Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: August 2005
After several years of false starts, the Nation finally has a new energy policy, which was signed into law on August 8. The House passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 by a vote of 275-176 on July 28 and the Senate followed the next day with a vote of 74-26. Two sticking points of previous bills - drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the liability of manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) - were absent from the bill. The 1725 page bill contains provisions on topics ranging from greenhouse gas research credits to daylight savings time to nuclear reactors. Many have said, however, that the bill will not make a significant impact on the use of oil and gas in the near future.
Many of the provisions supporting climate change mitigation included in the Senate bill were not part of the final bill. The act does not contain Senate language calling for a mandatory global warming strategy, requiring utilities to use more renewable energy to generate electricity, or directing the president to find ways to cut the nation's use of oil by one million barrels a day. It does, however, contain language from the Senate bill by Sen. Hagel (R-NE) that encourages voluntary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill mandates the annual use of 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol, a corn derivative, by 2012. Ethanol is a gasoline additive that helps gasoline burn more completely and reduces air pollution. The bill also contains a provision to extend daylight savings time by one month in 2007.
The tax provisions of the bill included $14.6 billion in tax credits, with a net cost of $11.5 billion when offsets are considered. This figure includes $2.8 billion in tax credits for investment in clean coal technology, $3.2 billion for energy production with renewable sources, $2.6 billion for oil and gas production, and $2.7 billion for conservation and energy efficiency.
Provisions contained in the Research and Development title would authorize more than $31 billion for basic science and applied energy technology research over three years. DOE's Office of Science is authorized for $14.5 billion (FY07-09). These authorization levels, if fully funded, would put the Office of Science on a path to double its R&D budget over five years. (The fiscal year 2005 enacted level is $3.6 billion.) Authorizations include funds for construction of the Rare Isotope Accelerator, U.S. participation in ITER, and upgrades to the Spallation Neutron Source. Other sections include provisions for R&D on vehicles and fuels, nuclear matters, energy efficiency hydrogen, and clean coal. More detailed analysis of the authorization provisions are available on AAAS's R&D analysis website.
In recognition of the fundamental role that science plays in fulfilling the DOE's missions, this bill elevates science within the Department by creating an Under Secretary of Science. In addition, the bill creates a new Assistant Secretary, which will allow the Department to raise management of the nuclear energy programs to the Assistant Secretary level.
The bill weakens nuclear nonproliferation policies by allowing U.S.-supplied nuclear reactors to continue using highly enriched uranium fuel if they produce medical isotopes. This overturns portions of the 1992 Schumer Amendment requiring all recipients of U.S. uranium fuel to convert to low-enriched uranium as soon as technically feasible. The major beneficiary of the new feature is Nordion, a Canadian company that supplies most of the medical isotopes used in the U.S.
The energy bill also requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to monitor more closely the movement of large radioactive sources and to increase export controls on such items, in an effort to reduce the chance of a dirty bomb attack. - Kasey White
Legislation to reauthorize NASA passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority on July 22. During markup of the bill, members of the Science Committee had expressed concern that NASA is neglecting its basic scientific missions. In response, the bill was amended to require that appropriators allocate money to four separate accounts: Science, Aeronautics and Education; Exploration Systems; Space Operations; and the Office of the Inspector General. Funds for administration and the construction of facilities must be included in each of the four appropriations. However, NASA may transfer funds between these accounts after giving 30 days notice to Congress, and there is no mechanism for Congress to forbid the transfer of funds.
For fiscal year 2006, the total authorization of $16.471 billion includes $6.870 billion for Science, Aeronautics and Education; $3.181 billion for Exploration Systems; $6.387 billion for Space Operations and $32.4 million for the Office of the Inspector General. Within the Science, Aeronautics and Education, $962 million is allocated for Aeronautics, $150 million for a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission and $24 million for the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program.
In addition, the amended bill requires that NASA place greater emphasis on education, technology transfer, safety and microgravity science research unrelated to human space exploration. Specifically, the NASA must report to Congress on the Administration's safety management culture and compliance with the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and NASA's plan for identifying and sharing best practices.
The amendment also removes the requirement that the space shuttle be retired by 2010.
The House bill must now go to conference with the Senate-passed version, which does not mandate a return to the moon and recommends that use of the shuttle continue until the Crew Exploration Vehicle is ready for flight.
