Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
The full Senate gave final approval on February 10 to its version of the long-awaited and much-negotiated American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 (HR 1), an $800+ billion economic stimulus package to deal with the current economic crisis. During floor debate, the Senate approved several amendments to the original draft Senate bill, including an amendment that would cut $83 billion in spending from the original bill. The large differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills, despite their similar overall price tags, will be difficult to reconcile in a House-Senate conference expected to get underway immediately.
AAAS analysis of the House and Senate stimulus bills estimates that, despite a smaller price tag for appropriations, the Senate bill now contains $17.8 billion in federal research and development (R&D) funding and the House version $13.2 billion (see Table). Although the House and the Senate started off with similar amounts for R&D, the Senate amended its original bill to add $6.5 billion for NIH and trimmed smaller amounts for other R&D programs. The Senate would allocate $15.8 billion for the conduct of R&D (compared to $9.5 billion in the House), while the House would provide nearly twice as much for R&D facilities and large research equipment as the Senate ($3.7 billion in the Senate and $2.0 billion in the House; see Table). There is also additional money for non-R&D but science and technology-related programs, higher education construction and other education spending of interest to academia.
The three agencies highlighted for their support of economic competitiveness-related basic research in the America COMPETES Act of 2007 and President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) would receive $5.5 billion in the House bill and less than half that in the Senate bill, with the Senate total shrinking during floor debate. In the House, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $3.0 billion; the Department of Energy's Office of Science (DOE OS) would receive $2.0 billion; and Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would receive $520 million; nearly all of these supplementals are for R&D activities. The House's $5.5 billion appropriations to these three agencies would finally put all three budgets on track to double over the next 7 to 10 years as envisioned in the ACI, America COMPETES, and Obama campaign promises. The Senate bill would give NSF $1.2 billion (reduced from an original $1.4 billion), DOE's Office of Science $330 million (reduced from $430 million), and NIST $595 million (reduced from $495 million) for a total of $2.0 billion, putting NSF and NIST on a doubling track but not the Office of Science.
The Senate would give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) $10.4 billion in stimulus funding, pushing NIH's total budget near $40 billion in FY 2009. The original Senate bill contained $3.9 billion for NIH, the same as the House, but on February 3 the Senate accepted an amendment to add another $6.5 billion. The House would divide its appropriation roughly evenly between research and infrastructure (construction and maintenance of facilities) but the amended Senate bill tilts overwhelmingly toward research.
The Department of Energy's (DOE) energy programs would also be a winner with $2.0 billion in the House and $2.6 billion in the Senate for R&D and related activities in renewable energy and energy conservation, with billions more for DOE in weatherization, loan guarantee, and clean energy demonstration funds. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would receive $600 million in the House and $1.3 billion in the Senate with an emphasis on climate change-related satellite missions.
Only the House bill would provide billions of dollars for universities to construct or renovate laboratories, although both bills would invest in research infrastructure. The House version of the stimulus would provide $3.7 billion for R&D facilities and capital equipment, to pay for the repair, maintenance, and construction of scientific laboratories as well as large research equipment and instrumentation. The House would provide $2.3 billion for extramural, competitively selected R&D facilities projects, nearly entirely at universities, through programs in NIH, NSF, and NIST that received no federal money in FY 2008. Within the Senate's less generous $2.0 billion total for R&D facilities, the Senate would not allocate any money for university laboratory projects, though NIH would receive $300 million for large research equipment needs in academia. Instead, the Senate would join the House in devoting resources to intramural laboratory repair and renovation at NIH and DOE Science laboratories, and only the Senate would fund construction needs at NIST and DOE weapons laboratories. And other agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and NOAA are set to receive stimulus funding in both House and Senate plans for construction and maintenance, which while not technically R&D facilities funding will be used to renovate existing laboratories or construct new ones.
Both the House and Senate bills require nearly all of the funding to be awarded within 120 days of when the President signs the bill into law, with staggered deadlines of 30 days for formula funds, 90 days for competitive grants, and 120 days for competitive grants in brand-new programs, with the intention of spending the funding as quickly as possible to provide immediate economic stimulus.
