Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: July 2005
AAAS staff testified at a hearing entitled "Detecting Nuclear Weapons and Radiological Materials: How Effective is Available Technology?" held jointly by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack and the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science, and Technology of the Committee on Homeland Security on June 21. The purpose of this hearing was to examine current radiation detection technology, specifically radiation portal monitors, in place at U.S. ports and borders.
Dr. Benn Tannenbaum, Senior Program Associate, AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy, testified that existing monitors for detecting smuggled nuclear weapons components at U.S. ports are "an important first step." But, he added, "More needs to be done to protect the United States from smuggled nuclear weapons" because current portal monitors probably could not detect a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium, even if only lightly shielded. His remarks were based on research conducted for AAAS by two independent experts -- Professors Frank von Hippel of Princeton University and Steve Fetter of the University of Maryland.
While the current generation of passive radiation detectors can identify isotopes such as cesium-137, cobalt-60, or americium-241 -- all potential components of dirty bombs -- highly enriched uranium "is very difficult to detect" using existing passive radiation detectors, he said. Some ports of entry have both active and passive detectors. Better detection might be achieved by increasing sampling times, decreasing the distance between the container and the detector, decreasing background radiation with additional shielding, and adding collimators to the detectors. In addition, future detectors must have better energy resolution, which "will allow one to distinguish harmless radioactive materials, such as kitty litter, from dirty bombs and nuclear weapons," Tannenbaum testified.
Tannenbaum concluded by noting that research into new forms of active detection technology is underway at the national laboratories and in the private sector and could generate new technology that will increase our radiation detection capability. He recommended the implementation of a layered security strategy through safeguarding nuclear material worldwide by expanding the Cooperative Threat Reduction effort and downblending HEU into LEU for use in nuclear power and research reactors.
Mr. Gene Aloise, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office, outlined the role of federal agencies in deploying radiation detection technology and addressed the problems of interagency cooperation and technical shortcomings. Aloise noted that the lack of a coherent, interagency strategy to guide deployment has resulted in the haphazard deployment of the first installations of radiation detection technology by the Departments of Energy, Defense, and State. Greater coordination among these agencies would help deploy the most suitable detection technology to the areas most at risk for nuclear smuggling. On the technical side, he stated that the radiation portal monitors currently in place have limited ability to detect illicit nuclear material, especially shielded nuclear material. In addition, inadequate maintenance and improper user operation have been reported in some cases, further limiting the utility of radiation portal monitors.
Dr. Richard Wagner, Los Alamos National Laboratory, began his statement by pointing out that the key function of radiation detection is deterrence rather than defense. The presence of radiation portal monitors places a great deal of uncertainty in the minds of aspiring nuclear terrorists and could deter them from smuggling nuclear material through fear of detection. Dr. Wagner pointed out that it is possible to improve the quality of radiation detection technology significantly. However, this improvement will develop over a period of several years, and will require a costly "trial and error" process in order to establish adequate standards. He emphasized the importance of detecting nuclear material before it enters U.S. ports and that more attention should be directed towards overseas "forward" detection programs. In this case, intelligence and law enforcement agencies overseas play a critical role.
As a manager with the Security Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Ms. Bethann Ronney has practical experience with radiation portal monitors. Twenty-two RPMs have been installed in the NY/NJ port since February 2004. Ms. Ronney identified the most troubling problem of RPMs to be the high false alarm rate. Approximately 1 in 40 containers that enter the NY/NJ port set off radiation alarms, totaling 150 alarms per day. Most of the false alarms stem from low levels of naturally occurring radiation in everyday goods and products. Nonetheless, Ms. Ronney indicated that these false alarms did not significantly impede the flow of commerce. Furthermore, Ms. Ronney commended the cooperation and training between the NY/NJ Port Authority and DHS.
