Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
On December 23, the President signed into law the FY 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2055). The so-called "megabus" spending package contains funding for some of the largest federal research and development (R&D) accounts, including defense, energy, and health sciences, as well as agencies and departments with smaller R&D profiles like Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior. AAAS analysis of the bill shows widely varied impacts on R&D investment amid a tough budget environment, with some departments, agencies, and programs seeing moderate to substantial cuts, and others seeing moderate to substantial increases.
Overall, federal R&D investment in FY 2012 (including funding contained in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012, or the "minibus," passed in November) stands at $142 billion, a decrease of $1.8 billion or 1.3 percent below FY 2011 levels and $7.4 billion or 5 percent below the President's request. The Department of Defense (DOD) saw the largest portion of these cuts, with DOD R&D down $2.5 billion from FY 2011. These defense cuts were largely driven by reductions in development and support activities, as basic and applied research at DOD actually saw a 6.5 percent increase over FY 2011 levels, and a 1.5 percent increase over the Administration's request. Defense-related spending at the Department of Energy (DOE) did receive an increase, up $322 million or 8.1 percent over FY 2011.
By contrast, non-defense R&D spending held steady overall compared to FY 2011 levels, although again far below the Administration's request. The total National Institutes of Health (NIH) research budget was essentially unchanged at $30.2 billion. Most individual research centers received a one-half percent increase, but there are also some notable changes. In the final bill, Congress agreed to establish within NIH the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, an entity that will seek to "reengineer" the process by which new discoveries in fundamental science move from lab to clinic. The Senate had originally approved the center in its version of the appropriations bill, but the House had not. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration both saw substantial cuts in R&D budgets of 11.2 percent and 28.5 percent, respectively.
In total dollars, the largest non-defense gains were at DOE, in the Office of Science ($209 million or 4.9 percent above FY 2011) and in Energy Programs ($198 million or 10.5 percent above FY 2011). However, both of these increases were far below the Administration's request. While the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's overall budget remained steady from FY 2011, the portion devoted to R&D actually increased above FY 2011 levels by 36.7 percent, or $283 million. Conversely, fossil energy R&D declined by $70 million, or 15.4 percent below FY 2011 levels. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has been the subject of substantial debate, but ended up receiving a $92 million or 53.1 percent increase above FY 2011 levels. Elsewhere, Interior and EPA also saw significant relative gains in research funding, though Homeland Security saw a small reduction.
Additional data and analysis for agencies covered in the FY 2012 spending bill are available at the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website.
-- Matthew Hourihan
The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee met on December 1 to discuss H.R. 3479, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2011. The act, introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), authorizes funding for two main programs: the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP). The act passed by a party line vote of 21-12.
The committee considered six amendments, three of which were approved. The first was a manager's amendment submitted by Biggert that updates the progress reporting requirements and coordination with the National Laboratories. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) then offered an amendment to include education and public outreach to special needs communities, such as the disabled, the elderly, or non-English language speakers, which have been underserved by past efforts. The third accepted amendment, offered by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), increases the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) role in fire research and control in wild and urban lands.
The three amendments that were not approved were all submitted by Democratic committee members and related to funding authorizations. The first, submitted by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), proposed putting NIST in charge of post-earthquake evaluations, a measure present in the Senate version of the bill. However, funding for NIST to carry out post-earthquake evaluations would necessitate a further cut in funding for the United States Geological Service (USGS), which currently performs the assessments, and Republican committee members argued that the House Natural Resources Committee would not support a bill including that amendment. In fact, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a legislative hearing during which members expressed concern at the cuts to USGS's budget under the current act.
-- Emily Lamb
On December 6, the House Natural Resources Committee held the first in a series of oversight hearings on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which has not been reauthorized since 1988. This hearing focused on the impacts of litigation brought against the federal government related to the ESA. Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said that only one percent of species listed under the ESA have recovered. However, Kieran Suckling, from the Center for Biological Diversity, noted that the average time for species to recover is 42 years, much longer than most of them have been listed. Suckling pointed out that 82 percent of listed species have been down- or de-listed on time with their recovery plans. In general, the witnesses said, the majority of litigation pertaining to the ESA is related to missed deadlines with respect to listings of species, and the listing process is entirely separate from the recovery plan process. The main change suggested by the panelists to reduce litigation was to provide adequate funding to carry out ESA objectives in a timely manner.
