Issue 16 (August 4)


Congress Struggling to Reach Agreement on COVID-19 Relief, Potentially Delaying August Recess

Congressional leaders continue to negotiate with the White House on what many suspect could be the final COVID-19 relief bill, and the House, Senate and Trump Administration remain far apart on their preferred approaches. While the House passed a relief bill—the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act—in May, the Senate has only recently introduced its counterpart proposal, the Healthcare, Economic Assistance, Liability, And Schools (HEALS) Act. Though the Senate is scheduled to begin its August recess on Friday August 7, policymakers are reportedly pessimistic about reaching a deal before then. Senate leaders are expected to delay the start of the recess in hopes of reaching a deal the following week. While members of the House have already returned home, Representatives could be called back with 24 hours’ notice to vote on a final package.

The Senate’s coronavirus stimulus package, the HEALS Act, includes supplemental appropriations for federal science agencies, notably $15.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $3.4 billion for the CDC. The House’s HEREOS Act proposed additional funding for NIH ($4.75 billion), CDC ($2.1 billion), and the National Science Foundation ($125 million), among other agencies. Neither bill includes the Research Investments to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act, a bipartisan bill that seeks $26 billion in relief funding to federal science agencies to support non-COVID university-based research that has been impacted by the pandemic.

The Senate HEALS Act does not include language sought by Census stakeholders, and requested by the Administration, to extend the 2020 Census statutorily required deadlines (see related article). The Census Project, of which COSSA is a member, has worked with various partners to craft a sign-on letter urging the Senate to include language that would extend the deadlines by four months. Interested organizations (not individuals) can sign the letter by August 5.

Finally, the Senate COVID package incorporates the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, a bill seeking to address research security concerns, but itself raising concerns within the scientific community about the approach taken (see related article).

Leadership in the House and Senate will continue to work on a COVID-19 compromise over the coming weeks. COVID relief aside, when Congress returns after Labor Day, lawmakers will have fewer than 20 working days to take action on fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, after which lawmakers will head home again in advance of the November elections.

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COSSA Board Seeks Nominations for At-Large Seat

The COSSA Board of Directors is seeking nominations to fill one (1) at-large director seat on the COSSA Board of Directors for the 2021-2023 term. The Board of Directors is comprised of 19 members: 16 representing COSSA’s Governing Member Associations and 3 at-large directors. At-large seats are intended to bring to the table other influential voices with interests touching social and behavioral science research. They may include social science researchers and/or researchers whose work spans disciplinary boundaries, university administrators, professional association leaders, private sector or foundation representatives, or others who would offer a unique perspective to COSSA.

At-large directors serve three-year staggered terms. The term for the open seat runs from January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2023. The COSSA Nominations Committee is tasked with identifying and vetting potential nominees and making recommendations to the full Board of Directors. The Board then votes to invite a nominee to serve as an at-large director, which is followed up by a formal invitation to the selected individual. During its deliberations, the Committee will consider the unique perspectives of each nominee and strive to ensure the Board reflects the diversity of the social and behavioral science enterprise.

The COSSA Board of Directors meets quarterly in Washington, DC for one day (phone and video participation is allowed). Costs associated with an at-large directors’ participation in quarterly Board meetings (i.e. travel expenses) are covered by COSSA. Meeting dates for 2021 have not yet been set, but typically occur in January/February, April/May, September and December.

Other COSSA-related responsibilities between the quarterly meetings are limited unless serving on a committee of the Board.

Please submit your nomination to Wendy Naus at by no later than Friday, August 14. Please include the following information with the nomination:

  • Cover letter that includes the nominee’s name, affiliation, and a statement about what expertise or perspective the nominee would bring to COSSA and the Board of Directors.
  • CV or resume.
  • Statement confirming the nominee’s willingness and availability to serve for the identified term, if chosen.

Self-nominations are welcome. Nominations from underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged.

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August Headlines Webinar to Feature Deep Dive Discussion on the “Psychology of COVID-19” with Dr. Stephen Reicher

headlines bannerCOSSA members are encouraged to sign up for the monthly Headlines webchat on Thursday, August 13 at 2:00 pm Eastern Time. The COSSA team will break down the most important social and behavioral science news from the past month, followed by a deep dive discussion with Dr. Stephen Reicher, Wardlaw Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews and co-author of Together Apart: The Psychology of COVID-19, a free book from SAGE Publishing that “examines the psychology surrounding the current pandemic and makes recommendations for how to do that right thing and with a reasonable hope of deploying the right sort of behavioral science.” Individuals employed by or affiliated with a COSSA member organization or university can register for the webchat here.