Both the House's $9.5 billion and the Senate's $15.8 billion for the conduct of R&D are heavily weighted toward basic research, with some applied research funding but relatively little development funding. For a federal research portfolio that has been declining in real terms since FY 2004, a final stimulus bill could provide an immediate boost and could allow federal research funding to see a real increase for the first time five years. Under the current CR and the few completed FY 2009 appropriations, the federal research portfolio stands at $58.3 billion in FY 2009, up just 0.3 percent and thus short of inflation, but assuming enactment of the stimulus and final FY 2009 appropriations at CR levels the federal research portfolio could jump to $70 billion or more and could go even higher if final FY 2009 appropriations are above CR funding levels.
In a highly unusual move, this stimulus appropriations bill, technically an emergency supplemental appropriations bill, appears before an FY 2009 omnibus appropriations bill to provide federal agencies with their final, regular FY 2009 budgets. 9 out of the 12 FY 2009 appropriations bills remain unfinished, meaning only the Departments of Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), and Veterans Affairs (VA) have their final FY 2009 budgets. All other federal agencies are temporarily operating at or below FY 2008 funding levels under a continuing resolution (CR) through March 6.
A full update on the stimulus and FY09 appropriations is available on the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program website.
-- Kei Koizumi
Many of Obama's cabinet members have started their appointments by highlighting the role that science will play in developing policies. From EPA to Interior to Council on Environmental Quality, the new appointees are emphasizing the need for scientific integrity and transparency in decision making.Dr. Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Obama selected to lead the Department of Energy, was confirmed by the Senate shortly after the President's inauguration on January 20 and was sworn in the following day. During his confirmation hearing on January 13, at which he was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as "persistent, persuasive, and passionate about science" and "one of the great, brilliant thinkers of his generation," the members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee praised his background as head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and emphasized the key role science will play in addressing the nation's energy challenges. Chu expressed this sentiment in his testimony and in several answers to the Senators' questions, stating that "the key to America's prosperity in the 21st century lies in our ability to nurture and grow our nation's intellectual capital, particularly in science and technology." Chu cited the need for a comprehensive energy plan to address the challenges of climate change and threats from U.S. dependence on foreign oil and his optimism that the administration can meet these challenges. Also confirmed on January 20 was Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a former Senator from Colorado. In one of his first addresses, Salazar told Interior Department staff that he would lead with "openness in decision-making, high ethical standards and respect to scientific integrity." He stated that decisions will be based on sound science and the public interest and not special interests. Other members of Obama's cabinet confirmed on January 20 include Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was confirmed on January 21. On January 22, Lisa Jackson, a former head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, was confirmed as Administrator of the EPA. In her January 13 confirmation hearing, Jackson said that "science must be the backbone of what EPA does," and that if confirmed she "will administer with science as [her] guide." Jackson also addressed recent criticism of scientific integrity at the EPA, stating "political appointees will not compromise the integrity of EPA's technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes." In a memo to EPA employees, Jackson noted, "I will ensure EPA's efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and overwhelming transparency." The memo outlined five priority areas: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, managing chemical risks, cleaning up hazardous-waste sites, and protecting America's water. A second member of Obama's cabinet confirmed on January 22 was Nancy Sutley, who will serve as Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality at the White House. Sutley was most recently Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment for Los Angeles, California. She also served as Energy Adviser to former California Governor Gray Davis and as a senior adviser to the EPA Administrator.
Among the other Obama nominees still awaiting confirmation are Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director-designate John Holdren and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Director-designate Jane Lubchenco.
-- Lucas Adin
Shortly before the advent of the 111th Congress, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) sought and won the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, ousting longtime chairman John Dingell (D-MI). The secret-ballot vote by Democratic Caucus members was 137-122 in favor of Waxman. Environmentalists cheered the news, as Waxman favors a more aggressive approach to addressing climate change. Energy and Commerce is widely considered a top committee because of its broad jurisdiction over key issues such as health care and energy.