-- Emily Lamb
On December 7, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing titled "Energy Critical Elements: Identifying Research Needs and Strategic Priorities." Critical elements refer to rare earth metals that are used in batteries, magnets, superconductors and various other goods. The witnesses discussed ways the government could protect the U.S. economy from the volatile critical elements markets and the need for R&D investment in substitutes and recycling processes. Witness David Sandalow, from the Department of Energy (DOE), argued for training scientists and engineers, noting that "we have to develop not only our nation's mines but also our minds." The committee also discussed two bills addressing the management of energy critical elements (ECEs), one proposed by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and one by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC).
The two bills are similar in many regards, especially the central role of DOE in research efforts. Miller's bill is a slightly edited version of a 2010 bill that passed the House with 332 votes. While acknowledging that Hultgren's bill provides a stronger definition of critical materials, Miller stressed the importance of assigning interagency responsibility to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), as is done in his bill. The American Physical Society (APS) released a report in March 2011 with policy recommendations, which witness Robert Jaffe, who chaired the committee that wrote the report, said are encompassed in the Hultgren bill.
Two bills on critical materials were introduced in the Senate earlier this year. The first, introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) in February, contains many of the same research recommendations as the House bills. The second, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in May, relates primarily to the categorization of materials as critical and continued research into critical materials. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy has held hearings on both bills, but no further action has occurred.
-- Emily Lamb
On November 30, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing titled, "Stimulus Oversight: An Update on Accountability, Transparency, and Performance." Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) discussed the rapid manner in which the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) increased funding to science-related activities by $40 billion. He expressed concern at the government's ability to appropriately spend and monitor this funding.
In contrast to Broun, who called the Recovery Act "an abject failure," Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) praised some of the successes of the Act and highlighted the importance of efficient investment of those funds. Tonko raised two concerns with Recovery Act funds: in several departments the funds have yet to actually be committed and spent, and the public could be exposed to risk from large loan guarantees at the Department of Energy (DOE).
The witnesses discussed the various transparency and accountability measures associated with the Recovery Act funds, as well as some of the challenges faced in spending them. Michael Wood, Executive Director of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, highlighted www.recovery.gov, a website that tracks Recovery Act spending. Witnesses from DOE, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce outlined how their particular agencies have used, and continue to use, Recovery Act funds. They also discussed measures to reduce fraud through training sessions, reports, and audits. Frank Rusco, Director of the Natural Resources and Environment Team at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), pointed out two main issues with spending Recovery Act funds: it takes time to integrate large funding increases into existing programs while complying with the increased reporting requirements, and programs that were created from Recovery Act funds offer the challenges of starting a new program, in which measures of outcomes are harder to establish than for an existing program.
-- Emily Lamb
This November, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a pair of hearings on the merit and quality of R&D activities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The first hearing, held November 17, was titled "Quality Science at the EPA: The Need for Common Sense Reform." It began as a discussion about the EPA's peer-review process, but ultimately centered on hydrofracking. Hydrofracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting water and chemicals into underground shale formations at high pressure to extract natural gas.
In his opening statement, Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) opined that the EPA acts based on political rather than scientific motivations. "The perception," he said, "is that EPA has a penchant for pursuing outcome-based science in order to validate its regulatory agenda." Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) disagreed sharply with Rep. Harris's assessment. "Let me be clear," he said, "there may be some legitimate concerns related to EPA's research enterprise, but EPA is not the demonic agency that the Republican majority has made it out to be."
Arthur Elkins, the EPA's Junior Inspector General, said that his office found the Agency's peer review process satisfactory, but that some organizational problems remain. For example, the EPA does not collect sufficient data on its employees, hampering its ability to control for inefficiencies. "To their credit," he concluded, "the Office of Research and Development has been receptive to many of our recommendations." Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator of the EPA's Office of Research and Development, testified that the EPA is implementing recommendations from both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the EPA's Office of the Inspector General by restructuring programs and strengthening ties among national, regional and local offices. David Trimble, director of natural resources and environment at the GAO, expressed concern that the EPA's 35 labs are too independent and as a result could be overspending on redundant projects.
