White House wants to increase U.S. R&D spending, influence after congressional setbacks

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The Biden administration has proposed increasing federal spending on research and development among civilian agencies to $86 billion in fiscal 2023, up from an estimated $79.7 billion in fiscal 2022.

The 7.9% year on year increase would see $7.8 billion go to the Department of Energy Office of Science, in part, for artificial intelligence and quantum information science (QIS) computing insights into climate change and $880 million to the National Science Foundation’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships.

Proposed increases in funding for AI and quantum represent the White House‘s effort to establish the U.S. as the global leader in emerging technologies in its competition with China, following congressional setbacks due to protracted, partisan infighting over passing the fiscal 2022 budget.

“Earlier this month, the Congress reached a bipartisan agreement to fund the government for 2022, ending a damaging series of short-term continuing resolutions and taking a first step to reinvest in research, education, public health and other core functions of the government,” reads the budget proposal.

The White House budget could prove a second step with DOE Office of Science funding also proposed for data, analytics and computational infrastructure for pandemic preparedness. Meanwhile, DOE’s AI & Technology Office would receive a $1 million increase to $3 million in annual funding.

Funding for NSF’s TIP Directorate would expedite the development of emerging technologies like trustworthy AI, high-performance computing, QIS, robotics, communications and cybersecurity.

The White House further proposes $187 million for National Institute of Standards and Technology standards development around AI, quantum and biotechnology to increase their adoption commercially — including $8 million for international standards development around emerging technologies.

Biden’s administration is calling for $81.7 billion over five years to fund the Department of Health and Human Services’ public health response to biological catastrophes, setting a goal of producing effective vaccines and therapeutics within 100 days of identifying a pathogen. That money would go toward expanding public health laboratory capacity, domestic and global threat surveillance, and telehealth coverage under Medicare.

The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development would also see $6.5 billion over five years for global pandemic and biological threat preparedness including research and development around preventing, detecting and responding to COVID-19 variants and other disease outbreaks.

In the immediate term, the White House requested $5 billion for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health seeking cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes breakthroughs.

“With an initial focus on cancer and other diseases, such as diabetes and dementia, this major investment would drive transformational innovation in health technologies and speed the application and implementation of health breakthroughs,” reads the budget proposal.

Together ARPA-H and the National Institutes of Health would receive $49 billion for research and development if the Biden budget is passed, though Congress will most certainly make substantial revisions across the board.

NASA would receive $2.4 billion for Earth-observing satellites to conduct climate research and see its space technology research and development portfolio grow to $1.4 billion The White House further proposes $187 million for National Institute of Standards and Technology standards development around AI, quantum and biotechnology to increase their adoption commercially — with $338 million for technologies benefitting commercial space travel and $30 million to continue researching orbital debris.

Overall the budget proposes $17 billion for climate science and innovation with NSF receiving $913 million for researching impacts and $500 million for research and development and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy seeing $700 million for similar work.

The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive $916 million for research and development, largely around pandemic innovations. And the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate could be in line for a “historic” $89 million for lab equipment, IT improvements and a new Detection Science Testing and Applied Research Center developing screening devices for catching homemade explosive threats to transportation systems and public venues — though not without controversy.

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Access, Travel Rules Influence Missionary Vaccine Policies | U.S. News®

By HOLLY MEYER, Associated Press

COVID-19 vaccine refusal rates may be high among white evangelical Christians, but the International Mission Board — which deploys thousands of missionaries — is not hesitant about the shot.

The global agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical Protestant denomination in the U.S., announced this month it is requiring vaccinations for missionaries they’re sending into the field amid the pandemic.

The IMB may be the first U.S. missionary agency known to have such a mandate, according to leaders in the field, as other faith groups approach the issue in a variety of ways including limiting where people can serve and making considerations for uneven global access to the vaccines.

“This is a very common-sense decision,” said Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist who is dean of Mission, Ministry and Leadership at Wheaton College. “Mission-sending agencies from the United States have the real opportunity to be vaccinated, and they’re going to places around the world that don’t.”

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The IMB policy applies to both current and future missionaries as well as some staff members. Among the reasons it cited for the measure are health concerns and the fact that increasing numbers of countries are implementing their own vaccine requirements — some field personnel have reported needing to show proof to board airplanes and subways or enter restaurants and malls.

In a statement announcing the policy, IMB leaders acknowledged that it could be a deal-breaker for some people considering missionary work or currently serving with the organization.

The Rev. Allen Nelson IV, a pastor who leads a Southern Baptist congregation in Arkansas, said he is not against vaccines but is completely opposed to mandates for missionaries.

“This is something that must be left up to a person’s own conscience, research and discussions with a doctor, as well as their particular ministry context,” Nelson told The Associated Press.

Among religious groups that have stopped short of issuing vaccine mandates is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church, which is giving unvaccinated missionaries assignments in their home countries.

The United Methodist Church, for its part, strongly encourages missionaries to get vaccinated but does not require it. That is partly because availability is not consistent around the world, according to Judy Chung, executive director of missionary services for the denomination’s Global Ministries.

“We have discussed how to promote vaccination without making a mandatory requirement,” Chung said, “because some may not have access to that yet.”

The denomination currently has about 240 full-time missionaries serving in 70 countries, and the most recently deployed cohort of about 40 has a vaccination rate around 80%.

