Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
After a contentious debate over disaster funding that led to the possibility of a government shutdown, the House and Senate are poised to pass a continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through November 18, buying themselves time until the Thanksgiving recess to finish up the FY 2012 appropriations process. The continuing resolution (H.R.2608) was passed by the Senate on September 26 and would fund the federal government at a total level of $1.042 trillion in discretionary spending, $1 billion less than the agreed-upon discretionary spending cap in The Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L.112-25). This level amounts to a 1.503% cut across most discretionary accounts.
After a slow start, the Senate moved with rapid speed in September, passing 11 bills out of committee but only 1 through the full Senate. The House passed 9 bills out of committee and 6 through the full House, with all of that work coming prior to the August recess.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its 302(b) subcommittee allocations on September 7. The 302(b) allocations provide a budgetary framework by allocating total discretionary spending among the 12 appropriations subcommittees. The total budget authority allocated by the Senate is $1.043 trillion, $23 billion more than the House's total. A summary table comparing the House and Senate 302(b) allocations is available here. While the Senate discretionary spending figure is just 2.3% ($23 billion) higher than the House, sharp differences between the House and Senate on funding levels for many specific programs could lead to some contentious conference negotiations.
Also on September 7, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported the Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Energy and Water Development bills. The Senate Agriculture bill provides $1.2 billion for the National Institute on Food and Agriculture (NIFA), $1 million (0.1%) less than FY 2011, and $1.1 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), $39 million (3.4%) less than FY 2011. In the Homeland Security bill, Science and Technology programs were funded at $800 million, $28 million (3.3%) less than FY 2011 but $261 million (48.4%) more than the House bill which had proposed a large cut. Finally, in the Energy and Water Development bill, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is funded at $250 million, $70 million (39.2%) more than FY 2011; the Office of Science is funded at $4.8 billion, $15 million (0.3%) less than FY 2011; and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) programs are funded at $1.8 billion, $30 million (1.7%) less than FY 2011 but $488 million (37.3%) more than the House bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2012 appropriations bills for Commerce, Justice and Science; Defense; Financial Services; and Legislative Branch on September 15. The Commerce, Justice and Science bill provides $680 million for the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), 9.3% ($70 million) less than FY 2011 and 3.0% ($21 million) less than the House; $675 million in R&D for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2.4% ($16 million) more than FY 2011 and 12.8% ($77 million) more than the House; $17.9 billion for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2.8% ($509 million) less than FY 2011 but 6.7% ($1.1 billion) more than the House; and $6.7 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), 2.4% ($162 million) less than FY 2011 and the House. The Defense bill provides $74.9 billion (not including Overseas Contingency Operations) for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E), 0.1% ($98 million) less than FY 2011 but 2.5% ($1.85 billion) more than the House.
The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill was marked up by subcommittee on September 8. The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) of the Department of Transportation would receive $11.9 million in the bill, $1.1 million (8.6% less than in FY 2011), and the Federal Transit Administration's Research and University Research Centers program is funded at $45 million, $13.9 million (23.6%) less than FY 2011.
Meanwhile, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the "Budget Super Committee"), established by The Budget Control Act of 2011, has been holding meetings, both publically and privately. The commission's recommendations are due November 23. C-SPAN has created a dedicated website for the committee.
Even though the FY 2012 budget process is not yet completed, plans for FY 2013 are underway. On August 17, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jacob Lew sent a memo to department and agency heads directing agencies to submit FY 2013 budget requests totaling at least 5% below their FY 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation, and to identify additional reductions that could bring the total request to at least 10% below their FY 2011 levels.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest congressional action on the FY 2012 budget.
-- Patrick Clemins
On September 16, President Obama signed the America Invents Act (HR 1249) into law. The Act is the first significant reform to the patent process in over 50 years. Significant changes include a switch from a "first-to-invent" to a "first-to-file" system, a new post-patent review and patent challenging process, and clarified patent criteria.
