Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
On June 23, the House passed the America Invents Act (H.R. 1249) by a vote of 304-117, two weeks after two congressional leaders sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) stating their opposition to a provision in the patent reform bill that would allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to keep user fees. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated in the letter that the bill, as passed by the Judiciary Committee, would have limited Congress' oversight of the patent office by circumventing the appropriations process. As a result, the vote was delayed as members tried to find a solution that provided the USPTO with more funds to operate while keeping congressional oversight. The bill was changed so that excess user fees would be placed into a USPTO-dedicated fund that appropriators would direct back to the USPTO.
During the floor debate, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) argued that the changed allocation of user fees would violate the House's cut-go rule that prevents increased discretionary spending without a corresponding decrease. To overcome this objection, a waiver from House rules was issued because the bill would not increase the debt and the change in language would only switch USPTO spending from mandatory to discretionary. Hence, spending levels would not change.
On the House floor, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) offered an amendment that would have changed the bill so that patents would continue to be awarded to the first person to invent, as opposed to the first-to-file. The first-to-file system would better align the U.S. patent system with that of other countries. The amendment failed.
Although the House bill is very similar to the Senate bill, reconciling the two bills may prove difficult because some Senators do not agree with the House's patent fee diversion language. One of the major impetuses for patent reform is to reduce the backlog of over 700,000 pending patents, which can be assisted by letting the USPTO keep all excess user fees. The Senate bill does more to assure the office has the needed resources to review patents. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) spoke out against the House bill and stated that appropriators, in the past, have not spent funds that were supposed to be dedicated for a specific purpose in such a predetermined manner.
The Obama Administration offered its support for the House-passed bill as long as the “final legislative action [ensures] that fee collections fully support the nation's patent and trademark system."
-- Phillip Chalker
Legislation to reduce greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change is off the table for this session of Congress, and agency plans to study and adapt to climate change are also under scrutiny. Several of the appropriation bills moving through the House bar the use of funds for climate programs and efforts to create a National Climate Service are facing resistance from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The Climate Service would consolidate the majority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) climate programs into a single line office to achieve efficiencies.
The Department of Homeland Security spending bill includes an amendment sponsored by Rep. John Carter (R-TX) to prohibit the agency from participating in the Administration's Interagency Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. Carter cited redundancy because the NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also have climate program.
Similarly, the House Agriculture appropriations bill (H.R.2112) includes an amendment from Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) that prohibits funding for implementing the June 3rd USDA departmental regulation dealing with climate change adaptation. Scalise's staff said the congressman was concerned that the adaptation policy could lead the agency to introduce greenhouse gas restrictions for farmers. The USDA plan calls for USDA to "analyze how climate change may affect the ability of the agency or office to achieve its mission and its policy, program, and operational objectives by reviewing existing programs, operations, policies, and authorities." It notes that "Through adaptation planning, USDA will develop, prioritize, implement, and evaluate actions to minimize climate risks and exploit new opportunities that climate change may bring. By integrating climate change adaptation strategies into USDA's programs and operations, USDA better ensures that taxpayer resources are invested wisely and that USDA services and operations remain effective in current and future climate conditions."The Energy and Water Appropriations Bill funding the Department of Energy took aim at the Department's climate research. The Committee made large cuts to the Biological and Environmental Research program, recommending funding of $547.1 million, a decrease of 10.6 percent or $64.7 million from the FY 2011 appropriation and $170 million less than the president's request. The report accompanying the bill states: "The Climate and Environmental Sciences program devotes the majority of its funding to areas not directly related to the core mandate of science and technology research leading to energy innovations. Further, climate research at the Department of Energy is closely related to activities carried out in other federal agencies and may be better carried out by those organizations. The Department proposes to eliminate medical research focused on human applications in order to direct limited funds to on-mission purposes, and the Department should apply the same principles to climate and atmospheric research."
