Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
The House Science and Technology Committee’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee held a hearing earlier this month on the important role that U.S. science and technology (S&T) plays in serving diplomatic interests and promoting research collaboration among countries. Subcommittee chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) remarked in his opening statement that “Cooperation should not be pursued simply as a means of achieving bigger and better science. It should also [be] pursued for the sake of development, diplomacy, and informing decision-makers around the world about critical environmental, security, economic, resource and health issues.”
The brief hearing included testimony from representatives of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Department of State, and two research mission agencies – National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). And while their testimony focused on the role that each played in fostering diplomacy, developing collaborations and promoting scientific research between nations, the discussion between the Members and the witnesses centered mostly on the broader value of science in helping diplomacy.
Jeff Miotke, deputy assistant secretary for Science, Space, and Health in State’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science noted that science can encourage investments in other countries to advance economic development and education in developing countries. He also pointed out that as scientific knowledge and understanding advances it helps to drive the direction of diplomatic efforts in issues of global concern such as avian influenza and climate change.
While most subcommittee members recognized the importance of international collaboration, they also addressed its limitations. With an eye toward tight domestic discretionary spending and declining federal R&D budgets, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) questioned, "Why should our nation export U.S. dollars overseas when researchers here in our own states are struggling for R&D funding?"
NSF director Arden Bement argued that in the global innovation economy one cannot assume that U.S. scientists are the only ones advancing research in the frontiers. He also argued that high-quality facilities are located around the world and that U.S. scientists need to have access to those facilities. Nina Federoff, science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State, emphasized that we live in an interconnected world and that work to develop opportunities for less developed countries can reduce disparities that in some parts of the world may act as a catalyst for violence.
Another goal of the hearing was to address mechanisms to overcome existing barriers in order to advance and enhance U.S. international efforts. One recommendation cited in International Science & Engineering Partnerships: A Priority for U.S. Foreign Policy and Our Nation’s Innovation Agendaa report from the National Science Board, is to reestablish a Committee on International Science, Engineering and Technology (CISET) as part of the administration’s National Science and Technology Council. OSTP director Jack Marburger was quick to shoot down the idea of recreating CISET, stating that top-down management of international science objectives is ineffective.
Marburger, however, recommended the concept of creating "receptor” Web sites in developing countries as a mechanism for building cooperation. Such Web sites would allow multiple agencies to share a range of scientific information (e.g., public health, clean water) as well as opportunities for collaboration to countries overseas.Chairman Baird closed the hearing by remarking that the agencies need to set aside funding to help launch initiatives once State and/or mission agencies have identified worthwhile activities.
-- Joanne CarneyBACK TO TOP
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to frequent the halls of Senate and House office buildings on Capitol Hill, as Members of Congress in both chambers dissect the agency’s latest climate change moves. Congress has dealt the EPA another subpoena this month and hauled agency heads to testify in committee hearings yet again. Meanwhile, the agency’s most recent smog standard debuted with modest support from industry, environmental groups, and Congress.
Early this month, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a vote to decide whether to subpoena the EPA for documents regarding the agency’s plans to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. The committee voted 12-0 to approve the subpoena.
Leading Republicans on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee suggested that senior-level EPA staff may have “provided substantial information and advice to a private individual to assist in his lobbying effort to persuade the EPA Administrator to grant the [California] waiver.” Such actions on the part of agency staff would have violated rules that ban lobbying. In a letter to the Committee Chairman, Committee members Tom Davis (R-VA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) called for an investigation into this matter.
Pressed to deliver greenhouse gas emission regulations, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson notified Congress late last month that he would proceed with an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) requiring a lengthy public comment period before the agency can generate regulations. Many Democrats voiced strong disapproval of this recent move, claiming that the ANPR is yet another ploy by the agency to delay action on climate change regulation. In response, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced a bipartisan legislation which would compel the agency to release endangerment findings within two months.