The act replaces the "first-to-invent" system with a "first-to-file" system in an effort to streamline the patenting process and reduce costly litigation. This change makes United States policy consistent with major trading partners, reduces the lengthy process of determining the first inventor, makes the patenting process more efficient and predictable, and encourages innovators to patent ideas quickly.
In order to reduce the magnitude of expensive and time-consuming litigation surrounding patents, the act clarifies patent criteria, attempts to improve the quality of patents issued, and creates a post-patent review process and patent challenging system that provide alternatives to litigation.
The Senate approved an initial patent reform bill in March 2011 by a vote of 95-5. In June, the House passed a somewhat different bill by a vote of 304-117. The main discrepancy, which held up conference of the bill, was the treatment of fees paid to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). The Senate version directed PTO fees back to the agency, while the House bill called for excess user fees to be placed into a PTO-dedicated fund that appropriators would direct back to the PTO. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) explained his preference for the Senate language to National Review Online: "The appropriators are insisting, of course, that they have no intention of diverting fees. History suggests they are not to be trusted."
The final bill went with the House language, and is expected to reduce the average time needed to get a patent from the current three years. By improving the process itself and allowing the PTO more control of its funding, the act aims to encourage innovation by making the patent process less costly in terms of both time and litigation.
-- Emily Lamb
On September 23rd, the Investigations and Oversight subcommittee and the Energy and Environment subcommittee—both of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology—held a joint hearing on NOAA's Polar Weather Satellite Program.
The NASA/NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) provides over 90 percent of all weather data for the U.S., making it essential for protecting U.S. health and infrastructure. However, the program is hampered by a reputation as, in the words of Energy and Environment Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD), "the poster child of runaway government programs."
If the current House funding proposal goes through, JPSS expects major data gaps starting in 2016. Severe budget cuts in FY2011 left NOAA struggling to keep JPSS on track, and though FY2012 funding is up in the current House Appropriations bill, NOAA needs a more significant increase to make up for losses in 2011.
Investigations and Oversight Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) opened the hearing with a question: Why does the Joint Polar Satellite System, which was envisioned as a way to reduce redundancies between NASA and NOAA programs, cost double what the original program cost? Since the first JPSS hearing 17 years ago, he said, six billion dollars have been spent and zero satellites have been launched. He went on to suggest that, although NOAA cites a lack of funding as the major cause of delays, the fault lies with NOAA for poor management, ill-defined objectives and wildly inaccurate cost estimates.
JPSS represents the reorganization of a precursor program, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which was dismantled due to severe organizational and cost-control problems. As part of its FY2011 budget request, the Administration stipulated that NPOESS should be split: DOD takes the morning orbit satellites, NOAA takes the afternoon orbit, and NASA manages the program under the new title JPSS. The late afternoon orbit was abandoned completely, replaced by data from a European weather monitoring program.
"This is a snake-bit project," said Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) in his opening remarks, "but it's being bitten by fewer and less venomous snakes." The Appropriations Committee, in his mind, is at fault for failing to provide adequate funding for NOAA to make the requested transition.
Kathryn Sullivan, deputy administrator of NOAA, testified that JPSS has made significant progress over the past year in terms of both management and production. JPSS plans to launch its first research satellite—a test-run for the full JPSS satellite slated to launch in 2016—on October 25th. Christopher Scolese, NASA associate administrator, seconded Sullivan's remarks.
David Powner, GAO's director of IT management issues, said that NASA and NOAA had made great progress in terms of cooperation, oversight and streamlining the JPSS program, but still needed to make firm decisions about costs. He called on NOAA to submit an independently-confirmed baseline budget estimate as soon as possible, and urged them to develop contingencies for possible data gaps.
Rep. Harris asked Sullivan about the possibility that the market for weather data could be privatized, citing the high-level of privatization in the market for medical instruments. Sullivan replied that NOAA had explored privatization as a route to cost reduction and found that private firms could not produce the high-quality data necessary for accurate nation-wide weather prediction. NOAA's current satellites are already 20 years old and well behind Europe's in terms of technology.
