Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
House and Senate leaders have chosen their representatives to serve on the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that was created in the debt ceiling compromise bill (Budget Control Act of 2011). The commission is tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in savings over ten years to avoid automatic across-the-board spending cuts that would reduce non-security discretionary accounts by an estimated 11 percent. The House leaders named Reps. Dave Camp (R-MI), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Fred Upton (R-MI), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to the committee and Senate leaders named Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kerry (D-MA), and Patty Murray (D-WA). Sen. Murray and Rep. Hensarling will co-chair the committee.
While initial assumptions were that members would be party loyalists that would support the Republicans’ call for no tax increases and the Democrats’ desire to not decrease entitlement benefits, there are a few picks that do not fit that mold completely. Sen. Kyl is retiring, and thus may be more willing to compromise without a future election at stake. Also, Sen. Baucus, Rep. Becerra, Rep. Camp, and Rep. Hensarling all served on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that convened last year, and while they all eventually voted against the recommendations, they bring some bipartisan experience on the topic of deficit reduction to the table.
In the meantime, the FY 2012 appropriations process continues. While the yearly appropriations schedule presses both chambers to pass their own versions of the 12 appropriations bills by the August recess, leaving September to conference the bills, neither chamber has accomplished this task. The House has passed just half of its appropriations bills. Three others have been reported by the House Appropriations Committee and are ready for House floor action. Research and development investment thus far has received mixed support in the House, with themes similar to last year. Basic research has generally been supported, while applied research programs have seen deep cuts in their budgets -- in some cases more than 30 percent. There have also been a number of policy riders in the appropriations bills blocking funding for climate science. The Senate has barely started work on the appropriations process, passing just a single appropriations bill thus far, preferring to wait for the conclusion of the debt ceiling negotiations. The Senate is likely to start work on its appropriations bills after returning from recess, with a total discretionary budget near $1.043 trillion, the spending cap specified in the debt ceiling compromise bill. The House has set its total discretionary budget at $1.020 trillion. Details can be found on the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website.
-- Patrick Clemins
On July 28, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held a hearing to investigate how the federal government can improve its long-term planning to mitigate the economic impacts of severe weather events. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Kathryn Sullivan testified that 2011 has already been a historic year for weather-related disasters nationally – more than $32 billion in damages – and the hurricane season is just beginning. Moreover, Franklin Nutter, president of Reinsurance Association of America, testified that the number and financial impact of extreme weather events are predicted to increase significantly in the future due to the effects of climate change and increased population movement to vulnerable locations (particularly along rivers and coasts). Overall, the cumulative expected exposure of the U.S. government to weather-related disasters over the next 75 years could reach $7 trillion with inflation.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing, noted that private insurance companies were able to withstand $89 billion in losses from 5.5 million policyholders during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons without any significant financial setbacks. He further observed that, in contrast, federal insurance programs tend to be funded primarily through supplemental appropriations that typically contribute directly to the national deficit. Highlighting another flaw of these programs, James Rivera, associate administrator of the Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance, noted that the agencies responsible for federal insurance programs cannot price risk like the private sector because of statutory limitations on premiums. Consequently, many of these programs are understating premiums and risk, and, therefore, federal taxpayers are effectively subsidizing more risky developments. As greater numbers of private companies become unable to insure these developments, their risk burden will increasingly shift to the public at-large.
In his testimony, David Trimble, director of Natural Resources and Environment at the United States Government Accountability Office, specifically criticized the National Flood Insurance Program and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation because they are designed to insure against current – not future – risks. Dr. Donald Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, testified that past patterns of severe weather are not likely to be predictive of future events due to global climate change and changing population distributions.
According to Mr. Trimble, some of the challenges faced by federal, state, and local officials in preparing for the increased severity and frequency of weather-related disasters include long-term planning amid election and budget timescales, insufficient site-specific data, and lack of clear roles and responsibilities among agencies. Dr. Sullivan highlighted NOAA’s Coastal Resilience Index as a means to reduce future damage from extreme weather events by identifying vulnerabilities and suggesting remedies for stakeholders in coastal communities.