In an April 10th hearing of the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, the EPA Office of Air and Radiation’s Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator, Robert Meyers, testified in regards to regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Many Democrats on the Subcommittee used this as an opportunity to criticize the agency for stalling with the ANPR. However, not all Democrats are enthusiastic about the EPA setting regulations for a cap-and-trade program. Full Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) voiced his concern about the agency setting such important economy-wide regulations and predicted countless lawsuits against the agency if this came to pass. Dingell argued that cap-and-trade regulations should be created through legislation, as this challenge is complex and requires “inherently political decisions.”The agency’s recently circulated new smog standards, which tighten the ozone standards from 80 to 75 part per billion (ppb) received a chilly reception. Environmental and public health groups as well as the EPA’s own scientific advisors recommended that the standards be set at a lower level, while industry interest groups urged the EPA to uphold current standards. The decision comes in an atmosphere of controversy as the memos now part of the public record show that Office of Management and Budget official Susan E. Dudley intervened in the rule-making process and urged the Administrator to consider economic impacts when creating the standard.
-- Lina Karaoglanova
Congress toiled this month to address concerns over escalating fuel prices and the upcoming expiration of tax credits for renewable energy producers. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing on the first of the month to discuss the increasing oil profits and continued government subsidies to the oil industry in the midst of a fuel crisis. Meanwhile, a recently introduced bipartisan bill in the Senate offers a temporary extension of renewable energy tax incentives in the hopes of gaining support in both parties.
During the hearing, Democrats questioned oil industry CEOs about their investments in renewable energy production. Exxon Mobil’s Senior Vice President, J. Stephen Simon, received particularly heavy criticisms for the company’s relatively minor investment in renewables, about $100 million, as compared to its competitors BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Shell, all of whom were represented at the hearing and have invested several billions of dollars in renewables. Select Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), called on oil companies to invest at least 10 percent of their profits in alternative and renewable energies.
Many Members questioned the need for the government to continue to supply tax credits to an industry that is both established and reaping massive profits. Some Democrats suggested that these tax credits should be cut to pay for renewable energy incentives, as proposed by the contentious Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008 (H.R. 5351). Company CEOs and many Republican members argued against such cuts, as they would force oil companies to cut production in order to protect profits.
The CEOs countered that while the industry has recently witnessed profits, it has also seen disproportionate growth in taxation in the United States. Several oil industry representatives proposed opening up additional resources for oil drilling to solve the high gasoline price problem; Shell’s President, John Hofmeister, noted that oil companies have the capacity to process more oil and simply need access to new resources.
Meanwhile, the renewable energy and efficiency tax incentives are expected to expire at the end of this year with no end in sight to the debates on whether to pay for renewable tax incentives by slashing oil and gas tax credits. Following pay-go rules, H.R. 5351 attempts to pay for the renewable incentive extension by reducing credit payments to oil companies. The oil and gas credit roll-backs have been the real issue of debate, as no one seems opposed to subsidizing renewable energy.
A new bipartisan bill, Clean Energy Tax Stimulus Act of 2008 (S. 2821), proposed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John Ensign (R-NV) tackles this thorny subject by authorizing an estimated $6 billion worth of renewable incentives without scaling back any of the oil and gas tax benefits.
While some House Blue Dog Democrats have suggested that lawmakers must come up with a way to pay for the bill if they want it to pass in the House, other Democrats are more concerned with getting the extensions and may overlook the absence of offsets. The bill’s authors have said that this is a short-term solution to the expiring incentives and hope to include it as an amendment to a larger package this year.
-- Lina Karaoglanova
National Public Health Week, which took place April 7-13, brought two hearings addressing climate change and its impacts on human health, one with the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the other with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
The theme of both hearings was that climate change is likely to bring with it an increase in certain types of health problems, particularly in disadvantaged populations such as children, the elderly, and the poor.
Howard Frumkin, a senior official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was the first speaker to lay out the synopsis: With climate change could come more heat waves (linked to heat exhaustion and potentially fatal heat stroke); more air pollution (linked to asthma and other lung conditions); and more extreme weather events (linked to deaths, property damage and psychological trauma, among other things). Changes in water patterns could increase the incidence of water-borne diseases and changes in seasonal patterns could bring vector-borne diseases (e.g. malaria, Lyme disease, West Nile virus) to more latitudes.
Frumkin’s testimony stood out because it provided more detail on this issue than a testimony given by CDC chief Julie Gerberding last year before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. News later emerged that the White House had heavily edited Gerderding’s statement.
Frumkin refused to take a position on the EPA’s actions with respect to regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act [see previous issues of STC]. When pressed by Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), who presided over the hearing, he said “there is strong evidence the carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. … [and] there is strong evidence that climate change affects public health in many ways.”
