Programs: Science and Policy
S&T Newsletter: May 2006
Pressure Builds on Stem Cell Bills
More than a year has elapsed since the House passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (H.R. 810), and the Senate has yet to vote on the bill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) stated that he is working to bring three separate measures related to stem cell research to the floor for a vote some time this summer, including the House-passed bill.
Last year the House approved H.R. 810, which would lift the current ban on federal research on embryonic stem cells derived after August 2001. Hopes for a Senate vote blossomed when Majority Leader Frist made a moving speech in support of the bill on the Senate floor at the end of July .
Momentum to get the bill through both chambers, however, quickly stalled when the Senate became preoccupied in the fall with finalizing its appropriations bills, responding to hurricane recovery and reconstruction, and Supreme Court nominations. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), one of the leading champions of embryonic stem cell research, brokered an agreement with Frist to bring the bill to the floor in 2006.
As part of an effort to regain the energy of last year, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research released a nationwide survey early in May that showed that 72 percent of those polled “favor” medical research that utilizes excess embryos from in-vitro fertilization clinics. The coalition also sponsored a press conference with individuals suffering from a range of diseases speaking on the need for stem cell research on May 24, the one-year anniversary of passage of the House bill. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) issued remarks at the event calling for action: “Their message is clear: Patients are waiting. Now is the time to for all of us to come together and get this passed so we can move forward with this potentially life-saving research.”
Frist’s remarks that he does plan to bring three bills to the floor this summer bodes well for the prospects of H.R. 810, but details on the remaining two bills were not provided and could complicate other avenues of stem cell research. Of concern to supporters of H.R. 810, and an additional reason for delays on a floor vote, are bills that could be considered ‘poison pills’ if included as part of a package.
For example, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), a key Senator who opposes embryonic stem cell research, introduced The Human Cloning Prohibition Act (S. 658). This bill would make it a crime to conduct both human reproductive and research cloning. A number of states and universities are actively pursuing stem cell research along a range of avenues, including research cloning, and would immediately be impacted if his bill were to become law.
To counter the Brownback bill, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Human Cloning Ban Act of 2005 (S. 1520), a narrower bill that would only ban reproductive cloning and does not address the more complicated area of research cloning.
Other pending legislation includes the Alternative Pluripotent Stem Cell Therapies Enhancement Act (S. 2754), introduced by Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Specter, which supports basic and applied research for the derivation of pluripotent stem cell lines that would not involve the creation or destruction of a human embryo; and the Human Chimera Prohibition Act (S. 1373), introduced by Senator Brownback, which would make it a federal crime to create a human chimera (a human/animal hybrid).
In response to Majority Leader Frist’s promise for a summer vote, Sen. Specter stated in an interview that he’d put the odds on a June vote. Even with Senate passage, the bill has little chance to make it into law, as President Bush has vowed to veto it.
-- Joanne Carney
As the attention of the nation is drawn to the potential threat of a pandemic from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing on May 11 to discuss the USDA national response plan to detect and control the potential spread of avian influenza into the United States. Dr. Ron DeHaven, Administrator of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, was the sole witness.
Dr. DeHaven presented the USDA’s four-pronged approach to keep infection out of the U.S. This approach is to first focus on supporting other nations affected with the virus by increasing support to organizations such as the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza; second to conduct a messaging campaign designed to educate without causing panic about this disease; third, to conduct a surveillance program that focuses on wild birds, commercial poultry operations, live bird markets, and backyard flocks; and fourth to execute the USDA’s other preexisting plans.
The second topic Dr. DeHaven discussed was the USDA’s current plans to respond to an outbreak should one occur in the U.S., the funding that has gone into these efforts, and what organizational and monetary issues still have to be addressed. According to Dr. DeHaven, the USDA has standby emergency response teams around the country that can quickly and effectively locate and quarantine an effected flock or entire area, even to the scale of quarantining an entire state. Once the animals suspected of infection are quarantined, tests would be done to determine if they are in fact infected, and therefore needed to be destroyed, and the cause of the original infection investigated. Dr. DeHaven emphasized that it was crucial for compensation to be provided to the owners of the flocks after their elimination, not only to ensure their livelihood but to ensure that there is no incentive for ranchers to conceal the possibility of infection and to report any possible cases immediately.