At this point, neither chamber has addressed the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, which currently forbids the US from using the international space station after April of 2006 unless the US space shuttle is docked with the space station. This is because the space station includes equipment provided by countries, particularly Russia, that trade with Iran. -Laura Pomerance
After a three-day-long markup session, Higher Education Act reauthorization legislation passed the House Education and Workforce Committee on Friday, July 22. The committee sent H.R. 609 to the floor of the House with a 27-20 straight party line vote.
Although the bill focuses on the funding of higher education, a few provisions of the bill are of particular interest to the science community. The bill includes a "sense of Congress" statement about student free speech rights. (Title I, Section 103) This says that students cannot be sanctioned or discriminated against by a university on the basis of speech or association that would be protected by the First Amendment. Students must be graded on their knowledge of the subject that they are studying, and not on their political, ideological, or religious beliefs. Funds for speakers and student programs must be distributed in a way that will support diverse viewpoints. The bill also establishes an International Higher Education Advisory Board to make recommendations that will encourage international studies programs to represent "the full range of views."
Opposition to these sections of the bill has centered on their potential use to force universities or individual professors to present theories of politics, history or international affairs that are not supported by substantial scholarship. However, these provisions could be applied to any controversial topic. For example, the language about grading could be interpreted to say that students cannot be required to answer questions about evolution on a test.
The academic community has responded to this language with a statement on academic rights and responsibilities that was released on June 23. Republican leaders of the House Education and the Workforce Committee said that they would include some of the language of the statement in the final form of the reauthorization legislation. The final form of the legislation through committee was unchanged, although lively debate followed the introduction of an amendment by Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) that would have deleted the "Sense of Congress" section.
The bill is expected to be sent to the House floor shortly after Members return for the fall session. No corresponding legislation has been introduced in the Senate. - Laura Pomerance
On the last day of Congress before the summer recess, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) shocked the research community and his colleagues by taking to the floor and stating his support for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S. 417/H.R. 810). In his well-publicized speech, Sen. Frist said that "the limitations put in place in 2001 will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases. Therefore, I believe the President's policy should be modified."
His remarks could provide a safe haven for Senators who may have been on the fence due to the complexity of the subject, and in fact, Senate champions of the bill now anticipate the possibility of obtaining a "veto-proof" majority within their chamber, although that is far less likely in the House.
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act would expand the number of embryonic stem cell lines available to federally funded researchers. The current policy established in August 2001 originally anticipated that 78 cell lines would be available, but today only 22 lines are eligible for federal funding under the current rules. Embryonic stem cells are derived from donated human embryos created through in vitro fertilization.
H.R. 810 passed the House in late May by a vote of 238-194 but then lost momentum in the Senate chamber over disagreements on the procedures for bringing that bill and other related legislation to the floor for a vote.
While much has been made in press accounts over Frist's break with the President on the issue and the political heat he has drawn from social conservatives for his change in position, it is not clear what his strategy will be for the Senate's taking up the various measures after Congress reconvenes in September.
Adding to the political mix is the fact that Frist said he intends to seek revisions to ensure "a strong ethical and oversight mechanism," and he also said he could support some of the alternative bills that had threatened to drain off support from the House-passed bill. Thus, considerable uncertainty still remains.
The alternative bills include legislation introduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) titled the Respect for Life Pluripotent Stem Cell Act of 2005 (H.R. 3144). His bill, introduced at the end of June would authorize $15 million through NIH to support research that does not destroy or harm a human embryo.
It is important to note that the research authorized by the Bartlett bill is currently allowable by law for NIH funding and thus technically does not require separate legislation for NIH to support grants utilizing such techniques. Current restrictions fall under the Dickey amendment that is included annually as part of the NIH appropriations bill. The language stipulates that none of the funds may be used for research involving the creation or destruction of a human embryo.
Another bill that is part of the slate of legislative vehicles being negotiated in the Senate is the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2005 (S. 658) introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) in March. This legislation is similar to other bills introduced in previous years that would establish a comprehensive ban on both reproductive and research cloning, including criminal and civil penalties. That bill would also make it illegal to import any byproduct from research cloning into the United States, including therapies, which has angered the patient communities.
A House companion bill (H.R. 1357) introduced by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) has passed that chamber successfully in previous congressional sessions though not yet this year, and it has never successfully reached the Senate floor.