In addition, a June 22 hearing by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee criticized NOAA's proposed National Climate Service. Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) expressed his concern that NOAA was already implementing the Service without congressional approval and questioned the Service's impact on existing research. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco testified that the Service has not been established and that, when it was, it would allow NOAA to meet increased demand for information needed to address drought, floods, and national security while strengthening science. She concluded by stating, "This proposal does not grow government, it is not regulatory in nature, nor does it cost the American tax payer any additional money. This is a proposal to do the job that Congress and the American public have asked us to do — only better." Robert Winokur, Deputy Oceanographer of the Navy, testified that while he could not comment on the structure of a climate service, the Navy needed actionable climate information focused on readiness and adaptation and the current structure makes it difficult to obtain the needed information.
Several members, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), reiterated Hall's concern that NOAA was moving ahead with the climate service, despite a provision in the FY2011 appropriations bill that prohibits using funds for it. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) accused Dr. Lubchenco of "breaking the law" by still working to establish the Climate Service despite the FY 2011 language.
-- Kasey White
On June 6, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius presented a document with a budget plan for the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), a new center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH Director Francis Collins proposed the center late last year and wants to launch it this October.
NCATS would essentially replace NIH's National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), and it would hold NCRR's Clinical and Translational Science Awards. Other NCRR programs would move to other institutes and centers. NCATS would house other programs as well, such as the new Cures Acceleration Network, a drug development program created by last year's major health care reform law, and the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program.
Collins promoted NCATS in a May 11 hearing before the Senate Appropriations panel with oversight of NIH. "What NCATS intends to do," he said in his testimony, "is advance the science of therapeutic development and determine if there are ways we can re-engineer the drug development pipeline; creating new approaches and methods that will benefit everyone interested in speeding the delivery of new medicines." Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the panel, has since indicated his support for the idea, but Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) questioned its implementation at the hearing.
More recently, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), chairman of the corresponding Appropriations subcommittee on the House side, reacted with dismay to Collins' announcement that a search for an NCATS director is in the early stages. That search, Rehberg said, is "premature" until Congress approves the reorganization—which won’t happen, he says, unless the White House submits a formal budget amendment and answers questions he submitted about NCATS in March
-- Erin Heath
House Engages in Oversight of Social Research
On June 2, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing entitled Social, Behavioral and Economic Science Research: Oversight of the Need for Federal Investments and Priorities for Funding. Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) kicked off the hearing by stating that the goal of the hearing was not to question the merits of social, behavioral, and economic sciences, but to question whether the government should support these "soft sciences." Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) stated the need to continue to fund the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) because the research SBE funds is critical to such things as disaster relief, benefits multiple government agencies and society, and is not funded elsewhere.
Dr. Myron Gutmann, assistant director for SBE, and Dr. Hillary Anger Elfenbein, associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis, supported Lipinski's statement by touting the social and fiscal value of various SBE grants. As an example, Guttman discussed a study of auction mechanisms that was utilized by the Federal Communications Commission in spectrum auctions and netted the U.S. Treasury $54 billion. Gutmann cited another SBE study on economic matching theory that has allowed organ donors and recipients to be matched together for a series of exchanges, resulting in an increase in the number of organs available for transplant and saving many lives. He added that if funding is cut for social, behavioral, or economic research, society will be deprived of solutions to its problem. Dr. Elfenbein stressed that the application of basic research within the purview of SBE is often unknown and can take years to be realized. Also, Dr. Elfenbein testified that grants should not be selected for termination based on their title. She shared her experience from 2007 when the armed forces contacted her because they realized her research could be utilized in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Right as this was happening, a member of Congress unsuccessfully singled out her grant to be cut because of its title.
Dr. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, supported the vast majority of SBE research, but he thought that a small portion of the research is politicized and should be eliminated. Wood also testified that rapid response grants should be eliminated because they are not thoroughly vetted and could be politicized. In response, Dr. Elfenbein noted that the peer review process greatly diminishes the politicization of science.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, stated that the majority of the SBE Directorate's research could be carried out by other organizations and should not be funded by NSF. She cited the economic research done by Adam Smith as proof that researchers can be successful without government funds and at low costs. She added that the government should not fund researchers' hardware or software requirements to assure that the government is not supplanting investments that would have otherwise been made. Drs. Elfenbein and Gutmann responded that although there are organizations that fund SBE research, they only fund a small portion of the needed research and each organization primarily targets applied research and research that fits their mission needs, meaning some fields of science would remain unexplored.