The USDA’s programs have already received $91 million in funding, but have so far only spent about $5.1 million of those funds. They do have plans for another $60 million to be spent by September, and will be reporting on any further contracts that will be signed. Though an increase in funding was not requested, Dr. DeHaven did want a rule to improve surveillance and to address the compensation of bird owners. He said that more details on this request would be forthcoming in the months to follow.
Dr. DeHaven also discussed the influence of the media on the public concerning this issue, particularly the accuracy of their depictions. Responding to a recent ABC special “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America,” which depicted a mutation of the flu that was extremely deadly and contagious, Dr. DeHaven stated that though he though it was good that the public be informed and want to be prepared, what the media and this movie in particular present are very unlikely and only worst case scenarios.
During the discussions Dr. DeHaven projected extreme confidence in the effectiveness of the respective systems and in the continuing efforts that are underway to ensure the health and safety of the American public at all levels of government, but wanted to make sure that we stayed alert and avoided complacency. He also wished to make the statement that the poultry that goes to market is passed through an extensive screening process and even should some infected product make it into the stores, the virus is killed when the meat is properly cooked and no longer is any threat.
For more information regarding the avian flu see presentations from the Assessing the Spread of Avian Flu session at the 2006 AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.
-- Dannon Allbee
A recent hearing on Yucca Mountain appeared to have nothing new – DOE behind schedule, Nevada vigorously opposing the nuclear waste repository site – until the end. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM), a staunch supporter of nuclear energy, concluded the hearing by saying, “It is clear that we are not going to be putting spent fuel rods in Yucca Mountain.” His comments were slightly more optimistic when he added that he didn’t want to give up because there is a role for Yucca Mountain.
Mr. Paul Golan, Acting Director, DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste, provided an update on plans to utilize a system that would use a single canister to transport and store nuclear waste. Mr. Robert Loux, Executive Director for Nuclear Projects, noted that a design is at least 6 years away, as he spoke on behalf of Nevada. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ranking Member of the Committee, used most of his Q&A period to ascertain how these canisters were different than those planned for 10 years ago and why those were not pursued. Golan replied that a report found “it was not cancelled for technical or financial reasons; it was indecision.”
Mr. William Wehrum, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, updated the committee on EPA’s public health and safety standards. Draft standards were published in August 2005 that provide a limit of 15 millirem per year for the first 10,000 years and a limit of 350 millirem per year for the period from 10,000 to 1 million years. The comment period closed in November 2005 and EPA hopes to have a final standard by the end of 2006. During the Q&A, Loux noted that Nevada would litigate the standards.
The May 16 hearing provoked frustration from many of the Senators. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) noted that Yucca will reach its 70,000-ton limit by 2010 and Nevada will likely not have finished litigation by then. He asked at what point we say we need something else. Mr. Golan noted that DOE was evaluating the need for a second facility.
Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) was more direct, stating forcefully that "Congress has an obligation to get this done and can’t have bureaucrats get in the way of the law.” Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) took issue with complaints from Loux that the project was underfunded, noting that was due largely to the efforts by the Nevada congressional delegation.
Senator Domenici's comments, combined with his support of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, implied that he is considering combining the Bush administration's new Global Nuclear Energy Partnership program, which aims to expand global nuclear energy production and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and the Yucca project.
Full testimony and opening statements are available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website
-- Kasey White
According to Mr. Sean Murdock, Executive Director of the NanoBusiness Alliance, nanotechnology is expected to grow to a $2.6 trillion industry over the next seven years. As it stands now, this up-and-coming technology sector is largely unregulated by anyone but itself. This leads not only to the dangers of faulty products and inadequate testing, but hinders legitimate, conscientious manufacturers due to mistrust by the general public.
One of the major concerns to the Senate is keeping the United States as a nanotechnology leader. Currently about half of this global market is located in the U.S., but countries in Asia and Europe are rapidly gaining. Mr. Murdock testified that the U.S. faces challenges in getting more startup companies interested in pursuing nanotechnology and increasing consumer awareness and demand. To help achieve this, he suggests that a tax credit for nanotechnology research and development be established. He notes that throwing money at the problem is not an acceptable solution; it is also important to inspire students to go into this area of study and establishing strong stable job market is key to achieving that goal.
To these general concerns, Mr. David Rejeski, Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, added that a major problem is finding ways to transfer the technology out of the universities and labs and find safe and reliable ways to move it into the marketplace. He suggests that the government should formalize its export strategy and identify a specific government agency to drive this effort.
