Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
On July 22, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed S. 3605, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, by a unanimous voice vote. The bill differs from the House-passed version (see July 2010 STC newsletter) in a number of ways, although the purpose of both is to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and research and development (R&D) as a foundation for future economic growth and competitiveness.
Because many provisions related to the Department of Energy (DOE) and STEM education in the House bill are outside the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce Committee, S. 3605 does not include them. The bill addresses authorization levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST). In addition, it has sections related to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that were in the original 2007 COMPETES Act, but are not found in the House bill.
The Senate bill initially had higher funding levels than the House version, but the Committee approved 20 amendments, including one that would reduce funding levels for NSF and NIST by 10 percent, resulting in authorized funds essentially equal to House levels. Also, the majority of programs in the Senate bill are authorized for three years (2011-2013), while H.R. 5116 provides authorization for five years (2011-2015) (See R&D budget tables).
Prior to the amendments, the Senate bill, like its House counterpart, would change the Director of NIST to Undersecretary of Commerce, increase the federal government's cost share for the Manufacturing Extension Program up to 50 percent, and promote emergency communication research. The Senate and House bills would support the NSF Robert Noyce Scholarships and would establish a green chemistry basic research program at the agency. In the Senate bill, NSF would be responsible for helping the Nation meet cyber security challenges.
One new program in the Senate mark that is not found in the House bill is from an amendment offered by Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). It authorizes $10 million per year for five years for NSF to prepare science and engineering majors to be elementary and secondary school teachers. The program is modeled after the UTeach project started by the University of Texas at Austin.
In both bills, the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the Department of Commerce would support regional innovation initiatives and supply $100 million in loan guarantees to help small and medium-sized manufacturers use or produce innovative technologies. Unlike the House bill, the Senate's bill would provide loan guarantees for Science Park Infrastructure (up to 80 percent of a projects funding, a maximum of $50 million per project and no more than $500 million for all projects).
Additionally, both bills instruct the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to create an interagency working group responsible for coordinating federal standards for sharing scientific information and establishing public access policies to scientific research supported by federal funds.
Should the Senate bill make it to the full floor, it is expected that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee would offer an amendment authorizing DOE funding and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee would authorize funding for STEM education activities. It is believed that both committees have already authored amendments to bolster these programs (July 23 Science Insider).
--Joanne Carney and Phillip Chalker
Heading into the August recess, the House has passed two FY 2011 appropriations bills: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (H.R.5822) and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (H.R.5850). House Appropriation subcommittees have also approved nine other appropriations bills. Deviating from precedent, the House has allowed amendments during appropriation subcommittee markup with the hope of streamlining full Committee approval. The full Senate Appropriations Committee has reported nine of twelve appropriation bills. While work on appropriations sped up in the weeks before the August recess, a continuing resolution is likely until at least the end of November, and possibly longer if a lame duck legislative session does not successfully pass the remaining appropriations bills. For the current status and detailed analysis of congressional action on the appropriations bills, see the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website.
Two supplemental appropriations bills have seen action. Because several spending provisions related to Medicaid and teacher salaries were removed from the emergency supplemental appropriations bill (see July STC newsletter) for the oil spill (H.R.4899), additional bills were introduced to enact a portion of the spending. The House and Senate approved legislation (H.R.1586) to provide $10 billion in state aid for teacher salaries and $16.1 billion for Medicaid reimbursements. The Senate and House have both also passed a $600 million Southwest Border security spending bill (H.R.6080) that is on its way to the President's Desk.
Meanwhile, the White House is already looking ahead to the next budget cycle. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren released their annual joint memo titled Science and Technology Priorities for the FY 2012 Budget. The memo reiterates the President's long-term goal of investing three percent of GDP in R&D and encourages agencies to pursue transformational and multidisciplinary approaches that address six challenges:
- Promoting sustainable economic growth and job creation;
- Defeating the most dangerous diseases and achieving better health outcomes;
- Moving toward a clean energy future;
- Understanding, adapting to, and mitigating the impacts of global climate change;
- Managing the competing demands on land, fresh water, and the oceans; and
- Developing the technologies to protect our troops, citizens, and national interests.