After taking the helm Waxman wasted little time in shaking up the committee. He essentially combined two previous subcommittees to form a new Energy and Environment Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). Markey also continues to chair the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, putting him in a solid position to work on climate change. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), previously in charge of energy matters, moved to Markey's former post at the helm of the Communications, Technology, and the Internet Subcommittee.
Dingell remains on the committee as "chairman emeritus" and plans to continue to have a prominent role, particularly in the area of health care. Staying in their posts are Health Subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ); Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-MI); and Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL).
Many of the House Committee on Science & Technology's stated priorities also rank prominently on the national agenda. These include strengthening American innovation by improving research in nanotechnology, IT, pharmaceuticals, and other areas; implementing ARPA-E and promoting renewable energy research along with improved climate monitoring; enhancing the role of Science Technology Education and Math (STEM)programs in education and the workforce; ensuring NASA has adequate resources for space exploration and education; and promoting further research goals related to transportation infrastructure, national security, and other areas.
The committee also pledged an aggressive effort to restore the public's confidence in public sector science and research. Citing several instances of mismanagement in recent years, from EPA and the Office of Management and Budget to the CDC, the committee intends to improve oversight to restore scientific integrity and refute the politicization of science in government.
Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) remains chairman of the committee, but there are some changes in subcommittee leadership from the previous Congress. Newly elected subcommittee chairs include Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) for Energy and Environment; Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) for Research and Science Education, in the seat vacated by Baird; and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) for Space and Aeronautics, a seat previously held by former representative and now freshman Senator Mark Udall (D-CO). Both Reps. David Wu (D-OR) and Brad Miller (D-NC) were re-elected as chairmen of the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation and the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, respectively. The ranking minority member of the full committee remains Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX). Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) is the ranking member for Research and Science Education and was also named the vice ranking member of the full committee. Other Ranking minority members are: Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) for Energy and Environment; Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) for Technology and Innovation; Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), for Investigations and Oversight; and Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) for Space and Aeronautics.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Natural Resources, led by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) quickly approved its agenda and oversight plan at its February 4 organizing meeting. Rahall pledged bipartisan efforts of the committee, as did his new Ranking Member Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who takes over for Don Young (R-AK) who stepped aside. Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) will chair the newly merged Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee, and Rep. Henry E. Brown, Jr. (R-SC) will be the Ranking Member. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over legislation governing issues relating to fisheries management, wildlife resources, coastal barrier protection and coastal zone management, and marine sanctuaries, among other areas. Full committee and subcommittee rosters are on the committee website.
-- Kasey White, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan
Midnight Regulations Under Review
As many previous administrations have done, the Bush Administration finalized a number of regulations (often referred to as midnight regulations) in the waning days of its term. One such regulation was a change to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that allows agencies to skip a scientific review by the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service. Another regulation by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining allows companies to dump mining debris within the current 100-foot stream buffer. Interior also finalized a rule that allows concealed and loaded guns to be carried in national parks located in states with concealed-carry laws.
One of the first acts of the Obama Administration was a memorandum from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to halt all regulations that were announced but not yet finalized by the Bush Administration until a legal and policy review could be conducted by the new administration.
OMB Director Peter Orszag followed that action with another memo detailing additional options for federal agencies, including delaying effective dates of any regulation not yet in effect or “consider[ing] the appropriateness of not defending a legally doubtful rule in the face of a judicial challenge.”
Though the memos may lead to a halt of all regulations that have not become final, such as a proposal to remove gray wolves from the ESA protections in much of the northern Rocky Mountains, it does not impact any regulations that became effective before President Bush left office. In general, regulations that have been finalized must undergo a new rulemaking process, often a lengthy procedure, if they are to be changed by the executive branch.