Full testimony of these witnesses and those in the second panel is available on the commitee's website. - Scott Rowan
Two loosely-organized groups, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF), that perpetrate acts of violence and harassment in an attempt to forward their agendas were the subject of a May 18, 2005 hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) opened the hearing by noting that these groups, which do not maintain a central organization and whose illegal activities are conducted by autonomous individuals or "cells," have been designated the number one domestic terrorist threat by the FBI. That title was not so warmly embraced by Inhofe's colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and the hearing grew heated at times.
Senators James Jeffords (I-VT), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Barack Obama (D-IL) objected to designating ALF/ELF as terrorists. Senator Lautenberg claimed these criminal acts were merely the product of "crazy" individuals. They argued that these acts should be placed in context, maintaining that hate crimes, right wing militias, abortion clinic bombers, and potential attacks against nuclear and chemical facilities should be given a higher priority by law enforcement than ALF/ELF.
John Lewis and Carson Carroll, Deputy Assistant Directors of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, respectively, disagreed. They testified that the threats from right wing militias and hate crimes are less serious than those posed by ALF/ELF in terms of coordination, planning, and geographic range. Further, ALF/ELF are sophisticated users of the Internet, conveying information, encouraging recruits, and posting pictures of the laboratories they have damaged on their web site, constantly changing servers to avoid tracking by law enforcement.
Both witnesses claimed that the problem is getting worse, with Carroll testifying about the increasing use of explosives and incendiary devices, ranging from crudely made to highly technical and electronically ignited. Lewis testified that it is only a matter of luck that no one has been killed by an ALF/ELF attack. Furthermore, the violent rhetoric used by ALF/ELF and their supporters also has grown. Lewis cited a remark by one ALF supporter that if people who kill animals can be stopped only by violence, than it is morally justifiable.
Dr. David Skorton, president of the University of Iowa, provided a perspective of the impact that these activists have had. He testified that in an attack at his university in November 2004, eighteen individuals claiming responsibility on behalf of ALF destroyed and poured acid on equipment and papers and released over 300 animals. "Not only was research disrupted," Dr. Skorton stated, "but the academic activities and careers of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral trainees were impaired, in some cases adding months to the conduct of federally funded, peer-reviewed research." Furthermore, the group posted the names, addresses, and phone numbers of faculty and their spouses, graduate students, and laboratory assistants on the Internet. Calling this "blatant intimidation," Dr. Skorton reported that these individuals are still being harassed, creating an environment of fear for his university's researchers that has permanently altered the campus.
Full details of the hearing are available at the committee website. -Deborah Runkle
The International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2005, H.R. 509, was introduced in February by Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R-OH) and was passed by the Subcommittee on Select Education on June 16. The bill has attracted concern because of its potential to restrict academic freedom. The bill would establish a Higher Education Advisory Board, which would make recommendations that would guide international studies programs to "reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views on world regions, foreign language, and international affairs." Board members would be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Many academics believe that the language in the bill could be interpreted to require universities to teach all points of view on a given subject, even if some of those views are not supported by substantial scholarship.
In response, the Association of American Universities (AAU) and 24 other educational organizations released a statement on academic rights and responsibilities on June 23. Republican leaders of the House Education and the Workforce Committee said that they would include some of the language of the statement in the larger Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation, known as The Graduate Opportunities in Higher Education Act of 2005, H.R. 510. The bill, which reauthorizes the Higher Education Act for FY2006- FY2012, adds math and science teacher training and pedagogy to the list of areas of national need that receive a priority for graduate student aid applications. - Laura Pomerance
After a three-hour impassioned and deeply personal debate, the House of Representatives passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (H.R. 810) on May 24 that loosens federal restrictions on stem cell research. Though the vote (238-194) fell short of a two-thirds majority needed to overturn a presidential veto, it proved that the subject could elicit bipartisan support (and opposition), with 50 Republicans voting in favor and 16 Democrats voting against the legislation.
The bill, championed by moderates Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) and Diana DeGette (D-CA), would essentially change the Administration's policy on the number of embryonic stem cell lines that are available to federally-funded researchers.
