Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
To avoid an October 1 government shutdown, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded and operating through March 2013. The Senate voted 62-30 to approve the CR on a midnight vote September 22, following the House’s 329-91 vote on September 13. With a few exceptions, the continuing resolution grants a very small (0.62 percent) increase to federal appropriations across-the-board, bringing funding up to the $1.047 trillion spending level agreed to in last year’s debt-ceiling agreement. For research and development (R&D), the CR grants a larger increase for atomic weapons R&D activities at the Department of Energy, essentially meeting the President’s request in this category, and provides an additional $100 million for domestic uranium enrichment R&D. Additionally, the CR makes provisions to ensure that the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite System remain on their planned launch schedules. These changes bring annualized R&D funding levels up to $141.7 billion, a 0.8 percent or $1.2 billion increase above FY 2012 levels, according to AAAS estimates (PDF), as compared to an expected inflation rate of 1.7 percent.
It is worth remembering that the CR does not affect the looming sequestration, and the science community remains concerned over the impacts these cuts could have on the research and innovation enterprise. On September 27, AAAS released a new report that estimates the impact of sequestration on federal science budgets and states over the next five years. Under a set of reasonable assumptions, we found that federal R&D funding through 2017 could be reduced by $57.5 billion, or 8.4 percent. Among defense agencies, DARPA would lose around $1.3 billion in funding over the first five years under sequestration. On the nondefense side, most science budgets would stand to lose 7.6 percent of their funding. For the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this would mean $11.3 billion less for research over five years, with budgets reverting to levels last seen a decade ago. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would lose about $2.1 billion, and the Department of Energy would lose about $4.6 billion. NASA’s budget would drop to levels not seen since the 1980s. Should Congress push the burden of sequestration more fully onto science agencies and away from defense, cuts for nondefense agencies would more than double.
We also examined the potential impacts on federal research dollars by state using NSF data, and found that researchers in 19 states would lose at least $1 billion in federal funding over the next five years. California would lead the pack at $11.3 billion in lost funding, but research universities and industry in Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, and elsewhere would also see billion-dollar reductions.
The report builds on prior work done by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, United for Medical Research, Research!America, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and several industry groups to highlight the danger such across-the-board cuts pose to the vitality of the nation’s research enterprise and economic vitality. Nevertheless, it remains unclear what plan may emerge to avoid the worst of the cuts while still setting the nation on a responsible fiscal path. Negotiations over sequestration and the tax elements of the fiscal “cliff” continue, but since Congress is now in recess until after the election, an agreement is unlikely until the post-election lame-duck period.
Democrats and Republicans released their respective party platforms during the National Conventions in August and September, and both President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney submitted answers to a series of science questions posed by AAAS and other scientific societies. Here is a brief comparison of Obama and Romney on key issues:
Obama and Romney are committed to increasing production of clean energy as a way to help America become more energy independent, and stabilize the economy; both want to pursue an “all of the above” strategy, investing in several different types of clean energy. While Democrats encourage federal investment in clean energy R&D, the Republicans favor a more “hands off” approach, allowing the private sector to invest at their own discretion (and risk).
Obama and Romney acknowledge that climate change is occurring, and that it is largely caused by human activity. Obama is committed to forming international partnerships with other nations, and defending the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Romney, however, is not convinced that global warming is a threat to Americans’ health and prosperity, and criticizes the current Administration for over-investing taxpayer dollars in order to mitigate the possible consequences of changes in weather patterns. He believes that climate change should take a back seat to issues such as national security and economic growth. He opposes cap-and-trade programs, and hopes to scale back the regulatory authority of the EPA.
Innovation and Health Research
The candidates support federal funding of basic and applied medical research, and wish to ensure America’s role as a leader in biomedical research and technology within the international community. Obama supports federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research; Romney would eliminate such funding. Both are particularly interested in investing in new neuroscience research that might cure diseases that have especially devastating effects on American citizens, such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is no mention of declining NIH budgets in either party platform.
While both Obama and Romney applaud NASA’s past and present accomplishments, neither provides concrete goals for the future of America’s space program; they do not define priorities, or address recent cuts to NASA’s budget.
This May, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memo of guidelines to executive departments and agencies focused on reducing agency budgets for travel, conferences, real estate, and vehicle fleet management. The guidelines, as well as the related OMB blog post, pointed to these measures as increasing government stewardship of taxpayer money, enhancing efficiency in government spending, and strengthening accountability in budget expenditures. Many scientific societies are monitoring the impacts of the guidelines on scientific conferences.
Specifically, OMB has charged government agencies to reduce travel funding by 30 percent below FY 2010 levels every year through fiscal year 2016. The measures require senior-level approval for any conference sponsorship exceeding $100,000 and prohibit expenditures greater than $500,000 on any one event unless waived by the agency head. Additionally, any conference expenditure greater than $100,000 must be publicly reported on the agency’s website, including total expenses for the conference and an explanation of how the conference advanced the agency’s mission. Exceptions to the restrictions include expenses related to national security, international diplomacy, health and safety inspections, law enforcement, and site visits for oversight or investigational purposes.