Congress has taken an interest in these midnight regulations, holding several hearings and investigating legislative strategies to overturn some of the regulations. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming examined many of these regulations in a December 11 hearing at the end of the 110th Congress. The 111th Congress took up the charge with a February 4 hearing by the House Judiciary Committee’s panel on Commercial and Administrative Law. The hearing featured heated discussions on the contents of many of the rules, but lawmakers and witnesses alike sought to separate the substance of the rules from the process used to craft the rules. Members questioned whether any of the regulations had violated federal regulatory procedures, such the Administrative Procedures Act, during their development. Witnesses such as Gary Bass of OMB Watch said the administration violated the spirit of the law with a very quick rulemaking process on many of the regulations. The committee began to examine strategies that would prevent future administrations from engaging in midnight rulemaking, though a consensus on these procedures did not emerge.
Congress has several options to stop final rules that it does not support, ranging from not funding implementation of the regulations to passing legislation to overturn them. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to vote down recent rules with a resolution of disapproval, but this technique has only been used once and would require separate votes on each regulation that Congress wishes to overturn. For example, House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Select Committee on Global Warming Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have introduced a measure (H.J.RES.18 ) that would use the Congressional Review Act to freeze the endangered species rules.
Members of Congress have also introduced legislation to expand their options to overturn the rules. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, has introduced a bill, the Midnight Rule Act (H.R. 34), that would allow incoming cabinet secretaries to review all regulatory changes made by the White House within the last three months of an administration and reverse such rules without going through the entire rulemaking process.
Witnesses at the February 4 hearing noted that every dollar that goes into defending or rewriting these regulations is money not spent advancing a new agenda, so it remains to be seen the extent to which agencies and Congress take on these regulations.
-- Kasey White
After Long Time Adrift, Ocean Bills Advance
Advocates for ocean research got off to a quick start in the 111th Congress with the Senate passage of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 (S. 22). The package of bills, introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and passed on January 15, authorizes $794 million for expanded ocean research through FY 2015, including $104 million authorized for FY 2009, along with a slew of other wilderness conservation measures.
The approved omnibus included five separate ocean research bills, covering such topics as deep ocean exploration, coastal mapping and observation, ocean acidification, and conservation of coasts and estuaries. All five had been introduced during the previous session of Congress; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) incorporated most into a package last fall (S. 3297), which stalled late in the year despite broad support (see August 2008 STC Newsletter for more details).
The first of the five bills, the Ocean Exploration and NOAA Undersea Research Act (S. 172), authorizes the National Ocean Exploration Program and the National Undersea Research Program. The act prioritizes research of deep ocean areas, calling for study of hydrothermal vent communities and seamounts, documentation of shipwrecks and submerged sites, and development of undersea technology. The bill authorizes $52.8 million for these programs in FY 2009, increasing to $93.5 million in FY 2015. The contents of the bill had been first introduced in the previous congressional session by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), whose bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee in February 2007; and by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), whose bill passed the House in February 2008.
The Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act authorizes an integrated federal plan to improve knowledge of unmapped maritime territory, which currently comprises 90 percent of all U.S. waters. Calling for improved coordination, data sharing, and mapping technology development, the act authorizes $26 million for the program along with $11 million specifically for Joint Ocean and Coastal Mapping Centers in FY 2009. These quantities increase to $45 million and $15 million, respectively, beginning in FY 2012. The bill was introduced as S. 174 by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) earlier this year.
The Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act (S.171), introduced by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), authorizes an integrated national observation system to gather and disseminate data on an array of variables from the coasts, oceans, and Great Lakes. The act promotes basic and applied research to improve observation technologies, as well as modeling systems, data management, analysis, education, and outreach through a network of federal and regional entities. Authorization levels for the program are contingent upon the budget developed by the Interagency Ocean Observation Committee.
The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FOARAM Act) establishes a coordinated federal research strategy to better understand ocean acidification. In addition to contributing to climate change, increased emissions of carbon dioxide are making the ocean more acidic, with resulting impacts to corals and other marine life. The act calls for coordination by NOAA, NSF, and NASA, and authorizes $14 million combined for FY 2009, increasing to $35 million in FY 2015.
