Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
On February 13 the Administration released its FY 2013 budget request to Congress. According to the latest AAAS estimates, the request calls for $142.2 billion in total federal research and development (R&D), which would represent a 1.2 percent increase over FY 2012 levels. Basic and applied research would receive boosts of 1.7 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively, above FY 2012 levels. Development activities, which account for more than half of all R&D expenditures, would decline by 1.7 percent. When accounting for the expected inflation rate of 1.7 percent, it means total R&D and basic research would remain largely flat, while applied research would receive a real increase and development activities would receive a larger real decrease.
However, when broken down into defense and nondefense spending, these changes show a substantial divergence similar to last year's appropriations outcome, when cuts to defense R&D would be partially offset by gains in nondefense R&D. In the national defense realm, R&D would decline by $1.5 billion, or 1.9 percent in nominal dollars. The lion's share of these cuts would take place at the Department of Defense (DOD), while defense-related R&D in the Department of Energy – for atomic weapons activities – would receive a 9.6 percent increase. The DOD cuts are particularly focused on weapons development, though applied research would also receive a reduction. Defense health research would be among the hardest hit, as the Administration seeks to cut funding for the program in half from FY 2012.
Nondefense R&D would receive a boost of 5 percent, or $3.1 billion. Among the big winners is the Department of Energy, where nondefense R&D would increase by $474 million, or approximately 7 percent above FY 2012. Energy programs would do well, especially in renewable energy research, energy efficiency, and at ARPA-E, while the outlook at the Office of Science is more mixed. The National Science Foundation would be another winner, as every core scientific directorate would receive at least a 2.1 percent increase above last year's levels. Some – like Computer and Information Science and Engineering (up 8.6 percent) – would fare particularly well.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive a flat R&D budget, which translates to a more than 2 percent decrease when factoring in biomedical inflation. In spite of a lack of new funding, NIH will still seek an 8 percent increase in the number of new grants, achieved through reduced grant duration, a 1 percent cut to continuing grants, and the end of inflationary adjustments to ongoing grants. Elsewhere, NASA would receive a small increase in R&D funding, through increases in space technology R&D and select science areas, but has targeted the Mars program for a major reduction. The picture is mixed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where R&D would decline by 1.5 percent, or $34 million, continuing the downward trend of recent years. This decline is almost entirely due to the end of funding for the biomass R&D program; the total discretionary budget for the key Agricultural Food and Research Initiative would increase by 22.9 percent to $325 million. Elsewhere, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and, especially, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would all see R&D increases.
The three high-profile interagency initiatives – dealing with nanotechnology, networking and IT, and climate change – would see increases. The US Global Change Research Program would fare best among the three, receiving a 5.6 percent or $135 million increase in FY 2013. The National Nanotechnology Initiative would receive a $70 million increase to $1.8 billion, 4.1 percent over FY 2012 levels, due in large part to a substantially larger contribution from the Department of Energy. The Networking and IT R&D program would receive a 1.8 percent increase, allowing it to just keep pace with inflation. A $67 million reduction in contributions from the Department of Defense would be more than offset by increases in contributions from other agencies.
Please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy website for additional details.
-- Matthew Hourihan
Two bills have brought the issue of public access to peer-reviewed research articles to the fore. In December, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, introduced the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699), which would nullify federal public access policies – notably the NIH Public Access Policy, which mandates inclusion in the digital archive PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. AAAS released a statement on January 18 to reaffirm its support for the NIH's current policy and disapproval of the Research Works Act. "We believe the current NIH public access policy provides an important mechanism for ensuring that the public has access to biomedical research findings," said AAAS Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner. The publishing company Elsevier issued a statement on February 27 withdrawing its support for the Research Works Act, and the Chronicle of Higher Education reported later the same day that Issa had decided not to seek passage of the legislation.
In early February, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) reintroduced the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). The bill (H.R. 4004, S. 2096), which was introduced in the previous Congress but never passed, would require all federal research agencies to devise public access policies that would make scientific publications available within six months of publication.