Given the growing prospect that the Brownback bill could come to a floor vote this session, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced S. 1520, the Human Cloning Ban Act of 2005 shortly before the recess. That bill would make it a federal crime to clone or attempt to clone a human being for reproductive purposes only and does not address the more complex subject of research cloning. Since the majority of Members of Congress agree that reproductive cloning should be outlawed the Hatch/Feinstein bill could attract sufficient support.
A fifth bill that may be included in the package is the Bone Marrow and Cord Blood Therapy and Research Act of 2005 (S. 1317) introduced by Sens. Hatch and Brownback. The bill would create a cord blood bank and for a standardized method for collecting cord blood in order to increase the availability for research and treatments. A similar bill was introduced and passed in the House in the hopes of siphoning votes away from H.R. 810.
Regardless of Sen. Frist's remarkable statement or what package of bills comes to the floor for a vote if the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act does pass, President Bush stated that he stands firm on his pledge to veto such a bill. - Joanne P. Carney
Note: AAAS has a policy brief with background information and links to its statements on stem cell research.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee held its first hearing to reauthorize the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on July19, providing the first public unveiling of a draft proposal to reorganize the federal agency for the first time in twelve years and establish greater power within the NIH Office of the Director.
The plan would consolidate the existing 27 institutes and centers that comprise the NIH into two divisions-Mission-Specific Research Institutes and Science-Enabling Institutes-in addition to the Office of the Director (OD). The Mission-Specific Research Institutes would house the existing disease-related institutes, while the Science-Enabling division would accommodate the institutes and centers that conduct research that underpins the entire NIH medical research portfolio, for example, biomedical imaging and human genome research.
The draft bill would also create a new Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI) within OD that would have responsibility for coordinating research between institutions and have the power to finance research directly. The mission-specific and science-enabling institutes and centers would be required to set aside a yet to be determined percentage of its funds to create a "common fund for the common good" within DPCPSI.
The new coordinating division within OD would use the funds to support multidisciplinary research that intersects institutional missions, a priority for NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. According to the draft language in the bill, the NIH director would be responsible for establishing an advisory council that would provide recommendations on how to "conduct and support" trans-institutional research.
Finally, the House Energy and Commerce Committee proposal stipulates that the director must submit a biennial report to Congress that is to include an assessment of the "state of biomedical research," a description of all activities "conducted or supported by the agencies," a justification for the "priorities established by the agencies," and a catalogue of all research activities, in addition to other information.
While this new reporting requirement comes with very comprehensive instructions, other details of the bill still remain to be fleshed out. For example, the bill does not specify what percentage of institutional funds needs to be directed to DPCPSI, although 5 percent is a number that has been informally discussed. The language is vague as to how much autonomy the DPCPSI will have over the granting of research or if it will coordinate with the institutes and centers. Furthermore, it is not clear how the membership of the advisory council would be established, nor the expected scientific expertise of its members, nor the scope of its authority, or the length of time an advisory council member would serve.
The draft authorization bill has been met with mixed and somewhat subdued reactions. Patient organizations have expressed concern over the mission-specific institutions loosing authority to fund research. Research organizations have expressed concern over the vaguely defined roles of the new coordinating office and the advisory council.
Even some Members of Congress, who understand the desire to give the NIH Director more power of spending decisions, have expressed some hesitation in embracing the new plan prematurely. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted that if the "agency is not broken" use caution before initiating any organizational changes.
Zerhouni, meanwhile, diplomatically stated that he agrees that the Committee "should first and foremost carefully reconsider how the organizations of NIH can collectively and effectively support the core missions of the agencies. The challenge is to accomplish this goal through enhanced coordination and partnerships across the NIH Institutes and Centers while avoiding the pitfalls of centralization or top-down research. Achieving the right balance the necessary autonomy and diversity of approaches represented .is the central question." - Joanne P. Carney
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Global Climate Change and Impacts held its inaugural hearing on July 20 on "Global Climate Change Policy and Budget Review."
James Mahoney, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, U.S. Department of Commerce, spoke on the progress of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and the NOAA Climate Program's contributions to CCSP. He said that CCSP continues its research on global climate change by investigating the relationship between natural and human-induced changes in the global environment, monitoring climate parameters, and predicting global change. With a $2 billion annual expenditure, the CCSP has achieved numerous scientific advances that have provided domestic and international decision-makers with a sound scientific basis. Mr. Mahoney noted that the NOAA's goals are aligned with those set out in the CCSP Strategic Plan and additional funding will ensure that NOAA can continue critical research projects.