The OMB guidelines were echoed in the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2012 (H.R. 4631), introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) and passed by the House on September 11. The bill would prevent federal agencies from spending more than $500,000 on a single conference, and defines a conference as an event that an employee travels 25 miles or more to attend, whether for consulting, education, discussion, or training. In addition, it would reduce federal travel budgets 30 percent below FY 2010 levels, the same cuts laid out by OMB. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
In September, the House of Representatives failed to pass the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429), which would have created a new visa category for up to 55,000 PhD and masters degree graduates in disciplines relating to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The bill would have held the total number of legal immigrants to the United States constant by also eliminating a current program that grants 50,000 visas based on a lottery of applicants (known as diversity visas). The bill was proposed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) as a strategy to keep U.S.-trained scientists and engineers in the United States after they graduate. “Under the current system,” Smith argued, “we educate scientists and engineers only to send them back home where they often work for our competitors.”
Democrats and Republicans, including both presidential candidates, have supported “stapling a green card to diplomas,” and many universities, state and local governments, and corporate representatives also supported the bill. However, many Democratic members of the House opposed the bill, primarily due to the elimination of diversity visas. Consequently, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) proposed an alternate version of the bill (Attracting the Best and Brightest Act; H.R. 6412), in which the diversity visa lottery program is retained, thereby increasing the total number of legal immigrants to the United States each year.
Because the STEM Jobs Act was brought directly to the House floor, without first going through a committee, it required a two-thirds majority vote to pass. With only one Democratic co-sponsor (Henry Cuellar, D-TX), and Lofgren’s bill available as an alternative, the STEM Jobs Act failed to garner the bipartisan support it needed. The final vote fell 257-158, 20 votes shy of passing. The outcome of the election in November could influence when and if the House revisits this issue.
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
On September 21 the House approved the “Stop the War on Coal Act” (H.R. 3409) a package of five bills that would reduce the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior. Among other things, the Act would prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions and setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions for power generation facilities. It would also prevent both agencies from implementing any legislation that might harm the coal industry. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation if it were to pass the Senate.
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) have introduced the Space Leadership Preservation Act (H.R. 6491), which would “create a 10-year term for the NASA administrator to provide crucial stability and leadership structure at NASA.” The bill would also create a new advisory board that would provide guidance to NASA and submit budgets to Congress and the White House.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has introduced the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act of 2012 (S. 3475). The act would authorize $10 million in fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015 for National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to nonprofit organizations and university departments that carry out “activities designed to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM].” Such activities include online workshops, mentoring and outreach programs, and internships for undergraduate and graduate STEM students.
President Obama signed an executive order on August 30 to facilitate investments in industrial energy efficiency, intended to spur job creation and support American manufacturing. In a press release, the White House estimated that the energy efficiency efforts will save manufacturers as much as $100 billion over the next decade, increasing the competitiveness of American manufacturers. Specifically, the order will promote the expanded use of efficient, on-site heat and power generation, known as combined heat and power (CHP).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a network of agricultural research sites on which to study long-term ecosystem processes such as soil erosion and climate change. The LTAR program will focus on improving agricultural resilience and will collaborate with other long-term research networks already in existence, including NSF’s Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTER) and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). USDA has requested $9.5 million from Congress to fund LTAR research.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a new Office of Emergency Care Research to be housed in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The office will coordinate efforts among NIH institutes and centers to conduct research on emergency medicine. NIH has also announced a new grant program, Opportunities for Collaborative Research at the NIH Clinical Center, to support partnerships between extramural and intramural researchers and to allow extramural researchers access to the Clinical Center. The program stems from a recommendation issued by the Scientific Management Review Board.
- Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None (2012)
- Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society (2012)
- Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation (2012)
- Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century (2012)
- Federal R&D and Sequestration in the First Five Years (2012)
- Eroding Our Foundation: Sequestration, R&D, Innovation and U.S. Economic Growth (2012)
- Information Technology & Innovation Foundation
- 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report (2012)
- Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
On Sept. 13 AAAS and several other university and business organizations joined policy makers to formally kick off the Golden Goose Awards, a new award program celebrating the value of basic scientific research. The topic was the subject of an op-ed by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the award’s creator, and AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, in the Sept. 9 issue of The Washington Post. The honorees were Charles Townes, inventor of laser technology; Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Tsien, who advanced biomedical research with a protein found in jellyfish; and Jon Weber, Eugene White, Rodney White, and Della Roy, who pioneered bone grafts using coral. For more information, visit www.goldengooseaward.org.
AAAS and Science Translational Medicine hosted a public briefing entitled Translational Science: From Research to Practice, on July 31. View the presentation here.
Mark Your Calendar:The fall evening lecture series Science and Society: Global Challenges will take place at AAAS every other Monday in October. The first event on October 1 addresses biosecurity. View the online flyer for more information or to RSVP.
“Logic dictates that preventing … diseases is a better approach than treating people after they have become ill. In many cases, the knowledge and tools needed for prevention appear to be in place. A number of these killer diseases share risk factors that can be modified by lifestyle changes—for example, by eliminating tobacco use, eating less processed food, and increasing physical activity. For certain cancers, screening tests are available that allow detection of the disease at an early stage. So why is prevention of these diseases so difficult when it seems like such a good idea on paper?”
Read the special issue of Science on disease prevention here.