The fifth research bill included in the omnibus package, the Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act, creates a competitive state grant program to protect threatened coastal and estuarine areas with significant conservation, ecological, or watershed protection values, or with historical, cultural or aesthetic significance.
The omnibus package passed with a vote of 73-21, and now awaits action in the House, where floor action is expected. Companion bills introduced in the House include the Ocean Research and Exploration Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R.366) by Rep. Farr (D-CA), The Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act (H.R. 265) by Rep. Bordallo (D-Guam), the FOARAM Act (H.R.14) by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), and the Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act (H.R. 368) by Rep. Capps (D-CA).
-- Matt Hourihan
Climate Legislation Starts Anew
Amid efforts to use green technologies and jobs to stimulate the economy, Congress began work on legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. On February 3, Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced a broad set of principles for climate change legislation. The principles include setting targets that are “guided by science to avoid dangerous global warming” and lay out uses for the revenues from the carbon market. They also state the need for “a level global playing field, by providing incentives for emission reductions and effective deterrents so that countries contribute their fair share to the international effort to combat global warming.” Boxer was joined by many of the Democrats on the committee at a press conference to release the principles, with many emphasizing the job creation potential resulting from such a plan.
Boxer’s committee is not the only one addressing climate change. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from former Vice President Al Gore on January 28, who pushed for domestic and international action to address climate change. Gore urged Congress to pass the stimulus bill because of its provisions on energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean cars, and a smart grid. He also called for a cap on carbon emission to be enacted before the next round of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December. The committee also touched on the issue at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing on January 13, where she said, “The world is in need of an urgent, coordinated response to climate change and as President-elect Obama has said, America must be a leader in developing and implementing it.”
On the other side of the hill, House Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) said that he wants a bill through his committee by Memorial Day, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would like a bill through the full House by the end of the year. Waxman’s committee got started early, holding its first hearing of the session on climate change. The hearing featured testimony from a number of members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of over 30 businesses and nongovernmental organizations that have called for Congress to pass legislation to mitigate climate change. The organizations advocated for a cap-and-trade system with a 42 percent cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, with reductions of 80 percent by 2050. Witnesses testified that a recession is the best time to pass this legislation because clarity in the law will illuminate investment opportunities.
Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chair Ed Markey (D-MA) has said that he intends to craft a bill that draws up existing proposals. These includes a proposal developed at the end of the 110th Congress by former committee chair John Dingell (D-MI) and former subcommittee chair Rick Boucher (D-VA). Markey’s proposal will also likely reflect a set of principles for climate change legislation that he spearheaded last year, along with Reps. Waxman and Jay Inslee (D-WA). The principles are based on limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
President Obama has also taken steps to address greenhouse gas emissions. He directed EPA to reconsider whether to grant California a waiver to set more stringent automobile standards. California has been fighting EPA’s December 2007 decision to deny its efforts to set standards that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles by 30 percent by 2016 (See February 2008 STC newsletter). If approved, thirteen other states will also adopt the standards. Obama also asked the Department of Transportation to establish higher fuel efficiency standards for carmakers’ 2011 model year.
-- Kasey White and Phillip Chalker
FDA Reform Bills Quickly Emerge in 111th Congress
After much discussion over the past year, House Energy and Commerce Democrats introduced legislation recently to shore up the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of food, drug, medical device and cosmetic safety. The FDA Globalization Act (H.R. 759) would give FDA authority to recall unsafe drugs and devices and would institute industry registration fees to help cover facility inspection costs. It was introduced by Reps. John Dingell (D-MI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Bart Stupak (D-MI).
Also continuing her push for FDA reform is Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), head of the House Appropriations Committee's agriculture panel and chief sponsor of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (H.R. 875). DeLauro favors splitting off the food safety part of the agency into a separate division within the Department of Health and Human Services.
The movement comes amid yet more bad press for FDA (see STC 11/07, 12/07 and 3/08). The beleaguered agency has come under fire as part of the government handling of a salmonella outbreak in a Georgia peanut processing plant, linked to at least eight deaths and hundreds of illnesses. In a related hearing, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) blasted the U.S. food safety system as "truly frightening."