The current policy only allows federal researchers access to embryonic stem cells created from excess embryos from in-vitro fertilization clinics derived before August 9, 2001. Since the August 2001 policy, researchers have found that fewer than two dozen cell lines are available and many of those are contaminated with animal cultures. By allowing access to newly created embryonic stem cells that are uncontaminated, researchers hope to advance research into potential therapies for a host of diseases.
The debate on the floor divided Republican and Democrats alike between the scientific promise of stem cell research and the ethical dilemma of an area of research that some view as morally abhorrent.
Proponents of embryonic stem cell research argued that in vitro fertilization clinics routinely create more human embryos than are needed over the course of a fertility treatment and are therefore left with excess embryos that are often simply discarded. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), who is paralyzed, stated, "What could be more life-affirming than using what would otherwise be discarded to save, extend and improve lives?"
Opponents objected to this argument, however, saying that such research would still condone the destruction of embryos. They held that research on stem cells obtained from adults is just as promising and renders embryonic stem cell research unnecessary. Most scientists, however, dispute this claim, citing severe limitations and drawbacks of adult cells.
The House also overwhelmingly passed (431-1) the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 to create a national "bank" of stem cells from umbilical cord blood. The bill, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), was offered as a less controversial alternative to the Castle/DeGette bill. It authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to contract existing cord blood banks to collect 150,000 units of cord blood, and provides the agency with $79 million to maintain and catalogue the blood (similar to bone marrow banks). A similar bill passed the Senate in late June.
The cord blood legislation is an interesting example of a bill being in the right place at the right time. Similar bills had been introduced by Rep. Smith, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and others in the 107th and 108th Congress, but never made it to the floor. As the votes demonstrate, the subject draws bipartisan support, and yet, the bills never drew sufficient attention. It wasn't until the prospect of the Castle/DeGette bill came to the forefront that H.R. 2520 became politically expedient.
Shortly after House passage of H.R. 810, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), cosponsors of a companion bill (S. 471), urged Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to bring their legislation to the floor. Frist has indicated that he will allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote in July. President Bush responded by echoing his threat to use his first veto if the measure reaches his desk, while Brownback (R-KS) stated that he will filibuster the Senate bill if it should come to the floor. - Laura Pomerance
The House Science Committee held a hearing on "The Future of NASA" on June 28. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was invited to answer questions and explain NASA's priorities. Questions at the hearing focused on how well NASA is balancing its human space flight program with its other missions, and whether funds meant for earth and space science research are being used to prepare for human travel to Mars. The Committee members expressed concern about the many changes that are being made in NASA's operations and stated that they expect NASA to be more accountable to Congress.
At the hearing, Griffin made it clear that developing a Crewed Exploration Vehicle that will lead to manned space flight to the moon and beyond was his first priority. He said that more information about NASA's research priorities, plans for human flight, and other programs would be made available by the beginning of September. NASA will continue collecting data from the Voyager satellites, but no decision had been made about whether the Hubble telescope will receive the maintenance it needs. Exploration of Jupiter and its moons with continue, but according to Griffin, Project Prometheus, which would have developed a nuclear-powered unmanned probe of Jupiter, is "too expensive."
Many of the concerns expressed by the Committee were reflected in H.R. 3070, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, which was introduced by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chair of the full Science Committee and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, on June 24. The bill requires NASA to find a balance between its programs, which include human space flight, aeronautics R&D and scientific research in space and earth science. NASA is also required to develop and submit plans to Congress that identify its priorities, restrict costs, and create strategic plans for personnel and facilities.
H.R. 3070 requires NASA to develop four policy documents to describe how it will carry out its missions. NASA must create a national aeronautics policy, which will be completed by the day on which the President's makes his FY2007 budget request. By the same date, NASA must create a report with its science priorities, including budget and personnel needs, and a report with its personnel plan. By the submission of the President's FY 2008 budget request, NASA must develop a plan for managing its facilities.