David Conover, Director, U.S. Climate Change Technology Program, Department of Energy, spoke on the Administration's comprehensive strategy on climate change and commitment to the UNFCCC. He described U.S. efforts as advancing climate science and accelerating the development of advanced technologies. Mr. Conover recognized the considerable scientific and technological challenges to the climate change, yet he noted the importance of U.S. involvement in major multilateral and bilateral initiatives.
Daniel Reifsnyder, Director, Office of Global Climate Change, Department of State, spoke about two key documents that were the product of the 2005 G-8 Summit: the Leaders' Statement on Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development, and the Gleneagles Program of Action. Mr. Reifsnyder noted that both documents support the strategy set forth by the Administration by promoting clean energy and achieving sustainable development. Mr. Reifsnyder described several multilateral and bilateral initiatives in order to convey the vast extent to which the U.S. is working to reduce greenhouse gas intensity and promote energy efficient technologies.
Dr. Ralph Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences, spoke on the current understanding of the science of climate change, noting that the Earth is indeed warming and that humans have an impact on climate. He said that although many of the future effects of global warming on the environment remain uncertain, they are far from unknown. He commented on the 2004 National Academies review of the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) 10 year strategic plan, which recommended that the CCSP implement the plan as soon as possible. While the strategic plan identifies a broader scope of activities than has been implemented in the past, the CCSP budget could not support immediate implementation. Dr. Cicerone called upon worldwide collaboration of a wide range of experts to address the remaining uncertainties associated with global climate change.
During the question and answer period, Chairman David Vitter (R-LA) asked whether numerous climate models are necessary for research and whether taxpayers' dollars should be funding the models. Mr. Mahoney replied that the many different climate models allow researchers to investigate climate change using the best available resources and that this is an effective and necessary use of tax money.
Chairman Vitter asked Dr. Cicerone to comment on the congressional investigation of three climate scientists: Drs. Mann, Bradley, and Hughes. Dr. Cicerone replied that Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) request for information has stirred concerns within the science community and that it was an intimidating request. When Chairman Vitter asked Dr. Cicerone for examples of valid congressional oversight, Dr. Cicerone replied that he was not challenging Rep. Barton's request for information. Rather, Dr. Cicerone said that he believed that convening a group of scientists and informed persons to answer questions and provide information for Congress might be a more effective means of investigating a particular subject.
Chairman Vitter asked what the goals of upcoming UN climate change conference in Montreal are. Mahoney responded that the conference will largely concentrate on the Kyoto Protocol while also highlighting various domestic programs. - Puja Murgai
A standing-room-only Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on climate change science and economics was held on July 21. Although all witnesses came to the conclusion that climate change from human activity is occurring, the testimony and discussions on the science took more than 2 hours, causing the second panel on economics to be rescheduled.
The hearing was notable for remarks supporting the science of climate change from many Members. Chairman Domenici (R-NM) stated that he "has come to accept that something is happening to our climate" but also noted that he would hold additional hearings to hear from those with different views than the ones expressed at the hearing. Senator Bingaman (D-NM) added that this was "as significant an issue we will deal with in Congress." Senator Craig (R-ID) said that he had "grown to believe that there is a substantial human effect on the environment" while Senator Murkowski (R-AK) told the witnesses, "I don't need to be converted . . . I see [climate change] in my own state" of Alaska.
The witnesses were:
- Ralph J. Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences
- Mario Molina, University of California, San Diego
- James W. Hurrell, Director, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
- Sir John Houghton, Chair, IPCC assessments 1988-2002
The witnesses all presented very similar testimony focusing on the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming due to increased emissions of greenhouse gases. While some uncertainties exist about exact regional changes in climate and the timing of some warming, Molina stated that "not knowing the exact Earth response is not an excuse to not act."
The question and answer portion mainly addressed policies to mitigate climate change, particularly the use of nuclear power. When pushed by calls to action from Sir John Houghton, Sen. Thomas (R-WY) asked rhetorically that because the US spends $6 billion a year on climate change research - more than the rest of the world combined -what more could the US do? Sen. Alexander (R-TN) took the opposite approach, chastising the panel for not pushing for mandatory controls to address this major issue. He noted there is no way to slow climate change in the short term without an aggressive strategy on energy conservation and nuclear power. Scientists would be much more persuasive, he said, if they could get behind a single approach.
