire Leadership Council. 

To succeed, Congress should also allocate funding for smoke management programs described in companion suggestions (here and here). 

Foster smoke-ready communities to save lives and money 

Alistair Hayden, Assistant Professor of Practice, Department of Public & Ecosystem Health, Cornell University 

In the US, more and more people are being exposed to wildfire smoke—27 times more people experienced extreme smoke days than a decade ago. Wildfire smoke poses higher risks to outdoor workers, unhoused individuals, children, older adults, and people with diabetes or heart disease. 

The federal government can equitably save lives and money by helping communities prepare for, identify, and respond to smoke events. 


Congress should designate some of the annual $6+ billion in wildfire management to create funding for households and public spaces to improve indoor air-quality during heavy smoke.

To help communities prepare for smoke events

To ensure communities are able to identify potentially deadly smoke events, Congress should:

To provide communities with support needed to act during smoke events, Congress should:

Build data infrastructure to support decision making based on smoke hazards

Alistair Hayden, Assistant Professor of Practice, Cornell University; Teresa Feo, Senior Science Officer, California Council on Science and Technology

National spending on fire suppression exceeds $4 billion in the fiscal year 2023 funding bill, while less than $10 million is allocated for smoke management. This 600:1 funding ratio for fire compared to smoke is misaligned to the 1:1 ratio of economic impacts and 1:100 ratio of fire to smoke deaths.

Data infrastructure critical for minimizing these smoke-related hazards is largely absent from our firefighting arsenal. 

Congress should take action to better leverage existing smoke data in the context of wildland fire management and fill crucial data infrastructure gaps to enable smoke management as a core part of wildland fire management.

Some smoke data is already collected, including smoke forecasts for active fires from the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program and retrospective smoke emissions totals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the National Emissions Inventory (NEI). However, these smoke impacts are considered separately from flame impacts (e.g., structures burned), and are left out of broader wildfire strategy. New authoritative realtime smoke-data tools need to be created and integrated into wildfire management strategy.


To better track health impacts of wildfire smoke, Congress should: 

To better integrate smoke data with other fire data, Congress should:

To enable the consideration of smoke-related health impacts in wildland fire management, Congress should:

The suggested additions would improve national technical ability to increase smoke-related safety, thereby saving lives and reducing smoke-related public health costs. 

Support strategic deployment of community resilience hubs to mitigate smoke impacts and other hazards 

Lee Ann Hill, Director of Energy and Health, PSE Healthy Energy

Exposure to wildfire smoke can have severe impacts on human health, including higher risk of respiratory problems, heart attack, stroke, and premature death. One tool communities can use to build resilience to smoke and other hazards that threaten human health are resilience hubs.  Resilience hubs are indoor community spaces designed to address overall community vulnerability and to foster public safety, security, and wellbeing. Resilience hubs can also support communities amid emergencies, including smoke emergencies, by providing access to clean indoor air. 

The federal government can foster holistic community resilience to wildfire smoke impacts and other hazards by supporting the development of community resilience hubs.

Public health guidance and climate adaptation policies should account for the reality that many communities will be exposed to multiple hazards, sometimes concurrently. Rather than address specific exposures (e.g., wildfire smoke or extreme heat) in isolation, policymakers should consider mitigation approaches that will build capacity to prepare for and withstand multiple hazards, including those associated with 1) mitigation strategies (e.g., prescribed fire smoke), 2) extreme weather events (e.g., smoke, extreme heat) and natural disasters, and 3) power outages. Policymakers can prioritize policy interventions that reduce harmful smoke exposures while also expanding broader community resilience to maximize the human health benefit of every dollar spent. 

Community resilience hubs equipped with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning and powered by distributed clean energy resources can reduce harmful smoke exposures while expanding broader community resilience amid extreme weather events, natural disasters, and grid outages. Local governments across the United States and Canada have established resilience hubs focused on disaster and emergency response; pilot efforts to build resilience more holistically are underway in Baltimore, Maryland and Northern California

The proposed Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act of 2021 focuses on wildfire smoke more singularly, including provision of “resources for establishing smoke shelters, air purifiers, and additional air monitoring sites” upon each declaration of a smoke emergency. Federal efforts to reduce the human health cost of wildfire smoke should consider how investment can effectively mitigate multiple hazard exposures, reducing inefficiencies stemming from focusing singularly on wildfire smoke alone and redeploying resources during each emergency smoke declaration. While evidence suggests that resilience hubs are most effective when they are community-led, the federal government can support the proliferation of these tools of community resilience in a multi-hazard environment. 

To support these efforts, Congress can take the following steps:

Resilience hubs can reduce hazard exposures and strengthen community-level resilience to provide support during extreme weather events, natural disasters, and grid outages. Resources to support interagency coordination, distributed energy resource deployment, and data collection efforts can bolster and inform future and ongoing resilience hub planning and implementation efforts. 

Consider modifying the Clean Air Act to incentivize increased use of beneficial fire

Alistair Hayden, Assistant Professor of Practice, Department of Public & Ecosystem Health, Cornell University; Susan Prichard, Research Scientist, University of Washington 

Recent wildfires have spewed so much toxic smoke across the country that decades of life-saving air-quality improvement under the Clean Air Act (CAA) have been reversed in many states. The CAA unintentionally aids this reverse by disincentivizing the use of beneficial fire at scales needed to mitigate catastrophic wildfires. Congress should modify the CAA to instead incentivize beneficial fire–prescribed burns, cultural burning, and managed wildfire—to support use at scales needed to mitigate unmanaged wildfires.

Though beneficial fire produces smoke, it is the most effective means to reduce overall smoke output because it mitigates unmanaged wildfires. Proactive application of beneficial fire is planned under specific weather and fuel conditions to minimize impacts to communities, while unmanaged wildfires are unplanned events that often burn under extreme conditions, frequently with significant smoke lasting for weeks. 

The CAA aims to save lives and money by reducing air pollution, including wildfire smoke, but it currently discourages the beneficial fire that minimizes overall smoke output. Days with smoke from unplanned wildfires often qualify as “exceptional events” that CAA excludes from a jurisdiction’s pollution limits. In contrast, beneficial fires rarely qualify, so their smoke can make a jurisdiction exceed its pollution limits. Jurisdictions therefore restrict beneficial fire to achieve pollution limits, unintentionally preventing fire use at the needed scale. Current CAA policy therefore shifts smoke emissions from beneficial fires to unplanned wildfires, which disproportionately contribute to hazardous smoke impacts. 

To incentivize more beneficial fire while leaving intact other life-saving provisions of the CAA, Congress should:

Policy encouraging beneficial fire supports choosing when and where smoke happens, reducing the frequency of even more dangerous unplanned fires and the overall smoke hazard. The CAA should incentivize beneficial fire; doing so will save lives and money by reducing air pollution—exactly its intended function.