H.R. 3070 supports the President's initiative for human travel to Mars. The bill states that the space shuttle must be retired by the end of 2010, and that Americans should land on the moon by 2020. The Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will replace the shuttle, should be launched "as close to 2010 as possible." However, the Committee did not set a date for travel to Mars, stating only that a Mars landing should happen "on a timetable that is technically and fiscally reasonable."
The bill authorizes $16.471 billion for FY 2006, the approximate amount approved by the House in its FY05 appropriations bill. While the authorization bill only provides funding levels for one year, it is intended to provide policy guidance for a decade.
During a June 29 markup, the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee amended H.R. 3070 to require that NASA report to the Committee on the possibility of the crew's escape from the CEV, and that NASA's budget request specify how much money is spent on crew safety measures. The subcommittee then voted to send the bill to the full Committee. The Democrats on the committee voted "present" to show their displeasure that they had not been shown the bill until the Friday before the vote. The Democrats also expressed concerns that the bill does not include specific policy or funding guidelines that will help NASA to balance its missions, and does not provide a mechanism that will ensure that funds are spent on projects other than human spaceflight.
The House action follows the introduction of a Senate version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2005, S. 1281, by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) on June 21. The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation bill approved the bill by a unanimous roll call vote on June 23. The bill authorizes funding for NASA for the next 5 fiscal years at levels close to those in the President's budget request for 2006, with increases to keep pace with inflation. The bill is fairly similar to the one introduced in the House. However, unlike the House bill, it encourages NASA to maintain existing commitments to international and scientific partners in the International Space Station and would designate the U.S. portion of the ISS as a national laboratory facility. -Laura Pomerance
In April, the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces addressed the Department of Defense's (DOD) Nuclear Posture Review and the controversial subject of our nation's nuclear capability. The most contentious program raised was the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) program, commonly referred to as a tactical or "bunker-buster" nuclear weapon.
In his testimony before the authorizing committee, Gen. James E. Cartwright, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command for the Marine Corps, framed today's nuclear weapons program in the context of a broad reconfiguration of the Defense Department.
Gen. Cartwright testified that a leading force in shaping U.S. nuclear weapons policy is the Moscow Treaty, signed in 2001 by President Bush, which limits the U.S. nuclear arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by the year 2012. A critical reason for protecting the reliability of the arsenal and the sufficiency of the number of warheads is to sustain target precision to meet emerging needs. Strategic Command (StratCom) continued to argue that hardened, underground bunkers are one area where conventional weapons are not useful, and thus, the RNEP program is being pursued.
Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Sessions (R-AL) challenged the witnesses to refute claims that the RNEP study will disrupt the world's nuclear balance.
Ambassador Linton F. Brooks, Administrator at the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, took up the challenge by elaborating on four classes into which the defense world is currently divided -- three of which would not be affected by the United State's actions. First, he noted, current nuclear powers would not be affected if the United States develops a new nuclear weapon. Second, aspiring nuclear states, like North Korea and Iran, would not be influenced either, as they already feel threatened by the sheer size of our conventional forces. Third, terrorists are unlikely to be deterred regardless of our nation's activities.
The final class, and the only one affected by RNEP development, the Ambassador argued, would be the non-nuclear states who help the United States uphold the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty through their cooperation. Brooks admitted that these nations have reason to worry, but contends the RNEP study alone won't convince any of these nations to go nuclear.
Ambassador Brooks' logic for arguing on behalf of the RNEP study received no arguments from the two Senators presiding over the subcommittee hearing. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), ranking member on the subcommittee, however, noted that the RNEP would not move past its study phase without explicit consent from Congress.
Whether the program will ever reach a study phase is highly questionable if past years are any indication. While the program has met with a soft hand in the Senate it does not necessarily meet with bicameral support.
Congress initially funded the RNEP study at $22 million in fiscal year (FY) 2003 and 2004 combined. In FY 2005, however, the program was not funded. Despite this fact, the Administration's FY 2006 budget request has sought yet again to complete the study, requesting $4 million in FY 2006 and $14 million in FY 2007.