Questioning by Harris and other Republican representatives centered on hydrofracking. Harris said it was foolish for the EPA to pursue a study on the safety of hydrofracking because there are no documented cases of water contamination due to this practice. Anastas replied, "you can't find something if you don't look, if you don't ask the questions, if you don't do the science." Further questions involved the value of sewage treatment plants and the validity of retrospective data.
On November 30, the subcommittee held a second hearing—billed as an opportunity to hear "perspectives on common sense reform"—that featured a group of scholars with an essentially unified message. They testified that the EPA should not be allowed to pursue both research and regulatory activities because one will inevitably influence the other, resulting in politicized research and pseudo-scientific policy. Susan Dudley, director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center and former OMB administrator under President George W. Bush, called for greater transparency in the EPA's risk assessment process, particularly with regard to uncertainty. Gary Marchant, faculty director of the Center for Law, Science and Innovation at Arizona State University, recommended that the EPA be split into two separate agencies: one responsible for research and one responsible for regulation. Harris agreed with the idea, citing the NIH as an example of a successful science-only agency.
-- Elizabeth Robinson
The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics held a hearing on November 15 to discuss the future of U.S. planetary science, particularly future exploration of Mars. In their opening remarks, Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) and Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) raised questions concerning the future of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) missions and asked the panelists to identify potential impediments to progress.
The witnesses' testimonies discussed NASA's implementation of recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences Planetary Science Decadal Survey, released in March 2011. The survey calls for a balanced mix of small, medium and large missions in the future.
Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, noted in his testimony that the decadal survey placed the highest priority on the planned 2018 Mars mission. In order to complete the mission, NASA would need to reduce its cost to below $2.5 billion, a feat he believes is only achievable through partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). Green highlighted a letter of intent signed by NASA and ESA in 2009 in support of the Mars mission. Green concluded that, in order to maintain global leadership in planetary science, the United States needs a flagship mission, such as the Mars rover, that can be implemented this decade.
The second witness, Steve Squyres, Chair of the Committee on the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, pointed out that NASA has chosen to closely follow the decadal survey recommendations in all areas except for flagship missions where budget concerns jeopardize progress. He stressed that flagship missions are essential to planetary science and that the ability to carry out these missions is one of the greatest U.S. science and technology achievements. He reiterated that the joint NASA – ESA Mars mission is of the utmost priority. Squyres also highlighted the importance of international partnerships in general, especially for flagship missions, since they can help lessen the risk involved and provide additional funding for a project. Though the Administration has not canceled the Mars mission, it has not explicitly approved it either, according to the witnesses. Squyres pointed out that although the international community is enthusiastic about partnering with NASA, there is also frustration at its inability to commit.
-- Emily Lamb
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
The final FY 2012 authorization bill for the Department of Defense (H.R. 1540), which was signed into law December 31, retained language to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The new law increases the current 2.5 percent set-aside—taken from the annual research and development (R&D) budgets of all federal agencies with R&D above $100,000—to fund SBIR programs in all agencies to 3.2 percent over six years. The SBIR/STTR program has been operating under temporary authorizations over the past seven years.
The bill to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on December 14, a week after the House passed its version. The bill now goes to the Senate floor. The original PAHPA created new authority for the government to advance the development of vaccines and other resources critical for public health preparedness.
On December 8 Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced The Startup Act (S. 1965) to spur investment in small businesses, accelerate commercialization, and create a new visa for foreign students in STEM fields. The bill would create a new grant program to be managed through the Department of Commerce for universities "to improve commercialization capacity" and to allow faculty "to approach technology transfer programs outside their institution of employment."
On November 16 Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2011 (GRANT Act, H.R. 3433) and the bill was reported out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee the following day. The GRANT Act would require federal agencies to establish an extensive set of additional transparency measures as well as setting requirements for merit-based selection procedures. In addition to making their merit-review criteria and procedures publicly available, federal agencies would also have to publicly document the basis for their grant selections and post final reports, written products, and other related data or results of the grant on a publicly available website. The bill had originally called for the release of names and titles of peer reviewers but was amended during committee markup to allow for “unique identifiers” to be utilized in their place. Furthermore, the legislation provides that applicants for competitive grants in excess of $100,000, upon request, be given a debriefing by the agency "explaining the basis for the agency's award decision, including, if applicable, the decision not to award a grant." Finally, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be required to establish merit-based selection procedures for all agency grant programs.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on November 15 to examine two bills on energy research. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) testified on his bill, the Quadrennial Energy Review Act of 2011 (S.1703), which calls for a comprehensive review of federal energy programs and technologies every four years. Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) sponsored the other bill, the Energy Research and Development Coordination Act of 2011 (S.1807), which would establish an interagency planning and budget process for all of the Federal agencies involved in energy research, development, and demonstration. It would create an interagency National Energy Research Coordinating Council that would produce a government-wide plan to achieve solutions to problems in energy supply, transmission, and use.