-- Michael Kehoe
On July 27, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to examine the Merit Review process of the National Science Foundation (NSF). In his opening remarks Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) stated that the goal of the hearing was to “highlight the benefits of the [merit review] process, while acknowledging that no process involving human decision-making is flawless.”
In FY 2010, NSF received 55,542 proposals and awarded 12,996 grants, a 23 percent funding rate. The proposals are reviewed by a group of scientific peers and evaluated along two criteria: intellectual merit and broader impacts.
Chairman Brooks, in his opening remarks, noted that an ‘Excellent’ rating does not guarantee the award of funding. In FY 2010, 3,743 proposals that received an average review of ‘Excellent’ were funded and 1,312 were not; 4,560 proposals that received an average review of ‘Very Good to Excellent’ were funded while 6,318 were not.
NSF’s Deputy Director Cora Marrett testified that while intellectual merit is the primary factor for evaluating awards, the agency must take into account a number of other factors. Marrett noted that this is not necessarily a new process for NSF, as they have taken into consideration factors such as geography and diversity since NSF was created. She stated that the “NSF merit review process lies at the heart of the agency’s strategy for accomplishing its overall mission. As such, NSF is continuously striving to maintain and improve the quality and transparency of the process.”
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), however, was concerned that NSF’s merit review evaluation and the awarding of grants were conducted mostly "within the family." He expressed concern that young students and individuals with innovative ideas could be shut out of the system and asked how NSF avoids insider politics.
Marrett explained that NSF conducts training of individual reviewers, maintains a transparent process for proposal submissions and awards, has developed strict conflict of interest standards, and relies on the Office of the Inspector General to monitor waste and fraud.
As questions among subcommittee members centered on whether NSF was sufficiently supporting research on new and innovative ideas, witnesses were careful to emphasize that NSF must maintain a balanced portfolio across fields of science and engineering. Witnesses noted that NSF is unique among federal agencies in that its mission is to support basic research across all scientific and engineering disciplines. Dr. Nancy Jackson, president of the American Chemical Society, also noted that the benefits of science may take decades to realize and cautioned against focusing too much on short-term interests.
Dr. Keith R. Yamamoto,vice chancellor for research at the University of California, San Francisco, stated that “peer-driven merit review has been spectacularly successful at identifying and prioritizing the most interesting, innovative and significant scientific research projects.” Yamamoto acknowledged that there is a difference between what is considered transformative research, which breaks down paradigms, versus innovative research, which strengthens and advances research areas. Yamamoto suggested that NSF may want to consider creating a different merit review process for transformative research proposals, for example, choose individuals that like to “think out of the box” as reviewers.
-- Joanne Carney
In their report, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD Commission) stated that without preventative measures, the world would likely experience an attack with a WMD by 2013 and that use of biological weapons was more likely than nuclear weapons. Both chambers attempted to pass legislation entitled The WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act to address the WMD Commission’s recommendations in the previous session of Congress but the bills stalled. On June 14, at a policy forum at George Washington University, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) announced that he and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) would reintroduce their version of the bill this fall.
Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Peter T. King (R-NY) introduced their version (H.R. 2356) in the House on June 24, 2011 that has been referred to 5 committees. H.R. 2356 places a large emphasis on preventing and preparing for attacks with biological weapons. If passed, this legislation in its current form would mandate:
- Creation of a Special Assistant to the President for Biodefense whose duties would include overseeing development and implementation of a National Biodefense Plan, a National Biosurveillance Plan, a National Research and Development Strategy for Microbial Forensics, a National Intelligence Strategy for Countering the Threat from WMD, and a National Intelligence Strategy for Countering Biological Threats.
- A cross-cutting budget analysis of biodefense spending.
- Evaluation and standardization of biological agent detection assays and protocols.
- Provisions to deploy sensors for biological attacks to high risk areas and ports of entry; provide information to participating laboratories for their use to monitor these detectors; and share information with public health, law enforcement, and first responders as well as provide planning tools, training exercises and technical assistance.