“We want to make sure that our missionary population are safe so that they can focus on the mission work that has been assigned to them,” Chung said. “We want to make sure that we are not causing harm as we engage in mission.”

A key question for U.S.-based mission groups is whether they will fall under the Biden administration’s recently announced rule that companies with more than 100 employees must require workers be vaccinated for the coronavirus or undergo weekly testing.

If they do, Ted Esler, the president of Missio Nexus, an association that includes hundreds of missionary agencies in the U.S. and Canada, said about 30% of those agencies could be affected. He thinks they would comply with the federal mandate but said the issue is not currently stirring much discussion.

Ultimately, he noted, organizations’ internal rules may be rendered moot by vaccine entry requirements that many countries have instituted for visitors.

“Whether you have a policy or not,” Esler said, “if you’re going to serve cross-culturally in another country, you’re going to be faced with the government regulation.”

A June survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy decreasing and acceptance growing, but refusal rates holding steady. It also found significant variance of opinion between people from different faith traditions.

White evangelical Protestants had the highest vaccine refusal rate at 24% and among the lowest acceptance rates at 56%. By comparison, acceptance rates stood at 56% for Hispanic Protestants, 65% for Latter-day Saints, 66% for Black Protestants, 69% for other Protestants of color and 74% for white mainline Protestants.

The IMB has had vaccine requirements for other diseases in place since the 1980s, and it says some have chosen to skip international service because of it.

Esler, who served as a missionary in Bosnia in the 1990s with the Pioneers organization, said he had to be inoculated against diseases like diphtheria, polio, tetanus and typhoid before he could go.

Esler wasn’t eager to get a COVID-19 vaccine and is hesitant to advise others to roll up their sleeves. But he got vaccinated because he is continuing to travel.

“From my perspective, this is an issue more because of the fact that it’s COVID-related than it is vaccine-related,” Esler said.

“It’s unfortunate that the COVID vaccine here is controversial and rejected by some,” he added, “when in other places it would be coveted and highly sought-after and they cannot get it.”

___ Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Global Travel Collection is growing its influence: Travel Weekly

Jamie Biesiada

Jamie Biesiada

In the past six months, Global Travel Collection (GTC) has added 70 new independent contractors (ICs) to its ranks, growing at “a more aggressive clip than we were in regular times,” said GTC president Angie Licea.

But Licea’s aim is not to make GTC bigger. She wants the Internova Travel Group luxury division to be more influential.

“For us, this isn’t really about growth. We’re not trying to be bigger,” Licea said. “We’re trying to build our influence. As we’re bringing in advisors, we’re looking at what is this advisor potentially bringing to the company?”

In many cases, GTC is onboarding experienced advisors. The question, Licea said, is, “Can their volume help us leverage?”

When it becomes possible to gather again, a top priority for GTC will be holding a symposium to connect with its top suppliers, Licea said. GTC and the suppliers will work together to figure out what advisors and their consumers most need and how they can collaborate to get travelers on the move again.

Licea’s personal belief is that, going forward, preferred suppliers will become even more important to agencies.

“I do believe that agencies will start to narrow a bit on their focus of their preferred suppliers,” she said. “We cannot be the master of all. Nobody can.”

But in addition to experienced advisors, GTC is also onboarding newbies. 

With no book of business, how can that help advance the goal of becoming more influential?

“That,” Licea said, “is our personal investment in the industry.”

Many who find their way to the industry stay in it for life. As Licea pointed out, it’s a common joke that, once you’re in travel, it’s hard to get out.

“We want to invest to ensure that our environment, travel agencies, are here for the long term,” she said. “That is our investment in our company, in the industry, to help grow people into advisors so that when the next group of advisors retire, we have the infrastructure and that bench set up so people can step in.”

While a number of advisors have left the industry during the pandemic, either by choice or by furlough or layoff, still others have been joining as advisors, despite the current travel environment. 

Licea described it as “kind of like the stock market, where you’re hedging your bet. I think a lot of people have been displaced out of their industries and they’re saying, what can I do?”

A number of people also probably got used to working from home and decided to look for careers that would enable them to keep home offices.

GTC has a number of brands advisors can choose: Protravel International, Tzell Travel Group, Colletts Travel, Andrew Harper, In the Know Experiences, All Star Travel Group and R. Crusoe & Son.

Its ICs choose the brand that most resonates with them. Licea said a number of ICs are actually choosing to use the GTC branding, something she welcomes.

Bookings, especially for 2022, have been returning, Licea said. Spring dates and the holiday season for 2021 have also been popular. Andrew Harper, for instance, had what was likely its best month in January since March 2020, when the pandemic hit, doing 50% of its 2019 volume. 

One word comes to Licea’s mind when she thinks about travel advisors in recent months: nimble. 

For instance, Mexico was selling well recently, until the CDC required all travelers entering the U.S. to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test. Cancellations abounded, but there was a silver lining — instead of canceling travel altogether, Licea said, travelers shifted to Hawaii, part of the U.S. and therefore exempt of the testing requirement upon return.

She is bullish on the return of travel as borders open and restrictions are lifted.

“Our segmentation, we’re fortunate — we have pent-up demand,” she said. “People want to travel, they just want to travel safely and with set protocol.”

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