Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: May 2007
Before leaving for the Memorial Day recess, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an omnibus bill entitled the 21st Century Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2272) introduced by Rep. David Wu (D-OR), chairman of the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee. The legislation bundles together a series of separate measures that the House had passed previously and will allow the chamber to conference with the Senate’s single competitiveness bill, the America COMPETES Act (S.761).
The NSF reauthorization bill (H.R.1867) was one of the bills that were included in the omnibus competitiveness package and was debated separately on the House floor in early May. NSF is unique among federal agencies in that it supports basic, fundamental research across a broad spectrum of disciplines rather than the mission-oriented agencies whose primary purpose is to support research to meet specific mission goals (e.g., agriculture at USDA).
The NSF portfolio has generally garnered wide support, both in the executive and legislative branches of government, and was selected as a central part of the Administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative during the past two years. So it came as a surprise to the research community when amendments were introduced on the floor by Reps. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and John Campbell (R-CA) to prohibit the agency from funding nine specific research grants that had already been awarded after merit evaluation.
During the floor debate, Rep. Campbell said, “I understand that there is a process of peer review from which these studies come in the National Science Foundation, and that's all well and good. But our job here is we are the elected representatives and stewards of the taxpayers' money, not the academics in the National Science Foundation, and it is our decision whether or not we wish to spend taxpayers' funds on studies of the social relationships and reproductive strategies of Phayre's leaf monkeys or on bison hunting on the late prehistoric Great Plains.”
Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, and Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) argued against the amendments and warned that elected officials should be wary of judging research proposal by their abstracts. Rep. Baird questioned whether “Congress, with a cursory evaluation of the abstracts from studies, should insert ourselves in the peer-review process.” He argued, “[D]o we really want to spend this body's time, and do you, sir, or you, sir, have the expertise to evaluate these studies? That's why we have a peer-review process. That's why we have a National Science Foundation.”
The two amendments ultimately failed; the Garrett amendment failed by voice vote and the Campbell amendment failed by a vote of 195-222.
The chamber also successfully stopped separate amendments that would decrease the overall level of funding going to the agency. H.R. 1867, as passed, would put the NSF on the path to doubling and provide a total of $21 billion over FY 2008-2010, of which $16.4 billion would go towards research and $2.8 billion towards education programs.
The House did pass an amendment by Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) to develop formal and informal educational materials on global warming science and an amendment by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) to authorize the NSF to fund education grants to improve the communication skills of scientists.
In addition to the NSF authorization bill, H.R. 2272 encompasses NIST reauthorization (H.R. 1868), “10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds” Science and Math Scholarship Act (H.R. 362), Sowing the Seeds through Science and Engineering Research Act (H.R. 363), and an amendment to High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 (H.R. 1068).
-- Joanne Carney
House legislators ushered a major patent reform bill through a subcommittee to enable Judiciary Committee members to vote on it later in the session. The Patent Reform Act of 2007 (H.R.1908) would mandate a series of changes to the much-maligned U.S. patent system, changing it from a system that rewards the first to invent to a “first-to-file” approach. Proponents say the bill would bring U.S. policy in line with that of most other developed nations and that it would reduce litigation and questionable patents.
Large technology firms are supporting the bill but universities and pharmaceutical companies have raised objections. University officials want to ensure that scientists can continue to publish research results without risking the ability to patent them. Other critics have derided the bill’s “second window” provision, which would allow a second opportunity to challenge a patent; the Patent and Trademark Office wrote a letter to sponsors Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) expressing concern that this provision would increase the workload on an already stretched-thin staff. The number of backlogged patent applications has increased 500 percent over the past decade, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Berman heads the Judiciary Committee’s Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee, which initially considered the measure. Their strategy was to move the bill quickly to the full committee where it could then be debated. The bill had stalled in previous sessions.
Not all legislators agreed with this approach. Longtime Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the panel’s former chairman, extolled the virtues of making compromises on the bill within the subcommittee before pushing it forward, and he tried in vain to use parliamentary procedures to hold up the bill.
A companion bill, S. 1145, will be the subject an upcoming hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
-- Erin Heath
Following a series of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearings on energy efficiency, biofuels, and carbon capture and storage, Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) introduced a bipartisan bill bundling four separate energy-related bills into one. The Energy Savings Act of 2007 (S.1321) was marked up and passed by the committee on a 20-3 vote early this month, but its Senate passage was called into question when Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced a similar bill that garnered more support from the environmental community.