Committee members also pressed Frumkin on the President’s budget request, which would lower CDC funding from Fiscal Year 2008. “With further resources we would be able to do more,” he said.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives held a hearing this month to investigate current issues regarding the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), originally put into place in 1972. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Subcommittee Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) introduced the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2008 (H.R.5687) in order to close loopholes in the current Act.
At the hearing, Clay noted that "some appointments to scientific and technical advisory committees have generated some controversy due to the perception that appointments were made based on ideology rather than expertise or were weighted to favor one group of stakeholders over another." In his opening statement, he went on to cite "Vice President Dick Cheney's infamous Energy Task Force that was stacked with industry executives."
Testifying at the hearing, Sidney Shapiro, Associate Dean for Research and Development at the Wake Forest School of Law, cited several loopholes in the current incarnation of FACA, which he argued allow the work of advisory committees to be completed in settings not subject to FACA regulations. Examples include a “contractor loophole,” which allows agencies to hire private companies to organize advisory committees that are not subject to the FACA regulations, a “subcommittee loophole,” which allows agencies to divert the substantive committee work to subcommittees not subject to the regulations, and the “non-voting participant loophole,” which allows non-committee members to be involved in the work of the committee as long as they do not vote. FACA requires that members of federal advisory committees be designated as “special government employees” and thus be subject to official conflict of interest (COI) guidelines. Subcommittee members at the hearing expressed concerns over this last loophole, arguing that representatives serving on many committees are able to strongly influence the work of those committees without being subject to FACA regulations.
-- Alexis Walker
The House Science and Technology Committee met April 16 to discuss the reauthorization of the five-year-old National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).
One major issue up for discussion was the committee’s consideration of allocating 10 percent of the NNI research budget, which totals $1.5 billion among 13 agencies, to support research in environmental, health, and safety (EHS) implications of nanotechnology.
Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) pointed out at the start that at least 600 products containing nanomaterials are currently on the market, and that the number is bound to grow unless an EHS scare shuts down interest in nanotechnology.
While some witnesses were supportive of the 10-percent idea, Floyd Kvamme, co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), said that he instead favored a system that allocates funds based on scientifically determined priorities and not “arbitrary percentages.” PCAST released its second review of the NNI this month.
In his statement, Kvamme noted that the NNI working group on Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications has identified five key areas for EHS research and designated leadership and coordinating roles among the participating agencies. Setting aside such arbitrary amounts, he argued, was neither practical nor necessary.
Woodrow Wilson Center expert Andrew Maynard argued, on the other hand, that anything less than 10 percent would be problematic given nanotechnology’s existing and future presence in consumer products.
While committee members agree that coordination and planning within the multi-agency program has been effective, they have been frustrated by the funding levels and, in particular, the slow pace of the government’s response to EHS issues. According to administration documents, EHS funding request for FY09 is $76 million.
Nanotechnology education provisions also came up at the hearing. The committee has been focused on the idea of boosting education in the burgeoning field; it held a hearing on the topic in October of last year.
The Role of Offsets in a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cap-and-Trade Program: Potential Benefits and Concerns (RL34436)
This report acknowledges the significant role that provisions regarding “offsets” are likely to play in the success of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions program. The report defines an offset as a “measurable reduction, avoidance, or sequestration of GHG emissions from a source not covered by an emission reduction program.” The authors find that if allowed as part of an emissions program, offsets could provide cost savings and other benefits by providing an incentive for non-regulated sources to generate emission reductions and expanding emission compliance opportunities for regulated entities. However, there is concern as to whether offsets represent real emission reductions. Another concern is whether including offsets would send the appropriate price signal to encourage the development of long-term mitigation technologies.
Satellite Surveillance: Domestic Issues (RL34421)
In response to concerns over privacy infringement as a result of law enforcement use of satellites, Congress put in place a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2764, P.L. 110-161), which precluded any funds from being used to commence operations of the National Applications Office. The National Applications Office is the agency responsible for use of reconnaissance satellites by civilian federal agencies. This report provides background on the development of intelligence satellites and identifies the roles various agencies play in their management and use. The authors discuss existing policy and proposed changes, including the findings of an Independent Study Group (ISG) on increased sharing of satellite intelligence data. The report considers legal issues, including whether satellite reconnaissance might constitute a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, an overview of statutory authorities, and a brief description of executive branch authorities and Department of Defense directives that might apply. The report outlines a series of policy options that Congress may consider as it deliberates the potential advantages and pitfalls that may be encountered in expanding the role of satellite intelligence for homeland security purposes.
