Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: December 2006
The 109th Congress returned to Washington for a brief session after the mid-term elections where they were expected to complete the appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2007, which began on October 1. Instead, lawmakers passed a third continuing resolution (CR) through February 15 for all unsigned appropriations bills. This action means that 9 of the 11 FY 2007 appropriations bills, funding all agencies except Defense and Homeland Security, will have to be finalized by the incoming Democratic majority in the 110th Congress. In mid-December, Democratic appropriators signaled their intention to wrap up FY 2007 appropriations quickly in the new year with a year-long CR at FY 2006 funding levels for nearly all domestic programs, with increases for only a few as-yet unannounced programs.
In the meantime, agency programs will be operating at the lower of the FY 2007 House figure or FY 2006 funding levels. Thus, even research and development (R&D) programs slated for large increases in 2007 must operate at flat funding levels through at least mid-February, while R&D programs slated for steep cuts find their operating funds reduced sharply.
Although the 109th Congress supported the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) increases for three key physical sciences agencies, these potential gains evaporated at the end of the session. The National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories would have received dramatic increases in their R&D funding, but the continuing resolution funds them at 2006 levels. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget would remain flat for the second year in a row at $28.5 billion; in real terms, most NIH institute budgets would shrink for the third year in a row.
Defense and DHS Bills Completed
Congress finalized the FY 2007 Department of Defense (DOD) budget that contains a record-breaking $76.8 billion for DOD’s R&D spending. Nearly the entire $3.5 billion or 4.8 percent increase goes to weapons development programs, but DOD support of basic research also increases.
Once again, Congress reversed sharp proposed cuts in DOD’s “Science and Technology” (S&T) investments. Instead of a greater than 20 percent requested cut, DOD S&T spending remains near the 2006 funding level at $13.6 billion, $2.4 billion more than the request.
A profusion of congressional earmarks boost DOD support of basic and applied research above 2006 levels. Basic research (“6.1”) climbs 4.8 percent to $1.5 billion, while applied research (“6.2”) increases 0.8 percent to $5.2 billion. The research-oriented Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sees its budget increase 1.4 percent to $3.0 billion.
The Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) are the big winners in weapons development funding. Air Force R&D climbs 10.7 percent to $24.4 billion, while MDA development surges 22.1 percent to $9.4 billion after a steep cut in 2006.
Congress, meanwhile, cut the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) R&D funding for the first time in 2007. DHS R&D falls 22 percent to $1.0 billion even as the total DHS budget keeps increasing. Funding for most DHS R&D activities would decline. Only DHS R&D activities in cybersecurity, interoperable communications, and radiological and nuclear countermeasures will receive increases in 2007.
Congressional dissatisfaction over DHS management continues to grow. The final DHS budget withholds $65 million in 2007 R&D funds (and an additional $60 million in management funds) until DHS provides Congress with detailed reports on financial management and performance measures. The bill also rescinds $125 million in previously appropriated R&D funds that DHS has not spent yet.
The radiological and nuclear countermeasures R&D portfolio received a significant increase as part of its move from the Science and Technology directorate to a separate Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) in 2007. Congress increases DNDO R&D from $209 million to $273 million, a boost of 31 percent.
While a still-increasing defense budget helps defense R&D gain 4.6 percent to exceed $80 billion for the first time to $81.2 billion, flat or declining funding in the continuing resolution would result in a 0.9 percent cut in nondefense R&D to $57.1 billion.
For R&D programs, the messy conclusion to the 109th Congress and early signals from the 110th Congress mean looming cuts in research funding - a sharp contrast to the high hopes for most of the year that ‘innovation’ could be a rallying cry for boosting physical sciences research funding. As FY 2007 appropriations limp toward completion in the new year, the future of the ACI is in doubt and most R&D programs are headed toward yet another year of declining funding in real terms.
Additional updates will be available on the AAAA R&D and Policy Program website.
--Kei Koizumi and Joanne Carney
NIH Reauthorization, BARDA Bills Pass at 11th Hour
During the last week of the 109th Congress, Senate and House negotiators worked furiously to pass a series of health-policy bills. Their efforts paid off. Among the items included in the package were:
- H.R. 6164, the NIH Reform Act of 2006, which reauthorizes the National Institutes of Health for the first time in 13 years,
- S. 3678, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, known as the “BARDA bill” for its creation of a $1 billion agency for bioterrorism research called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA),
- H.R. 6143, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act, which reauthorizes funding for HIV/AIDS programs, and
- A funding measure for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), tacked onto the NIH bill, which redistributes SCHIP funds among states.