If the current Appropriations Bill passes, Sullivan said that NOAA will likely prioritize the ready-to-launch research satellite as a bridge between the current, late-life satellites and those launching in 2016. NOAA is also developing software to process lower-resolution weather data from other countries, which could help counterbalance NOAA's potential dearth of satellites. Even so, Sullivan said, expect data gaps for all weather-related decisions—from when to carry an umbrella to when to evacuate before a hurricane.
-- Elizabeth Robinson
Along with the signing of the America Invents Act this month (see previous article), President Obama announced several additional initiatives intended to expedite the movement of ideas "from lab to market."
Highlighted in the President's announcement was a new institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) called the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). NIH Director Francis Collins first announced the plan for NCATS in December. The aim of the new institute is to aid the movement from basic research to clinical applications, though Collins is careful to point out that it will not seek to duplicate the work of the private sector. One of NCATS' initial activities will be a partnership with DARPA to support the development of a chip to screen for safe and effective drugs.
The Senate Appropriations Committee panel with oversight of NIH gave its stamp of approval for the existence of NCATS by allocating $582 million for the new institute in its FY 2012 spending bill (the administration requested $722 million). However, the House has not yet weighed in with a bill, and NIH faces criticism from some appropriators for the pace and manner in which it introduced NCATS (see STC June 2011). NCATS would essentially replace another NIH center, the National Center for Research Resources.
- The Administration plans to develop a "Bioeconomy Blueprint" detailing government steps to harness biological research to address national challenges in health, food, energy and the environment.
- The Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and 135 university leaders will coordinate with the Administration to encourage entrepreneurship and university-industry collaboration.
- Four additional universities will participate in a Translational Research Partnership program sponsored by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, which focuses on research in biomedical engineering that could boost the introduction of new technologies into patient care.
- NIH developed new agreements for start-ups to obtain licenses for early-stage biomedical inventions developed by NIH and FDA intramural researchers.
- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), in collaboration with the National Science Foundation and the Small Business Association, will pilot a program to assist recipients of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants in utilizing PTO's resources.
AAAS is participating in the Administration's plan by leading the design and implementation of a prize competition to identify and promote incentives to adopt best practices for improving university commercialization efforts.
-- Erin Heath
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held a hearing on September 21 to examine China's monopoly on rare earths and its implications for U.S. foreign and security policy. Members and witnesses shared concerns about the implications of China's control of 95 percent of the world's rare earths and recommended ways to increase production in the United States, including increased R&D.
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, announced his intention to start a formal committee investigation into whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched activities of a newly organized climate service without explicit authorization from Congress (see Committee press release). Under the FY 2011 spending bill, NOAA was prohibited from launching the service. The goal, NOAA says, is to more effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act), which would designate Clean Water Act fines for last year's oil spill to environmental restoration and recovery for the Gulf region. An amendment by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) provides funding for a national ocean trust fund entitled the National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO). The bill designates interest on the Clean Water Act fines to the NEO to support a national competitive grant program for activities in any state that would benefit oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes.
On September 21, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to discuss the need for information technology research and development (ITR&D). George Strawn, director of the National Coordination Office of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program, stated that NITRD investments result in both technological and financial multiplier effects. Edward Lazowska of the University of Washington agreed, testifying that ITR&D enables breakthroughs in other fields of science because so much research relies on computer science.
On September 8, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing to discuss the impacts that the LightSquared broadband network could have on GPS technology. Mary Glackin, deputy under secretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), testified that if LightSquared released their network under current plans, NOAA's satellite GPS systems would be affected and as a result, satellite data would become increasingly unreliable. Eventually, NOAA would lose communication with some satellites. Witnesses noted that because most federal science systems were not tested for potential impacts stemming from the network's launch, it is unknown how they would be impacted. Witnesses and Representatives commended LightSquared for being so responsive in their quest to launch a network that minimally interferes with GPS systems.