The Disparity Between Retail Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Prices (RL34431)
This report discusses the shift in the relative prices of gasoline and diesel fuel. Diesel fuel has historically been less expensive than gasoline, but the situation has recently been reversed. The report explains that both gasoline and diesel fuel are produced from the same crude oil base, and within technology-defined limits refiners can vary the proportions of the two produced. The report notes that world demand patterns are shifting as diesel fuel becomes a primary consumer transportation fuel in Europe and other parts of the world and world price differentials are transmitted to the U.S. market. Other factors affecting diesel prices are also discussed.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Reforms: Regulatory Impacts Upon Innovation and Competition (RL34422)
This report details new rules promulgated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) regarding limits to the number of claims which can be included in one patent application as well as regulations on continuing applications, which are applications re-filed commonly following an examiner's rejection. USPTO has suggested that these rules will increase the efficiency of examination, but critics of the new rules contend that they will negatively impact the ability of innovators to obtain effective proprietary rights. Legal challenges to the rules are ongoing at this point. This CRS report states that if Congress concludes that USPTO’s existing application practice is satisfactory, then no action need be taken. On the other hand, if Congress wishes to intervene, H.R. 1908 would expressly provide USPTO with regulatory authority to specify the circumstances under which a patent applicant may file a continued application. Other possibilities cited by the report include providing the USPTO with substantive rulemaking authority and more specific reforms directed to the relevant substantive provisions of the Patent Act.
- Advanced Energy Technologies: Budget Trends and Challenges for DOE's Energy R&D Program (GAO-08-556T)
This report addresses (1) funding trends for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy research and development (R&D) programs and its Office of Science and (2) key challenges in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies. It explains that DOE's energy R&D program has focused on reducing high up-front capital costs, improving the operating efficiency of advanced energy technologies to enable them to better compete with conventional energy technologies, and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and pollutants that adversely affect public health and the environment. However, it stresses that DOE's energy R&D funding alone will not be sufficient to deploy advanced energy technologies and argues that coordinating energy R&D with other federal energy-related programs and policies is key. In addition, it points out that other governments and the private sector are highly significant in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies that can change the nation's energy portfolio.
- NASA: Ares I and Orion Project Risks and Key Indicators to Measure Progress (GAO-08-186T)
On April 3, GAO Acquisition and Sourcing Management Director Cristina Chaplain testified before the House Science and Technology Committee about the development of NASA‘s human space exploration program. NASA plans to launch its Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle and its Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle in 2015, five years after the agency retires the space shuttle due to safety concerns. Chaplain said that uncertainties in performance requirements could delay the project further or result in additional costs.
- Advanced Energy Technologies: Budget Trends and Challenges for DOE's Energy R&D Program (GAO-08-556T)
This report addresses (1) funding trends for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy research and development (R&D) programs and (2) key challenges in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies. It explains that DOE's energy R&D program has focused on reducing high up-front capital costs, improving the operating efficiency of advanced energy technologies to enable them to better compete with conventional energy technologies, and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and pollutants that adversely affect public health and the environment. However, it stresses that DOE's energy R&D funding alone will not be sufficient to deploy advanced energy technologies and argues that coordinating energy R&D with other federal energy-related programs and policies is key. In addition, it points out that state, local and foreign governments and the private sector are highly significant in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies that can change the nation's energy portfolio.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Changes in Obligations and Activities before and after Fiscal Year 2005 Budget Reorganization (GAO-08-328R)
In fiscal year 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) completed its first major organizational restructuring in more than 25 years, known as the Futures Initiative, as part of an effort to prioritize its strategies, programs, resources, and needs. CDC also implemented a new internal budget reporting structure that specifically identifies funding obligated for leadership and management activities. GAO examined changes in obligations for administrative activities--generally conducted in CDC's leadership and management levels--and public health programs--generally conducted in CDC's division level--before and after the organizational restructuring and budget reorganization. GAO found that the distribution of obligations remained relatively stable from fiscal year 2003 through fiscal year 2006.