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Kenneth Prewitt Answers “Why Social Science?”

why-social-scienceThis week’s Why Social Science? guest post features an article by Kenneth Prewitt, President of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University, who argues that the social sciences can better incorporate ethical frameworks in order to end structural racism. Read it here and subscribe.

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Controversial Research Security Legislation Could Move Forward in COVID-19 Relief Package

The Senate has incorporated the Safeguarding American Innovation Act (S. 3997) into the HEALS Act, the Republican-led Senate version of a new COVID-19 economic relief package (see related article). The Safeguarding American Innovation Act, sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), is sweeping legislation that aims to tighten the security of the U.S. research enterprise against competing governments, most notably the Chinese government, by imposing restrictions on collaborating with foreign entities. However, the bill has been criticized by many in the research community for being too restrictive and for potentially discouraging foreign scientists from working in the United States.

Some of the controversial parts of the legislation include:

  • Expanding the authority of the U.S. Department of State to reject visa applications from anyone seen as tied to a hostile foreign government.
  • Imposing criminal penalties, including jail time, for scientists who fail to disclose ties to a foreign government.
  • Requiring international research partners to comply with U.S. scientific norms.
  • Establishing a new research security oversight body at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The bill follows many of the recommendations listed in a 2019 report produced by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which Portman chairs. The bill has also been signaled to be “a work in progress” by Carper, which may indicate a willingness to amend the legislation before the full Senate vote. Now that the bill is tied directly to the Senate’s COVID-19 package, it could become a bargaining chip in the negotiations currently underway.

Read COSSA’s HOT TOPIC on research security for more information about recent legislation and other research security actions.

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Defense Authorization Bill Goes to Conference with Minerva Funding Intact

The House and Senate are set to begin negotiations on the annual authorizing legislation for the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House passed its bill on July 21, with the Senate following suit on July 23. As previously reported, the bills passed by both chambers included language to prevent the elimination of Defense-wide funding for DOD’s basic social science research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, as has been proposed in the Administration’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2021. The agreement on funding for Minerva in both bills is a positive sign that funding for the program will continue into FY 2021.

Not included in either bill is any version of the Endless Frontier Act (see previous coverage). Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) had introduced it as an amendment to the Senate NDAA, but it was not ultimately brought to the floor.

Conferees have not yet been named, but the NDAA is considered “must-pass” legislation by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. A potential complication to the eventual passage of a conferenced NDAA is the threat of a presidential veto over provisions included in both bills that mandate renaming military bases and facilities named for Confederates. However, both chambers passed their respective bills with more than two-thirds majorities, indicating that a veto of the conferenced bill could be overridden.

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Census Announces Early End to 2020 Operations, Jeopardizing Accuracy of the Count

Census Bureau Director Stephen Dillingham announced that the Census Bureau will cut short its counting operations for the 2020 Census by a full month in order to produce apportionment counts by its legally mandated deadline of December 31, 2020. According to the announcement, the Census Bureau will end field data and self-response collection on September 30, rather than October 31 as previously planned. This change comes months after the Census Bureau itself asked Congress to delay the deadline for producing apportionment counts in order to allow more time to recover from the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the House’s most recent COVID-19 relief package would delay this deadline to give the Bureau more time, the Senate’s does not (see related article).

Although the change appears to be prompted by Congress’s failure to adjust the apportionment deadline, many Census stakeholders see it as part of a broader attempt by the Trump Administration to sabotage efforts to produce a full and accurate count, particularly of minority communities. They point to the protracted battle over the failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the questionnaire as well as President Trump’s recent (likely unconstitutional) order to exclude unauthorized immigrants from apportionment counts. As minority and immigrant communities are among the hardest-to-count populations, a truncated enumeration period would likely result in an undercount of these groups.