The legislation illustrates the diverse ways Members are addressing climate change and energy policy. S. 1321 aims to reduce oil consumption by 20 percent within 10 years through a combination of advanced biofuels, improved efficiency, and carbon capture and storage technologies. It is comprised of the Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Storage Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 2007 (S. 962), the Biofuels for Energy Security and Transportation Act of 2007 (S. 987), the National Carbon Dioxide Storage Capacity Assessment Act of 2007 (S. 731) and the Energy Efficiency Promotion Act of 2007 (S.1115). Major provisions include:
The bill increases biofuels investments by 50 percent over the next two years. R&D dollars are directed to technological advancement and biofuels expansion, with an emphasis placed on ‘advanced biofuels’ that are derived from non-corn biomass. The bill mandates a renewable fuel standard of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 and provides industries with various incentives and loan guarantees to meet these targets. In order to qualify under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, a fuel must emit at least 20 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline.
- Energy Efficiency
The bill would set new standards for energy efficient equipment, establish fuel saving targets, and strengthen federal energy efficiency requirements. The proposed energy efficiency standards are expected to save over 50 billion kilowatt-hours per year and require the federal government to curb its energy use. The bill authorizes competitive grants for energy efficiency research and encourages vehicle efficiency technologies.
- Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
The bill would increase CCS R&D funding, authorizing up to $120 million to improve CCS technologies and conduct assessments of potential storage sites and capacities in the Unites States. CCS is the process by which carbon dioxide is separated during energy production and stored, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere where it contributes to climate change. The Department of Energy (DOE) is asked to carry out research exploring carbon dioxide leakage risks post-sequestration. In addition, the bills extend seven regional CCS partnerships involving industry, academia and all levels of government slated for expiration in 2009. The bill also authorizes large-scale CCS demonstration plants to improve carbon capture and injection technologies.
Despite agreements by committee leaders to deliver a bipartisan bill to the floor devoid of controversial issues, Senators Craig Thomas (R-WY) and Jim Bunning (R-KY) offered an amendment to insert coal-to-liquids technology into the bill, which sparked heated debate among committee members. They argued for increased exploitation of this abundant domestic resource, while others stated coal is not a renewable resource and therefore should not be included in the legislation. The amendment did not survive a party line voice vote but is likely to be resurrected when the bill goes to the floor. Other committee Members, including Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Chairman Bingaman, indicated that they also intended to introduce amendments when the bill goes to the floor, which could erode the bipartisan support given by the committee.
The day after the Bingaman/Domenici bill made it out of committee, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced her own broad energy legislation, the Advanced Clean Fuels Act of 2007 (S.1297). S.1297 proposes to increase renewable fuel production to 35 billion gallons by 2025. S. 1321 mandates renewable fuels must emit at least 20 percent fewer greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline in order to qualify under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, eventually ramping up to at least 75 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions. S. 1297 also gives more attention to environmental management practices of renewable fuels production, including sustainable land use, bringing the legislation broad support from the environmental community.
Rumors have abounded about other bills that may be attached to one of these bills as part of an even larger energy package on the Senate floor. The CAFE bill (S. 357), which would increase fuel economy standards for passenger cars from 25 to 35 miles per gallon in 2020, joined the list when it passed the Senate Commerce Committee on May 8. None of the bills mentioned, however, contain limits on greenhouse gas emissions, known as “cap-and-trade” programs.
-- Lina Karaoglanova
For additional information, see CRS report, Energy Savings Act of 2007 (S. 1321): Summary of Major Provisions (RL34005).
Senate Passes Major FDA Reauthorization Bill
Last month the Senate passed a major reauthorization bill for the Food and Drug Administration pertaining to a program that allows pharmaceutical companies to pay user fees that fund prompt reviews for new drugs.
The vote on the Prescription Drug User Fee Amendments of 2007 (S.1082) was 93-1, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) acting as the lone dissenter. Sanders’s vote reflected his disappointment over the failure of efforts led by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from other countries.
Dorgan's amendment allowing drug importation passed, but was negated by another amendment by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MI) requiring the government to certify the safety of importation—which it does not do.
Of interest to some scientists are conflict-of-interest provisions in the bill, which state that members of FDA advisory panels cannot vote on any issue in which they have a financial interest.
Though at one point there was talk of adding a measure to allow the FDA to approve generic biologics, Senate leaders agreed to address the issue in a separate bill.