When asked by Rep. Brooks how the government should cut funds if it were forced to as a result of defaulting on the debt, Elfenbein argued that the peer review process should determine which projects get funded and that Congress should not base their cuts on the titles of grants. She added that large cuts would turn away future Ph.D. candidates from the field. Dr. Gutmann concluded that in this fiscally constrained period, it is important not to cut your seed corn.
-- Phillip Chalker
Rare Bipartisanship for Rare Earth Metals
Over the last two weeks, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held hearings to address U.S. policy toward materials that are critical to the U.S. economy and national security. Although a December 2010 report by the Department of Energy referenced during both hearings identified an array of critical materials, most of the discussion in the hearings focused on rare earth metals, a group of elements that comprise an essential component of wind turbines, photovoltaics, electric cars, cell phones, and a number of defense technologies. Dr. John P. Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, testified to the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight that the Obama administration has been studying all critical materials, especially rare earth metals, in an interagency group led by the Executive Office of the President.
According to the testimony of witnesses and the remarks of several subcommittee members, from the 1960s to 1980s, the U.S. was the dominant producer of rare earth metals, but China now controls about 97% of global production, and 80% of these assets will soon be managed by only three companies. Although rare earth metals are actually quite abundant in the Earth's crust, the process of mining and separating the materials presents considerable financial and environmental challenges. China has been able to gain such control of the market, in part, because of its lower environmental standards, cheaper labor costs, and significant governmental subsidization of the sector. Despite its already considerable level of market control, China has been aggressively expanding its influence in this arena, attempting to purchase mines of rare earth metals in the U.S. and Australia as well as temporarily cutting off exports of rare earth metals to Japan over a political dispute.
During the subcommittee hearings, there was bipartisan recognition of the economic and security vulnerabilities caused by current U.S. policy and practice toward rare earth metals. Although several key issues for reducing these vulnerabilities were identified and multiple bills were introduced, no consensus on their relative importance was reached. Sen. Udall (D-CO) advocated for his bill, S.383, which would establish a research and development program to study worldwide deposits of critical materials (including rare earth metals) as well as their current and future global supply chains. Additionally, the bill would provide financial support – in the form of scholarships, fellowships, and training programs – for domestic workforce capacity building in industries related to critical materials. Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) had bipartisan support for her bill, S.1113, which would also allocate funding for research, development, and workforce capacity building. It would also involve the creation of a Critical Materials Working Group led by the Executive Office of the President to streamline regulations regarding critical materials, particularly during permitting process for domestic production. Six different bills are also currently being considered in the House.
Other issues identified by the subcommittees but not addressed in the Senate bills included the following: public access to information regarding the reserves, production, use, trade, disposal, and recycling of critical materials; loan guarantees for mining and other aspects of production; as well as public and private sector stockpiling – issues that were also discussed in a June 3 House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing. The December 2010 Department of Energy report highlights the primary elements of its strategy for critical materials management: diversified global supply chains are essential; substitutes must be developed; and recycling, reuse, and more efficient use could significantly lower world demand for newly extracted materials.
A Department of Defense assessment of U.S. policy toward rare earth metals is expected to be released in July 2011.
-- Michael Kehoe
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
On June 22 Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) reintroduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 (S. 1258). As in past years, his legislation focuses primarily on issues such as border security and guest worker visas, but it also includes language that would exempt individuals with an "advanced degree" in a science, math, or engineering field from visa caps. Meanwhile, on June 14 Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America (IDEA) Act of 2011 (H.R. 2161), which would ease green-card applications for non-immigrants with advanced STEM degrees, but would also protect fair wages. The primary legislative driver, however, for comprehensive immigration reform in the Congress is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011, also known as the DREAM Act of 2011, which does not address foreign nationals studying in a STEM field, in either the House (H.R. 1842) or the Senate (S. 952) version.