On September 27, the Department of Energy released its first Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) to the public. The QTR establishes a framework to set priorities within the Department's research and development portfolio around six key strategies and highlights the need for better technical analysis of its R&D activities. Speeches given by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, OSTP Director John Holdren and DOE Undersecretary for Science Steven Koonin highlighted the decadal timescale of changes in the energy sector and the need for carefully crafted, consistent long-term policies. The QTR stresses the need to shift more funding into the transportation sector relative to the "stationary" energy technologies, such as power plants, the electricity grid and building efficiency improvements, and focuses on reducing inefficiencies within the system rather than developing new technologies.
On September 26, the White House announced the Career-Life Balance Initiative. Aimed at reducing the dropout rate of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the initiative will allow researchers to suspend NSF grants for up to a year to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child or other family obligation. The initiative also gives researchers the option to apply for stipends to fund assistants during an absence, better publicizes family-targeted opportunities and encourages family friendliness for panel reviewers. When introducing the initiative, the White House stressed that, in order for the United States to stay competitive globally, it could not afford to neglect half of its STEM talent pool. The program has also sparked a number of initiatives from independent organizations designed to encourage female participation in STEM subjects across age groups.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule governing conflicts of interest among biomedical researchers. Investigators must disclose to their institutions all significant financial interests related to their work, and the threshold requiring disclosure of financial interests has been reduced from $10,000 to $5,000. Although DHHS considered requiring institutions to post researchers' financial conflicts on a website, the final draft says institutions should provide written information in response to a request within five business days. Institutions have a year to begin complying with the new rule.
Following a recent Science paper showing that African-American scientists are less likely to receive NIH research project grants than other candidates, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director has formed a working group to address diversity in biomedical research. Another working group, on the future of the biomedical research workforce, is asking for public comment on workforce issues by October 7.
In response to a rising number of grant proposals, the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) announced that its Divisions of Environmental Biology (DEB) and Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) will move to an annual cycle of preliminary and full proposals, effective January 2012. Following the review of preliminary proposals by a panel of outside experts, each applicant will be notified about the decision to invite or not invite submission of a full proposal. Details can be found in a program solicitation posted on each division's website (DEB and IOS), along with a set of frequently asked questions.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future is accepting public comment on its draft report on nuclear waste management through October 31. Individuals may provide comments online, by email or during public meetings to be held in Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., in October.
The Pentagon extended to November 30 the comment period for its proposal to amend the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) and the DFAR contract clauses that regulate unclassified research. According to the original Federal Register notice in June, one of the proposed changes would allow the principal investigator and security officer (rather than the contracting officer) to determine what constitutes fundamental, and thereby unclassified, research.
On August 15, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a draft guidance document seeking public comments on the design of clinical trials for medical devices. The agency seeks comments on topics such as minimizing data bias and choosing study participants. In related news, that same day the agency issued another draft guidance to clarify how it calculates benefit-risk ratios for medical devices during pre-market review determinations.
DOD is implementing a "Rapid Innovation Fund," for which DOD received authorization and nearly $100 million in funding for FY 2011. The fund is intended to support "rapid insertion of innovative technologies that meet critical national security needs," and will apparently focus on small businesses.
The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) and the FDA released for public comment a joint draft guidance document entitled "Guidance on Exculpatory Language in Informed Consent." The document refers to language in which the research subject waives his/her legal rights to sue, or that purports to release the investigator, the sponsor, the institution or its researchers from liability for negligence. The joint draft document offers, among other things, guidance on the regulatory prohibition of including exculpatory language in informed consent, and includes examples of language that OHRP and FDA consider acceptable, as well as examples of language that the agencies would consider exculpatory. When finalized, the draft document will supersede OHRP's November 15, 1996, guidance. Comments must be submitted by November 7.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has issued a comprehensive review of unethical syphilis experiments that were conducted in Guatemala in the 1940s and came to light last year. The panel recommended the establishment of a compensation system for people harmed by their participation in scientific research.