The House has taken a different strategy this year, with the House Armed Services committee shifting funding for the study from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the Department of Defense, and removing the nuclear component from the study in its authorization bill. House appropriators did not provide any DOE funding for the RNEP, and included similar language that "the Department of Defense will conduct a non-nuclear penetrator study at a Department of Defense facility." Senate appropriators provided DOE the requested $4 million for the study and mandated that it be led by the Air Force and conducted at Sandia National Laboratory, a NNSA facility. -Kari McCarron
Since September 11, 2001, the subject of foreign student visa processing has been the topic of numerous hearings held by judiciary, science-related, and government oversight committees. Issues raised have ranged from improving student tracking systems to coordination between the State Department and the newly-created Department of Homeland Security to the impact on universities.
On this latter subject, the university and scientific community has been quite vocal in outlining the negative impacts that visa delays have on attracting the best and brightest students to the nation's institutions of higher learning. In May 2004, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in coordination with the Association of American Universities (AAU) and 20 other organizations, issued a statement outlining recommendations to improve the foreign student visa situation. They focused on suggestions to improve the speed, efficiency, consistency, and clarity of the visa process.
A primary concern was the length of time it took to process applications, with many students and professors having to wait 60-90 days for visa approval. For example, in 2003, it took an average of 67 days for the State Department to conduct Visas Mantis security reviews. The Visas Mantis program reviews applications by country of origin and a technology list to protect against the transfer of dual-use technology to countries of concern.
Since the community statement, many improvements have been made. New visa-processing staffers have been hired by State and DHS, technology upgraded, and websites improved to facilitate sharing of information. According to a February 18, 2005 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, visa processing time has been reduced to less than 30 days. In addition, the State Department has extended Visas Mantis clearance for some foreign students to four years, while researchers and faculty members will be cleared to stay for two years. Previously, both had been required to renew annually.
While improvements have been made, the perception abroad that the United States is not a friendly nation for foreign students has not diminished. Nor has congressional concern.
On February 17, Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), introduced a bill, S. 455, entitled the "American Competitiveness Through International Openness Now," or "ACTION," Act of 2005 to reform the visa application process and enhance the access of "foreign students, scholars, scientists, and exchange visitors to the United States for study and exchange activities." It would coordinate and streamline procedures for visa processing and increase efforts to promote study in the United States. Notably, it removes the current burden of proof on students to demonstrate that they plan to return to their home country at the end of their stay, and instead requires that they show the intent and ability to "complete a course of study" while in the U.S. Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and John Cornyn (R-TX) hosted an April roundtable to discuss the impact of U.S. visa policies on foreign student enrollment. The Senator noted that while the number of total foreign graduate students since 9/11 has increased, disturbing trends have emerged in the figures of foreign graduate students in math, science, and engineering.
Lugar cautioned that foreign math and science students, whom he called vital for the "continuity of our economy," are finding schools outside of the United States to attend. He lamented that this trend may be irreparable.
Sen. Cornyn echoed those thoughts and further emphasized the crucial role of foreign students who study in the United States and return to their homelands as "public diplomats." He stressed the need to preserve this asset and to maintain our influx of "intellectual capital."
Sen. Alexander referred back to his own experiences in academia. As President of the University of Tennessee during the Tiananmen Square protests, he unsuccessfully lobbied President George H.W. Bush to immediately grant citizenship to 30,000 Chinese students and scholars residing in the U.S. Though he praised the "great strides" made by the current administration in areas such as the State Department's Visas Mantis program, but promised to continue to shine a "spotlight" on the visa issue.
The group led by AAAS and AAU released an updated statement on May 18, 2005, outlining additional recommendations. It recommends extending the validity of Visas Mantis security clearances for international scholars and scientists from the current two-year limit to the duration of their academic appointment and limiting barriers for student visas. Also, they suggest allowing international students, scholars, scientists, and engineers to renew their visas in the United States, rather than going to their host country to begin this process. Finally, the letter calls for a national strategy to promote academic and scientific exchange and to encourage international students, scholars, scientists, and engineers to pursue higher education and research opportunities in the United States. - Kari McCarron
The search for a permanent repository site for America's high-level radioactive waste hit another bump in the road. On April 5, Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV), chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, convened a hearing to probe fraud allegations at the Yucca Mountain Project in his home state of Nevada. The charges stemmed from a March report by Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman that several U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees may have falsified documents relating to their work on the project.
