While the House was on recess last week, the Senate passed the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R.2997). Under this bill, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.3 billion, $126 million (11.4 percent) more than the President's request and a $22 million (1.8 percent) increase over FY 2009. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), would receive $1.3 billion, $135 million (11.5 percent) more than the President's request and an $80 million (6.5 percent) increase over FY 2009. Congressional earmarks currently total $82.5 million for ARS and $69.3 million for NIFA. Updated information on the status of appropriations may be found on the AAAS R&D Budget Web site.
Meanwhile the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum to all federal agencies and departments outlining the science and technology (S&T) priorities for the fiscal year 2011 budgets. Agency S&T budgets in FY 2011 should address four challenges: the economy, energy and environment, public health, and national security. The memo also encourages agencies to develop "science of science policy tools" and emphasizes the importance that programs be managed under high ethical and scientific integrity standards.
Other Congressional News
House Approves Food Safety Bill. On July 30 the House passed, by a 283-142 margin, the Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749). It would raise money for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through inspection fees and give the FDA broad new powers such as mandatory food recall authority. It would mandate several changes in food facility practices, and would require the government to devise "science-based standards" to minimize food hazards. The bill has been referred to the Senate. In related news, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new food safety strategies last week, including guidance on E. coli detection.
Rep. Markey Investigates Fraudulent Opposition to Climate Change Bill. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, has launched an investigation into fraudulent letters sent to Members of Congress regarding climate change legislation (H.R. 2454). Bonner and Associates, working on behalf of a clean coal coalition, sent at least 12 falsified letters supposedly representing organizations such as the American Association of University Women and the NAACP that urged Members to make "pro-consumer changes" to the climate bill. The firm stated that the letters were the actions of a "temporary employee" who was dismissed when they became aware of the fraud at the end of June. Members who received the letters, however, were not informed until more than a month later, after the vote.
First Meeting of PCAST. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) held its inaugural meeting last week. The Council has created six subcommittees to manage the portfolio of topics it plans to address. The subcommittees include: STEM Education, Innovation and Technology, Economic Development, International Security, Energy and Environment, and Interdisciplinary Aspects of S&T. Among the topics that the subcommittees plan to tackle are: science standards; advanced manufacturing for emerging technologies; private-sector R&D investments; orbital space debris; carbon offsets; and interdisciplinary agriculture research.
Chopra Courts Silicon Valley Executives. Aneesh Chopra, associate director for technology at OSTP and U.S. chief technology officer, visited Silicon Valley last Tuesday, in an effort to muster support among high tech executives and entrepreneurs for the Obama Administration's technology initiatives. Speaking before the Churchill Club at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, he outlined his priorities, most of which involved information technology: improving education, health care, and government infrastructure. In other technology news, President Obama traveled to Elkhart, Indiana, last week to announce $2.4 billion in grants for manufacturing next-generation batteries and electric vehicles.
Hamburg Outlines Enforcement Commitment. Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg committed to aggressive enforcement of FDA policies last week. She laid out six steps the agency will take to ensure this, such as setting a clear timeline for companies to respond to inspection findings and streamlining the industry "warning letter" process.
People in the News. - The Senate confirmed Francis Collins as the new director of the National Institutes of Health, and IBM attorney David Kappos to be the next U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director.
- The Senate approved a cloture motion to limit debate and vote on the nomination of Cass Sunstein as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs when it returns in September.
- The FDA named bioethicist, law professor, and former AAAS Diplomacy Fellow, R. Alta Charo, a senior adviser to the FDA commissioner.
Report on NASA's Institute of Advanced Concepts. The National Research Council (NRC) released a prepublication version of a congressionally-mandated report evaluating the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC). Established in 1998, NIAC was created to foster research on visionary and innovative concepts related to air and space travel. Budget constraints led to the closing of the Institute in 2007; however, the NRC review committee urges NASA to reestablish NIAC, which the panel deemed a unique, effective program.
Report on Science and Regulatory Policy. The Bipartisan Policy Center's Science for Policy Project released recommendations on improving the use of science by U.S. regulatory agencies. Co-chaired by former House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, former chair of the House Science Committee, and Donald Kennedy, former editor in chief of Science, the report makes suggestions about differentiating scientific judgments from political, economic or ethical judgments, ensuring transparency in the creation and use of scientific advisory panels, and strengthening peer review and conflict of interest policies and procedures.
Standards for Barcoding Plant DNA. The international Consortium for the Barcode of Life Plant Working Group has recommended a global standard for the barcode identification of biological species. A similar technique was created for animals in 2003. DNA barcoding uses a short DNA sequence from a standardized and agreed-upon position in the genome as a molecular diagnostic for species-level identification. The technique will enhance the identification of small plant fragments and aid in forensic investigations.
Much Research Relies on Two Stem Cell Lines. Stanford scholar Christopher T. Scott has reported that much federally-sponsored research on human embryonic stem cells has involved just two cell lines. Should those lines not pass muster through the new ethical guidelines established by the National Institutes of Health, it would significantly affect ongoing studies.
AAAS Human Rights Work Cited in Congressional Letter. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), co-chairman of the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission submitted a letter to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, urging an investigation into alleged massacres and mass graves in Afghanistan. In his letter, McGovern cites geospatial imagery satellite data that was analyzed by the AAAS Human Rights program on behalf of the Physicians for Human Rights as further evidence for the need for the investigation.
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Joanne Carney
Contributors: Kavita Berger, Patrick Clemins, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Barbara Jasny, Al Teich, Kasey White, Ric Weibl, Brad Wible
NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest. Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications. Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and private use of our members. Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome. Please write to email@example.com.