Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
In spite of substantial debate and controversy over the impacts of indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts in the days leading up to the deadline, sequestration went into effect on March 1 as required by law. Cuts to defense and nondefense R&D will total an estimated $9.0 billion to the FY 2013 federal R&D budget. These cuts will place a particularly acute burden on government agencies, as they must be implemented nearly five months into the fiscal year.
As widely expected, Congress failed to pass a balanced alternative deficit reduction plan to replace the sequester. The House of Representatives, however, did pass an appropriations bill (H.R. 933) that would fund the federal government for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. The legislation, which passed 267-151, would fund both defense and nondefense R&D at FY 2012 levels, although all R&D would remain subject to sequestration—a roughly 7.8% decrease for defense R&D and a 5.0% decrease for nondefense agency R&D. The House bill was written as an appropriations bill for the DOD and Veterans Affairs, but as a continuing resolution (CR) for the remaining agencies. This allowed the House to provide some flexibility to DOD and Veterans on how each could allocate the sequester cuts.
On March 11, the Senate Appropriations Committee released its revised version of the House bill. Both Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) agreed to the legislation that would continue to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. The revised "hybrid" bill does not eliminate the sequestration but does expand upon the House version by including additional flexibility for the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Commerce, as well as NASA and NSF. The bill also includes a small increase ($71 million, pre-sequestration cut) for the National Institutes of Health. On March 20, the Senate voted 73-26 to pass its version of the Continuing Appropriations Act. The Act includes an Amendment submitted by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) that limits funding for political science research at the NSF; specifically, the agency will only be able to fund political science research if it is certified by the NSF director as “promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” The next day, the House of
Representatives voted 318-109 to approve the Senate’s changes.
-- Sara Spizzirri and Matt Hourihan
The White House released its FY 2014 budget request on April 10. The President proposes a $3.8 trillion budget in FY 2014, projecting a $744 billion deficit. In R&D funding, the budget calls for $144.1 billion, including $69.7 billion for basic and applied research. In general terms, the budget shows a marked shift from defense to nondefense R&D, and from development to research. Perhaps most notable for R&D funding, however, is the President’s proposal to roll back sequestration. Provisions in the Budget Control Act currently cap discretionary spending at $966 billion in FY 2014, a level House Republicans have embraced. However, the President’s budget – and Senate Democrats – proposes returning the discretionary spending limit to pre-sequester level of $1.057 trillion. Resolving this $91 billion difference is key for R&D funding, as the President’s budget is predicated on the higher spending level.
Failing to raise the cap would likely leave FY 2014 looking much like FY 2013, when R&D funding fell by more than $9 billion, or 6.7 percent, below the prior year, according to AAAS estimates. This decline comes on the heels of cuts in prior years, resulting in a three-year R&D decline of roughly 17 percent. This represents the largest relative decline in federal R&D funding in 40 years. While some of the reductions in FY 2013 were due to funding cuts in final appropriations, the majority of it was the result of sequestration. Some agencies did appear to fare better than others in the final summation. For instance, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) all received funding boosts that partially or fully offset sequestration.
Because FY 2013 appropriations came a full six months late, the Administration delayed its own FY 2014 request until April. Compared against post-sequester FY 2013 estimates, the budget proposes substantial increases across virtually every major agency. Even compared against FY 2012 – the last year prior to sequestration – the budget would boost nondefense R&D spending by 5.2 percent after inflation, and cut defense R&D by 9.5 percent. Research funding would also receive a corresponding boost as development activities – mostly within the Department of Defense – are cut.
In inflation-adjusted dollars, the Administration proposes a combined 4.9 percent increase above FY 2012 for R&D at the America COMPETES agencies (NSF, NIST and the Department of Energy's Office of Science); a 4.2 increase for USDA, including a nearly 50 percent increase for extramural research; and a near-doubling of the DHS R&D budget for construction of the National Bio- and Agrodefense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas. However, the budget also cuts 2.4 percent from NIH, 1.4 percent from NASA, and 5.4 percent from EPA. Many of the key increases are reserved for targeted programs intended to drive technological innovation, including smart systems, materials, and cyberinfrastructure research at NSF; the Space Technology mission at NASA; the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative at the Department of Energy; and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science within NIH. DOD’s R&D budget would decline substantially, though basic research funding would increase.
While the budget continues to make investments in the Administration’s priority research areas, the overriding question is whether Congress can agree to a deal that raises the discretionary spending ceiling to make the President’s budget work. Barring an agreement, FY 2014 would end up looking similar to FY 2013, with billions of dollars in lost R&D falling victim to the nation’s fiscal challenges.
-- Matt Hourihan
The Obama Administration has proposed a reorganization of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs in what it says is an effort to more efficiently manage the $3 million that the federal government spends each year on science education, public outreach, and training programs for new scientists and engineers.
The President’s FY 2014 budget outlines a plan for reducing the number of active STEM programs from 226 to 112; 78 programs would be eliminated altogether, and 49 would be consolidated. The consolidated programs would be run under the auspices of one of three agencies: the Department of Education would manage precollege science and math education programs, the National Science Foundation would manage undergraduate and graduate STEM training, and the Smithsonian Institution would manage any extracurricular STEM activities.