Science, Data, and Technology

Save lives, properties, and ecosystems with real-time actionable fire intelligence

Tim Ball, Fireball Information Technologies; Carlton Pennypacker; University of California, Berkeley; Harry Statter, Frontline Wildfire Defense

The authors are part of a research group, FUEGO, that designed a satellite to bridge the intelligence gap described in this proposal.

Securing our lives, communities, and ecosystems in the face of more intense fires and a swelling Wildland-Urban Interface requires that governments and citizens work together using the most reliable sources of intelligence. Emergency management agencies, firefighters, public utilities, and the public need real-time understanding of when fires start, where fires are located, how their intensity is changing, and where they are spreading.

The National Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (NWCG) has recognized this is a serious unmet intelligence need. Creating an uninterrupted, high cadence, and low latency capability to map fire activity will support response in real time at local and national scales. The intelligence need is even more urgent for fast-spreading fires or those that are difficult to observe, either because aircrafts are unavailable or cannot operate in the local conditions. This challenge can be met with new, cost-effective means of gathering data and disseminating intelligence.

The US Fire Administration and USGS should lead in establishing a public-private-university-nonprofit partnership to collect, combine, and disseminate actionable information on fire activity for the benefit of firefighters and the public. A key piece of the intelligence system is a new geostationary satellite launched and maintained by the appropriate federal agencies.


Lack of intelligence in the first 90 minutes of the 2018 Camp Fire thwarted the wildfire evacuation plan that had been practiced by the town of Paradise, California. Because of the time of the fire, the aircraft that would have normally been used to gather intelligence was unstaffed and no alternative sources of intelligence were available. Mandatory evacuation of the town began only after the fire was well established in the town. The speed of the Camp Fire, the intelligence challenges, and the problems with evacuation are not unique.

Current satellites used to monitor wildland fires collect infrequent and low-resolution images that are not useful for actionable intelligence. A new geostationary (GEO) satellite constantly watching North America could detect a brush fire the size of a semi-truck and pinpoint its location to within 50 yards. Aircraft and satellites in low-Earth orbit are still required to collect higher resolution data, particularly for smaller and slower-moving fires. Points of critical consequence found at GEO can be investigated further by a low-Earth satellite, then coordinates of interest can be passed to aircraft pilots. The technical details of existing satellites for wildland fire management are compared to a GEO satellite in the appendix.

The intelligence gathered by a new GEO satellite should be merged with other sources to form an integrated intelligence system. This requires coordination, likely through a public-private-university-nonprofit partnership to enable collection, fusion, and dissemination of actionable intelligence, but the keystone of this system must be the GEO satellite. Further, collecting new data across spatial resolutions and time scales would contribute significantly to fire science, fire modeling efforts, and evaluation of fire mitigation efforts.



The authors are part of a research group, FUEGO, that designed a satellite to bridge this intelligence gap described here. The following table compares the technical parameters of this system with satellites currently used for fire management.

Minimum Detectable Fire2 to 2 Megawatts35 Megawatts7 Megawatts
Persistence (Seconds between images of the same place on Earth)20 seconds60 seconds43000 seconds
Spatial Resolution Ground Sample Distance (Meters)2902200375
Ability to locate a point source within a pixel1/10th pixelnonenone
Data Latency90 seconds300 seconds12000 seconds

Advance the predictive science of fire ecology and forest resilience

Winslow Hansen, Forest Ecologist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Forest area burned and fire severity are increasing in some forest types in the U.S. Fire suppression, which allows vegetation to accumulate and consequently fuel larger fires, and climate change are contributing to this growing problem. Unprecedented resources are becoming available to address the fire crisis, but the landscape of fire and forest management remains fragmented. Managers and policy makers are being asked to balance competing demands of human safety, fuels management, air quality, biodiversity conservation, and carbon sequestration in the face of tremendous scientific uncertainty about where, when, how, and why ecosystems and fire regimes will change. How can we manage a system when we do not understand how it functions? 

Congress should support an ambitious research collaborative to ensure the predictive science of fire ecology and forest resilience rapidly advances in time to support management and policy that addresses the fire crisis.

Recognizing the severity of the fire crisis, Congress allocated $5 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act for “forest management, planning, and restoration” activities, including hazardous fuels treatments. While unprecedented, the investment is sufficient to mechanically treat only a small portion of western forests. This means managers need to be strategic in implementation of fuels treatments and able to track their efficacy. No investor would commit funds to an endeavor where they could not quantitatively evaluate gains and losses. The same is true for investing in strategies to address the fire crisis. 

The consequences of today’s management decisions will accrue over decades, the temporal scale on which forests and fire regimes change. To track progress toward more resilient forests, less catastrophic fire, and safer human communities, we need tools to determine in near real time where, when, and how forests are changing. We also need ways to evaluate the efficacy of fuels treatments for fostering more resilient forests and less catastrophic fire. Real time forest and fire tracking must also seamlessly feed into long-term models that help us project how today’s decisions may influence outcomes for decades to come. Such an integrated monitoring and projection system does not exist, but is vitally necessary for decision making. A fire ecology and forest resilience science collaborative could develop such a tool.


We recommend that Congress:

We recommend that the USDA Forest Service and Department of Interior:

We anticipate that the collaborative would cost about 100 million dollars over ten years. This funding would support a network of 20 scientific teams across the country and a lead center of excellence that provides synthesis, coordination, amplification, and management. Leaders of this effort should consider ongoing research efforts in relevant disciplines, collaborating where appropriate to ensure efforts are not duplicated. 

NSF is the right agency to administer the collaborative because of their deep expertise in funding basic and applied research and because of their success in ambitious large-scale initiatives such as the Long-term Ecological Research Network and the National Ecological Observatory Network. NSF has also recently made investments in fire research. Our proposal builds off this momentum. Partnerships with USDA Forest Service, DOI, and Joint Fire Science Program would strengthen the connections between the science conducted and manager needs. If launched, the science collaborative would provide managers and policy makers with tools to plan strategies and track the efficacy of federal investment in proactive fire and forest management, based on state-of-the-art modeling and remote sensing, and underpinned by strong foundational science. 

Develop next-generation fire and vegetation models for a changing climate 

Matthew Hurteau, University of New Mexico 

Wildfires are burning in ways that surprise seasoned firefighters, and current models are failing to predict evolving fire behavior. Due in part to climate change, existing models cannot reproduce recent catastrophic wildfires. This means existing fire and vegetation models are likely to fail at predicting future wildfires or when it is safe to light prescribed fires, challenging our capacity to effectively suppress wildfires or mitigate their impacts. 

Congress should establish and fund centers of excellence to develop, maintain, and operate next-generation fire and vegetation models that support wildland fire planning and management.

Climate change is expanding what is flammable. For example, the 2020 Creek Fire in California burned through forests that had already been weakened by beetle infestations and drought, and burned with such intensity that current operational fire models could not reproduce the event. Ongoing climate change made this extreme fire behavior possible. 