Bipartisan legislation creating a special assistant to the President to help craft a national biodefense strategy has been introduced in the House by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY). Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) plans to introduce similar legislation in the Senate. The WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011 (H.R. 2356) responds to recommendations of a commission created by Congress in 2009 that found the United States to be unprepared for an attack using weapons of mass destruction. The bill was the subject of a House subcommittee hearing on June 23.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported out five energy policy bills during a May 26 mark-up. The bills would promote marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy R&D (S. 630), provide a framework for long-term geological storage of carbon dioxide (S. 699), encourage technology to capture CO2 using direct air capture (S. 757), request an analysis of the impact of energy development and production on water resources (bill not yet numbered), and protect the power system and electric infrastructure against cyber security threats and vulnerabilities (bill not yet numbered).
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the House Republican Technology Working Group, rolled out the Republican technology agenda for the 112th Congress at a June 2 press conference. The agenda includes promoting spectrum availability, protecting the U.S. from cyber attacks, protecting American intellectual property, reducing unnecessary regulation, and "examin[ing] current visa and immigration laws to make sure we attract and retain the best and brightest minds from around the world."
The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittees on Technology and Innovation (T&I) and Research and Science Education (R&SE) held a joint hearing to examine federal efforts to improve cybersecurity, prepare the cybersecurity workforce, and review the 2009 Cyberspace Policy Review (President Obama's cybersecurity legislative plan).
In partnership with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' (D-AZ) office, Sen.Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced the Department of Defense Energy Security Act of 2011(S. 1204). The bill is designed to increase the amount of renewable energy used by the Department of Defense and as a result reduce energy costs and save the lives of military personnel as they protect fewer fuel convoys.
On June 24, President Obama announced the establishment of a new Advanced Manufacturing Partnership between industry and academia to work in tandem to accelerate the coordination of "information, automation, computation, software, sensing, networking, and materials to advance new manufacturing concepts." Funding for the program would come from pre-existing federal research accounts as well as forthcoming FY 2012 funds. The announcement follows the recommendations of a new report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, released the same day.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued the final version of its new aquaculture policy on June 9. The policy, which officials stressed is consistent with the government's dietary guidelines that encourage Americans to double the amount of seafood they consume, is intended to boost production by opening federal waters outside states' three-mile limit to fish farming. It applies fishery management laws designed to govern fishing in the wild to aquaculture, an approach that has been criticized by environmental groups.
The National Science and Technology Council released "A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future." The report found that a smart grid could incorporate more renewable energy and empower consumers to reduce their energy use. The report also calls for enhanced cyber protection for the grid.
A task force of the National Science Board has been reviewing NSF's Merit Review Criteria for research proposals. NSF and the NSB are now seeking feedback on proposed revisions to the criteria and the underlying principles upon which they are based. Comments are being collected through July 14 and can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The FDA has issued draft guidance on nanotechnology in order to stimulate a discussion with stakeholders on establishing safety standards that will not inhibit innovation. A central issue is the establishment of definitions of nanotechnology, nanoscale, and related terms. The guidance includes points to consider when determining whether a product under FDA regulation (an engineered material or end product) includes nanomaterials or applications of nanotechnology. Comments are due by August 15.
On June 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the identities of more than 150 chemicals that had previously been claimed as confidential by industry. In addition, the EPA is releasing two databases – the Toxicity Forecaster database (ToxCastDB) and the database of chemical exposure studies (ExpoCastDB). These two databases provide chemical toxicity and exposure data, both of which are required when considering potential risks posed by chemicals. The databases are connected through EPA's Aggregated Computational Toxicology Resource (ACToR), an online data warehouse that collects data on over 500,000 chemicals from over 500 public sources.