-- Erin Heath
On May 17, the Congress gave final approval to an FY 2008 budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 21), a move that allows the Appropriations Committees to begin work on the FY 2008 appropriations bills. The budget resolution is an annual congressional document that represents the congressional response to the President’s February budget request, and provides a big-picture budget framework for all later congressional budget decisions. The budget contains broad spending and revenue targets broken down into smaller budget targets for various committees; its importance is in the overall guidance it gives to the fragmented congressional process, and it remains the only time Congress gets to consider the entire $3 trillion federal budget as a whole.
The FY 2008 budget resolution allocates $954 billion for regular (non-emergency) FY 2008 appropriations, $21 billion more than the request. The budget assumes the requested amount for defense discretionary programs, so the additional $21 billion would go to shore up funding for nondefense programs. The additional money would allow nondefense programs overall to increase slightly ahead of inflation, instead of declining as in the President’s request. Considering that historically federal R&D investments have been roughly 1 out of every 7 discretionary dollars, the budget resolution could mean $3 billion or so more than the request for federal R&D programs on the domestic side.
The additional $21 billion could go a long way toward turning steep requested cuts into flat funding or increases. For the R&D investment, as reported in AAAS Report XXXII: R&D FY 2008, the comprehensive analysis of the FY 2008 R&D request, the budget request proposes large increases for three signature Bush Administration priorities: research funding in the three physical sciences agencies of the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI): the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories), development funding in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for new human spacecraft, and development funding for new weapons systems in the Department of Defense (DOD).
But within the overall declining nondefense budget, nearly all other R&D programs would see their funding fall in FY 2008, including most environmental research programs, biomedical research in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even non-priority funding within priority agencies such as NASA’s research portfolio and NIST’s extramural programs. The budget resolution’s $954 billion total could allow appropriators to sustain the requested increases for ACI and other programs, but also boost funding for NIH and other agencies whose budgets would be cut.
Much lip service has been given to the current budget woes of the National Institutes of Health. Since the government successfully doubled the budget of the nation’s largest research agency in 2003, the mark has hovered around $28 billion, and the Administration’s FY08 budget is in keeping with this trend. The standstill has forced NIH, biomedical researchers and universities to dramatically adjust. Recently Nobel Prize winning biochemist Roger D. Kornberg of Stanford University told The Washington Post that his groundbreaking DNA research would probably not have been funded had he sought an NIH grant for it today.
The real test, however, could come from the President. Although President Bush has never vetoed a regular appropriations bill, this is the first year he has faced a Democratic Congress. Already, the Bush Administration has threatened to veto FY 2008 appropriations bills if they exceed his request for discretionary spending. Collectively, of course, the bills could exceed his request by $21 billion so there is a real chance that he will veto the bill that causes appropriations to exceed his $933 billion request, but the veto threat is vague enough that Administration officials have left open the possibility that he may veto any or even all of the appropriations bills.
Budget Functions: More for NSF, NASA, DOE, and NIH Possible
Although the budget resolution does not contain program-by-program funding levels, it does contain ‘budget function’ totals that serve as guides for appropriators and expressions of congressional priorities. The budget divides the $954 billion total for all discretionary spending by budget functions, or national missions, giving a preliminary indication of how Congress would like to allocate the additional $21 billion it has given appropriators. Below is a short summary of selected budget functions and the potential impacts of the new budget resolution:
Defense (050) – The congressional allocation of $503.8 billion for defense matches the President’s request, but Congress is likely to shift money around. Every year, Congress has added billions of dollars to DOD R&D on top of the request, primarily through the addition of performer-specific earmarks. The pattern will hold in FY 2008, so the Pentagon’s requested 20 percent cut in DOD’s “S&T” programs (basic and applied research plus early technology development) will most likely become flat funding or a slight increase.
General Science, Space and Technology (250) – This function covers NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NASA funding. The budget assumes $27.5 billion in appropriations for these programs, more than the $27.3 billion request and therefore more than enough to provide the full ACI increases for NSF and the DOE Office of Science, with enough to fund NASA spacecraft development but also NASA’s support of research.
Energy (270) – This function covers DOE’s energy programs. The $4.8 billion allocation is above the $4.3 billion request, indicating that Congress would like to add significantly to DOE’s requested FY 2008 cuts in energy R&D, from an FY 2007 total already boosted by this 110th Congress.
Health (550) – This function covers discretionary health programs in HHS, more than half of which goes to NIH. The $55.0 billion allocation is $3 billion more than the request, which gives appropriators ample room to turn a requested cut in NIH funding into an increase.