The wildfire research community has demonstrated it can respond to problem-based research needs as evidenced by the successful Joint Fire Science Program and the National Science Foundation funding of Centers of Excellence (CoE). CoE’s have been created in a variety of topic areas and have demonstrated that supporting hubs of expertise to address specific research areas leads to positive outcomes. Developing five regional CoEs will a) facilitate research collaboration across disciplines, institutions, and regions, and b) provide regional service centers which will develop and run models focused on near and mid-term dynamics at local and event (e.g. treatment unit, wildfire) scales that support land management planning and decision-making. A cross-CoE leadership team will ensure that research and development activities are complementary.

We recommend that Congress:

One path forward for this approach could be a pilot initiated at a single institution with collaborators in each of the five regions, with the opportunity to expand to five regional centers as research questions evolve and collaboration mechanisms are refined. 

Establishing five CoEs to develop, maintain, and operate next-generation models will cost approximately $25 million per year, which is less than 1% of the 2021 federal wildfire suppression expenditure. The Centers could be established and funded using directed funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF) in partnership with the Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). NSF is well-positioned to lead this effort given prior investments in wildland fire prediction and management as well as research collaborations in the space.  

Managing fuels effectively to prevent future catastrophic events requires developing models that account for the new climatic conditions fire managers face, and will allow us to make wildfire management more predictable.

Expand capacity for effective collaboration between scientists and resource managers to inform forest management

Meg Krawchuk, Associate Professor, Oregon State University 

For years, the federal government has recognized the importance of scientists and decision-makers working together to solve complex wildland fire management problems. While many successful federal programs support such collaborations, institutional barriers still stand in the way of many fruitful science coproduction and communication efforts in wildland fire management.  

The federal government should expand financial and institutional support for co-production of wildland fire science and science communication to help natural resource managers make evidence-based decisions in the context of the wildfire crisis. 

According to USGS, coproduction of science projects “focus on scientists and resource managers working closely together to produce actionable products that are used to inform natural resource management decisions.” More broadly, science communication work at the project and program level can enhance the reach and relevance of coproduced science and distill literature for decision-making applications. These approaches have been championed in the field of wildland fire science and land management for years by land management agencies (including the USGS Climate Adaptation Science Centers and US Forest Service) and funding agencies (including the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) and National Science Foundation). 

However, both researchers and natural resource managers report that funding, capacity, and institutional barriers inhibit coproduced science efforts in wildland fire. For example, financial support and incentive structures (e.g., performance evaluation criteria, awards, and professional recognition) are often insufficient to support scientists in conducting longer-term collaborative, relationship-building work that can extend the reach and impact of co-produced science. Furthermore, program staff in agencies (where they exist) may lack bandwidth necessary to effectively distill large quantities of journal articles into the core “so what” conclusions needed by land management practitioners to integrate the most recent science with existing management strategies. 

Addressing these gaps in coproduction and broader science communication support is crucial to maximizing the potential of scientific research to inform pressing forest management problems and capitalizing on successful investments in coproduction projects. More robust support for coproduction and communication in the wildland fire space will equip agencies to ensure that decision-makers have access to the “best available science” and can fulfill goals outlined in federal initiatives including the USFS 10-year Wildfire Crisis Strategy, the Inflation Reduction Act, the Administration’s “Year of Evidence for Action,” and the “Year of Open Science.”  

Specifically, Congress should: 

Specifically, the Department of Interior US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) should:

These investments would total less than the current price tag of existing coproduction work but extend the reach and impact of initial investments. 

Launch an Open Disaster Data Initiative to bolster whole-of-nation resilience from wildfires and related hazards

Shefali Juneja Lakhina, Wonder Labs

Federal, state, local, and Tribal agencies collect and maintain a range of disaster vulnerability, damage, and loss data. However, this valuable data currently lives on different platforms and in various formats across agency silos, making it difficult to augment whole-of-nation preparedness, response, and recovery from a range of natural hazards, including wildfires, smoke, drought, extreme heat, flooding, and debris flow. 

The Biden-Harris Administration should launch an Open Disaster Data Initiative that mandates federal, state, local, and Tribal agencies to systematically collect, share, monitor, and report on disaster vulnerability, damage, and loss data, in formats that are consistent and interoperable. 

In the past decade, several bipartisan research, data, and policy reviews have reiterated the need to develop national standards for the consistent collection and reporting of damage and loss data. Recent disaster and wildfire research data platforms and standards provide precedence and show how investing in data standards and interoperability can enable inclusive, equitable, and just disaster preparedness, response, and recovery outcomes.

The Open Disaster Data Initiative will enable longitudinal monitoring of pre- and post- event data for multiple hazards resulting in a better understanding of cascading climate impacts. Guided by the Open Government Initiative (2016), the Fifth National Action Plan (2022), and in the context of the Year of Open Science (2023), the Open Disaster Data Initiative will lead to greater accountability in how federal, state, and local governments prioritize funding, especially to marginalized communities. 


We recommend the White House and Congress, where appropriate, take the following actions: 

  1. Appoint a White-House level staff position in the Office of Science Technology and Policy to establish the Open Disaster Data Initiative with the participation of all relevant federal agencies currently engaged in the management of hydro-meteorological and hydro-geological hazards including drought, extreme heat, wildfires, smoke, flooding, and landslides.   
  2. Issue an  Executive Order to  promote the development and adoption of national standards for disaster vulnerability, damage, and loss data collection, sharing, and reporting, by all relevant federal, state, local, and Tribal agencies, as well as by universities, non-profits, and the private sector.  
  3. Designate  FEMA as the national focal point agency to maintain a national disaster loss database––a federated, open, integrated, and interoperable disaster data system that can seamlessly roll-up local data, including research and non-profit data. FEMA’s National Incident Management System will be well positioned to cut across hazard mission silos and offer wide-ranging operational support and training for disaster loss accounting to federal, state, local, and Tribal agencies, as well as non-profit stakeholders. 

Building on recent experience with developing an all-of-government COVID-19 pandemic management data platform, it is recommended that all federal agencies engaged in wildland fire management activities collaborate in taking the following steps to launch the Open Disaster Data Initiative

  1. Undertake a Disaster Data Systems and Infrastructure Assessment to inform the development of national standards and identify barriers for accurate disaster data tracking, accounting, and sharing between federal, state, local, and Tribal agencies, as well as the philanthropic and private sector. 
  2. Adopt national standards for disaster loss data collection and reporting to address ongoing issues concerning data quality, completeness, integration, interoperability, and accessibility. 
  3. Ensure appropriate federal agency work plans reflect the national data standards, such as for digital and infrastructure planning, requests for proposals, and procurement processes to streamline all future data collection, sharing, and reporting. 
  4. Develop federal agency capacities to accurately collect and analyze disaster vulnerability, damage, and loss data, especially as it relates to population estimates of mortality and morbidity, including from wildfire smoke. 
  5. Provide guidance, training, and resources to states, non-profits, and the private sector to adopt national disaster data standards and facilitate seamless roll-up of disaster vulnerability, damage, and loss data to the federal level thereby enabling accurate monitoring and accounting of community resilience in inclusive and equitable ways. 