- Assessment of the feasibility of screening individuals entering the country for biological agents, pandemic influenza, and other infectious agents in an effective and quick manner.
- Designation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Bioforensics Analysis Center as the lead Federal facility for forensic examination of biological agents and as a reference collection and repository of these agents.
- Establishing the Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel as a permanent advisory committee to the President to provide recommendations concerning biological agent and toxin security.
- Assessment of the dual use risks of synthetic biology, specifically assessing the ability of synthetic nucleic acid providers to effectively screen orders and customers.
- Goals for international engagement to promote compliance and implementation of the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention; common biosafety and biosecurity standards and practices; and awareness of the dual use dilemma in the life sciences.
While these legislative measures are being considered this fall, the WMD Center, established by former Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent (the former chairs of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction), will release an updated report card on the status of the United States to prevent, prepare for, and respond to an attack by a WMD. The first report card, released in January of 2010, gave failing grades for “the nation’s capabilities for rapid response to prevent biological attacks from inflicting mass casualties” and for governmental oversight of high containment laboratories.
-- Meghan Seltzer
July was a big month for biomedical research in the U.S. court system.
First, on July 27, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled in favor of the Obama policy allowing the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on human embryonic stem cells, dismissing a lawsuit in which plaintiffs sued the Obama Administration for allegedly violating law that forbids the use of government funds for the destruction of embryos. Lamberth’s surprise decision followed the reasoning of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which threw out the judge’s initial injunction on funding the research.
Shortly after the decision, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) vowed to continue to push her bill that would codify into law the rules permitting ethical human embryonic stem cell research. DeGette has again introduced the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act (H.R. 2376), this time with a new Republican lead cosponsor: Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Dent fills the void left by Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) after he ran for Senate and lost in the primary election. The bill would allow federal funding for research on stem cells obtained from donated embryos leftover from fertility treatments, so long as the donations meet certain ethical criteria.
Two days after Lamberth's ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled 2-1 that genes can be patented, overturning a lower court decision in a case that has been closely followed by the biotechnology industry. Specifically, the court ruled that Myriad Genetics is entitled to patents on two human genes associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, saying that DNA isolated from the body is “markedly different” from DNA as it exists in nature. The case may next head to the Supreme Court.
-- Erin Heath
Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act Reauthorization Moves Ahead
By voice vote on July 28, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed bipartisan legislation to reauthorize programs to address biological hazards. The legislation, H.R. 2405 “Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act,” was introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) on June 28. The legislation would reauthorize the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which established the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority (BARDA) that manages Project BioShield. BARDA and Project BioShield coordinate and fund the advanced development and procurement (respectively) of medical countermeasures (MCM) for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats.
H.R. 2405 would reauthorize certain provisions of the 2006 legislation including BARDA and the Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund (SRF). Under H.R. 2405, BARDA would be authorized to receive up to $415 million annually from 2012 to 2016, and the SRF is authorized to receive $2.8 billion between 2014 and 2018. This legislation also contains provisions that would increase coordination and communication between the biotechnology industry developing MCM and the FDA to ensure faster approval, clearance, and licensing of MCM. The bill suggests that mechanisms to address coordination and communication include development of a Regulatory Management Plan for proposed MCM and a process for investigators to reach agreements with the FDA on clinical trial design and animal studies. In addition, within a year of this legislation being passed, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be required to submit final guidance to industry on the animal rule for the evaluation of MCM.
The bill would require ASPR to submit a Countermeasure Implementation Plan including data on CBRN threats facing the United States and an evaluation of progress on research, development, procurement, and stockpiling of countermeasures. In addition, the Countermeasure Implementation Plan would include an assessment of MCM needed to treat pediatric populations, current gaps within the Strategic National Stockpile for treatment of pediatric patients, and an evaluation of the coordination between ASPR and the Office of Pediatric Therapeutics within FDA.
Companion legislation in the Senate has not yet been introduced.