The passage of the NIH Reform Act came as something of a surprise to observers. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), who sponsored the bill, pushed hard for Senate consideration in exchange for ushering the Senate-passed BARDA and Ryan White bills to the House floor. The last-minute addition of SCHIP provisions to the package—not to mention the slew of other bills that Congress needed to pass by session’s end—made the outlook on H.R. 6164 appear grim. But the Senate managed to pass a new version of H.R. 6164 on Friday, December 8, and the House approved it and the other bills early the next morning in the wee hours of the 109th.
The new version of H.R. 6164, crafted following discussions with Senate appropriators, has a few key differences from the version that passed the House in late September [see September STC newsletter for details]. It ups the authorized funding levels slightly to $30.3 billion in FY07 and $32.8 billion in FY08, a 6 and 8 percent increase respectively. For FY09, the amount is now “such sums as may be necessary.”
The common fund, in the earlier version of the legislation, would have received half of all new NIH money until it hit a max of 5 percent of the overall NIH budget. The new bill omits that formula, merely stipulating that the percentage of the budget reserved for the common fund cannot be lower than what was allocated the previous year.
The BARDA bill serves as an update to the two-year-old ailing Project Bioshield, which was designed to encourage drug companies to create new medicines for infectious diseases. BARDA will be housed in the Department of Health and Human Services and will manage the Administration’s efforts to combat bioterrorism threats.
A prior version of the BARDA bill passed by the House [again detailed in the September STC newsletter] would have exempted BARDA from Freedom of Information Act requests and open meeting laws. Amid objections, these provisions were tightened up in the final bill to provide a narrower definition of what would be exempted, though the HHS secretary could still shield any disclosure “that reveals significant and not otherwise publicly known vulnerabilities of existing medical or public health defenses against biological, chemical, nuclear or radiological threats.”
Because these are authorization bills, the agencies involved will continue to rely on appropriators—and in the near term, the provisions in the anticipated yearlong continuing budget resolution, which will be finalized before the current CR runs out on February 15—to receive the necessary funds.
-- Erin Heath
After multiple calls to protect the nation’s oceans and fisheries, including two high level reports from the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, a comprehensive bill has emerged to prevent overfishing. H.R. 5946, the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens law (PL 94-265), represents a compromise between the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee (Chairman Ted Stevens [R-AK], who was a leader of the original legislation and Ranking Member Daniel Inouye [D-HI]) and outgoing House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo (R-CA).
The bill strengthens the role of science in fisheries management by requiring that catch limits are based on the recommendations of the science and statistical committees of the regional fishery management councils. The bill does not specify penalties for fisheries that exceed their catch; instead, it directs the regional councils to establish accountability measures. It mandates an end to overfishing in fisheries with depleted stocks within two and a half years.
The bill establishes a mechanism that allows the selling and trading of shares in a fishery through "limited access privilege programs"(LAPPs). This type of market-based cap-and-trade program has been used successfully in other environmental arenas as a cost-effective way to implement limits.
The bill improves data collection through calls for a host of studies and by authorizing a national cooperative research and management program. Priority support would be given for efforts to improve stock assessments, assess bycatch, develop conservation engineering projects to reduce bycatch, identify or conserve habitat areas, and collect social and economic data. The program would be implemented on a regional basis through partnerships between federal and state managers, commercial and recreational fishing industry participants, and scientists.
Some environmental groups have noted that the bill “backslides” by providing only weak accountability measures. However, most have noted that as a whole the bill will strengthen protection of fisheries.
President Bush has indicated that he intends to sign the measure.
-- Kasey White
Several bills that made it through the late-night session ending the 109th Congress address natural hazards.
H.R. 5136, the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006, institutes a drought early-warning system. The bill, championed by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), will establish a National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and strengthen and coordinate federal efforts to accurately monitor and predict droughts.
NISDIS will include a comprehensive system that collects and integrates information on the key indicators of drought in order to make usable, reliable, and timely drought forecasts and assessments of drought, including its severity and impacts. It also includes mechanisms to communicate drought forecasts, conditions, and impacts on an ongoing basis to decision makers at the federal, regional, state, tribal, and local levels of government; the private sector; and the public.