NASA and NOAA have joined the list of federal agencies submitting scientific integrity policies in response to a memorandum issued by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in December 2010. Among other things, NASA's policy stresses that "NASA scientists may speak freely with the public about scientific and technical matters," and that "it is NASA policy that political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and that in no circumstance may public affairs officers ask or direct Federal scientists to alter scientific findings." A key provision of the NOAA policy affirms that NOAA scientists may talk to the news media about their work without approval from their supervisors or the public affairs office. The policy also says managers must judge research on its scientific merits, not their personal or political views.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its report, Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research, on December 15. The report was requested by President Obama, who asked the Commission to assess existing policies and rules regarding their effectiveness in protecting human research subjects in both domestic and international research. On November 23 the President issued an Executive Order extending the life of the Commission through September 30, 2013.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has issued a detailed catalogue of all federal programs pertaining to science, technology, engineering and math education. The Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Portfolio shows an overall federal investment in STEM education of $3.4 billion in FY 2010.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 35 new drugs in FY 2011 – its second highest annual total in the past ten years, according to an agency report released in November. The FDA report was released at nearly the same time that the White House issued an Executive Order directing the FDA to take action to reduce prescription drug shortages through expedited review and improved reporting.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released a strategic plan for cybersecurity research developed under the leadership of the National Science and Technology Council's Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program.
The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) has announced the availability of the 2012 edition of "The International Compilation of Human Research Standards." The volume lists more than 1,000 laws, regulations, and guidelines on human subjects protections in more than 100 countries and from several international organizations.
On November 16 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a joint proposal to set stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas pollution standards for 2017-2025 model year cars and light trucks. The program would increase fuel efficiency requirements from 35.5 miles per gallon, required by the Obama Administration for 2012-2016, to 54.5 mpg. The estimated net benefit to society would total over $420 billion and reduce vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent. There is a 60-day public comment period.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Acquisition Approach for Commercial Crew Transportation Includes Good Practices, but Faces Significant Challenges (GAO-12-282)
International Space Station: Approaches for Ensuring Utilization through 2020 Are Reasonable but Should Be Revisited as NASA Gains More Knowledge of On-Orbit Performance (GAO-12-162)
International Climate Change Assessments: Federal Agencies Should Improve Reporting and Oversight of U.S. Funding (GAO-12-43)
DHS Research and Development: Science and Technology Directorate's Test and Evaluation and Reorganization Efforts (GAO-12-239T)
Environmental Protection Agency: Actions Needed to Improve Planning, Coordination, and Leadership of EPA Laboratories (GAO-12-236T)
Climate Change Adaptation: Federal Efforts to Provide Information Could Help Government Decision Making (GAO-12-238T)
National Institutes of Health: Employment and Other Impacts Reported by NIH Recovery Act Grantees (GAO-12-32)
On December 20, AAAS sent a letter to leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee detailing its concerns with the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2011.
AAAS joined with the American Geophysical Union and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) to host a December 2 briefing on extreme weather hazards, their relationship to changes in our climate, and how the country can better prepare for such events. Speakers include Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon; Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America; and Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. Oppenheimer was a coordinating lead author on the recently-released IPCC Report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.
In a November 8 letter, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, expressed "grave concerns regarding the prospect of a 50 percent reduction in the budget of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)," as proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The final budget received a 25 percent cut.
2011 Science Breakthrough of the Year: HIV Treatment as Prevention (subscription required)
The antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV-infected people also dramatically reduce HIV transmission rates, a finding that may influence the strategies used by health advocates and policymakers to battle the disease.
Related Policy Forum by J. D. Shelton: ARVs as HIV Prevention: A Tough Road to Wide Impact (subscription required)