In addition, internal FDA scientists continue to charge that political considerations have trumped scientific advice in the approval of medical devices. In one high-profile allegation, an official in the agency approved the sale of an imaging device for breast cancer after receiving a phone call from then-Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), whose district was home to a company that stood to profit from the device.
Such reports have placed FDA reform on President Obama's radar. In early February he pledged a complete review of FDA operations.
-- Erin Heath
Containing the Threat of Biological Weapons
Both the Senate and the House held hearings in December and January, respectively, to examine the results of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism report, A World at Risk. At the hearings, former Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent, commission chair and vice-chair, warned that "a terrorist attack involving a weapon of mass destruction - nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological - is more likely than not to occur somewhere in the world in the next five years."
The WMD Commission representatives argued that although the prospect of a nuclear attack is a matter of great concern, the threat of a biological attack poses the more immediate concern due to "the greater availability of the relevant dual-use materials, equipment, and know-how, which are spreading rapidly throughout the world."
That thought was echoed by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-ME). Both recognized that while biotechnology research and innovation has created opportunities to develop important medical breakthroughs, its proliferation and the technological advancements that accompany innovations have also opened the door to the risk that such knowledge could be used as a weapon.
Graham and Talent acknowledged that weaponizing biological agents is still difficult and stated that "government officials and outside experts believe that no terrorist group has the operational capability to carry out a mass-casualty attack." However, the finding was tempered by noting that they see a larger risk of attack from a biologist becoming a terrorist or not being careful with pathogen specimens than from a terrorist group becoming biologically capable. The 2001 anthrax incidents that allegedly involved a government scientist is such an example.
A number of pathogens - approximately 70 viruses, bacteria and toxins - are included in the "Select Agent List." Research on these select agents is governed by language written into the USA PATRIOT Act and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002.
The laws regulate the possession, use, and transfer of these pathogens for research involving humans, animals and plants. Hence regulatory oversight of research involves the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control, while security background checks are managed through the Department of Justice. To date there are over 300 research facilities in government, academia and the private sector that involve an estimated 14,000 people in the U.S. that are authorized to handle pathogens.
While research on select agents is conducted in high-containment laboratories (biosafety labs 3 and 4), a concern of the commission is centered on unregistered BSL-3 research facilities in the private-sector. These labs will have the necessary tools to handle anthrax, for example, or to synthetically engineer a more dangerous version of that agent, but whether it has implemented appropriate security measures may be unknown. To the commission, this represents a serious lack of oversight that needs to be addressed.
For this reason the WMD Commission recommends regulation of registered and unregistered high containment laboratories be consolidated under one single agency, preferably the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Department of Health and Human Services (which includes CDC).
Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) has stated on a number of occasions, including discussions with new DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, the need for legislation to regulate biological pathogens. Collins has expressed her deep concern over the "dangerous gaps" in biosecurity and the importance of drafting legislation to close the gap. The committee could look to creating a stand-alone bill to reauthorize the select agent program and reconfigure its oversight structure.
In the 110th Congress the Select Agent Program and Biosafety Improvement Act of 2008 (S. 3127/H.R. 6671) was introduced to reauthorize the select agent program but was never signed into law. While it was created to strengthen biosafety and security and high-containment laboratories, it did not restructure agency oversight. No new bills have been introduced yet in the 111th Congress that address this subject, although legislation to authorize DHS has been introduced by Lieberman and Collins. So far, that draft does not address the select agent program.
Finally, on January 9, President Bush signed an executive order (E.O. 13486) on laboratory biosecurity that established an interagency working group, co-chaired by the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, to review the laws and regulations on the select agent program, personnel reliability, and oversight of high containment labs.
-- Joanne Carney
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
- To prepare for the next round of international climate negotiations, Al Gore testified at the hearing "Addressing Global Climate Change: The Road To Copenhagen" in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 28th. In his testimony, Gore spoke of past and predicted effects of global warming. In addition to highlighting some of the most recent studies, he informed the committee of practical ways to combat global warming.