In the final discussions between Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), the only senator to be present throughout the entire hearing, and Mr. Rejeski, they summed up by saying that consumers and industry want effective regulation by government and disclosure to the public. These are necessary to not only ensure product quality but also to help businesses by increasing consumer confidence. The panel generally agreed to this sentiment.
Full opening statements and witness testimony is available on the committee website.
-- Dannon Allbee
New innovation legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate during the past month. One bill has already been approved by the committee to which it was assigned, and the second is scheduled to be marked up immediately after the end of the Memorial Day recess, increasing the odds that an innovation bill will receive a floor vote during the current Congress.
House Science Committee Bills
A package of three bills sponsored by members of the House Science Committee was introduced on May 11. The legislation, which is designed to complement the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative, includes a bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI), which is focused on science and math education, and two bills, sponsored by Rep Michael McCaul (R-TX), which create National Science Foundation (NSF) grant programs to support scientists in the early stages of their careers. The bills are cosponsored by the Chair of the full Science Committee and all of the chairmen of its subcommittees. Committee staff say that a markup is expected on June 7, and the bills will go to the floor of the House soon afterwards. AAAS sent a letter to the sponsors of the bills to thank them for their efforts.
HR 5358, the Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act, supports teachers, undergraduates and graduate students by growing existing NSF programs, creating one new NSF program, requesting reports and providing authorizing language for education programs conducted by the Department of Energy (DOE.) The bill increases funding for NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields who commit to teaching in underserved schools; the STEM Talent Expansion Program, also known as the Tech Talent program, which gives grants to universities to increase the number of students studying in STEM fields; and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program, which supports graduate students conducting interdisciplinary research.
The legislation increases authorizations for NSF's Math and Science Partnership programs, but transforms the program into Science and Math Teacher Training Partnerships that can conduct teacher development programs, support new teachers or train mentor teachers. Currently, the program also funds research on how students learn and curriculum development. The bill establishes NSF-funded Centers for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics and Engineering at universities to improve the quality of undergraduate STEM courses and increase the number of undergraduates who take classes in STEM subjects. It also requires NSF to report on the effect of Professional Science Master’s degrees and the broader impacts criterion for NSF grants. Finally, it authorizes DOE to provide education programs such as scholarships, fellowships, undergraduate research experiences and teacher institutes.
The remaining House bills are intended to support scientists at the beginning of their careers. HR 5357, the Research for Competitiveness Act, funds research grants at NSF and DOE that would be awarded to scientists who are in tenure-track positions at universities but do not yet have tenure, or who work in similar positions in nonprofit research institutes. It also requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to report on its progress in recruiting and retaining young scientists. HR 5356 creates similar early-career grants at NSF and DOE in which matching funding would be available to scientists who received support from industry.
American Innovation and Competitiveness Act
S 2802, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, was introduced on May 15 by Senators John Ensign (R-NV), Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and received a favorable vote from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on May 18, at the end of the Committee’s markup of the bill.
This bill addresses a broader range of topics than the House bills. It includes provisions that are intended to accelerate the pace of innovation, such as a national innovation medal and a study of service science. It would increase NSF support for science education and cutting-edge research; encourage NASA to support basic research and address its aging workforce; direct NIST to support the development of technology that will aid innovation; and require the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct research, development, and educational activities that will advance the United State’s competitiveness in ocean and atmospheric science.
In an attempt to increase America's economic competitiveness, Senator Hutchinson originally proposed an amendment to the bill that would require NSF to give priority to research in the physical sciences, engineering and mathematics. This amendment was criticized by the scientific community, whose members were concerned that NSF’s unique role in supporting basic research across the range of scientific disciplines would be jeopardized. AAAS wrote to the members of the Committee to urge the committee to "support peer-reviewed research across the broad spectrum of disciplines as currently administered by the National Science Foundation and other agencies."
The provision was not a surprise to those who attended a May 2 hearing on the NSF budget request by the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee, which is chaired by Senator Hutchinson. At the hearing, Senator Hutchinson questioned the witnesses, including AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, about the contribution of research supported by the foundation's Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. She stated that while it was interesting, this research does not contribute to the nation's competitiveness. She ended the hearing by calling for NSF to be a "lean, mean, fighting machine" to advance the goals of the ACI and to ensure that "we remain on target."
Before the markup, however, Senators Hutchinson and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) reached a compromise. The final language encourages NSF to give priority to research that contributes to innovation and competitiveness, but recognizes that NSF should not be restricted from funding other areas of research. After the markup, AAAS sent a second letter to Senators Hutchinson and Lautenberg to thank them for reiterating their commitment to NSF’s support of all sciences.