Sen. Thomas asked the witnesses about the Michael Mann's "hockey stick" research. Houghton replied that the finding was "not an issue." He added that while there is always scientific debate about any finding, that there was "no question" there had been warming since 1860 when temperature records are studied, and that proxy data from various sources since the year 1000 revealed warming.
Chairman Domenici concluded the hearing by stating, "The question is not if there is a problem, but how do we solve it." Domenici added that a solution will not be easy and that a Kyoto approach would not work. In his final statement, Houghton said that the world was looking to the United States to provide leadership on global climate change.
The full testimony of all of the witnesses is available on-line. -Kasey White
This July 20 hearing by the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs appeared to be an effort by Chair Candice Miller (R-MI), who was the only Member present for most of the hearing, to learn more about the implementation of the Information Quality Act (IQA). Miller noted she was not yet elected to Congress when legislation creating the Act was passed. Witnesses included several agency representatives, groups that want to strengthen the IQA, and others who want to eliminate it.
The three agency witnesses - Kimberly Nelson, Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Melius, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jim Scanlon, Health and Human Services - were in broad agreement that the IQA has not been as burdensome as some had predicted and is beneficial to their use of scientific information. Rep. Miller noted that less than 100 requests for correction have been filed since the Act took effect. The agencies have similar processes for addressing these issues, creating multiple layers for review and appeal. All have taken corrective actions in response to some of the filed requests. In response to questions from Rep. Miller, all witnesses stated that the IQA should not be changed, as the guidelines for the rule developed by the Office of Management and Budget give them freedom to implement effective procedures for their agencies.
The second panel provided various perspectives on the use of the IQA and suggestions to change it. Mark Greenwood, Council for the Coalition for Effective Environmental Information, stated that he agreed with the aims of the IQA, but had noticed several problems with its implementation, mainly in its scope and remedy. He noted that IQA addresses the quality of information and therefore "the remedy for an IQA problem is an 'informational' remedy… not the withdrawal of a regulation." He also suggested that permitting judicial review would be an effective tool to ensure agency compliance, an idea also proposed by William Kovacs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Jeff Ruch, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, minced no words in saying that there is a "disinformation syndrome" in the government where "truth is a firing offense." He believes the act is "better than nothing, but only slightly." He noted how the act requires the violator (i.e. the agency) to discipline itself and that there is no outside mechanism to force the agency to comply. He testified that using stronger mechanisms such as the Administrative Procedures Act would be more beneficial than the IQA.
Sidney Shapiro testified on behalf of the Center for Progressive Reform that the "IQA does more harm than good" and should be repealed. He stated, "The use of the IQA has very little to do with correcting government information and very much to do with creating new opportunities to oppose and weaken existing and new regulatory controls." During the Q&A, he pointed out that challenges to regulations can occur through the Administrative Procedures Act, and challenges made through the IQA are therefore duplicative.
The full statements of all the witnesses and the Chairwoman are available on-line. - Kasey White
Several recent hearings have drawn attention to the slow progress of the Federal Bioshield program and to Congress's difficulties in finding a remedy.
Both industry and Congress agree that the Bioshield program, designed to produce and stockpile new remedies for potential bioweapons attacks, is not providing results quickly enough. Although Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services officials testified that the program was succeeding, Members of Congress were sharply critical of Bioshield at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on July 12. Lawmakers were angered by the lack of a stockpile of anti-viral drugs and by how long it has taken to identify Bioshield's priority diseases. A House Government Reform Committee hearing on July 14 revealed that, a year after Bioshield began, the government has entered into only three contracts for countermeasures.
Industry representatives at the second hearing said that the current Bioshield program does not give their companies enough incentive to develop new countermeasures. Under the current program, companies can not determine if they will earn a profit on a new countermeasure because they do not know in advance how many doses of their products the government will buy.
In response, two bills to revamp Bioshield by guaranteeing the profitability of countermeasures have been introduced in the Senate. S. 3, known as the Biopreparedness Act of 2005, was introduced by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and is supported by the Republican leadership. S. 975, the Project BioShield II Act of 2005, was introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and cosponsored by Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Brownback (R-KS).
Both bills extend the term of the patent for a countermeasure by the amount of time between when the patent was issued and the countermeasure was approved by the FDA. They also permit the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant an extension of 6 months to 2 years of the term of an unrelated patent owned by a company that is developing a countermeasure. Both create tax credits for conducting research or building factories for countermeasures or vaccines.