Meanwhile, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a Request for Information concerning "recommendations on approaches for ensuring long-term stewardship and broad public access to the peer-reviewed scholarly publications that result from federally funded scientific research."
As this newsletter was going to print, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the benefits and risks associated with legislating a broad federal public access policy.
-- Kavya Devarakonda
Two competing cybersecurity bills have been introduced in the Senate amid growing concerns about the security of information technology (IT) in the government and private sector.
The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 2105), sponsored by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA), was introduced on February 14. The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to perform a risk assessment of and develop performance requirements for "our most critical infrastructure," while allowing flexibility in the response of the infrastructure's owners. The bill received support from groups such as the Information Technology Industry Council and TechAmerica.
However, at a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on February 16, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) expressed concerns about the bill, including a lack of transparency during the legislative process. McCain criticized the bill's assignment of regulatory responsibility to DHS over U.S. Cybercommand and the National Security Agency (NSA), as well as its potential costs.
McCain and seven cosponsors subsequently introduced the Strengthening and Enhancing Cybersecurity by Using Research, Education, Information, and Technology Act (SECURE IT, S. 2151) on March 1. Among other things, the bill would increase information sharing between the government and industry, while strengthening the criminal statutes for cyber crimes. The cosponsors of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 responded that the McCain bill "does little to ensure that we improve the security of critical infrastructure."
On the House side, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a February 29 hearing that addressed the unique cybersecurity concerns of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) emphasized the importance of keeping NASA technologies secure, both for military security and U.S. economic competitiveness. In 2010 and 2011, he said, there were 5,408 computer security incidents at NASA, which cost the agency around $7 million. Broun recommended that NASA conduct an agency-wide risk assessment and develop a comprehensive mitigation strategy.
NASA Chief Information Officer Linda Y. Cureton outlined NASA's information resources management strategic plan, with an emphasis on the goal of enhancing and strengthening IT security and cybersecurity over the next three to five years. Paul K. Martin, NASA's Inspector General, detailed the challenges facing NASA due to its large size and valuable information. He noted that NASA's interaction with outside parties such as institutions of higher learning and industry makes it an easy target for hackers.
Despite the $58 million the agency spent on IT security last year, Martin highlighted five key weaknesses the agency faces: (1) a lack of full awareness of agency-wide IT security posture, (2) shortcomings in implementing a continuous monitoring approach to IT security, (3) a slow pace of encryption for NASA laptop computers and other mobile devices, (4) the ability to combat sophisticated cyber attacks, and (5) the transition to cloud computing.
-- Kavya Devarakonda
On February 7, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report, "Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics," that outlined the council's recommendations for retaining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate majors. Several economic analyses have suggested retention of STEM majors to be the easiest and most cost-effective method for generating the additional one million STEM graduates needed to maintain the country's preeminence in STEM fields.
The main recommendations of the council included (1) teacher training in and research on empirically validated teaching practices, (2) the replacement of standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses, (3) innovative postsecondary mathematics education to address the math preparation gap, and (4) the diversification of pathways to STEM careers through stakeholder partnerships. Additionally, the report recommended the creation of a presidential council on STEM education.
On the same day, President Obama announced that the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget would prioritize undergraduate STEM education reform. The president's FY 2013 budget includes $3 billion for federal STEM programs, a 2.6 percent increase from FY 2012. In his testimony to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren highlighted several programs in the budgets at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Education that would focus on STEM education.
At the Department of Education, $80 million from the Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants program would be set aside to help expand promising models of STEM teacher preparation. At NSF, $55 million would go to the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which encourages STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 teachers, and $61 million would go to the Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) program, which aims to improve undergraduate learning and completion rates. The FY 2013 budget also proposes a $60 million joint venture between the NSF and the Department of Education for a mathematics education initiative for research on effective practices.
The president's budget did, however, include some cuts to STEM education programs at the Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. These cuts were based on a federal inventory of STEM education programs compiled by the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM), which was released in December 2011.