EPA released Plan EJ 2014, a roadmap that will help EPA integrate environmental justice into the Agency's programs, policies and activities. The goals of the plan are to protect human health in communities affected by pollution; empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment; and establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a draft five-year plan that includes ways to address rare diseases. Part of the plan involves training biotech companies on drug development for rare diseases and increasing outreach to the rare-disease community. FDA will hold a public meeting on the plan on October 14. More information, with a link to the full plan, can be found here.
- NSF issued a report from an international workshop on Changing the Conduct of Science in the Information Age. The report acknowledges that "[n]ew digital technologies are transforming the practice of science" and discusses the implications for data access, sharing and reproducibility. Workshop participants recommended a system of "reliable and unique identifiers for individual researchers, organizations and publications to create linkages between publications and their appropriate data." The purpose of such a system would be to "ensure that data sets are linked to subsequent publications and other research outputs, further aiding attribution and the reproducibility of research," thereby encouraging creators of data sets to share widely and users of those data sets to credit their originators.
Civilian Nuclear Waste Disposal (RL33461)
Other Transaction (OT) Authority (RL34760)
The Technology Innovation Program (RS22815)
- Nuclear Nonproliferation: U.S. Agencies Have Limited Ability to Account for, Monitor, and Evaluate the Security of U.S. Nuclear Material Overseas (GAO-11-920)
- Environmental Health: Action Needed to Sustain Agencies' Collaboration on Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water (GAO-11-346)
- Small Business Innovation Research: SBA Should Work with Agencies to Improve the Data Available for Program Evaluation (GAO-11-698)
- Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21469-8)
- Preparing for the High Frontier: The Role and Training of NASA Astronauts in the Post- Space Shuttle Era (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21869-6)
- Improving Health in the United States: The Role of Health Impact Assessment (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21883-2)
- Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for Practice and Research (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21956-3)
- Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21944-0)
- Global Change and Extreme Hydrology: Testing Conventional Wisdom (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21768-2)
- Sustainability and the U.S. EPA (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21252-6)
- Medical Devices and the Public's Health: The FDA 510(k) Clearance Process at 35 Years (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21242-7)
International Benchmarking of Countries’ Policies and Programs Supporting SME Manufacturers
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
2011 Almanac of Environmental Trends
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
Addressing Race and Genetics
Center for American Progress
Catalyzing American Ingenuity
The American Energy and Innovation Council
Forests for Carbon: Exploring Forest Carbon Offsets in the U.S. South
World Resources Institute
Policy Response to Pandemic Influenza: The Value of Collective Action
Resources for the Future
Letter Sent to Capitol Hill on the Value of R&D.
On August 30, AAAS joined a coalition of scientific and educational institutions to send a letter to members of Congress highlighting the critical role of research and development. According to the letter, "Slashing science funding in order to reduce the national debt not only adversely affects immediate innovation, but will also stifle future economic growth and jeopardize our national security."
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Science & Society: Global Challenges Discussion Series
Please join us for evening discussions this fall. The events will be held on Monday evenings—October 3 and 24 and November 7 and 21—from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the AAAS Auditorium at 1200 New York Avenue. A reception will start at 5:00 p.m. This series is sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society and the Georgetown University Program on Science in the Public Interest.
Cyber Attack: Crime, Terrorism or National Security?
Experts: Stewart Baker, author and former Assistant Secretary of Policy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; John Steinbruner, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), University of Maryland
Host: David Kestenbaum
Fukushima: Lessons Learned
Experts: Gregory Jaczko, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Host: Richard Harris
Infectious Disease: Challenges to Eradication
Host: Richard Harris
Nanotechnology in the 2010s: The Teen Years
Experts: Pedro Alvarez, George R. Brown Professor of Engineering and Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University; Omid Farokhzad, Associate Professor, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School; Debra Kaiser, Supervisory Materials Research Engineer and Division Chief –Ceramics, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Host: David Kestenbaum
The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” old classmates, find articles online or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers. When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.
Sparrow, Betsy, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegner. "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips." Science 5 August 2011: 333 (6043), 776-778.