FY22 budget and COVID relief:
The House and Senate are focused on considering the Biden administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package, which comes on the heels of a more than $900 billion dollar COVID relief package signed into law late last year as part of the FY21 omnibus deal. Senate Republicans have recently countered with a proposed $618 billion package, and votes are expected to start next week while talks are ongoing. Behind the scenes, Congress and the administration are also preparing lists of priorities for a separate package focused more on new infrastructure investments and economic stimulus aimed at boosting job growth. This package will likely be taken up by Congress later in the spring or summer.
The annual federal budget request for the National Science Foundation and all other agencies, which is usually delivered to Congress in the second week of February, will likely be delayed at least two months while the Biden administration revises the documents that were already prepared by the previous administration.
The Senate is now an even 50-50 split, after Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their runoff elections in Georgia. With Vice-President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is the new Senate majority leader, though the rare 50-50 situation also necessitated the negotiation of a power-sharing agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in order to conduct Senate business.
The Senate is now working through the process of confirming President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees and preparing for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, which is scheduled to begin the week of Feb. 8.
White House science team:
President Biden has announced key members of his White House science team. Eric Lander, a genomics medicine pioneer, who was the founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and serve as the presidential science advisor, a position that has been elevated to the Cabinet level for the first time. Alondra Nelson will serve as OSTP deputy director for science and society, and Frances H. Arnold and Maria Zuber will serve as the external co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). They will be the first women to serve as PCAST co-chairs.
White House climate team:
President Biden announced additional members of his climate team in January, including David Hayes as special assistant to the president for climate policy; Cecilia Martinez as senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Maggie Thomas as chief of staff for the Office of Domestic Climate Policy; Sonia Aggarwal as senior adviser for climate policy and innovation; Jahi Wise as senior adviser for climate policy and finance; and Jeff Marootian as special assistant to the president for climate and science agency personnel, working within the Presidential Personnel Office.
Cabinet nominee confirmations:
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week. A committee vote on whether to advance her nomination as secretary of energy to the full Senate for a vote has not yet been scheduled. Separately, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) also appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee last week to consider her nomination to be the secretary of commerce. The committee approved her nomination yesterday, sending it to the full Senate for a vote. President Biden has yet to name his picks to lead NASA and NOAA. For the time being, NASA will be led by Acting Secretary Steve Jurczyk.
Biden’s NOAA political appointees:
Though it is unclear who will be NOAA’s next administrator, President Biden announced his picks for other key NOAA positions, none of whom require Senate confirmation. Karen Hyun, an expert in marine conservation science, will serve as chief of staff. Walker Smith was named general counsel, Letise LaFeir will be senior policy advisor, and Emily McAuliffe will be special assistant to the NOAA administrator.
Biden’s executive order on the climate crisis:
On Jan. 27, President Biden signed an executive order to tackle the climate crisis, restore scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking across the federal government, and re-establish the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Additional details on the order can be found in a fact sheet from the White House.