The Appropriations Committees will begin drafting and approving appropriations bills in coming weeks. A continually updated table on the current status of FY 2008 appropriations will be available on the AAAS R&D website, and AAAS R&D Funding Updates on House and Senate R&D appropriations for the major R&D funding agencies will also be available at each stage of the FY 2008 appropriations process.
-- Kei Koizumi and Erin Heath
Genetic Nondiscrimination in Health Insurance: A Side-by-Side Comparison of the Title I Provisions in H.R. 493 and S. 358 (RL33988)
This report analyzes the differences between provisions in the House and Senate versions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2007. The report focuses its analysis on provisions that extend current Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protections against discrimination by group health plans and issuers of health insurance and restrict their collection, use and disclosure of genetic information.
The Supreme Court's Climate Change Decision: Massachusetts v. EPA (RS22665)
This report summarizes the Supreme Court decision on Massachusetts v. EPA on April 2, 2007: the first climate change decision to come out of the Supreme Court. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Court decided that EPA has the authority to regulate emissions from new motor vehicles on the basis of their climate change impacts. This report also examines possible EPA responses.
- Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE): A Comparison of Selected Legislation in the 110th Congress (RL33982)
This report looks at the possibility of changing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in response to ballooning gas prices and the increasing concern over climate change. The report offers a side-by-side comparison of legislation introduced in the 110th Congress intended to alter CAFE standards or fuel efficiency in general. Additionally, the report analyzes greenhouse gas emissions provisions in bills that impact vehicles outside of CAFE jurisdiction.
- Stem Cell Research: Federal Research Funding and Oversight (RL33540)
This report discusses issues associated with federal funding of stem cell research, noting that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director and many other scientists have stated that federal research into embryonic stem cells beyond the 21 approved and viable cell lines currently available is critical to U.S. competitiveness. While some argue that adult stem cells have the potential to treat as many diseases as embryonic stem cells, others have stated that claim has not been validated and studies should not be limited to just adult stem cells. The report considers concerns over access to stem cell lines and summarizes the history of stem cell research legislation in the 110th Congress.
Great Lakes : EPA and States Have Made Progress in Implementing the BEACH Act, but Additional Actions Could Improve Public Health Protection (GAO-07-591)
This report studies the impacts of the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act on water quality monitoring and contamination of the Great Lakes. The report finds that while the EPA has implemented most of the BEACH Act provisions, it has failed to produce required pathogen and human health studies and guidelines that would promote uniform water quality standards. Among other things, the report recommended that the EPA distribute grants to better reflect states’ monitoring needs.
Information Technology: Numerous Federal Networks Used to Support Homeland Security Need to Be Better Coordinated with Key State and Local Information-Sharing Initiatives (GAO-07-455)
This report examines whether the information sharing network between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), known as the Homeland Security Information Network, is well coordinated with regional and state information networks. The report concluded that DHS has neglected to adequately harmonize federal and state initiatives and recommends that DHS create a record of regional and state information sharing initiatives and develop joint coordination strategies and compatible policies that integrate federal and local schemes.
- Hospital Quality Data: HHS Should Specify Steps and Time Frame for Using Information Technology to Collect and Submit Data (GAO-07-320)
This report looks at the efficiency and effectiveness of Information Technology (IT) data collection processes utilized by hospitals when they submit quality measures data to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The study suggests that IT data collection has improved hospitals’ ability to collect and process data. However, it finds that Health and Human Services (HHS) lacks a strategy for promoting and improving industry IT use and recommends that it develop guidelines that can be used by interested parties.
- Energy Markets: Factors That Influence Gasoline Prices (GAO-07-902T)
This report explores market factors affecting gasoline prices, including the impact of market mergers on wholesale prices. It concludes that increased demand for oil, diminished refinery capacity in the U.S., declining oil supplies worldwide, regulations that inflate the cost of oil production, and industry mergers all have a significant impact on the price of gasoline. It also finds that industry mergers can allow companies to raise and sustain gas prices above competitive levels.
- Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects (ISBN-10: 0-309-10830-6)
Although use of wind energy to generate electricity is increasing rapidly, this report finds that government guidance to help communities and developers plan wind-energy projects is lacking. The report, which assesses environmental benefits and drawbacks, estimates that by 2020 wind energy will offset about 4.5 percent of the carbon dioxide that would otherwise be emitted by other electricity sources.