-- Meghan Seltzer
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
On July 26, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a hearing to the examine how the fishery research of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) impacts the economies of coastal communities that rely on commercial or recreational fisheries. NOAA’s fishery research and management are performed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which requires the use of “best available science” in establishing catch limits. However, several representatives at the hearing shared the concern of fishermen constituents who do not believe that best available science is being utilized, since many stock assessment data are old, incomplete, or missing. Recommendations to improve NOAA’s regulatory decision-making included increased partnership with universities and other research institutions, greater transparency, and improved stakeholder involvement in the data collection and standard setting processes.
On August 2, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to review the recommendations of the Near-Term Task Force of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding NRC policy and practice in light of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. These recommendations were largely the subject of bipartisan support, although differences remained regarding the appropriate process and timeline for their implementation. According to the Commission, continued operation and licensing activities of the NRC do not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety, although adoption of the recommendations would provide an enhanced regulatory framework and result in significantly improved public safety.
On July 28, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology passed along party lines “The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2011” (H.R. 2484). The bill was designed to research harmful algal blooms (HABs) and hypoxia, to assess associated response needs, and to develop and implement action plans for the monitoring, prevention, mitigation and control of both marine and freshwater algal blooms and hypoxia events. Opposition from House Democrats originated from concerns that the bill does not provide adequate funding to the EPA and NOAA to carry out the mandates given in the legislation.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee marked-up and approved 23 bills on July 14. One of them (yet to be numbered) would promote the domestic development and deployment of clean energy technology. Another bill (S. 1067) would require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a research, development, and demonstration program to reduce manufacturing and construction costs relating to nuclear reactors and a third (S. 734) calls for research, development, and deployment of electric vehicles.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted to prohibit the use of funds to assist developing countries adapt to climate change or transition to sources of clean energy. The Committee passed H.R. 2583, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, with an amendment from Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) to prohibit the use of funds for the Global Climate Change Initiative, which is part of the United Nations’ effort to help provide assistance to developing countries. A week later, the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee reported out its spending bill. The bill eliminates funding for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the World Bank’s Strategic Climate Fund and Clean Technology Fund.
The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee passed the bipartisan Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2011(H.R. 2096). The bill seeks to coordinate cybersecurity research across federal agencies, expand the research to include social and behavioral factors, authorize the National Science Foundation to support cybersecurity research in more fields (e.g., identity management and crimes against children), and provide scholarships to students pursuing a degree in a cybersecurity field.
The House Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2011 (H.R. 2011) during a July 20 mark-up. The legislation calls for a national assessment of the United States’ capability to meet the growing demand for critical minerals.
On August 4, the National Science Foundation released its draft Scientific Integrity Principles in the Federal Register for public comments. The next day, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft plan for its Scientific Integrity Policy on its website. Comments for both agency plans are due September 6, 2011.
The Department of Commerce Economic and Statistics Administration (ESA) issued a report on women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce. The report, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, found that women continue to be “vastly underrepresented” and hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. On a brighter note, women in STEM jobs “earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs.”
In an effort to build research capacity in developing countries through partnerships with U.S. scientists, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) on July 7. The joint initiative with NSF makes about $7 million of USAID funding available to researchers from developing countries for collaborating with American scientists already receiving NSF grants. Based on six pilot programs, PEER will focus on applied research on water, climate change, biodiversity, renewable energy, and disaster mitigation.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is requesting comments on the development of a State Health Policy Database “to support scientific research on key research questions in health economics and to facilitate applied health economics research on issues relating to health care reform.” The database is intended “as a research tool that will document state-level policies in a manner that facilitates valid comparisons across states and over time.” The deadline for comment is August 26.
On July 15, the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a Proposed Rule in the Federal Register on revisions to the Export Administration Regulations. The Proposed Rule addresses the structure it will utilize for transferring items from the Pentagon’s Munitions Control List (MCS) to the BIS Commerce Control List (CCL), new definitions for licensing policies for CCL items, and a proposed definition for “specially designed” items. Comments are due September 13, 2011.