At the hearing, the entire Nevada Congressional delegation spoke with one voice in expressing outrage and demanding criminal proceedings against any employees who had committed fraud. The committee was particularly concerned with recently disclosed e-mails that seemed to portray attempts by federal employees to circumvent quality assurance (QA) procedures. One USGS employee wrote in 1999, "In the end I keep track of 2 sets of files, the ones that will keep QA happy and the ones that were actually used."
Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) painted the allegations as a continuation of ongoing problems that have plagued the project, and urged members to consult the fault-finding 2004 GAO report. Asserting that "Yucca Mountain is based on a lie," Rep. Berkley believed that the project was finally "…collapsing before our very eyes." Along with most of the Nevada delegation, she called for a complete halt to the Yucca Mountain Project.
Rep. James Gibbons (R-NV) warned the Department of Energy (DOE) not to downplay the incident as "paperwork problems" or to continue in their mindset of "damage control." Stating that Yucca Mountain was selected for "purely political reasons," he compared the allegations to CEO's "cooking the books" for Enron and WorldCom. Just as no one would fly in an airplane that had not undergone quality assurance, he claimed, people in Nevada would refuse a waste site they perceived to be improperly screened.
Pointing out that Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the U.S. and that the Yucca Mountain site is no longer remote, Chairman Porter argued the Yucca Mountain Project is based on "science fiction," not "sound science."
Despite these sentiments, members of Congress clearly acknowledged inappropriate pressure from high levels in the federal agencies. Citing a USGS employee who referred to himself as one of the "fall guys," Rep. Gibbons directed his anger towards the leadership and rebuked the "culture of management" of USGS and DOE. Rep. Berkley concurred, claiming that the USGS had made it clear that quality assurance was not a priority, but an obstacle.
The two men assigned to the hot seat at the hearing were Charles Groat, USGS Director and Ted Garrish, deputy director of DOE's Yucca program. While Groat deferred to an ongoing Department of Interior investigation, Garrish assured the committee that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would properly assess the matter once the formal license application for Yucca had been filed.
Dissatisfied with their answers, Rep. Gibbons demanded to know how plans for Yucca Mountain could continue without an assurance that the allegations would not undermine the whole project. Along with his colleagues, he suggested a thorough independent investigation.
B. John Garrick, Chairman of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, the body charged with reviewing the scientific progress of Yucca Mountain, determined that it was too early to draw conclusions about the effects of the allegations on the overall project. But Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval reminded the committee that the unflattering e-mails would not have been released if not for the state of Nevada's incessant lawsuits. He called for still further disclosure of information relating to the allegations.
Amid the confusion over the future of the project, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who called the allegations a "lesson in what's bad about the government," offered a possible solution. He proposed legislation to store nuclear waste on site at America's nuclear facilities. Similarly, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) proposed amending the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1992.
A follow-up hearing was held on June 29, featuring Joseph Hevesi, the U.S.G.S. scientist whose emails have been referenced as examples of fraud. Hevesi was appearing under a Congressional subpoena. Chairman Porter dominated the hearing, which had a different tone than the first. While Rep. Porter asked many detailed questions about the emails, his colleagues expressed an interest in learning the broader context in which the emails were sent. Hevesi stated that he had never falsified reports or scientific measurements and likened the emails to "water cooler talk." Rep. Porter asked Hevesi several times if he thought Yucca Mountain was a suitable site, a question Hevesi said he did not have the expertise to answer. Hevesi ended his time by noting that he has learned a lesson in how to better communicate and wished he had been clearer and less flippant in his emails. More information is available from the House Government Reform website. - Kari McCarron
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
- The Iran Nonproliferation Act and the International Space Station: Issues and Options (RS22072) This report outlines the history and effects of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 (INA), which was enacted to help stop foreign transfers of weapons technology to Iran. The INA includes provisions that ban U.S. payments to Russia in connection with the International Space Station (ISS) unless the U.S. President determines that Russia is taking steps to prevent such proliferation. According to current plans, NASA will become dependent on Russia for certain ISS crew-related services beginning in April 2006 for which NASA must pay. This report examines the impact of the INA on the ISS program and options for resolving associated issues.