CoSTEM also recently released its progress report on federal coordination in STEM education. The report provides objectives for federal agencies, including the use of evidence-based approaches, the identification and sharing of these approaches, an increase in efficiency and coherence, and the identification and focus on priority areas. The progress report is a preview of the committee's five-year Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, which will be released this spring as required in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.
-- Kavya Devarakonda
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), in partnership with Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), crafted a letter signed by 153 Members of Congress that calls for an increase over the President's proposed budget for NIH in FY 2013. The letter was sent to the chairs and ranking members of both the House Appropriations Committee and the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee and urged that the NIH budget be increased to $32 billion, saying that the level was "vital" in order to "maintain international leadership in science and biomedical research."
By a 76-22 vote, the Senate approved the RESTORE Act (S. 1400) as an amendment to the Senate Transportation Bill (S. 1813). The RESTORE Act calls for 80 percent of penalties and fines paid by oil company BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to be directed toward activities, including research, in the five Gulf states most impacted by the spill.
The New Democrat Coalition, a group of 42 members of the House of Representatives that focuses on issues relating to innovation, business and economic prosperity, issued a document that outlines "Principles for Innovation and Competitiveness." The document addresses subjects such as U.S. exports, access to capital, investing in basic research, R&D tax credit, and STEM education.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the retiring chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation that would require utility companies to provide a specific percentage of their electricity from clean energy sources (defined in the bill to include solar, nuclear, wind, natural gas, and coal with carbon capture and storage). The Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (S. 2146) would require that by 2015, 24 percent of electricity provided by utilities come from renewable sources; that amount would increase 3 percent every year through 2035 (more details can be found here).
The Food and Drug Administration will hold a two-day public hearing on April 23-24 to "obtain input from interested persons on FDA's scope and direction in modernizing the regulations, policies, and practices that apply to the conduct of clinical trials of FDA-regulated products." The FDA announcement acknowledges "concerns within the clinical trial community that certain regulations and policies applicable to the conduct of clinical trials may result in inefficiencies or increased cost and may not facilitate the use of innovative methods and technological advances to improve clinical trial quality." Registration to attend the hearing at the FDA's White Oak Campus must be completed by April 2.
The new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) has issued a Request for Information about how to strengthen the Clinical and Translational Science Awards, a major part of the NCATS portfolio. The deadline for comments is April 6.
The Department of Homeland Security has created a new advisory council, comprised of university presidents and academic leaders, that will advise the Secretary of the Department on matters related to student and graduate recruitment, international students and scholars, and campus community "resiliency, security, and preparedness."
The NIH Council of Councils has established a working group to provide recommendations on implementing the guiding principles and criteria in the IOM report Chimpanzees in Biomedical Research: Assessing the Necessity, as well as the size and placement of chimpanzee populations either supported or owned by NIH. NIH announced (NOT-OD-12-052) that input is being sought from the scientific community and the general public. Comments must be submitted electronically by April 10.
Renewable Energy: Federal Agencies Implement Hundreds of Initiatives (GAO-12-260)
NASA: Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects (GAO-12-207SP)
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education: Strategic Planning Needed to Better Manage Overlapping Programs across Multiple Agencies (GAO-12-108)
NIH's Role in Sustaining the U.S. Economy: A 2011 Update Authored by Dr. Everett Ehrlich
United for Medical Research
With the U.S. presidential campaign still in its early stages, the AAAS Office of Government Relations has developed a Web site that describes and tracks the candidates' positions on science, technology, and innovation issues: Science and Technology in the 2012 Presidential Election.
February 1 marked the second annual Climate Science Day, an opportunity for scientists of many disciplines to visit Capitol Hill and meet with members of Congress to discuss climate science. The event was a joint effort of the intersociety Climate Science Working Group, which comprises a dozen scientific professional societies and research organizations, including AAAS.
The laser inside a standard DVD drive can be used to produce sheets of carbon a single atom thick, which store nearly as much energy as a battery but charge hundreds of times faster, researchers report in the 16 March issue of Science.
Read the abstract, "Laser Scribing of High-Performance and Flexible Graphene-Based Electrochemical Capacitors," by Maher El-Kady and colleagues.