-- Patrick Clemins
The Government Accountability Office is continuing to examine direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies. It released the results of its latest investigation at a July 22 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigations and oversight panel.
Unlike the GAO's 2006 report, which focused heavily on businesses hawking dietary supplements and lifestyle advice they claimed to be personalized to a customer's genetic profile, this GAO investigation turned its lens on major, reputable players in the nascent direct-to-consumer genetic test market: 23andMe, Navigenics, DeCode Genetics and Pathway Genomics. Pathway caused a stir in May when it forged an agreement to sell its test at Walgreens, a major drug store chain. That agreement fizzled after the Food and Drug Administration stepped in, saying the Pathway product appeared to constitute a medical device that must receive federal approval.
During the hearing, the GAO's Gregory Kutz, managing director of forensic audits and special investigations, described the GAO's methods: It submitted 10 samples from five donors—some with true donor information, and some with false—to the companies. The results varied. For his own sample, for example, Kutz found that he was either at a high, average or low risk for prostate cancer depending on which company was analyzing the results.
It's not surprising that the GAO received different results, said 23andMe General Counsel Ashley Gould, because each company has different methods for analyzing its data. She and representatives from Navigenics and Pathway maintained that those differing methods do not invalidate the science behind them. Gould stressed that 23andMe is advocating for the government to put out quality assurance standards that would apply to direct-to-consumer genetic tests.
What did appear to surprise the company representatives were recordings of telephone conversations between GAO investigators posing as customers and representatives from unidentified gene test companies. In one excerpt, a company employee falsely implied that a customer was doomed to get breast cancer. In another, a customer was encouraged to sneak a sample from her fiancé and "surprise" him with the genetic test results—a practice that is legally restricted in 33 states, Kutz pointed out.
Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, also testified at the hearing. Though genetic tests have been sold online for years, it was the Walgreens-Pathway deal that prompted FDA to take another look at regulating the tests. Since then the agency has sent letters to 20 companies. The agency is still determining next steps in regulating the young direct-to-consumer genetic test market.
-- Erin Heath
After holding dozens of hearings on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the House passed a bill to reform offshore oil drilling and restore the Gulf Coast. The Senate bill did not make it to the floor, but is expected to receive a vote after the August recess.
The House passed H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009, also referred to as the CLEAR Act, on July 30 by a vote of 209 to 193. The bill would remove the limit on the potential liability faced by offshore oil drilling companies, impose new fees on oil production, strengthen offshore oil drilling safety standards, and replace the Minerals Management Service (MMS) with three new agencies: The Bureau of Energy and Resource Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue consistent with the Secretary of the Interior's May 19 Order.
The bill would direct some revenue from offshore drilling to research and coastal planning efforts. Ten percent of revenues would go to an Ocean Resources Conservation and Assistance (ORCA) Fund. The Fund would provide grants to coastal states and Regional Ocean Partnerships for activities related to the protection, maintenance, and restoration of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems, including a competitive research and education grant program. ORCA funds will also support the development and operation of an integrated ocean observation system.
The House bill contains provisions to better understand dispersants (See July STC newsletter, August in brief). The bill would institute a temporary moratorium on dispersant use until the EPA develops regulations on their safe application and would also require the release of dispersants' chemical ingredients.
Slight differences exist between the House bill and the Senate oil spill bill, The Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act (S. 3663). Key provisions in the Senate bill around liability and revenue sharing may change, as both Democratic and Republican alternatives are being developed.
The Senate bill does not create an ocean research fund. However, legislation (S. 3641) introduced by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would establish an Ocean Endowment Fund derived from offshore energy development could become part of the legislation.