The Open Disaster Data Initiative will need a budget and capacity commitment to streamline disaster data collection and sharing to bolster whole-of-nation disaster resilience for at least three societal and environmental outcomes. First, the Initiative will enable enhanced data sharing and information coordination among federal, state, local, and Tribal agencies, as well as with universities, non-profits, philanthropies, and the private sector. Second, the Initiative will allow for longitudinal monitoring of cascading disaster impacts on community well-being and ecosystem health, including a better understanding of how disasters impact poverty rates, housing trends, local economic development, and displacement and migration trends, particularly among socially and historically marginalized communities.  Finally, the Initiative willinform the prioritization of policy and program investments for inclusive, equitable, and just disaster risk reduction outcomes, especially in socially and historically marginalized communities, including rural communities.

Develop a federal framework to measure and evaluate the socio-ecological impacts of wildfire

Leana Weissberg, Associate Specialist, UC Berkeley; Ken Alex, Director, Project Climate, UC Berkeley 

In the face of the wildfire crisis, federal agencies must work together to ensure that historic investments reach their full potential to protect people, property, ecosystems, and cultural resources. At present, federal agencies lack a comprehensive framework for evaluating wildfire’s socio-ecological impacts and efforts to mitigate them. While the importance of evaluating wildfire impacts is widely recognized and smaller scale efforts are underway, agencies don’t currently have a coordinated data sharing and reporting strategy for wildfire impacts. 

We propose that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) convene federal fire agencies to develop a consistent and regionally appropriate framework for assessing the socio-ecological impacts of wildfire using metrics, benchmarks, and evaluation criteria. 

Current federal agency efforts to gather, report, and evaluate the impacts of wildland fire are fragmented and siloed. In some cases, datasets conveying important information (e.g. fire severity and post-fire debris-flow assessments) exist but are not systematically reported. In others, data representing one aspect of wildfire impacts are reported in isolation, limiting their use in decision-making. For example, data on burned acres and wildfire emissions are rarely combined with Census data to estimate wildfire’s public health impacts.

As fire risk reduction investments reach historic levels, a systematic approach to evaluating and mitigating wildfire impacts is critical. By synthesizing and reporting data otherwise produced and evaluated in isolation, a more comprehensive framework will improve our collective understanding of the totality of wildfire impacts, where impacts are most severe, where they are ecologically beneficial, and how they evolve.

Federal departments and agencies involved in wildland fire management have acknowledged the importance of using the best available science and measuring performance. As two of the leading federal fire entities, the US Forest Service and Department of Interior recognize the need to employ the best available science for priority setting. Additionally, strategic planning documents from other federal fire entities identify the need for new performance measures and dashboards (DHS) for equitable disaster recovery and reformed climate threat information delivery (DOC) for improved outcomes in underserved communities. The proposed framework would create connected governmental initiatives and resources to reduce redundancy, build a more complete understanding of wildfire’s socio-ecological impacts, and ensure coordinated and comprehensive reporting on progress toward impact mitigation. All federal departments and agencies whose work touches wildland fire should be involved in this effort, including: DHS, DOC, DOE, DOI, DOT, DHS (including the CDC and NIH), USDA, EPA, and NSF. 

We recommend that Congress take the following steps to implement this framework: 

A successful framework will require funds for coordination (staffing, data collection efforts, scoping digital infrastructure requirements, and reporting) as well as implementation (expanding data collection and building digital infrastructure). Teams comprising one GS-13 and three GS-11 staff from each department involved in the effort would cost approximately $3 – $3.3 million per year. Alternatively, framework development could utilize term-length personnel, for example via the U.S. Digital Service.

Improving safety and efficiency of wildfire suppression with advanced UAS

Daniel Wholey, Rain Industries

Uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) have diverse uses in wildland fire management, including real-time fire mapping, delivering supplies to responders, conducting backburns and prescribed fires, and even providing artificial rainfall for fire suppression. Congress has directed the Department of Interior (DOI) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand the use of UAS in wildland fire management operations through legislation such as the Dingell Jr. Act. Security concerns raised in 2020 temporarily halted existing UAS programs and hampered the development and integration of this technology.

Congress, DOI, and USDA should fully resume implementation of the UAS program outlined in the Dingell Jr. Act and include new funding opportunities to promote the development of domestic UAS technology for wildland fire suppression and other management needs.

Fire agencies in the United States effectively use small UAS for conducting prescribed fires and wildland fire mapping. While small UAS have provided significant value for fire agencies, we believe that large UAS, which are currently underutilized, can dramatically improve safety and efficiency of fire mapping and suppression efforts. Other groups have demonstrated the role that larger, more advanced UAS can play in wildfire management and response. In 2018 the California National Guard used an MQ-9 Reaper, a remotely-piloted large UAS, to map wildfires in real time and send live video to operational facilities, providing critical situational awareness. Lockheed Martin and KAMAN demonstrated cargo and water drops from the K-MAX helicopter. Rain Industries [author Daniel Wholey is employed by Rain Industries] is integrating with third party early detection networks and automating large UAS to respond rapidly to wildland fire ignitions.

The Dingell Jr Act directed the DOI and USDA to expand UAS programs and assess new technology, including large UAS, across a range of management operations to accelerate the deployment and integration of UAS in Department operations. Implementation of the Act was challenged in 2020 when the Trump administration grounded drones over fears that sensitive data was sent to the China-based manufacturers, where it could be accessed by the Chinese government. Progress has been made on several fronts since this setback. DOI effectively lifted the drone operations ban in December of 2022. Over $600 million from recent appropriations is reserved for preparedness and suppression, some of which can be used to advance UAS programs.

Given mandates from Congress and the continuing security concerns associated with foreign UAS technology, we believe that the solution is to expand domestic research, development, and production of large UAS for wildfire management operations.


DOI and USDA should resume implementation of the Dingell Jr. Act and include an initiative to promote domestic research, development, and production of large UAS, such as helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft, for wildfire management operations, particularly suppression. This initiative should include innovative funding mechanisms such as prize competitions, milestone-based payment programs, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).

Congress should ensure appropriate resources for the initiative, estimated at $30 million based on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) FY22-26 National Aviation Research Plan.


