Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
In spite of continuing calls from many in Congress to cut spending – and approval of a House budget that set a spending level $19 billion below that agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011 and adhered to in the President’s request – the FY 2013 appropriations process has generally been positive for a number of agencies, with some key science funders seeing surprising increases in the early going. However, any good news has to be tempered given the realities of the current fiscal climate. No funding legislation has been finalized to date, nor is it clear how many spending bills – if any – will be finalized and signed into law before the election. Equally unclear is the path to addressing the automatic across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, scheduled for January 2013. These cuts would amount to roughly 8 percent for nondefense spending and 10 percent for defense, and while Congress and the Administration are clearly concerned, no agreement that would roll back these cuts is yet in sight. Further, several proposals have emerged to shift the onus of these cuts onto nondefense spending to protect the military, which could have severe long-run consequences for R&D funding, as a recent AAAS analysis shows.
Thus far, only a single spending bill – the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill, containing funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Commerce Department, among others – has been passed by the full House. A Senate version has also passed committee, but has not yet reached the Senate floor. The House bill is more generous in many areas than might have been expected, though R&D at most agencies would fall somewhat short of the President’s request. NSF R&D would receive a $221 million or 3.9 percent boost over FY 2012 levels, more than the Senate Appropriations Committee has granted in its own version of the bill. The House also defeated a proposed floor amendment to cut an additional $1 billion from NSF, though amendments prohibiting funding for the Climate Change Education Program and for political science research at NSF both passed.
Like NSF, NASA R&D would receive a boost above FY 2012 levels of 1.3 percent or $123 million in the House-passed bill, with cuts to space exploration more than offset by increases elsewhere; the current Senate version would be somewhat more generous, providing NASA an R&D boost of $230 million or 2.5 percent. Both chambers surpassed the Administration’s request for NASA’s Science Directorate, and both would seek to restore funding to NASA’s planetary science program following the Administration’s proposed cuts; on this score, the House goes farther. Many of the increases the Administration has sought for R&D at the Department of Commerce also appear to be holding up, as both chambers would grant increases of greater than 10 percent to R&D at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Elsewhere, the House passed an amendment to end the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
No other legislation has been acted upon by either chamber, though several have been passed in committee. The House Appropriations Committee passed the Defense spending bill on a voice vote. The bill would reduce DOD R&D, including all RDT&E plus medical research and other R&D programs, by $793 million or 1.1 percent from 2012, but 1.5 percent or $1.1 billion above the Administration’s request. Basic research would remain flat. The Energy and Water bill, which funds the Department of Energy (DOE) among other agencies, has passed the appropriations committees in both chambers. The DOE Office of Science would receive a slight cut under the House bill and a slight increase under the Senate bill, while both ARPA-E and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would both see cuts greater than 20 percent under the House bill. The Senate committee has voted to keep U.S. Department of Agriculture funding flat, though some key research programs would receive substantial boosts. In the Department of Homeland Security, the Science and Technology Directorate would receive a 24 percent increase under both the House and Senate bills.
-- Matthew Hourihan
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule on air pollution for the oil and natural gas industry on April 18, including the first ever national standards on air pollution from hydraulically fractured gas wells.
The New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for crude oil and natural gas production require on-shore gas wells to use reduced emissions completions (also known as “green completions”) to capture volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions that escape during the fracturing process. However, as a concession to industry groups that expressed concerns about accessing the technology in time for the rule’s enactment, the regulation allows for a two-year transition period, during which completion combustion devices, such as flares, can be used to burn off any gas that is released.
The EPA rule also provides emission standards for storage vessels and certain controllers and compressors, while revising previous VOC and sulfur dioxide emission standards for natural gas processing plants. In total, EPA estimates that the new rule will reduce annual emissions of VOCs by 190,000 to 290,000 tons, air toxics by 12,000 to 20,000 tons and methane by 1 to 1.7 million short tons, by the time it is fully enacted in January 2015. This translates to an estimated cost savings of $11 to 19 million, according to the agency.
American Petroleum Institute Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Howard Feldman cautiously approved changes made to the regulation, though he avoided a definitive endorsement. Some environmental groups also applauded the new standards, but pushed for further federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing.
The issuance was met with disapproval by some members of Congress. A few days before the final ruling was issued, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Ed Whitfield (R-KY), who chairs the panel’s Energy and Power Subcommittee, and committee Chairman Emeritus Joe Barton (R-TX) sent an open letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson expressing their reservations about the proposed ruling. “We are concerned about the rule’s potential to adversely impact both the near- and long-term production of oil and natural gas, including unconventional resources, at a time when domestic production is increasingly important to our national economy, jobs and consumers,” they said. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wrote a similar letter, criticizing the EPA’s process for developing the standards.