- MTBE in Gasoline: Clean Air and Drinking Water Issues (RL32787) A key sticking point in past negotiations between the House and Senate versions of the Energy Bill is the treatment of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). While MTBE has been credited with reducing carbon monoxide and other smog-causing emissions, it also has contaminated drinking water supplies. This report examines policy options and legal issues surrounding the use of MTBE.
- Effects of Nuclear Earth-Penetrator and Other Weapons This report found that a nuclear weapon that is exploded underground can destroy a deeply buried bunker efficiently and requires significantly less power to do so than a nuclear weapon detonated on the surface would. However, such "earth-penetrating" nuclear weapons cannot go deep enough to avoid massive casualties at ground level, and they could still kill up to a million people or more if used in heavily populated areas.
GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE
- Mad Cow Disease: FDA's Management of the Feed Ban Has Improved, but Oversight Weaknesses Continue to Limit Program Effectiveness (GAO-05-101) This report examines efforts made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 2002 to ensure that companies are complying with a feed-ban rule prohibiting certain animal protein in feed for cattle and other ruminant animals. This rule was issued to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly called mad cow disease. FDA has made needed improvements to its management and oversight of the feed-ban rule in response to GAO's 2002 report, but program weaknesses continue to limit the effectiveness of the ban and place U.S. cattle at risk of spreading BSE.
- Nuclear Weapons: Preliminary Results of Review of Campaigns to Provide Scientific Support for the Stockpile Stewardship Program (GAO-05-636R) This report examines the Department of Energy's use of "campaigns" within the Stockpile Stewardship Program. Campaigns are technically challenging, multiyear, multifunctional efforts to develop and maintain the critical capabilities needed to continue assessing the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile without underground testing. This report focuses six campaigns intended to provide the scientific capability to support the stockpile. While they have not achieved their stated goals, much progress has been made in completing supporting milestones.
These reports are currently only available on the NAS website, but hard copies will be available later this summer.
- Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research This report, a joint effort of the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, provides guidelines for deriving, storing, and using human embryonic stem cells to ensure that the research is being carried out in an ethical manner. While voluntary, the Academy urges all institutions conducting such research to establish oversight committees to ensure that the new guidelines are followed. Among its recommendations, the report contains guidelines for recruitment of donors, establishing a registry of stem cell lines, and types of permissible research.
- Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century This report provides guidance for changing engineering education to improve the recruitment and retention of students and better prepare engineers to meet future demands. It recommends introducing interdisciplinary studies into undergraduate curriculum and emphasizing the ability to acquire knowledge and apply it. Although the report focuses on undergraduate curriculum, it recommends encouraging students to obtain advanced degrees and improving K-12 education. The report also recommends increasing public understanding of science and engineering and creating opportunities for engineering education within other disciplines, such as medicine, business, finance, and law.
- Improved Seismic Monitoring -- Improved Decision-making: Assessing the Value of Reduced Uncertainty This study examines potential economic benefits of a plan by the U.S. Geological Survey to establish an Advanced National Seismic System -- a network of earthquake monitoring sensors placed in buildings and in the ground at more than 7,000 at-risk locations throughout the country. The report found that full deployment of the ANSS offers the potential to substantially reduce earthquake losses and their consequences by providing critical information for land-use planning, building design, insurance, warnings, and emergency preparedness and response. Although the committee was not able to quantify all benefits due to a lack of data, they found that the potential benefits far exceed the costs.