- The House Science and Technology Committee has introduced the National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments of 2009 (H.R. 554), which would require a government roadmap for research on the environmental, health, and safety effects of nanotechnology. The new bill is identical to the NNI reauthorization bill pushed by the committee last year, which passed overwhelmingly in the House but stalled in the Senate.
The National Institutes of Health recently released its first Biennial Report of the Director, which assesses biomedical and behavioral research organized by disease category, investigative approach, or resource. NIH has also begun a new process for providing detailed funding information, called the Research, Condition, and Disease Categorization (RCDC) system. Both actions were mandated by Congress in the NIH Reform Act of 2006.
Gas Hydrates: Resource and Hazard (RS22990)
Computational Technology for Effective Health Care: Immediate Steps and Strategic Directions (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13078-3)
Beyond "Fortress America" National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-13066-0)
Phthalates and Cumulative Risk Assessment The Task Ahead (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-12841-4)
State of the USA Health Indicators: Letter Report (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-12862-9)
Review of Federal Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-11699-2)
Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-12042-5)
- The Role of Life Sciences in Transforming America's Future:
Summary of a Workshop
"Stim-Novation": Investing in Research to Spur Innovation and Boost Jobs
The Information and Technology Innovation Foundation
Emissions of Green House Gases in the United States 2007
Energy Information Administration
WorldWatch State of the World Symposium 2009: Into a Warming World
Scientific Collections: Mission-Critical Infrastructure for Federal Science Agencies
Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections
- New Science for a Secure and Sustainable Energy Future
Office of Basic Energy Sciences, DOE
A Roadmap for U.S.-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
BACK TO TOP
AAAS Launches Science and Human Rights Coalition
In January, AAAS launched the Science and Human Rights Coalition - a network of scientific and professional associations and academies that recognize a role for science and scientists in the realization of human rights. Through workshops and informational and training sessions, over 100 scientists and representatives of 50 scientific societies explored the varied contributions that science and scientists can make to human rights.
American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act
AAAS would like to thank Representatives Gordon, Miller, Obey, and Pelosi for their recognition of the critical importance of science and technology to the nation's economic health, as illustrated in the American economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“Wake-Up Call” for Science Education
A reinvigoration of U.S. science advice cannot happen soon enough, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner writes in a Jan. 12 op-ed piece in The Boston Globe. He notes that a new Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study confirms that U.S. students are again missing from the top ten nations in science and math performance. President-elect Obama has named several leading scientists to play key roles in his administration, and Leshner urges policy makers to send a clear signal that science education is highly valued and essential for all children if the United States is to retain its competitive edge.
AAAS Hosts Climate Change Briefings at House and Senate
In conjunction with the Ecological Society of America, Geological Society of America, American Meteorological Society, and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, AAAS hosted well-attended climate change briefings for the House and Senate on January 9. Moderated by AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, the briefings featured Timothy Wirth, Susan Solomon, Peter Gleick and Ted Parson, whose presentations are available on the AAAS website.
Mark Your Calendar:
AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy
30 April - 1 May 2009
Washington DC Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
The AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy is for people interested in public policy issues facing the science, engineering, and higher education communities. Since 1976, it has been the place where insiders go to learn what is happening and what is likely to happen in the coming year on the federal budget and the growing number of policy issues that affect researchers and their institutions. Come to the Forum, learn about the future of S&T policy, and meet the people who will shape it.
During the winter months, a cloud of pollution looms over South Asia and the Indian Ocean that has been linked to lung and heart disease. Recent research shows that the majority of this pollution is the result of burning biomass for heating and cooking. Addressing poverty and implanting appropriate green technology could greatly reduce the amount of soot produced. Because soot particles remain in the cloud for only a short period of time, a well planned effort could literally make the cloud disappear right before our eyes.
Gustafsson, Örjan, et. al., "The Makings of a Deadly Brown Cloud" Science 23 January 2009: 495-498.