The bill authorizes a total of $81 million for the NIDIS program for fiscal years 2007 through 2012.
H.R. 1674, the Tsunami Warning and Education Act of 2005, will strengthen the Nation’s ability to forecast and transmit warnings about tsunamis. The legislation will expand the existing tsunami forecast and warning system in the Pacific to cover the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as provide dedicated funding and a greater emphasis on community outreach and education programs.
Specifically, H.R. 1674 will authorize NOAA’s tsunami forecasting and warning system and research program, request studies on NOAA’s tsunami programs from the Government Accountability Office and the National Academies of Science, and codify the existing National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, a federal-state partnership focused on improving community awareness and tsunami preparedness. The legislation authorizes $25 million for fiscal year (FY) 2008, $26 million for FY 2009, and $27 million for FY 2010;
-- Kasey White
During the brief congressional legislative week after the mid-term election, the House passed the Senate version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (S. 3880) under a suspension of the rules agreement. The bill, introduced by Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), addressed the aggressive tactics that animal rights extremists are using to frighten and intimidate the families of researchers and the businesses that have ties to animal enterprises.
The final AETA bill walks a narrow legal path between legitimate forms of animal rights activities, and harassment and violence perpetrated by extremists against organizations, individual scientists, and their family members. It lays out civil and criminal penalties (a fine or up to 10 years in prison) for violent and non-violent offenses, as well as restitution orders for economic damages such as the costs associated with repeating an experiment.
At the same time, the bill specifically states that it does not prohibit lawful activities protected under the First Amendment, such as “peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration[s].” It also protects lawful economic disruptions, such as boycotts or the release of information about an animal enterprise that may lead to negative market reactions.
President Bush signed the AETA bill on November 27 (P.L. 109-374).
-- Joanne Carney
In a preview of the promised increased oversight to come with the Democratic majority in Congress, incoming leaders are requesting investigations on the impact of the closure of EPA libraries and calling on EPA to keep the libraries open in the interim.
EPA has been developing a process to digitize its collection and close some libraries for several years, citing the increase in the use of online and electronic materials and the decline in public visits to EPA facilities due to tighter security.
A sharp reduction in the funding request this year sped up the process.The FY07 budget request for the EPA Library Network contained a $2 million cut and appropriators did not restore the funding. The appropriations process has not, however, been completed.
In anticipation of the budget cuts, EPA began closing and reducing access to libraries this summer in cities including Chicago, Dallas, Washington D.C., Boston and New York.
The libraries are repositories of information on topics ranging from hazardous waste to wetlands to chemicals, used by researchers and professionals across the country to protect public health, enforce environmental laws, and conduct environmental assessments. Many library and environmental groups have voiced concerns about these closing and the detrimental effect on the loss of access to this information to researchers, the public, state and local officials, and EPA employees. In particular, these groups are concerned that unique EPA documents that were available in the libraries are not yet digitized and thus completely unavailable.
Taking advantage of the flux of the appropriations process, 18 Senators wrote to Appropriations Committee leaders in November to ask them to direct EPA “to restore and maintain public access and onsite library collections and services at EPA’s headquarters, regional, laboratory and specialized program libraries while the Agency solicits and considers public input on its plan to drastically cut its library budget and services.”
In the House, incoming chairs of the Science Committee (Rep. Bart Gordon), Government Reform Committee (Rep. Henry Waxman) and Energy and Commerce Committee (Rep. John Dingell) requested a Government Accountability Office study on the effects of these closures and plans for digitization of the paper holdings of the libraries. Rep. James Oberstar, incoming chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, joined the three members in a November 30 letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, calling upon him to ensure that “the destruction or disposition of all library holdings immediately ceased upon … receipt of this letter.”
In response to the congressional reaction, EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock held a teleconference in mid-December to address concerns about the library closures. He stated that the library modernization efforts “bring EPA into the 21st century” and will result in “better access to a broader audience.”
-- Kasey White
Many additional bills advanced to the President's desk in a flurry of activity at the end of the session, including:
Water Resources Research Act Amendments of 2006
H.R. 4588, an amendment to the Water Resources Research Act of 1984, requires state water resources research and technology institutes to conduct applied and peer-reviewed research on water supply issues, particularly reliability. The amendment is also meant to promote new researchers to enter the field. It instructs the Secretary to evaluate each institute at least every three years; determine if each institute is generating measured results and functional water supply research. The amendment authorizes funding for these institutes for FY 2007-2011, but limits the funds that can be used for administrative projects to 5% of the appropriated budget.