Establish a Tribal ranger program to fund permanent land stewardship opportunities for Tribal communities

Chris Adlam, PhD, Oregon State University

Due to historic disenfranchisement and current socioeconomic conditions, many members of Tribal Nations currently lack the resources and time needed to steward their ancestral lands in the same manner as generations before them have done for millenia. This lack of opportunity has contributed to negative outcomes for Tribal communities, including compromised forest health on ancestral lands, entrenched poverty on reservations, and the erosion of vital, intergenerational Traditional Ecological Knowledge. 

Congress should allocate funds to Tribal Nations and Tribally-led organizations to create and define programs, modeled on Australia’s Indigenous Ranger Program or Canada’s Indigenous Guardians Program, that provide stable funding for long-term employment opportunities, training, and equipment for Tribes to carry out land stewardship activities, including cultural burns, post-fire monitoring, and ecological restoration.

Canada and Australia’s programs create long-term and short term employment opportunities for members of Tribal nations and organizations, and they have helped develop a workforce dedicated to restoration and wildfire mitigation. These programs have empowered Indigenous groups to facilitate effective stewardship of the land, build long-lasting relationships, and better transfer intergenerational knowledge. For example, Indigenous Ranger groups in Australia also reported several broader benefits for the long disadvantaged areas communities they operate within, including “safer communities, strengthened language and culture, an ability to find meaningful employment, increased respect for women, and more role models for younger people.” Similar programs in Australia have seen returns on investment of upward of $3.50 per $1.00 invested

By following these successful models, the federal government can create economically beneficial opportunities for Tribal nations and organizations to steward forests on their ancestral lands. This program could focus on long-term opportunities to maximize the benefit of place-based, intergenerational knowledge and wisdom. The United States Tribal Ranger program has the potential to provide a high return on investment by protecting wildland urban interface communities and infrastructure, safeguarding watersheds and air quality, and providing needed economic benefits for Indigenous participants, their communities, and other communities in the landscapes within which they serve. 


We recommend that Congress consider: 

Tribes and Indigenous-oriented organizations could also decide to utilize the program and its funding to create apprenticeship programs (such as those recommended here) focused on conserving and implementing place-based knowledge to steward ancestral lands. If necessary, this program could be launched as a pilot project with additional funds allocated at a later date. 

Through this initiative, the federal government would rightfully recognize and elevate the role of Indigenous practitioners, who have long held deep expertise on fire but who have been continually marginalized. The program would therefore be an important step in correcting centuries of persecution and flawed forest management. 

Expand corps programs for wildfire mitigation and healthy forests

Irva Hertz-Piccioto, Professor and Director, Environmental Health Sciences Center University of California, Davis 

Dead and sick trees and thick vegetative debris in our forests are fueling megafires and magnifying their frequency, intensity, and destructiveness. Fire suppression alone has cost the U.S. between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion annually since 2012. Suppression costs amount to only a small fraction of the full costs of wildfire, which include economic, infrastructure, ecosystem, health and other costs. Fixing this problem will require restoring forest health throughout the country through a massive increase in the wildland firefighting workforce, particularly those trained in mitigation and resilience.

To address the growing wildfire challenge and engage youth in wildland fire careers, Congress and federal fire agencies should expand on and better leverage the Corps program model across the United States.

Investments in a workforce prepared to address the nation’s wildland fire challenges are already underway. For example, the DOI Office of Wildland Fire and the US Department of Agriculture are using funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support a “more permanent workforce capable of fire response and mitigation work on a year-round basis.” Professionalizing the wildland fire workforce to address longer fire seasons and preparing these workers to support mitigation efforts is critical to building a more resilient landscape. However, this alone is not sufficient to meet the magnitude of our forest health problem.

Corps programs can supplement and complement the development of this more permanent workforce and simultaneously accelerate the pace of hazardous fuels reduction on the ground. Across the country, they are already doing so; for example, the California Conservation Corps’ Forestry Corps (which partners with the US Forest Service) focuses on removing overgrown and dead vegetation as part of wildfire mitigation on state lands. Members receive relevant certifications to prepare them for careers in forestry. AmeriCorps has also supported wildland fire mitigation activities in several regions of the country, including through employing veterans, and provides environmental stewardship opportunities across the US.

Given the enormity of the need and the urgency of reducing hazardous fuels, federal agencies can and should expand support for these models across the nation. Partnerships with state agencies, nonprofit, and community organizations can be leveraged to make these programs more wide-ranging and cost-effective. Expanding these programs will accomplish three core goals: 1) reduce buildup of hazardous fuels 2) broaden the pool of qualified applicants for jobs in federal and state wildland fire management and mitigation and 3) enrich the lives of youth by providing them with hands-on service experiences making a difference for the environment and health.


We recommend that Congress:

We recommend that the USFS, AmeriCorps, and DOI work together to:

Expanded Corps program will dramatically reduce destructive megafires and associated evacuations, provide cleaner air to breathe, and restore forest health across the nation.

It also will endow a generation of youth with new skills preparing them for quality jobs, as well as a meaningful connection to nature, improved morale and mental health, and a brighter future.

Invest in worker-led industries for whole-of-community wildfire resilience 

Shefali Juneja Lakhina, Wonder Labs

Forestry and fire workforce discussions have so far focused on addressing the staffing and retention challenges of federal and state agencies. However, not enough attention is being paid to the enormous yet untapped potential of informal workforce capacities. Private industry, small businesses, and community-based organizations, hire and train thousands of diverse informal workers, including students, volunteers, migrant, incarcerated, and justice-impacted people. Spurring increased investment in this fast-growing informal workforce presents the shortest and most sustainable path to meeting national wildfire resilience and climate mitigation goals.  Growing a diverse worker-led forest and fire industry can also help launch previously uncharted industries that are adaptive and responsive to local needs in a changing climate. 

The Biden-Harris Administration should launch an ‘Investing in worker-led industries for whole-of-community wildfire resilience’ program that supports innovative, future-ready, and tech-forward solutions from private industry, small businesses, and community-based organizations working on the frontlines of wildfire impacts. Over the next five years, at least $250 million should be invested in creating a worker-led forestry and fire industry to address the entire lifecycle of workforce development from education, training, and certification, to building resilient community infrastructure that includes family-sustaining housing, and enabling public health and whole-of-community wellbeing.   

Several federal, state, and local efforts to train and certify more forestry and fire workers are already underway. While increased training and certification is one obvious solution to the current workforce shortage, recent studies reveal that addressing barriers related to pay parity, decent housing, mental health, and career-track pathways, will also be essential to build a robust and sustainable forest restoration workforce. Yet, addressing these entry points for federal and state agencies will not necessarily lead to place-based, worker-owned, and community-centered solutions that sustain care for informal sector workers who live and work in the wildland-urban interface and intermix communities across the western United States. Supporting the creation of thousands of small business opportunities presents a high-road to address both the demand and supply side of the current workforce problem in equitable and sustainable ways.  