On July 26th, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on Human Subjects Research Protections: Enhancing Protections for Research Subjects and Reducing Burden, Delay, and Ambiguity for Investigators. The ANPRM states that the "expansion of human subject research into many new scientific disciplines and venues and an increase in multi-site studies have highlighted ambiguities in the current rules and have led to questions about whether the current regulatory framework is effectively keeping up with the needs of researchers and research subjects." Public comments will be accepted through September 26, 2011.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a new report entitled Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society and the Economy. The report recommends that the federal government institute a Quadrennial Ecosystems Services Trends Assessment to gain a better understanding of the value of ecosystem services. The report calls for the development of more sophisticated methodologies for quantifying the value of ecosystem services to help mature the science and to improve the quality of information available to policy-makers and the public.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a draft report on the regulatory science needs and internal research directions to guide its Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). The report, Identifying CDER's Science and Research Needs, is open for public comment until September 26.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public comment on its Bisphenol A (BPA) Action Plan, which includes toxicity testing and environmental sampling. Comments can be submitted online by September 26, 2011.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is inviting public comments on how to structure the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) program, a new public-private partnership. The goal of AMTech is to provide federal financial assistance to industry-led consortia and to develop “roadmaps of critical long-term industrial manufacturing research needs, and issue sub-awards to fund research by universities, government laboratories, and U.S. businesses.”
- Antibiotic Resistance: Data Gaps Will Remain Despite HHS Taking Steps to Improve Monitoring (GAO-11-406)
- Drinking Water: Unreliable State Data Limit EPA's Ability to Target Enforcement Priorities and Communicate Water Systems' Performance (GAO-11-381)
- Space Research: Content and Coordination of Space Science and Technology Strategy Need to Be More Robust (GAO-11-722)
- Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21538-1)
- A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21739-2)
- Health Care Comes Home: The Human Factors (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21236-6)
- Improving Access to Oral Health Care for Vulnerable and Underserved Populations (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-20946-5)
- An Assessment of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21723-1)
- Assessing Requirements for Sustained Ocean Color Research and Operations (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21044-7)
- Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21676-0)
- For the Public's Health: Revitalizing Law and Policy to Meet New Challenges (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21648-7)
- STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future
U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration
- The Atlantic Century II: Benchmarking U.S. and EU Innovation and Competitiveness
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
- Environmental Regulation and Electric System Reliability
Bipartisan Policy Center
AAAS Supports NOAA’s Proposed Scientific Integrity Policy
AAAS has issued comments supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s draft Scientific Integrity Policy. In particular, AAAS commended NOAA for recognizing the value of scientific peer review, the importance of openness in research, and the ability of scientists to communicate with the media.
AAAS Comments on NSF Merit Review Criteria
AAAS has submitted comments in response to the National Science Board’s proposed revisions to NSF’s merit review criteria. The AAAS response raises several issues that will affect the scientific community, including the rationale for the listing of nine “national goals,” the connection between those goals and merit review, the place of research integrity in evaluating proposals, and the scope of “broader impacts” that would be considered under the revisions.
Organizations Support Peer Review Process
On July 11, 140 scientific societies and universities, including AAAS, sent a letter urging U.S. policymakers to avoid singling out specific programs, such as the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, for cuts and to refrain from bypassing independent peer review.
Neurotechnology and the Military Briefing
On July 26, AAAS held a briefing that focused on areas of neuroscience that are of particular interest to members of the military.
AAAS Supports Proposed Rule to Allow Full Participation for Federal Scientists
On July 5, AAAS wrote Richard M. Thomas, associate general counsel for the Office of Government Ethics, to support OGE's proposed rule that would allow federal scientists to fully participate in the leadership of professional societies.
According to a recent study, alpha male baboons have higher stress and lower testosterone level than the second highest ranked male or beta male. In addition, alpha male baboons' hormone levels are similar to low-ranked males. Researchers believe that low-ranked males have high stress levels because they are concerned with access to food while alpha males probably have high stress levels because they have to fight to preserve their dominance. Results show that being the top ranked in an animal (and possibly human) society may have costs and benefits.
Gesquiere, Laurence R. et. al., "Life at the Top: Rank and Stress in Wild Male Baboons," Science 15 July 2011:Vol. 333 no. 6040 pp. 357-360.