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NIDA Seeking Comments on 2021-2025 Strategic Plan

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking stakeholder feedback on the draft version of its upcoming 2021-2025 Strategic Plan. The strategic plan is intended to guide the agency’s research priorities for the next five years by outlining cross-cutting research topics and approaches. NIDA’s draft strategic plan highlights several research topics that are relevant to the social and behavioral science community, including:

  • Identifying and developing approaches to reduce stigma,
  • Identifying and developing approaches to reduce health disparities,
  • Understanding differences based on sex and gender, and
  • Understanding interactions between substance use, HIV, and other conditions such as COVID-19.

Stakeholder feedback will be accepted through August 7, 2020. More information and the draft strategic plan is available on the NIH website.

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Research Applications Increase in Wake of COVID-19 Shutdowns, NIH Finds

A recent blog post from Mike Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), highlights how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected extramural research applications at NIH and how application rates compare to previous years. According to data collected by NIH, the number of R01-equivalent applications received by NIH between May 1 and June 5 of 2020 was 10 percent higher than the same period in 2019. The data also reflects more than a 10 percent increase of applications across all research project grants between 2020 and 2019. In addition to the spike in applications in 2020, the data shows a slightly more gender diverse application pool, with the proportion of 2020 applications with the principal investigators (PIs) reporting more than one gender category on multiple-PI applications increasing from previous years.

The data is consistent with the findings of a May 2020 international survey of scientists, which found that researchers were reporting fewer research hours but reporting more hours performing administrative duties and other activities such as grant applications. Deputy Director Lauer noted that the October 5 application deadline would provide further insight into how research activities will be affected due to many research institutions remaining closed through the typical academic calendar. NIH is expected to report on that data when it is available.

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SEAN Releases New Guidance on Protective Behaviors to Stem COVID-19

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN) (see COSSA’s previous coverage) has released a new rapid expert consultation, Encouraging Adoption of Protective Behaviors to Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19. The guidance, which draws on research from communication, social psychology, and behavioral economics as well as lessons learned from successful public health campaigns such as tobacco prevention and seatbelt use, offers a set of strategies to make adoption of preventive behaviors more likely as well as risk communication strategies. It is available both as a short infographic and as a more detailed report.

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National Academies Launch Study on COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has launched a fast-track study to develop a framework for planning the equitable distribution of vaccines against COVID-19. The study, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is responsible for producing a consensus report that considers the following questions:

  • “What criteria should be used in setting priorities for equitable allocation of vaccine?
  • How should the criteria be applied in determining the first tier of vaccine recipients? As more vaccine becomes available, what populations should be added successively to the priority list of recipients? How do we take into account factors such as:
    • Health disparities and other health access issues
    • Individuals at higher risk (e.g., elderly, underlying health conditions)
    • Occupations at higher risk (e.g., health care workers, essential industries, meat packing plants, military)
    • Populations at higher risk (e.g., racial and ethnic groups, incarcerated individuals, residents of nursing homes, individuals who are homeless)
    • Geographic distribution of active virus spread
    • Countries/populations involved in clinical trials
  • How will the framework apply in various scenarios (e.g., different characteristics of vaccines and differing available doses)?
  • If multiple vaccine candidates are available, how should we ensure equity?
  • How can countries ensure equity in allocation of COVID-19 vaccines?
  • For the US, how can communities of color be assured access to vaccination?
  • How can we communicate to the American public about vaccine allocation to minimize perceptions of lack of equity?
  • What steps should be taken to mitigate vaccine hesitancy, especially among high-priority populations?”

During the open session of the committee’s first meeting on July 27, National Academy of Medicine President Victor Dzau announced that the committee is planning to produce a discussion draft released for public comment by early September, hold a public workshop to collect additional feedback, and issue its final recommendations by early October. The study committee is co-chaired by Helene D. Gayle, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, and William H. Foege, Emeritus Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health, Emory University. More information about the study is available on the National Academies website.

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AAAS Issues Draft Plan to Address Systemic Racism in the Sciences

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has released the first of three draft plans intended to address systemic racism in the sciences, Holding up a Mirror: Demographic Representation in AAAS Functions that Advance Careers. The plan outlines AAAS’s commitment and proposed actions to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion within its operations. Forthcoming draft plans will focus on AAAS programs and initiatives to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in science and engineering and on AAAS actions to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion with the AAAS as an organization. They are expected to be released by mid-September. Comments and suggestions may be submitted to

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