The Senate bill creates a new interagency research effort focused on oil spill prevention and response; expands the authority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop oil spill response, restoration, and damage assessment capabilities; and requires an interagency effort to validate oil spill containment and removal methods and technologies.
Though environmental groups were hopeful that the Senate oil spill bill would include either a cap on carbon emissions or a renewable energy mandate, the bill as currently assembled only contains three energy provisions: fully funding the Land and Water Conservation fund (also in House bill), increasing support for Home Star, an efficiency program, and supporting natural gas and electric vehicles.
-- Kasey White
House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over NASA have passed their authorizing bills, laying out their collective vision for the future of NASA, with some differences from the President's plans (see STC April, May 2010 issues).
The bill (S.3729) reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee was touted as a compromise by Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). The bill passed the full Senate on August 5 and authorizes $19.0 billion, $19.45 billion, and $19.96 billion for NASA for fiscal years 2011–2013, respectively. It would allow $1.3 billion over three years to support private sector efforts to develop spacecraft, an approach encouraged by the Administration. It would also extend the life of the space shuttle through FY11, a priority for Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who represents Johnson Space Center.
The House bill (H.R. 5781), by contrast, provides just $450 million over the same time period to the commercial spacecraft effort. Many members of the House Science and Technology Committee support the Constellation program that Obama plans to dismantle.
But like the Senate bill, the House bill would extend the shuttle program. Both bills also call for the immediate development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle—not an Obama priority—and support the White House plan to keep the International Space Station up and running until at least 2020.
Meanwhile, congressional appropriators are doing their own work on the NASA budget. A House appropriations panel passed a bill with a NASA budget of $19 billion. That matches the President's budget request, but the bill includes a rider saying that most of the exploration dollars would become available only after an authorization bill defines an exploration plan. That panel's Senate counterpart also approved the President's full NASA request; as for policy, it aligned itself with the Senate authorization bill.
-- Erin Heath
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's information policy panel examined public access to federally-funded research results on July 29. Subcommittee Chairman William "Lacy" Clay (D-MO) emphasized in his opening remarks that the hearing was not connected to any legislation but rather a "dialogue and discussion" on the impact of expanding public access on the various stakeholders. However, during the hearing witnesses touted a number of legislative vehicles, including The America COMPETES Act ( H.R. 5116) and the Federal Research Public Access Act (S. 1373), as solutions to increasing public access to articles resulting from federally-funded research.
Ten witnesses-including publishers, patient advocates and researchers-discussed their views on the issue. David Lipman, director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was on hand to talk about NIH's mandatory Public Access Policy. The NIH policy requires that research articles resulting from NIH grants in peer-reviewed scholarly publications be deposited in NIH's PubMedCentral database within 12 months of publication.
Some proponents (e.g., patient advocate groups) support expanding public access policies to allow immediate open access. Their rationale is that allowing for immediate access to research results will speed the innovation process, reduce financial burden to librarians who pay for scholarly publications, and afford the general public greater access to research, especially in public health fields. Many of these groups also support expanding the NIH policy to all federal research agencies.
Opponents of expanding public access (e.g., publishers) argue that for-profit and non-profit publishers invest a significant amount of time and money into the peer-review of research paper submissions, copy-editing, manuscript development, and printing of a final article and journal. The value that publishers provide should be recouped through subscription fees and they argue that there is no such thing as free and open access.
The witnesses representing the publishing community at the hearing noted that language in The America COMPETES Act would require the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to create an interagency working group that would coordinate the development of public access policies. The language in COMPETES follows recommendations from a report commissioned by the House Science and Technology Committee on scholarly publishing.
Meanwhile, the Federal Research Public Access Act (S. 1373) introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) last year would require each federal agency that funds $100 million or more in R&D to establish a public access policy similar to the NIH policy except that it would require the submission of research articles at 6 months. A companion bill has been introduced in the House (H.R. 5037) as well, but neither has moved this session.