Each bill also contains a number of other measures intended to improve Bioshield. These include accelerated approval of countermeasures, partial immunity for harm caused by a remedy for a pandemic or epidemic, new NIH and DHS offices to coordinate responses to bioterrorism, grants and scholarships for bioterrorism research, new procurement procedures and limits on the ability of states to require drug safety or warning label information not mandated by federal law.
Both bills have been criticized by consumer advocates and generic drug manufacturers for being too generous to the pharmaceutical industry.
Although Senator Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Public Health Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, has not endorsed either bill, he has committed to passing new legislation to improve the Bioshield program. However, the subcommittee did not approve a bill before the August recess, as Burr originally planned. It is now unclear whether this legislation will proceed. - Laura Pomerance
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
- Military Base Closures: Role and Costs of Environmental Cleanup (RS22065)
This report examines the need for environmental remediation to successfully redevelop military bases that will be affected by the upcoming round of military base closings. Potentially affected communities are interested in how the bases might be economically redeveloped to replace lost jobs. Environmental contamination can present a challenge to economic redevelopment, if funding or technological constraints would limit cleanup of the land to a degree that would be safe for its intended use, as has happened in some bases previously. Most of the lands on bases closed under the previous four rounds, however, have been cleaned up for their intended reuse, and have been transferred for redevelopment.
- National Park Management (IB10145) This report examines efforts by Congress and the Administration to change aspects if management of the National Park Service. Specifically, the report addresses complying with the Bush Administration's Competitive Sourcing Initiative, retaining the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which provides grants to states and other entities to protect cultural resources, funding to clear the maintenance backlog, regional haze issues, and managing Wild and Scenic Rivers.
GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE
- Federal Research: Observations on the Small Business Innovation Research Program (GAO-05-861T) This report finds that the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has been successful in benefiting small, innovative companies, strengthening their role in federal research and development, stimulating commercialization of research results, and supporting the participation of small businesses owned by women and/or disadvantaged persons. However, this report notes challenges in assessing the long-term results of the program exist.
- Nuclear Security: Actions Needed by DOE to Improve Security of Weapons-Grade
Nuclear Material at Its Energy, Science and Environment Sites (GAO-05-934T)
DOE's Office of the Under Secretary for Energy, Science and Environment (ESE), which is responsible for DOE operations in areas such as energy research, manages five sites that contain weapons-grade nuclear material. A heavily armed security force equipped with such items as automatic weapons protects ESE sites. This report finds that ESE protective forces are generally meeting DOE's existing readiness requirements but actions needed to successfully defend against the larger, revised terrorist threat identified in the October 2004 design basis threat.
- Critical Infrastructure Protection: Challenges in Addressing Cybersecurity (GAO-05-827T) This report examines the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)'s current and future ability to address cybersecurity risks. The report finds that while DHS has initiated multiple efforts to fulfill its responsibilities, much work remains ahead. Key challenges that have impeded its ability to fulfill its cybersecurity-related responsibilities include achieving organizational stability, increasing awareness about cybersecurity roles and capabilities, establishing effective partnerships with stakeholders, and achieving two-way information sharing with these stakeholders. DHS has identified key steps it can take to address these challenges, but has not yet begun to implement them.
These reports are currently only available on the NAS website, but hard copies will be available later this summer.
- Review of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Research and Development Program, Phase
This report reviews the goals and research activities of the FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) and Fuel Partnership, a collaboration among the U.S. government, American automakers, and major energy companies, that seeks to develop emissions-free and petroleum-free vehicles. The program includes the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative and is a successor to the Clinton-era Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The report finds that this effort to develop more fuel-efficient automobiles and eventually introduce hydrogen as a transportation fuel is well planned and has made an excellent start in its first three years, though many technical barriers must be overcome.
- Preventing the Forward Contamination of Mars This report recommends that NASA develop and implement new methods and requirements to detect and eliminate microorganisms on robotic spacecraft sent to Mars to prevent possible contamination of the planet. Existing techniques for cleaning spacecraft are outdated and typically eliminate only a fraction of microorganisms, notes the report. If microbes aboard a spacecraft were to survive the trip to Mars and grow there, they could interfere with scientific investigations to detect any life that might be native to Mars.