Energy Efficient Computer Servers
H.R. 5646 instructs the EPA to study the energy consumption and growth of computer data centers by both the government and the private sector using the Energy Star program and to report those findings to Congress in an effort to promote energy efficiency as a motivating factor when purchasing servers.
Aerospace Revitalization Task Force
H.R. 758 institutes a taskforce to promote interagency aerospace revitalization and create a national strategy for aerospace workforce recruitment, training, and cultivation. Among other goals, the taskforce is to encourage and supervise education and training programs in science, engineering, technology, mathematics, and skilled trades.
-- Lina Karaoglanova
The Endangered Species Act and “Sound Science” (RL32992)
This report evaluates the role of science in The Endangered Species Act (ESA) decision making process. The ESA, administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, legally protects endangered species once they are placed on the endangered or threatened species lists. A debate has cropped up concerning the use of “sound science” to support ESA actions. There are some who call the adequacy of the science behind ESA’s decisions into question, pronouncing it “insufficiently rigorous,” while others claim that politics have sullied ESA actions.
Fuel Ethanol: Background and Public Policy Issues (RL33290)
This report addresses the use of ethanol as an energy source and the complex policy issues connected with ethanol production and consumption in the United States. It briefly discusses the chemical nature of ethanol and basic production processes but the costs, benefits, and policy issues related to ethanol production are the focus. Proponents of ethanol point to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and an uncertain oil market as benefits of ethanol fuel, while others argue that ethanol does not significantly lower GHG emissions and leads to unfair markets saturated with government subsidies and incentives for inefficient fuel sources.
DHS: New Radiation Detection Portal Monitors to Combat Nuclear Smuggling (GAO-07-133r)
This report states that the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) neglected to follow its own cost-benefit analysis recommending that the office not purchase new radiation detection portal monitors. In pursuit of better nuclear detection technology, DHS announced it would procure $1.2 billion worth of new portal monitors. GAO recommended that the DNDO conduct an investigation to determine the level of capability and cost of the new monitors prior to investing. Despite the results of its own report indicating that the technology did not function at the level of accuracy required, the DNDO resolved to continue with the acquisition based on the belief that the technology would perform at a higher level in the future. GAO reports that this decision was based on the need to limit the amount of time screening traffic at ports, rather than on the ability of the new monitors to accurately detect nuclear materials.
Agricultural Conservation: USDA Should Improve Its Process for Allocating Funds to States for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (GAO-06-969)
This report reviews the funding distribution system used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which encourages environmentally conscious agriculture through financial assistance to producers who voluntarily invest in conservation practices on their farms. GAO found the USDA’s system of fund allocation, a general financial assistance formula, inefficient and inadequate to meet the program goals and objectives, as there are few links between funded projects and the program’s purpose.
Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation’s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences (ISBN: 0309103495)
This report offers guidance on how the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Atmospheric Sciences (ATM) can better approach and support atmospheric science. It stresses the growing interdisciplinary nature of the field and the need to encourage collaborative efforts between diverse scientific disciplines like meteorology, solar physics and ecology. It also encourages the scientific community to be highly engaged with NSF’s development of a strategic plan for the future of atmospheric science. Further suggestions include increased funding for high-risk basic atmospheric research and the development of a graduate-level fellowship to attract students to atmospheric PhD programs.
Status of Pollinators in North America (ISBN: 0309102898 )
This National Research Council study finds a significant decline in long-term population trends for some North American pollinators. It points to the use of pesticides, the introduction of parasites, and the destruction of habitats as contributors to a decrease in vital pollinating species such as honeybees, birds, and bats. This population decline has raised alarm in the scientific community, as pollination is an essential part of an ecosystem’s vitality and a reduction could lead to a breakdown in the food chain. American honeybees, for instance, pollinate 90 commercial crops; a downward trend in honeybee populations has put chief commercial crops in danger. There is little or no population data for many pollinators, prompting a call for stepped-up government efforts to monitor these creatures and improve understanding of their basic ecology.
Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks (ISBN: 0309102189)
This Institute of Medicine report, requested by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, recommends providing coherent and easily available information regarding the benefits and risks of seafood consumption. The report addresses the scattered, incomplete, and uncertain science currently available on the risks of consuming seafood. Though the report supports current dietary guidelines and seafood advisories, it goes beyond them to consolidate information on risks and benefits for sensitive population groups and seeks to address all segments of the population.
