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US news roundup: 19-25 March


This week: backing for an NSF bill and a call to ease international students’ return

In depth: Science leadership positions are filling up in Joe Biden’s administration, with the US president announcing his pick for the head of Nasa, and Congress confirming the new secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Full story: Biden filling top posts, with picks for space and health roles

Also this week from Research Professional News

Universities condemn anti-Asian racism after Atlanta shootings—Fatal shootings, including of women of Asian descent, prompt outcry against ‘escalating’ racist attacks


Here is the rest of the US news this week…

Former science chiefs endorse bill to reshape NSF

Federal science luminaries have added their support to the Endless Frontier Act, a draft law that would expand the remit and funding of the National Science Foundation. Seven former NSF heads and seven chairs of the National Science Board advisory council signed a letter to the Senate’s political leaders supporting the act. They included France Córdova and Diane Souvaine, the most recent past leaders of the NSF and the NSB, respectively.

More institutions commit to equality drive

Five more institutions have signed up to Sea Change, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s equality, diversity and inclusion drive. The institutions are Eckerd College; Olin College of Engineering; Rutgers University; the University of California, Santa Cruz; and Wayne State University. The initiative, which includes institutional self-assessments to remove barriers to inclusion, now has 12 members in total.

Universities want international students back on campus

Higher education associations have written to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ask them to act now to ensure international students’ visas are processed in time for them to attend courses in person this autumn. The government should commit more resources to visa processing, waive in-person interview requirements and provide travel exemptions for students from the European Union, Ireland and the UK, the associations said.

Falling staff numbers at science agencies

The workforce at government science agencies has shrunk over the past decade, according to a report by Democratic members of the House science committee. Between 2009 and 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency’s workforce declined by nearly 17 per cent, with science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles accounting for around 60 per cent of losses during Donald Trump’s 2016-20 presidency, the report said. Between the EPA, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were nearly 5,000 fewer roles in 2020 than in 2009, it said. The report also found that racial and ethnic minority employment gaps were greater in STEM fields than in the overall government workforce.