Mark your calendars:
- AAAS will host a Washington Science Policy Alliance seminar on September 14 from 8:30 - 10 a.m. featuring Sir David King, science advisor to U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, discussing the outcomes of the recent G8 Summit held in Gleneagles, Scotland. Details will be available soon on-line and RSVPs are required.
- The seventh annual Robert C. Barnard Environmental Lecture will take place on Tuesday, September 13 from 4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Andrew Revkin, Environment Reporter from The New York Times, will give a talk entitled "The Daily Planet: A journalist's search for sustainability, from the Amazon to the Arctic" at the AAAS headquarters in Washington D.C., followed by a book signing and reception. R.S.V.P. by Friday, 9 September 202-326-6700 or via e-mail: email@example.com
- AAAS sent a letter to Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on July 13 expressing concern about the impact of letters recently sent by Barton to several scientists, including Drs. Michael S. Mann, Malcom K. Hughes, and Raymond S. Bradley, regarding their research in climate science.
- AAAS sent a letter to all Senators on July 18 stating support for greater access to new embryonic stem cell lines and noting that research into alternative methods of generating stem cells without the destruction of human embryos is still in its very early stages.
- AAAS sent a letter to Sen. Frist on July 29, thanking him for his stand in support of expanding stem cell research.
- AAAS joined 23 other institutions to support an amendment to the Energy Bill by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) that would change the title of the head of the DOE Office of Science from "Director" to "Assistant Secretary," a small but important change to recognize the significance of science within DOE. The final bill reflected these changes.
Agent: Any physical, chemical, or biological entity that can be harmful to an organism.
Autoclave: A self-locking chamber that uses high pressure steam heat to sterilize. The original autoclave was essentially a pressure cooker.
Bioweapon: Biological warfare, also known as germ warfare, is the use of any organism (bacteria, virus or other disease-causing organism) or toxin found in nature, as a weapon of war. It is meant to incapacitate or kill an adversary.
Bioterrorism: the deliberate use of microorganisms or toxins from living organisms to induce death or disease.
In vitro: In an experimental situation outside the organism. Biological or chemical work is done in the test tube rather than in living systems.
In vivo: In a living cell or organism.
Nucleic Acid: An organic compound made up of a phosphoric acid, a carbohydrate and a base of purine or pyrimidine; formed in helical chains.
Pathogenicity: A genetic element's capacity to cause disease.
Synthetic Biology: The process of creating novel biological functions and tools by modifying or integrating well-characterized biological components into higher order genetic networks using mathematical modeling to direct the construction towards the desired end product.
Toxicity: The degree to which a substance can harm humans or animals. Toxicity can be acute, subchronic, or chronic. Acute toxicity involves harmful effects in an organism through a single or short-term exposure. Subchronic toxicity is the ability of a toxic substance to cause effects for more than one year but less than the lifetime of the exposed organism. Chronic toxicity is the ability of a substance or mixture of substances to cause harmful effects over an extended period, usually upon repeated or continuous exposure, sometimes lasting for the entire life of the exposed organism.
Toxin: A poisonous substance produced by a living organism that is harmful to other organisms.
Viral Vector: Viral DNA that has been modified for use as a vector for recombinant DNA.
Virus: A particle consisting of a nucleic acid (RNA or DNA) genome surrounded by a protein coat (capsid) and sometimes also a membrane, which can replicate only after infecting a host cell. A virus particle may exist free of its host cell but is incapable of replicating on its own.
Starvation Increases Schizophrenia Risk
According to a new study of people conceived during the Chinese famine of 1959 to 1961, prenatal nutritional deficiency raises the likelihood of schizophrenia. Children born to starving mothers may suffer from harmful brain development which has been linked to the development of schizophrenia. Researchers at the Fourth People's Hospital in the Wuhu region of eastern China analyzed three decades of records during the famine. They found that 2% of people conceived in 1960 and 1961 contracted schizophrenia, as opposed to 0.9% of people conceived in the years before or after the famine. These findings are bolstered by a study conducted in the early 1990s which concluded that people conceived in the Netherlands during the blockade of food supplies by Hitler's army in winter of 1944-1945 were twice as likely to develop schizophrenia later in life. These findings could have important implications for reducing the risk of schizophrenia in the future if animal studies can identify exactly which nutrients are required to lower risk of the disease with adequate prenatal nutrition. - Dan Ferber, Science Now, Science Magazine, August 2, 2005