- Council on Competitiveness
Competitiveness Index: Where America Stands
This report examines the drivers of U.S. economic progress over the past 20 years as well as U.S. competitive prospects for the next two decades. Coauthored by Prof. Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, the study seeks to dispel popular misconceptions about U.S. competitiveness and underscores the importance of service industry jobs and R&D. The report points to lagging education among U.S. students (K-12) as the single biggest threat to American competitiveness in a global economy.
- Task Force on the Future of American Innovation
Measuring the Moment: Innovation, National Security, and Economic Competitiveness -- Benchmarks of our Innovation Future II
This report is an update to The Knowledge Economy: Is the United States Losing Its Competitive Edge?, the Task Force’s first study exploring the status of American leadership in research and technology. This new report recaps its predecessor’s stark predictions on the decline of U.S. competitiveness in basic research, engineering, and science education and provides current data calling for increased federal support in these areas. The report recommends establishing policies to increase R&D funding to keep the United States at the forefront of the global economy and to maintain national security.
- Pew Research Center
Poll: Little Consensus on Global Warming
Although most Americans (7 out of 10) are convinced that global warming is occurring, they don’t agree on what the cause is, what should be done about it, or how serious the problem is. Pew recently published findings from a comprehensive survey on public attitudes toward global warming. The results show Americans deeply divided along party lines, with Democrats and Independents much more likely than Republicans to believe that the Earth is getting warmer, that human activity is the major cause, and that climate change is an important issue. In contrast, there is little difference in attitudes between men and women, among age-groups, or by level of formal education. Americans seem to be less concerned about global warming than the residents of 13 other industrialized countries included in the survey. Only the Chinese seem to have a comparable level of concern.
- UK Government
Stern Review (ISBN number: 0-521-70080-9)
The British government published a study, known as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change after its chair, former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern, that addresses both the science and economics behind climate change. Taking into account recent scientific evidence and other measures of economic impacts, the Review estimates that the damage from unabated climate change could be equivalent to 20 percent of global GDP. By contrast, the costs of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a stabilization target of 550 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent can be limited to approximately 1 percent of global GDP each year. The report recommends action along three lines: putting a price on carbon, increasing R&D in low-carbon technology and changing consumer behavior. The report stresses the global nature of climate change, particularly its impact on the poor. It also focuses on policies that facilitate global adaptation to climate change.
- International Energy Agency
World Energy Outlook 2006
The IEA has released a report concluding that China will surpass the United States as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2009—a decade ahead of previous projections. Overall, the IEA projects that global energy needs will rise 53 percent over the next 25 years and crude oil prices could exceed $100 a barrel. However, the IEA also examines an alternate scenario with increased energy efficiency and renewable use that shows energy demand, carbon dioxide emissions and prices at substantially lower levels.
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AAAS Updates Stem Cell Policy Brief
AAAS staff have updated and revised the stem cell policy brief to take into account the myriad of developments in the science and policy of stem cell research. It is available on the CSTC website.
AAAS Encourages Funding for Science Research in Continuing Resolution
AAAS sent a letter to the incoming leadership and Appropriations Committee chairs, urging them to support federal research and development funding as they complete the Fiscal Year 2007 appropriations process. AAAS cited congressional actions that reflect "a balanced portfolio of R&D investments and recognition of the important interaction of the physical, biological, behavioral, and social sciences."
AAAS Recommendations for Balancing Scientific Progress and National Security
AAAS sent comments on the Department of Defense revised rule to amend the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement for “preventing unauthorized disclosure of export-controlled information and technology under DOD contracts." AAAS commended DOD for the extent to which it reached out to the academic and private-sector community and provided several recommendations in the interest of balancing scientific progress and national security interests.
The Sea Urchin Genome and You
Scientists have begun to unravel the genome – the chemical instructions for life contained in an organism's every cell – for the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Scientists have used sea urchins for more than 100 years to learn about processes that affect many different kinds of animals, including humans. Scientists hope the sea urchin genome will provide better understanding of processes ranging genetic components of diseases to ecology in marine ecosystems to fundamental questions in evolution and development.
Sea Urchin Genome Sequencing Consortium, “The Genome of the Sea Urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus,” Science, 3 November 2006.