- Defense Acquisitions: Significant Challenges Ahead in Developing and Demonstrating Future Combat System's Network and Software (GAO-08-409)
GAO is required by law to report annually on the Army's Future Combat System (FCS). FCS requires a software-based advanced information network to integrate people, sensors, and weapons into a cohesive system. Software is crucial to the success of the program, as it controls 95 percent of its functionality. The Army contracted with the Boeing Company as a lead systems integrator (LSI) to define, develop, and integrate FCS, including software development. This report claims that almost five years into the program, it is not yet clear if or when the Army and LSI will develop, build, and demonstrate the information network that is at the heart of the FCS concept. The report goes on to address risks facing network and software development, the practices being used to manage software, and the timing of key network demonstrations in FCS. GAO finds that the program's immaturity and aggressive pace during development have delayed development at the software developer level.
State Voter Registration Databases: Immediate Actions and Future Improvements, Interim Report (ISBN-10: 0-309-11878-6)
This report from the National Research Council finds that state and local election officials could enhance voter registration databases for the November elections by implementing several short-term changes, including raising public awareness about the importance of writing legibly on voter registration cards and completing them fully, reviewing names that are computer-flagged for removal from the database, and using online registration forms to improve list maintenance and reduce data entry errors.
Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership:
Second Report (ISBN-10: 0-309-11634-1)
This second book is a follow-up to Phase I of the National Academy’s annual review of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership. This collaborative effort between the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), and five major energy companies aims to manage research that will enable the vision of a clean and sustainable transportation energy future. Part of this is a transition from more efficient internal combustion engines (ICEs), to advanced ICE hybrid electric vehicles, and to enabling a private-sector decision by 2015 on hydrogen-fueled vehicle development. The current report assesses progress in the research program management areas as well as the responses of program management to recommendations provided in the Phase I report. Covered in this second book are major crosscutting issues; vehicle subsystems; hydrogen production, delivery, and dispensing; and an overall assessment of the program.
Noise and Military Service: Implications for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus (ISBN-10: 0-309-09949-8)
NAS produced this report in response to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs which demonstrated that hearing loss has become the leading disability among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan due to factors such as roadside bombs and sudden, unexpected fire fights, which give soldiers little or no time to utilize protective equipment such as earplugs. However, some soldiers also cited a lack of instruction on their use or a lack of protective equipment altogether. The NAS report recommends better enforcement of existing requirements for (1) the use of hearing protection by military personnel and for (2) the monitoring of auditory capacity during and at the conclusion of military service. In addition, the report urges expanded research into hearing loss associated with noise exposure during military service.
“Dying for Coverage”
This Families USA report provides state-level estimates of the number of deaths due to lack of health insurance. The report is based on the methodology of the 2002 Institute of Medicine report Care without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late, applied to state-level data. The Institute of Medicine report laid out a direct link between a lack of health coverage and health-related deaths.
Bipartisan Policy Center
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit organization created by former Senators Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, released this report documenting present and future climate change impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitats. The study says that global warming is expected to impact a broad range of fish and wildlife species, including salmon and trout, and is likely to significantly affect future hunting and fishing. Sea level rise, drought, increasing storms, and increasing temperatures associated with climate change are expected to devastate key habitats, negatively impact reproduction, and increase extinction rates.
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Orlando Sentinel Features AAAS CEO Commentary
In the Orlando Sentinel, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner and co-author Maryann Fiala, executive director of the Florida Council of the American Electronics Association stated that anti-evolution legislation pending in Florida could undermine the performance of Florida's young science students and have negative long-term repercussions for the state's economy. The authors urged state lawmakers to focus instead on ways to improve science education and to support educators and students in efforts to meet new science standards set by the Florida Board of Education. (April 7, 2008)
AAAS Commentary Urges US Presidential Candidates to Address Science Issues
AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner's statement appeared in the March 17 The Philadelphia Inquirer, identifying core science-related questions to be answered by the presidential hopefuls. Leshner said that voters deserve science-minded leaders who can solve critical issues. With the Democratic primary heating up again in Pennsylvania next week, be sure to check out S&T in the Presidential Election on the AAAS election website.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
AAAS Forum on Science & Technology Policy Coming Soon
The role of science and technology in the 21st century and the place of science-related issues in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign will be among the top topics during the 33rd annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy on May 8-9. The Forum will feature a keynote address at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday May 8 by John H. Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science Technology Policy and the longest serving presidential science adviser.
Science, 11 April 2008; Vol. 320. no. 5873, pp. 212 - 214