-- Kavya Devarakonda
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on March 28, “The Science and Standards of Forensics,” which addressed the federal government’s role in establishing scientific standards for forensic evidence.
Currently, there are no national standards in forensic science, leaving interpretation of evidence, such as DNA and fingerprint matching, up to individual scientists and technicians. The rapid development of evidence-based standards is crucial since, as pointed out by former lawyer Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM), many prosecutors and lawmakers assume forensic evidence has undergone rigorous scientific review — a misconception propagated by popular crime scene television shows.
Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) opened the hearing by outlining the unique position of forensic science. Although there are many fields of forensics, the discipline does not have a culture of science with a peer review process. Rockefeller announced his intention to prioritize the introduction of science into forensics, using the work of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for guidance. Rep. John Boozman (R-AK) discussed the importance of science-based forensic standards for homeland security and the U.S. justice system, citing a 2009 National Academies of Science (NAS) report, which called for the standardization of forensics.
All three witnesses emphasized the need for more research to develop these critical standards. Eric Lander, co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), described his experience as a scientific expert during one of the first DNA fingerprinting cases in the United States. He emphasized the need for collaboration between the science and law communities to develop standards for what constitutes a “match” and associated probabilities in forensic evidence.
NIST Director Patrick Gallagher agreed, saying his mission was to develop a science-based national system of measurements for forensics, in collaboration with the Department of Justice (DOJ). He defended the $5 million request for the initiative in the President’s FY 2013 budget and discussed allotment of the funding to priority program areas, such as the development of new reference methods and technologies for understanding crime scenes and identifying criminals.
Subra Suresh, director of NSF, highlighted the role of his agency in the development of forensics standards through its funding of basic research. Between 2009 and 2011, over 100 NSF grants were awarded to support forensics research and education.
In addition to research, there was also discussion of necessary infrastructure to facilitate the development of standards. Boozman’s proposal to create an independent Office of Forensic Science in DOJ was hailed as a good mechanism for interdisciplinary communication and collaboration by Gallagher, though Lander wondered if it would be able to do more than simply identify areas in need of work.
-- Kavya Devarakonda
Congress continues to debate cybersecurity legislation, with the House passing the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA, H.R. 3523) and members of the Senate pushing for consideration the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 2105).
Sponsored by House Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), CISPA passed the house by a vote of 248 to 168, with 42 Democrats voting for the bill and 28 Republicans voting against it. The legislation would remove legal barriers preventing the government and private companies from sharing information regarding cyber attacks and network security. It also would limit the federal government’s jurisdiction in seeking out cybersecurity information.
CISPA passed a day after the Office of Management and Budget released a statement saying that President Obama would veto the bill if it reached his desk. The White House expressed concern that the bill does not adequately address individual privacy concerns and national infrastructure vulnerabilities. The bill has been referred to the Select Committee on Intelligence for consideration.
CISPA is similar to a Senate bill, Strengthening and Enhancing Cybersecurity by Using Research, Education, Information, and Technology Act of 2012 (SECURE IT, S. 2151), in its focus on voluntary information sharing. SECURE IT, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and seven other Republicans, also includes clauses meant to strengthen criminal penalties for cyber crimes. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. A House version of the bill (H.R. 4263), sponsored by Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), is currently in several committees.
Meanwhile, the bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012, sponsored by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), would empower the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a top-level assessment of cybersecurity risks and develop requirements for securing critical infrastructure. It would also provide more privacy protection than CISPA or SECURE IT.
The White House has endorsed the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, though a coalition of several civil liberties groups have come out against it, saying the bill does not provide adequate privacy protection. The coalition, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology, is concerned that the bill would allow military spy agencies access to personal information and permit the federal government to use that information during unrelated criminal investigations. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (OR) has expressed similar concerns about the bill’s privacy protections. While Democratic senators have said they are willing to add in more privacy protection clauses, House Republicans say they will not support any legislation that includes new regulations.
In the meantime, the House has passed several other cybersecurity bills. The Federal Information Security Amendments Act of 2012 (H.R. 4257) would update the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) to increase the responsibility of federal agencies to update information security infrastructure. The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2012 (H.R. 2096) directs federal agencies participating in the National High-Performance Computing Program to draft and implement a Congress-approved cybersecurity research and development plan. The bill was introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and passed the house by 396 to 10. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) sponsored the Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2012 (H.R. 3834), which passed the House by a voice vote. The legislation would update the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991, which established the National High-Performance Computing Program.