Building on the Justice40 directive, there is a significant opportunity to invest in most-impacted communities, including Indigenous communities, rural communities, and low-income communities that house students, volunteers, migrant, and incarcerated workers. This investment will spur new worker-owned and worker-led industries––in wildfire risk assessment, home hardening, defensible space, fuels reduction, prescribed burns, woody mass industries, biofuels, timber, fire detection and response, insurance, smoke management, clean air structures, post-disaster reconstruction, and restoration. Instead of building these industries in siloes, this proposal would spur an interdependent network of place-based, worker-owned small businesses that can contribute to resilient local infrastructure and whole-of-community well-being. 

Investment in wildfire resilience must be considered a public good: an investment in the nation’s workers, community infrastructure, and local industry. Past initiatives such as the effort to build affordable housing for farmworker families, and ongoing initiatives, such as the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s Forest Futures Program, the Sierra Forest Entrepreneurs Program, and California’s Climate Catalyst Revolving Loan Fund, provide precedents for public-private-people-philanthropic partnerships to bring novel solutions to a cascading crisis.  Capital for this program can be blended in ways that enable worker-owned cooperatives to solve the workforce gap equitably, and foster resilient community infrastructure, including family-sustaining housing. This, in turn, can generate new local industries—not only in wood products but also in related products and services that can spur a much larger wildfire resilience economy.


The Biden-Harris Administration should invest in the creation of a new worker-led forestry and fire industry that supports the creation of resilient local infrastructure and enables whole-of-community wildfire resilience. Specifically, Wonder Labs recommends the following actions: 

Build on the Good Jobs Challenge, the U.S. Department of Commerce should pilot entrepreneurship hubs that provide at least $150m in agile capital and mentorship to trained forestry and fire workers to start up small businesses, procure equipment, create resilient local infrastructure, and contribute to multi-scalar wildfire resilience goals. These hubs should be inclusive and non-discriminatory, including for people from incarcerated and justice-impacted backgrounds.

The Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture should together invest at least $60m in providing agile capital to diverse land and fire stewardship practitioners, including Indigenous fire practitioners, ranchers, and farmers, all who are already contributing to land and habitat restoration on Tribal and private lands, and need investments to scale capacities, equipment, and local infrastructure. 

The U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management should work with relevant state agencies and private industry across the western United States to create career-pathways, including small business opportunities, for formerly incarcerated and justice-impacted individuals. Investing at least $25m in piloting such an initiative could enable effective reintegration with communities on release and contribute to greater social, economic, and environmental outcomes. Specifically, learning from the California experience

Build on the Civilian Climate Corps, the Bureau of Land Management, with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, should invest at least $15m in co-facilitating youth-led forestry and fire programs, including sustained outreach to diverse young Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), women, people who identify as LGBTQQIA2S+, and justice-involved people in various stages of career training and eligibility. Specifically:

Invest in workforce development that empowers Indigenous experience and knowledge and supports marginalized communities

Ryan Reed, Member of the Karuk Tribe; Indigenous Fire Practitioner; FireGeneration Collaborative; and Kyle Trefny, FireGeneration Collaborative

As the White House acknowledged in recent guidance, Traditional Ecological Knowledge has been “historically marginalized in scientific communities and excluded from research and academic resources, funding, and other opportunities.” The field of wildland fire is no exception: Traditional Ecological Indigenous Knowledge Systems have been relegated to the periphery of fire mitigation and management leadership, preventing Cultural Fire Practitioners from having their years of experience in cultural fire recognized by the credentialing systems.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group should develop curriculum and qualification standards to recognize Traditional Ecological Knowledge systems and take further action to address systemic barriers to participation in the wildland fire management workforce. 

Cultural Fire Practitioners face barriers to partnering with the federal fire management workforce and taking on leadership roles, despite decades of knowledge and practice. These barriers not only  exacerbate oppression, relegating Traditional Ecological Knowledge as lesser, but prevent otherwise qualified leaders from contributing to current mitigation and management structures. 

Women and elders often serve as leaders and teachers in Indigenous communities, stewarding and passing down Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Unfortunately, women face barriers to full inclusion and advancement in the male-dominated wildland fire workforce. For example, one Forest Service survey found that three in four women report having “felt out of place at work because of their gender” and that women in leadership roles “face challenges finding respect.” One third of surveyed Forest Service employees believed that personal characteristics hindered career advancement in wildland fire. 

These systemic barriers must be overcome to create pathways for more inclusive fire management leadership involving Indigenous women and elders, and supporting marginalized groups in the wildland fire space. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group, which establishes operations, positions, and qualification standards across agencies in wildland fire, should take further action to foster a wildland fire workforce and culture that reflects the full diversity of knowledge and experience that America has to offer. 


To ensure that existing workforce development programs incorporate Indigenous knowledge, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group should: 

To remove systemic barriers to inclusive fire management work culture and leadership, agencies should leverage their jurisdiction and that of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to:  

Support the ecological fire management workforce of the future through investments in education for youth and communities

Ryan Reed, Member of the Karuk Tribe; Indigenous Fire Practitioner; FireGeneration Collaborative; and Kyle Trefny, FireGeneration Collaborative

Wildland fire doesn’t just affect wildland – it puts livelihoods, physical safety, and treasured cultural resources at risk. Despite the danger fire presents, local communities are often left out of discussions and development when it comes to fire management policy. In this gap is a critical opportunity: a younger generation eager to facilitate transformational shifts to protect their communities and local land.

Congress should invest in youth programs that in the short-term provide a trained workforce to supplement agency capacity, and in the long-term, provide a pathway for a life-long career in fire management. 


We recommend that Congress: 

Directly Fund Tribes to Create and Implement Land Stewardship Initiatives

Nina Fontana, PhD, University of California, Davis

Across the United States, Tribal nations and organizations have the knowledge and will to lead cultural and prescribed burns. Unfortunately, they are consistently limited by (a) insufficient funds, and (b) burdensome regulatory requirements that often prove overly burdensome to comply with. These two issues are connected. Tribal practitioners are often unable to obtain federal grants for land stewardship purposes because they do not have the capacity to find and apply for them, to compete with state agencies and organizations in the application process, and to comply with the grant requirements, which can conflict with Cultural Fire traditions in fundamental ways.

Congress should appropriate discretionary funds directly to Tribal nations and Tribally-led organizations for fire hazard reduction in order to decrease the administrative capacity needed for Tribes to compete for grants. The funds will be dispersed by regional Tribal liaisons, who will gather and utilize input from local actors to direct grants.

Tribal governments and organizations require direct grant funding to exercise their sovereignty in a rightfully unencumbered manner. When Tribal governments and organizations are provided with adequate funding and are able to direct its usage, Cultural Fire Practitioners are able to design cultural fire projects that fit their unique traditions and local plant communities contained within their lands. In addition, by giving Tribes greater discretion over funds, the federal government would a) decrease the regulatory burden on Tribes, and b) provide greater recognition of cultural burning as a uniquely valuable form of land restoration and place-based knowledge, instead of categorizing the practice as an often-overlooked subset of prescribed burning.