Although there would be budget cuts for specific agencies that would lose their STEM programs—most notably NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—the budget calls for a $3.1 billion investment in STEM education programs, a 6.7 percent increase from FY 2012 levels. The Department of Education alone would receive a 4.6 percent increase from FY 2012 levels, to fund, among other things, a new Master STEM Teacher Corps Initiative, and the STEM Teacher Pathways program, which was designed to prepare 100,000 new STEM teachers for the workforce in the next ten years.
This proposal comes in the wake of a 2012 GAO report that found that 83 percent of federally managed STEM programs overlapped to some extent, but less than half of these programs were coordinated with other agencies. The GAO also reported that agencies were not evaluating the success of their programs adequately.
-- Sara Spizzirri
Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
Congressional activity has recently cast a gloom over the future of social, behavioral, and economics (SBE) research. In late April, the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Lamar Smith (R-TX), submitted a letter to the National Science Foundation requesting "access to scientific/technical reviews and the Program Officers Review Analysis" for five SBE-related research grants. The letter elicited a sharp retort from the committee's ranking member, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), expressing concern that it would "destroy the merit-based evaluation system at NSF." (Letters can be seen here.) Meanwhile,ScienceInsider reported on a discussion draft bill (not formally introduced) that would require NSF to certify that each grant met three specific criteria including: "is of the finest quality, is groundbreaking and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large" and is in the "interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science."
On April 26, the House approved the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 527). The bill authorizes the Secretary of Interior to restore for sale "crude helium for federal, medical, scientific, and commercial use." The legislation aims to stall a potential shortage of helium by creating a phased approach for access to and pricing of the helium reserve. The Senate has initiated hearings to consider the House bill.
On April 16, the House passed two bills related to interagency cybersecurity research. The first bill, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act (H.R. 756), would reauthorize cybersecurity research and education programs at NSF and NIST. In addition, it would require the Administration to submit an assessment of cybersecurity risks across all federal agencies as well as a strategic plan to guide research and development. The second bill, the Advancing America's Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2013 (H.R. 967), would reauthorize the interagency NITRD program created in 1991 to fund R&D in computing, networking, and software.
A bipartisan group of eight senators formally unveiled their major immigration reform bill on April 17. The bill features a new class of visas for entrepreneurship and would significantly boost the number of H1-B visas available to immigrants with advanced degrees, particularly in math and science. The Senate Judiciary Committee quickly held hearings on the bill and will mark it up this month.
The STEM Education Opportunity Act (HR 1353), introduced by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a tax deduction for students enrolled in STEM programs at institutions of higher education. The bill was introduced in the House on March 21, and has been referred to the Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
On March 21 Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced H.R. 1358 , the STEM Opportunities Act of 2013. The bill addresses the issue of women and minorities in STEM fields. First, it would require NSF to collect comprehensive demographic data on the recipients of federal research awards and on STEM faculty at U.S. universities, in order to better understand the national patterns. It would also require the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to address best practices across federal agencies to minimize the effects of implicit bias in the review of federal research grants (press release here).
- The Space Leadership Preservation Act (H.R. 823) has been reintroduced by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) and four co-sponsors. The bill would extend the term of the NASA Administrator to six years, create a Board of Directors to oversee the agency, and re-structure the budget. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on the legislation in late February.
- Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced a new bill, Saving High-tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes (SHIELDS) (H.R. 845), that would protect American innovators from "patent trolls" who buy very broad patents for products they did not create and then sue companies for infringement (press release here).
On April 2 the White House announced that $100 million in its FY 2014 budget proposals would be designated for a new research initiative focused on the human brain. Called the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), the project would include research investments from the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation, as well as public-private partnerships.
On March 25 the National Science Board issued a Request for Information (RFI) requesting recommendations from principal investigators on ways to reduce the administrative workload for federally funded research. The RFI includes a series of questions requiring responses, including whether there are "overlapping or redundant interagency requests or requirements that increase your administrative workload," and asking for recommendations for "reducing the level of administrative work necessary to submit a grant proposal." Comments are due May 24.
- The U.S. Science and Engineering Workforce: Recent, Current, and Projected Employment, Wages, and Unemployment
- Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2013
- America COMPETES Acts: FY2008-FY2013 Funding Tables
- The President's Office of Science and Technology Policy: Issues for Congress
- Efforts to Address the Medical Needs of Children in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear Incident
- Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects
- Government-wide Strategy Needed to Better Manage Overlapping Programs
- Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides
- Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels
- Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues: Safeguarding Children: Pediatric Medical Countermeasure Research
The Office of Government Relations has created a new state legislative tracker.
AAAS submitted comments on institutional oversight of life sciences dual use research of concern.
Mark Your Calendar: The first event in AAAS’s Capitol Hill neuroscience series will take place May 22. Watch www.aaas.org/gr for details.
“In this special issue of Science, we have invited experts to tell us what they think are the most important challenges facing science education. Through a mixture of News, Reviews, Perspectives, Education Forums, and an Editorial, we explore the obstacles to progress, be they within the classroom, across the school system, or in the larger social arena. We also offer substantive suggestions on how to proceed. For example, distance education, online simulations as educational aids, and social networking tools are already part of science education. Many university faculty members are working to upgrade centuries-old approaches to instruction. And, with a new emphasis on the practice of science, promising assessment tools are being developed to improve learning.”
Read the April 19 Special Issue: Grand Challenges in Science Education.