-- Joanne Carney and Erin Heath
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment approved by voice vote H.R. 5866, the Nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 2010, a bill that updates and expands on nuclear R&D provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), has released a report on ghostwriting, the practice in which researchers sign on as authors of scientific journal articles that were actually prepared by third parties supported by drug or device makers. Grassley has called on the National Institutes of Health to adopt policies to ensure the disclosure of third-party involvement in journal articles and has recommended that NIH-funded research only run in publications with disclosure policies.
The House approved H.R. 4842, a bill to reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. Among the bill's many provisions is a mandate for a new office focusing on outreach to the private sector and an authorized doubling of the cybersecurity R&D budget.
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), architect of a major food safety bill that passed the House last July, sent a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in frustration over her desire to add to the Senate version of the bill (S. 510) a ban on the controversial chemical bisphenol A from food and drink containers. Industry groups have threatened to pull support for the bill over the proposed ban, and Dingell believes Feinstein's efforts will hurt the bill's chances of passing the Senate. The bill would strengthen the Food and Drug Administration's authority to police the nation's food supply.
Coal state Senators Rockefeller (D-WV) and Voinovich (R-OH) have introduced the Carbon Capture and Storage Deployment Act of 2010 (S. 3589), which would invest $20 billion over the next ten years to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The bill would support large-scale CCS pilot projects and establish a regulatory framework to monitor and govern long-term geological storage of carbon.
The House has approved two bills to strengthen federal research into technologies that could assist in future oil spill cleanups: the Safer Oil and Natural Gas Drilling Technology Research and Development Act (H.R. 5716), and the Oil Pollution Research and Development Program Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 2693).
On July 26 the House passed a bill to strengthen transparency and conflict of interest requirements for federal advisory committees. Sponsored by William "Lacy" Clay, Jr. (D - MO), the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2010 (H.R.1320) require appointments to advisory committees to be made without regard to political affiliation or activity and requires disclosure of a number of items, including committee charters, transcripts, and decision-making processes.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a July 29 hearing to discuss the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010 (H.R. 5820, see May 2010 STC Newsletter). The bill would give the EPA greatly enhanced capabilities to collect information and regulate compounds believed to be dangerous. The vast majority of Representatives stated that the current regulation, the Toxic Substances Control Act, should be updated, but Republicans were not convinced that H.R. 5820 was the right vehicle to do so, citing the cost of safety evaluations and intellectual property concerns associated with the release of information.
On August 2, the EPA announced the results of a second round of testing on eight dispersants. Phase I testing had revealed that none of the dispersants exhibited significant endocrine disrupting activity. Phase II testing evaluated the toxicity of each dispersant when combined with varying concentrations of Louisiana Sweet Crude Oil and found that the acute toxicity of the mixtures was no greater than toxicity of the undispersed oil. At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on August 4, Dr. Paul Anastas of the EPA testified that more research is needed to better understand long term effects. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) expressed concern that approval processes for dispersant use did not take safety data into account, a position corroborated by Dr. Anastas and the NOAA witness David Westerholm. Testimony provided by academic scientists in toxicology, oceanography, and environmental science cited dispersant use in the Gulf as "a grand experiment," a sentiment echoed by Sen. Whitehouse.
The third hearing of a series on antibiotic resistance was held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce regarding the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Reps. Shimkus (R-IL), Pitts (R-PA), and Blackburn (R-TN) stated that available scientific evidence is insufficient to link antibiotic use in animals to the development of resistant strains in humans, although this position was contested in statements made by all other Members present. Scientists from USDA, CDC, and FDA testified that administration of antibiotics to promote livestock growth contributes to rising antimicrobial resistance. The FDA discussed draft guidance released June 28 on "The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals." Academic scientists, veterinary scientists, and public health experts on the second panel testified that antibiotic use for non-therapeutic purposes must be addressed to mitigate adverse public health impacts.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Great Ape Protection Act (GAPA, S. 3694) on August 3, a companion bill to the House version (H.R. 1326). GAPA would prohibit the conduct of invasive research on great apes (e.g., chimpanzees) and would provide for the retirement of all great apes supported by federal funds.