From June 21–23, the National Ocean Council hosted a National Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) Workshop in Washington, DC. As described by speakers at the workshop, CMSP is a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes areas. CMSP identifies areas most suitable for various types of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. The workshop, as called for in the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes, brought together federal, state, tribal, and regional representatives to develop an understanding of the CMSP process, begin to build a community of future CMSP practitioners, and consider next steps for regional implementation of the national framework for CMSP.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking public comment on its draft scientific integrity policy and handbook for dealing with scientific misconduct allegations. These documents are available for review and comment until August 15.
The Technology Innovation Program (RS22815)
- Space Acquisitions: Development and Oversight Challenges in Delivering Improved Space Situational Awareness Capabilities (GAO-11-545)
- Managing Critical Isotopes: Weaknesses in DOE's Management of Helium-3 Delayed the Federal Response to a Critical Supply Shortage (GAO-11-472)
- Air Quality: Information on Tall Smokestacks and Their Contribution to Interstate Transport of Air Pollution (GAO-11-473)
- HHS Research Awards: Use of Recovery Act and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Funds for Comparative Effectiveness Research (GAO-11-712R)
- Climate Change: Improvements Needed to Clarify National Priorities and Better Align Them with Federal Funding Decisions (GAO-11-317)
- Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-16247-0)
- Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21553-4)
- Digital Infrastructure for the Learning Health System: The Foundation for Continuous Improvement in Health and Health Care: Workshop Series Summary (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-15416-1)
- NAKFI Seeing the Future with Imaging Science: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-20906-9)
- Geographic Adjustment in Medicare Payment: Phase I: Improving Accuracy (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21145-1)
- Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-20941-0)
- Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21657-9)
- Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21296-0)
- For the Public's Health: Revitalizing Law and Policy to Meet New Challenges (ISBN-13: 978-0-309-21648-7)
Creating a Collaborative R&D Tax Credit
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Low-carbon Innovation A Uniquely American Strategy for Industrial Renewal
Center for American Progress
America’s Ocean Future: Ensuring Healthy Oceans to Support a Vibrant Economy
Joint Ocean Commission Initiative
State of the Climate in 2010
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
AAAS Board Issues Statement on Attacks on Climate Researchers
Reports of personal attacks on climate scientists, including harassment, legal challenges, and even death threats, have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and makes it difficult for factual information to reach policymakers and the public, the AAAS Board of Directors said in a statement of concern. "AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions," the Board said in the statement, which was approved on 28 June.
AAAS Sends School District Letter Regarding Education Policy
On June 1, AAAS sent Members of the Board of Directors of the Los Alamitos Unified School District a letter encouraging them to remove the AP Environmental Science class from its "controversial issue" policy. The letter, which included a statement on climate science by the leaders of 18 scientific societies, stated, "Although debate about policy options exists, climate change is not a scientifically-controversial topic."
Working With Congress A Scientist's Guide to Policy - New AAAS Publication
Working With Congress, written by science and policy experts, is designed to bridge the gap between the mutually dependent "cultures" of science and government. The first two chapters of this book provide background on congressional organization and the legislative process, while Chapter 3 discusses in detail the communication strategies that one can utilize and presents a list of the top ten rules for working with Congress.
Follow Us on Twitter
To get up-to-date science policy news, follow us at http://www.twitter.com/aaas_cstc
Mark Your Calendars
11th Robert C. Barnard Environmental Lecture
Monday, 11 July 2011
6:00 p.m., Reception to follow
AAAS Headquarters Auditorium (1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC)
The American Association for the Advancement of Science invites you to attend the 11th Robert C. Barnard Environmental Lecture entitled "Science and Democracy: Meeting the Challenge" featuring Dr. Francesca Grifo, Senior Scientist and Director, Scientific Integrity Program at Union of Concerned Scientists. RSVPs requested: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SJF8PKL
Until recently, when researchers scanned the surface of charged materials, scientists believed that surfaces were uniformly charged as a result of having a surplus or deficit of electrons. Recent research has found that charged surfaces have random patches that are positively and negatively charged and these patches contribute to the overall net charge of the surface.
Baytekin, H.T. et. al., "The Mosaic of Surface Charge in Contact Electrification," Science 23 June 2011.