Appropriations Update. As Congress returns from its August recess, the House has passed its versions of all 12 appropriations bills, while the Senate has passed just four. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill just before the August recess, so that may be the next appropriations bill going to the Senate floor. The Committee is scheduled to markup the Defense appropriations bill on September 10, suggesting it will probably get to the floor after the Transportation bill. For an update on the current status of appropriations, see the AAAS R&D Budget Web site.
Decline in Earmarks? According to a preliminary analysis by the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, the number of congressional earmarks has dropped approximately 30 percent in nine of the current appropriation bills. Of the seven House and two Senate appropriations bills that the group analyzed, the amount of earmarking has declined from $2.87 billion in FY 2009 to $1.99 billion. However, the Senate has passed only four of its twelve appropriations bills, so the number of earmarks is likely to grow.
Other Congressional News
HELP Chairmanship Opens with Kennedy's Passing. The death of Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has left a void not only in the Senate as a whole but also in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that he chaired. Kennedy's friend Chris Dodd (D-CT), who was next in seniority and who took charge of the Committee's health care reform efforts in Kennedy's absence, has reportedly opted not to take the HELP chairmanship and instead will keep his post as chair of another high-profile committee, Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is next in line and is reportedly planning to accept the post, which would open up a spot at the helm of the Agriculture Committee he currently chairs. Late News: Senator Harkin has accepted the chairmanship of the committee.
Grassley Critical of Scientific Ghostwriting. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who has been keenly interested in conflicts of interest among medical professionals and researchers, has turned his attention again to the practice of doctors lending their names to scientific papers written by drug industry ghostwriters. He wrote NIH acting director Kington last month asking the agency for information on its policies and practices related to ghostwriting. This follows his July letter to eight medical journals on the same topic.
Senators Lieberman and Collins Introduce Biosecurity Bill. Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, introduced legislation on September 8 that would strengthen security at high-containment biology laboratories. The Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 responds to concerns expressed in a report by the International Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission that the U.S. is vulnerable to a bioterror attack. The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to determine the most dangerous pathogens with the greatest potential for a terror attack, and to implement new security standards for labs that utilize those pathogens in their facilities, including personnel reliability standards.
White House Releases Summary of Human Spaceflight Report. On September 8 the White House released a 12-page executive summary of the report of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, an ad hoc independent panel of space experts chaired by Norman Augustine and charged by the White House with assessing options for NASA's human spaceflight program. In its opening sentences, the panel's summary says that U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be "on an unsustainable trajectory...perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." Its many findings address, among other things, the future of the space shuttle fleet, the International Space Station, and the Constellation Program, including prospective launch vehicles and the Orion capsule, designed to carry astronauts to low-Earth orbit and beyond. The panel's full report, to be delivered to John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), is expected to be released later this month. In a statement released the same day, House Science and Technology Committee Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) announced a hearing scheduled for September 15, featuring Augustine and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as witnesses, "to examine the panel's findings and to better understand the Administration's next steps."
Collins Lists Priorities for NIH. New National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins spoke to NIH employees immediately after being sworn in August 17, saying that ensuring a soft budgetary landing for the agency in FY 2011 is the challenge that "wakes me up in the middle of the night." Collins's priorities for NIH include using technological advances in areas like genomics and computational biology to examine the fundamental biology of disease; conducting translational ("bench to bedside") research; emphasizing global health and the nurturing of young researchers; and using NIH resources to inform health care reform efforts. He promised that he would devote his "full energy" to leading NIH, saying he has ceased writing books and has stepped down from his role in the foundation on science and religion he recently founded, but said that he would continue to run his NIH lab. Collins scheduled a meeting with public stakeholders for September 9. On a related note, Collins named Kathy Lynn Hudson, founding director of Johns Hopkins University's Genetics and Public Policy Center, to be Chief of Staff in the Director's office effective September 2.
PCAST Releases Report on H1N1 Flu. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has released its first major report on the H1N1 flu. The report praises the government's response to the pandemic and makes recommendations for further action. The mainstream media focused mainly on the report's estimate that H1N1 could infect half the U.S. population this fall and winter. In other news, the government has released guidelines for businesses to deal with H1N1.