The U.S. Forest Service released its National Roadmap for Responding to Climate Change, which identifies ways the agency can develop capacity and partnerships to incorporate climate change adaptation and mitigation into its activities.
The Food and Drug Administration has released draft guidance urging farmers to stop providing non-therapeutic antibiotics to livestock. Antibiotics should only be used in cases where animal health must be protected, Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein said in a press conference call, and not across the board to promote growth or for other non-medical reasons. Sharfstein warned that though the current draft guidelines would be voluntary, the agency would consider stricter regulations if the industry fails to comply on its own.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new regulations to cut fine-particle pollution and ground-level ozone (smog) that drifts across the borders of eastern states. The regulation, called the transport rule, would reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants by 71% and nitrogen oxide by 42% by 2014 compared with 2005 levels. The proposal would replace the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which a federal appeals court ordered the EPA to revise. EPA will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days.
On July 19 President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes. The Executive Order adopts the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, including establishing an interagency National Ocean Council comprised of representatives of nearly two dozen federal agencies and offices. The EO lays out ten broad policy objectives for using, protecting, restoring, and increasing our scientific understanding of the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, and outlines the mechanisms for promoting those goals. It also calls for marine and coastal spatial plans based on ecosystem management in each of nine regions.
On July 29, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected ten petitions contesting its 2009 finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson explained, "The endangerment finding is based on years of science from the U.S. and around the world. These petitions -- based as they are on selectively edited, out-of-context data and a manufactured controversy -- provide no evidence to undermine our determination." The groups have announced their intention to continue to appeal the decision in court.
The 2009 State of the Climate report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on July 28 found that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been warming over the last 50 years. "For the first time, and in a single compelling comparison, the analysis brings together multiple observational records from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. "The records come from many institutions worldwide. They use data collected from diverse sources, including satellites, weather balloons, weather stations, ships, buoys and field surveys."
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public comment on their Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action. The document serves as a blueprint to help the EPA better incorporate environmental justice, "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income," into the agency's rule making process. EPA hopes the guidance will be a step forward in helping disproportionately affected communities, primarily low income and minority, take part in the rule making process.
On August 12, 2010, the interagency task force on Carbon Capture and Storage released a report examining the implementation of large-scale CCS technology within 10 years. The report highlights financial, economic, technological, legal, and institutional obstacles to CCS deployment and outlines several recommendations for a long-term plan. These include the adopting a carbon price, improving federal coordination, and conducting an analysis of liability associated with CCS technology.
The Technology Innovation Program (RS22815)
- Climate Change: The Quality, Comparability, and Review of Emissions Inventories Vary Between Developed and Developing Nations (GAO-10-818)
Review of the Research Program of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership: Third Report (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15683-7)
Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14896-2)
Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15172-6)
Assessment of Sea-Turtle Status and Trends: Integrating Demography and Abundance (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15255-6)
Controlling Cost Growth of NASA Earth and Space Science Missions (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15737-7)
Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-14594-7)
Climate Change in the American Mind: Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in June 2010
George Mason University and Yale University
A Human Health Perspective On Climate Change
Environmental Health Perspectives and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
The State of State Standards--and the Common Core--in 2010
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress Launches Twitter Feed
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Males of the firefly species Photinus carolinus flash in unison to attract females. Researchers placed females of the species in a Petri dish and blinked lights in both a synchronous pattern to match P. corolinus' flashes and in an unharmonious fashion. More often, the females responded with flashes to the coupled blinking. Scientists believe that blinking in sync allows males to stand out from other visual distractions in the night sky.
Moiseff, Andrew and Jonathon Copeland., "Firefly Synchrony: A Behavioral Strategy to Minimize Visual Clutter" Science 9 July 2010: Vol. 329. no. 5988, pp. 181.