- Mining Safety and Health Research at NIOSH (ISBN-10: 0-309-10342-8)
This study finds that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Mining Safety and Health Research Program makes essential contributions to the mining industry’s health and safety. To become more effective, the Mining Program should proactively identify workplace hazards and establish more challenging and innovative goals toward risk reductions. In order to accomplish higher standards of effectiveness, the program will require increased funding levels and should focus on improving interactions with industry. In addition, to address future needs, the program should perform new research into areas such as chemical hazards and improve technological training and transfer.
- Exploration of Antarctic Subglacial Aquatic Environments: Environmental and Scientific Stewardship (ISBN-10: 0-309-10635-4)
This report develops environmental and scientific protection standards for future Antarctic subglacial lake exploration. Though the report concludes that some contamination is inevitable, it notes that methods and protocols used in the past have managed to reduce contamination in sensitive environments such as space. The report provides a set of recommendations and a decision tree that will be useful as a framework for environmental stewardship decisions regarding Antarctic subglacial exploration.
McKinsey Global Institute
Curbing Global Energy Demand Growth: The Energy Productivity Challenge
This report projects future demand for energy across sectors and regions of the world. It finds that many opportunities currently exist to reduce energy demand, though it will likely take new standards to implement them. It states that global energy demand growth could be cut by half over the next 15 years if these technologies are adopted, with corresponding reductions in carbon emissions.
- The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Patents Pending: Patent Reform for the Innovation Economy
This report underscores the need to reform the U.S. patent system. It analyzes problems in three main areas: the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) delays in granting patents, patent quality, and excessive litigation and damage awards. The report suggests initiating reforms that will improve pre-grant activity at the PTO and others that influence post-grant review in the courts. To reduce backlog problems and improve process quality, the report suggests increasing resources to invest in more examiners.
- Department of Education
Report of the Academic Competitiveness Council, May 2007
The Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC) has released a report outlining its recommendations to improve federal education programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM): the result of a yearlong assessment. After finding that the Department of Education (DOEd) has little evidence of effectiveness and progress resulting from various federal STEM education programs, ACC recommended that funding for federal STEM education programs should not increase unless a plan for rigorous, independent evaluation is in place. It also recommended that agencies with STEM education programs collaborate on implementation of ACC recommendations under the auspices of the NSTC and that agencies better coordinate their activities with states and local school systems.
- Center for American Progress
Global Warming and the Future of Coal, The Path to Carbon Capture and Storage
This report outlines potential policy paths for reducing coal production's carbon footprint as it considers policy options that would drive Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies to enter the market at a more rapid rate. The report analyzes five policy options, including establishing cap-and-trade programs, setting carbon taxes, setting CCS systems as a Best Available Control Technology for new power plants under the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program, developing a low carbon portfolio standard, and requiring coal power plants to meet an emission performance standard. There is an emphasis on providing industry with certainty and stability when mandating CCS standards. The authors suggest a rapid timetable for CCS systems implementation accompanied by appropriate regulatory and R&D initiatives.
AAAS Thanks House Leadership for Passage of NSF Reauthorization
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner sent letters to the House of Representatives Leadership thanking them for passing the NSF reauthorization without amendments prohibiting funding for specific NSF peer-reviewed research grants. (May 8, 2007)
AAAS Comments on Several Amendments to NSF Reauthorization Bill
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner sent a letter to Rep. Doris Matsui supporting her amendment to improve scientific communication in the NSF reauthorization bill. Dr. Leshner also sent letters to House Science and Technology Chairman Rep. Bart Gordon and Ranking Member Rep. Ralph Hall, urging them to lead efforts to oppose amendments aimed at restricting funding for selected NSF grants that had been awarded after peer-review. (May 2, 2007)
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
A Discussion with Dr. Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister for Education and Research
Thursday, June 7, 2007 7 p.m.
The National Press Club
AAAS and the German Embassy are pleased to invite you to a discussion with Dr. Annette Schavan, the German Federal Minister for Education and Research. Dr. Schavan is the point person for
The event will be followed by a buffet reception, courtesy of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Please RSVP by e-mail by June 5.
By observing wild orangutans, a research team has found that walking on two legs may have arisen in relatively ancient, tree-dwelling apes, rather than in more recent human ancestors that had already descended to the savannah, as current theory suggests.
S. K. S. Thorpe, R. L. Holder, and R. H. Crompton, " ,"1 June 2007, Science 316 (5829), 1328.