-- Kavya Devarakonda
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), vice chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, sent a “fact-finding letter” to White House science advisor John Holdren regarding the publication of controversial studies related to the H5N1 avian influenza virus. Holdren responded on April 9. Visit Science’s website on public health, biosecurity and H5N1 for more updates on this story.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously passed the Food and Drug Administration Reform Act (H.R. 5651, summary) on May 10. The bill renews the Prescription Drug User Fee Act and the Medical Device User Fee Act, while authorizing two new programs: the Generic Drug User Fee Act and the Biosimilars User Fee Act. FDA user fees provide additional funding, which allows the agency to review drugs and medical devices in a timelier manner.
On April 24, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the Broadening Participation in STEM Education Act (H.R. 4483) at a conference organized by the National Action Council for Minorities in Education. The bill aims to expand the number of minorities in undergraduate science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) fields and would authorize NSF “to award grants to colleges and universities that want to implement or expand innovative, research-based approaches to recruit and retain students from underrepresented minority groups.”
NIH has announced a new program to match researchers with a selection of pharmaceutical industry compounds in order to promote academic research to search for new treatments. The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) will initially partner with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly and Co., which have agreed to make dozens of their compounds available for a pilot phase. The initiative, Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules, provides templates for handling intellectual property used in or developed through the program. Industry partners will retain ownership of their compounds, while academic research partners will own any intellectual property they discover, with the right to publish the results of their work.
The Obama Administration has released its National Bioeconomy Blueprint (PDF), outlining steps agencies will take to drive economic activity powered by research and innovation in the biosciences. Areas of focus (PDF) include energy, translational medicine, agriculture and homeland security.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program has released the Administration's 10-year strategic plan for global change research. According to the press release, the strategy will now expand “to incorporate the complex dynamics of ecosystems and human social-economic activities and how those factors influence global change.”
- The Food and Drug Administration has issued two draft guidance documents on nanotechnology. The first is geared toward food manufacturers and the second to the cosmetics industry. Both documents will be open for public comment for 90 days.
- The Environmental Protection Agency has released its 17th annual inventory of overall emissions for six greenhouse gases. The total emissions for 2010, equivalent to 6,822 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, represent a 3.2 percent increase over 2009 levels. The EPA attributes the increase to increased energy consumption in all sectors of the economy, increased energy demand related to an expanding economy, and warmer weather during the summer of 2010. The report is the result of an EPA collaboration with other federal agencies and was forwarded to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.
The FDA has published three documents in the Federal Register to promote changes in the ways medically important antibiotics are used in food-producing animals. The first, a final guidance for industry called “The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals,” recommends phasing out the agricultural use of medically important drugs. The second is a draft guidance for sponsors of certain new animal drug products, and the third is a draft proposed regulation for veterinary feed directives. Comments on the two drafts are open until July 12.
Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer (RL34511)
Natural Resources and Environment: Air Emissions and Electricity Generation at U.S. Power Plants (GAO-12-545R)
Prescription Drugs: FDA Has Met Most Performance Goals for Reviewing Applications (GAO-12-500)
Cybersecurity: Threats Impacting the Nation (GAO-12-666T)
Department of Energy: Budget Trends and Oversight (GAO-12-659T)
Leadership in Decline: Assessing U.S. International Competitiveness in Biomedical Research
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
United for Medical Research
Mark Your Calendar: On June 13, AAAS and the Dana Foundation will host the first in a series of public events on neuroscience and society, entitled “The Aging Brain: What’s New in Brain Research, Treatment & Policy?” More details on this evening lecture series can be found here.
On May 18, 2012, AAAS and affiliates sent letters to the House and the Senate to express concern regarding amendments that would place severe restrictions on government employees' abilities to attend meetings and conferences.
In response to an amendment seeking to eliminate funding to NSF political science research, AAAS sent letters in support of these important programs to the House and the Senate.
On April 25, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), joined by Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Robert Dold (R-IL), announced the launch of the Golden Goose Award, which aims to highlight the serendipitous nature of scientific research. The award will spotlight federal research that has gone on to benefit society in significant and perhaps unexpected ways. AAAS and several other organizations are participating in the administration of the award.
AAAS held its 37th annual Science and Technology Policy Forum on April 26 and 27. The event drew hundreds of participants and featured an array of speakers, including the President’s Science Advisor John Holdren, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), and retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who was selected to give the William D. Carey Lecture. A key focus of this year’s event was the budget outlook for science and technology and the economic impacts of federal investment in R&D.
“Why We Fight—In this special issue we consider the deep evolutionary roots of violent confrontation. We trace the trajectory of violence and war throughout history, exploring racism, ethnic conflicts, the rise of terrorism, and the possible future of armed conflicts. We also consider our innate capacity to mediate conflict and our ability to achieve—and live in—peace.”
Read “Human Conflict,” a special issue of Science.