Most importantly, direct funding would allow Tribal governments and organizations to shift crucial capacity away from time-intensive administrative tasks and towards stewarding their ancestral lands. Tribes could expand their fire practitioner workforce, treat larger areas of land, and better conserve important natural and cultural resources.

We recommend that Congress: 

By drawing upon the expertise of communities and Cultural Fire Practitioners, the Tribal liaisons would be able to target funds to groups and landscapes that have the greatest need, ensuring that federal resources are utilized in an effective manner each year.

It is time for the federal government to recognize the deep expertise of Tribes in fire management. By giving Tribes greater influence in determining the use of funds for preventative and mitigative activities, Congress would bring funding structures in line with the rightful sovereignty of Tribes, and it would protect communities and natural resources across the country by clearing the path for more beneficial fire. 

About these recommendations

Recommendations below include ideas targeted to both Congressional and Executive Branch. The Commission may wish to consider whether Congress has a role in encouraging or supporting Executive Branch changes described here; additionally, we plan to share these recommendations with Executive Branch actors, including the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) and the White House Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group, for their consideration.

A Note on Recommendation Attribution

Note that each of the recommendations below stands alone and is attributed to a specific contributor or team of contributors. The recommendations below do not necessarily reflect the views of the full cohort. Additionally, the list of recommendations as a whole also does not necessarily reflect the views of the full cohort and does not constitute a consensus.


CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

DHS: Department of Homeland Security 

DOC: Department of Commerce

DOI: Department of the Interior 

EPA: Environmental Protection Agency 

FEMA: Federal Emergency Management Agency

HHS: Department of Health and Human Services 

NIH: National Institutes of Health 

NSF: National Science Foundation 

UAS: Uncrewed Aerial Systems

USDA: United States Department of Agriculture 

USFS: United States Forest Service 

USGS: United States Geological Survey 

118th Congress: National Security

The 21st century will be shaped by the US-China strategic competition. The United States and China are locked in a battle for global power, influence, and resources, and are fighting for control of the world’s most important geopolitical regions, including the Indo-Pacific and Africa. They are also vying for leadership in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, quantum computing, and cybersecurity. This competition is not just about economic dominance; it is also about ideology and values. To ensure that we can lead in today’s world, the United States must innovate. If we don’t, we may fall behind.

Below, we provide concrete, actionable policy proposals to help the 118th Congress meet this moment. These proposals will protect our troops, cultivate an agile and effective military, and develop a national security industrial base that allows America to lead in critical emerging technologies.

Medical Readiness. To support our troops, Congress should take steps to maintain military medical readiness. Generally, at the start of a given war, the American battlefield mortality rate is higher than it was at the end of the previous war, suggesting that military medical capabilities erode between wars. This erosion is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops. To better protect our troops, Congress should direct the Department of Defense to expand military-civilian partnerships (MCPs) to pursue a national goal of eliminating preventable deaths, as detailed in the above memo.

Cultivating a 21st Century National Security Innovation Base. The National Security Commission on AI warned that a digital-talent deficit at the Department of Defense (DoD) represents the greatest impediment to the U.S. military’s effective embrace of emerging technologies. To address this challenge:

Combating Increasing Global Threats. Many threats to national security can only be effectively countered by working with allies. To effectively combat such challenges, we must strengthen U.S. Engagement in International Standards Bodies. The U.S. should also lead in the formulation and ratification of a global treaty on artificial intelligence in the vein of the Geneva Conventions, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to establish guardrails and protections for the civilian and military use of AI, as recommended by the Future of Defense Task Force.

Increasing Military Efficiency. Greater military efficiency can also be achieved by cutting down on unnecessary expenses. We can save billions on the U.S. nuclear deterrent by directing the Pentagon to wind down its current efforts to deploy an entirely new missile force, instead extending the life of our current arsenal of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).

Appropriations Recommendations

To protect American technological advantage and compete with China across all aspects of America’s national security strategy:

Return to introduction

118th Congress: Education & Workforce

Amid growing global competition in emerging technologies, increasing adoption of automation and artificial intelligence, and economic and national security trends upended by the pandemic, the United States is facing a generational challenge. In the labor market, major shifts that were once the product of future-casting are now squarely upon us, demanding a strategic approach to help the modern workforce adapt, and ensure the education system fosters the next generation of innovators.

Individuals in the STEM workforce have made substantial contributions to the nation’s innovation, growth and technological competitiveness, and will continue to be at the core of the economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM employment is projected to increase by 11 percent from 2020 to 2030. The Department of Defense and leading experts agree that the future of national security relies on advanced technologies such as artificial Intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, quantum computing and robotics, all of which require a strong STEM education pipeline. Unfortunately, STEM education trends in the United States have not kept up. According to the World Economic Forum, China had 4.7 million STEM graduates in 2016, India had 2.6 million STEM graduates, but the US had 568,000. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results reported that the average score for 9-year-old students fell 7 percentage points between 2020 and 2022, representing a 2 decade backslide in performance. And a 2021 National Academies review finds that only 22 percent of American high school graduates are proficient in science, with the average elementary classroom devoting less than 20 minutes per day to science, and 69% of elementary teachers say they are not well prepared to teach science.

The 118th Congress must act in this historic convergence of economic and educational demands. Much as the nation once rallied around its SPUTNIK moment and the Space Race, we now have an opportunity to reverse current education and workforce trends through a series of strategic investments.

Fostering a competitive job market and a strong economy. The United States built the 20th century in part through investments in education and training pathways to quality, economically-sound jobs. But today, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute survey of 750 executives, almost 30 percent of respondents perceived the skills gap to be the biggest challenge their companies are confronting.

To help American workers adapt and upskill, Congress and federal agencies should implement training and transition strategies for high-tech sector-specific workforces, such as in the fields of quantum computing, clean energy transition, or semiconductors, as was the intent of the CHIPS for America Workforce and Education Fund included in the CHIPS and Science Act. Congress should also leverage existing programs for work-based learning and retraining by reauthorizing and modernizing federally-registered apprenticeships. Similarly, effective government programs such as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program should be revisited and reformed to promote worker upskilling and assistance. Congress should also ensure robust appropriations for the Workforce Innovation Fund authorized by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Further, the modern labor market calls for still bolder reimagining of workforce training opportunities. Just as the nation recognizes the value to national security, energy, and health presented by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) model, so too should we adapt this model to prioritize worker training at scale through an ARPA for Labor.

Amid a backdrop of historic and controversial layoffs from giants within the tech industry, Congress should take steps to ensure competitive labor markets for all Americans, through increased oversight of overly restrictive non-disclosure agreements and suffocating non-compete agreements that diminish labor mobility and competition.