NSB Recommends Reinstating Mandatory Cost-Sharing for Some NSF Programs. The National Science Foundation's (NSF) National Science Board (NSB) issued a report strongly recommending that NSF reinstate a mandatory cost-sharing requirement for a few of its programs; specifically for Engineering Research Centers, Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers, and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). NSF changed from a mandatory to a voluntary system in 2004. The NSB report, Investing in the Future: Cost Sharing Policies for a Robust Federal Research Enterprise was the result of a congressional charge to analyze the consequence of the 2004 cost-sharing policy change.
NSF Announces New Ethics Training Rules. On August 20 the National Science Foundation announced new rules mandating that NSF-funded research trainees receive training in research ethics. Institutions will need to have their training and oversight plans for students and postdocs in place by the beginning of next year. The move was required by provisions of the America COMPETES Act.
ARPA-E Seeks Public Input. The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public input on ideas for energy technology research areas that meet the agency's mission requirements. ARPA-E was created by the America COMPETES Act with the goal of focusing on "transformational technologies" to increase domestic energy efficiency and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources.
NOAA Seeking Input on Strategic Plan. NOAA is soliciting input for its Next Generation Strategic Plan (NGSP) through a brief survey available until September 11.
International Graduate Admissions Decline. A report from the Council of Graduate Schools indicates that U.S. graduate schools gave out 3 percent fewer offers of admission to international students in 2009 than they did in 2008, the first such decline in five years. Leading the decline were India and South Korea, which fell sharply, reflecting substantial declines in the number of applicants from these countries. Admissions of U.S. students grew, however, possibly suggesting a reversal of the trend of recent years.
Missouri High School Bans "Evolution" T-Shirt. School officials in Sedalia, Mo., banned a "Brass Evolutions 2009" t-shirt worn by members of the Smith-Cotton High School band because it featured the familiar ape and man evolution sequence. Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt told The Sedalia Democrat that he made the decision after several parents complained about the shirt. One parent told the newspaper that she didn't think "evolution should be associated with our school." Asked for comment in an interview by Charles Jacow of KRTS radio in St. Louis, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner stressed the importance of evolution as a fundamental element of a solid science curriculum for Missouri students.
ITIF Report Compares R&D Tax Credits. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation issued a brief report that compares the R&D tax credits of various nations. The memo notes that not only does the United States rank 17th among 19 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, it also lags behind non-OECD countries such as China, India, and Brazil. It is argued by many that R&D tax credits should be a core part of national innovation policies.
Geoengineering Gaining Visibility. On September 1 the United Kingdom's Royal Society released a report concluding that geoengineering techniques to reverse the impacts of global climate change are likely to be technically feasible but that major uncertainties on effectiveness, costs, and environmental impacts exist and should be studied. The report calls for mitigation and adaptation, but notes that "geoengineering methods could...potentially be useful to augment continuing efforts to mitigate climate change." Also last week, the controversial Copenhagen Consensus Center proposed that policymakers should use geoengineering rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change, a proposal that was met with opposition by many scientists. Earlier in the summer, the American Meteorological Society released a policy statement on geoengineering that said that although geoengineering could contribute to a comprehensive risk management strategy to slow climate change, it also could create significant new risks. Meanwhile, Hegerl and Solomon outlined some of the risks of climate geoengineering in a perspective in the August 21 issue of Science.
New Japanese Prime Minister Sets More Ambitious Emissions-Reduction Targets -- with a Caveat. Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's incoming prime minister, supports more ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions than did his predecessor, Taro Aso. Speaking at a Tokyo conference on climate change on September 7, Hatoyama backed a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, compared to an 8 percent target previously set by Aso. But according to news reports, Hatoyama also stressed that his 25 percent target would depend on other major nations joining in a "fair and effective" framework for regulating emissions. "Reduction targets set by our country alone cannot stop climate change," he said.
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Patrick Clemins, Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Al Teich, Kasey White
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.