-- Laura Pomerance
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
Ocean Commissions: Ocean Policy Review and Outlook (IB10132)
This report outlines the key issues from the 2003 Pew Commission report, America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, and the 2004 U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, An Ocean Blueprint. It examines the President’s response to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy's recommendations and current relevant legislation in Congress.
- U.S. and International Responses to the Global
Spread of Avian Flu: Issues for Congress (RL33219 )
This report provides an up-to-date account of global H5N1-related human infections and deaths, outlines U.S. government global avian flu programs, and presents some foreign policy issues for Congress, including patent protections, global data sharing, global disease surveillance, global pandemic planning, global economic impacts, and global biosafety.
Higher Education: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Trends and the Role of Federal Programs (GAO-06-702T)
This follow-up to an October 2005 report continued to find a lack of coordination among and inadequate evaluation of the more than 200 programs operated by the federal government to increase the numbers of students and employees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Since then Congress has taken several steps to address the issue, including establishing National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent grants to encourage students from low-income backgrounds to enter the fields and an Academic Competitiveness Council to evaluate, coordinate and make improvements to the federal STEM programs.
Endangered Species: Time and Costs Required to Recover Species Are Largely Unknown (GAO-06-463R)
This report examines a randomly selected sample of 107 endangered species recovery plans to determine the extent to which they include key elements required by the Endangered Species Act and amendments. Of the 107 plans reviewed, 73 plans do not provide estimates of when the species are expected to be recovered and 87 plans do not provide estimates of the total cost to recover the species. Though most contain site-specific management actions, along with their costs and time estimates, only 5 include recovery criteria that addresses all five delisting factors
These reports are currently only available on the NAS website, but hard copies will be available shortly.
An Assessment of Balance in NASA's Science Programs (ISBN 0309102219)
Echoing comments by many in Congress and the scientific community, a new NRC report found that NASA does not have the resources necessary to maintain a vigorous science program, complete the International Space Station, and return humans to the moon. The committee reviewed NASA's plan for research programs for the next five years in space science, earth science, and microgravity life and physical sciences. The committee found that the program proposed for space and earth sciences is neither robust nor sustainable, and that it is not properly balanced to support a healthy mix of small, moderate-sized, and large missions. The short-term resource allocation to revive many of these areas is modest, approximately 1 percent of the total NASA budget.
Revealing the Hidden Nature of Space and Time: Charting the Course for Elementary Particle Physics (ISBN 0309101956)
This NRC reports emphasizes the need for strategic international partnerships, recommending that the U.S. play a leadership role in projects such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and announce its desire to be the host country for the next state-of-the-art particle accelerator, the International Linear Collider (ILC). The committee believes that the combined capabilities of these two facilities will address the most important scientific questions in particle physics, and would require increasing the particle physics budget by at least 2 percent to 3 percent per year in real terms. The committee also recommends that the US increase its investment in activities at the interface between particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.
BACK TO TOP
- The Nation's Report Card: Science 2005
This report presents the results of the science tests administered nationwide in 2005 as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The percentage of 4th grade students scoring at or above the basic level increased to 68 percent from 63 percent in 1996. Eighth grade student results did not show statistically significant changes, while 12th grade students performed worse than in 1996. Scoring gaps between white and minority 4th grade students decreased relative to 1996, but no change was seen at the 8th grade or 12th grade levels. The report also includes test results for individual states.
AAAS Testifies before the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space on May 2, 2006, discussing the proposed budget and priorities for the National Science Foundation.
AAAS Thanks Representatives for Support of Science
AAAS CEO Alan Leshner sent a letter to Representatives Joe Schwartz (R-MI) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) on May 11, thanking them for supporting science.
AAAS Expresses Concern over Senate bill
AAAS wrote a letter to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on May 18 to resist any effort to undercut the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) ability to support research across all fields and also expressed concern on language in a pending innovation bill that seems to require awarding 8 percent of research funding outside the usual peer- review.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Reception, Book Signing, and a Conversation with General Anthony Zinni
June 6, 2006, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Avenue, NW
Please join us for the next security-related event of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy: A Reception, Book Signing, and Conversation with U.S. Marine Corps Four-Star General Anthony Zinni (Ret.). The former Commander-in-Chief, US Central Command, will be discussing his recent book Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose. Additional information is available online.