Strengthen STEM Education & Training Pipelines to Compete Globally. The ability of employers and workers to compete on the global stage is inextricably linked to the education and training students receive today. But as mentioned above, the system is slipping. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that our education system is failing to produce enough graduates with critical STEM and technical skills, while results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate that US students continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math, and science. This stunts employers’ ability to hire and workers’ ability to secure higher-paying jobs. 

Fortunately, Congress put STEM education reform at the core of the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, which authorizes new and expanded investments in STEM education and training at all schooling levels. One of the major priorities of the new Congress should be to follow through with full funding for CHIPS and Science education programs at NSF and other science agencies at authorized levels. This includes $2.5 billion in FY 2024, and $13 billion total over five years, for the NSF STEM Education directorate (see more details below). These programs scale up research and innovations in preK-12 instruction, in addition to bolstering support for R&D to improve STEM education at undergraduate and community colleges, and other scholarship & fellowship programs.

The Act also tasks the NSF to update the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) by increasing the number of science and engineering graduate fellows supported annually, by increasing the cost education allowance, and by recruiting a more diverse pool of applicants. As was recommended by the Trump Administration’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), expanding the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a logical and easy way to expand and retain the critical American innovation pipeline. 

To ensure today’s students catch up to their international peers (and that we are already looking ahead to the challenges of the next decade) the US must prioritize R&D in education in a manner similar to fields like medicine and commerce. This requires a strategic investment in the research capacity at the Department of Education, as well as in the basic data infrastructure that will allow parents and districts to understand how their students are faring in comparison to their domestic and global peers.

Appropriations Recommendations

Full Funding for CHIPS and Science STEM Education. As mentioned above, Congress has the critical opportunity to invest in STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act. These programs support vital teacher training and collaboration with the scientific workforce, improved STEM education in afterschool programs, and a dedicated focus to diversify STEM fields through higher education programs. The full authorization for NSF Stem Education is $2.5 billion in FY 2024, which includes the following top-level programmatic investments: 

Other Strategic Investments in Economic Security. In addition to the initiatives laid out in CHIPS and Science, there are several other high-leverage investments Congress can make. Note: the top four recommendations are from the Alliance for Learning Innovation, a coalition advocating for research-based innovations in education, of which FAS is a member.

Return to introduction

118th Congress: Ensuring Energy Security

Recent crises, such as the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, have led to volatile fossil fuel prices and raised national concerns about energy security. The growing frequency of blackouts across the country due to extreme weather points to an increasingly vulnerable and aging electric grid. Grid capacity right now is incapable of supporting the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects that can generate clean, reliable, domestic energy. Further, as global competition rises, the United States finds itself overly reliant on foreign manufacturing and supply chains for these very technologies we want to deploy.

In order to improve energy security, affordability, and reliability for everyday Americans, the 118th Congress should act decisively to strengthen our energy infrastructure while leveraging emerging energy technology for the energy system of the future. Below are some recommendations for action.

Transmission Lines. The current U.S. electrical grid is an aging piece of infrastructure with sluggish growth and increasing vulnerability to threats from extreme weather and foreign attacks. The 118th Congress should implement policies to revitalize domestic manufacturing and construction, strengthen national energy security and reliability, and generate new jobs and economic growth. The $83 billion worth of planned transmission projects that the ISO/RTO Board has approved or recommended is projected to add $42 billion to U.S. GDP, create more than 400,000 well-paying jobs, and boost direct local spending by nearly $40 billion. However, the rate of construction for new transmission lines must substantially increase to fully harness the new energy economy and achieve ambitious emissions reductions.

High voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines are particularly important for connecting renewable energy producing regions with low demand, such as the Southwest and Midwest, to high demand regions. At these distances greater than 300 miles, HVDC transmission lines transmit power with fewer losses than AC lines. HVDC lines can also avoid some of the challenges to AC transmission line development because they can be buried underground, eliminating resident concerns of visual pollution and avoiding vulnerability to extreme weather. Further, if HVDC lines are built along existing rail corridors, their construction only requires negotiation with the seven major American rail companies rather than a myriad of private landowners and federal land management agencies. Congress took an important first step to advancing HVDC technology by directing DOE to develop an HVDC moonshot initiative on cost reduction, as part of the FY 2023 omnibus bill. Now, the 118th Congress can further support this goal by working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to eliminate regulatory obstacles preventing the private sector from building more of these lines along existing corridors. Congress should also create federal tax credits to stimulate domestic manufacturing and construction of HVDC transmission, as well as transmission line construction in general

Manufacturing. To spur domestic manufacturing capabilities and regain competitive advantages in clean energy technologies, the 118th Congress should fund a new manufacturing-focused branch of DOE’s highly effective State Energy Program (SEP). Congress can double down on this action by scaling investments in domestic capacity to manufacture key industrial products, such as low-carbon cement and steel.

Workforce. Our nation needs a workforce equipped with the skills to build a robust energy economy. To that end, Congress could provide the Department of Energy (DOE) with $30 million annually to establish an Energy Extension System (EES). Modeled after the USDA’s Cooperative Extension System (CES), and in partnership with the DOE’s National Labs, the EES would provide technical assistance to help institutions and individuals across the country take full advantage of emerging opportunities in the energy economy, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), installation and maintenance of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, geothermal power, and more. 

Permitting Reform. In order to improve government efficiency, reduce costs, and enable the construction of new infrastructure for the clean energy transition, the 118th Congress should pass legislation on permitting reform to improve National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance timelines. These reforms should include:

Zero-Emission Fueling Stations. Zero-emission vehicles powered by electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cells are the future of American auto manufacturing. The 118th Congress should pass key legislation to provide the federal government and states with the authorities and resources necessary to build a nationwide network of zero-emission fueling stations, so these new vehicles can refuel anywhere in the country. This includes:

Electricity Markets. Power grids are being transformed from simple, fixed energy sources and points of demand to complex webs that feature distributed energy storage, demand response, and power quality factors. “Qualifying facilities” are a special class of small power production facilities and cogeneration facilities created by the Power Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) of 1978 with the right to sell energy or capacity to a utility and purchase services from utilities while being relieved of certain regulatory burdens. The definition of “qualifying facilities” should be expanded beyond power generation facilities to include households and businesses that provide grid services (e.g., feeding power back to the grid during times of peak energy demand). This would ensure that utilities properly compensate customers if they supply these services, thus allowing individual Americans to participate in electricity markets and spurring the adoption of novel clean-energy technologies.

Geothermal Energy. The Earth’s crust holds more than enough untapped geothermal energy to meet needs. Yet, only 0.4% of U.S. electricity is generated by geothermal energy. There’s a major opportunity to leverage this emerging domestic source for U.S. consumers. Congress should support the Geothermal Earthshot and drive innovation by: 

A policy memo on Empowering the Geothermal Earthshot is forthcoming from FAS.

Appropriations Recommendations

Return to introduction