The Senate passed its Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R.2996) on September 24. The major R&D units funded in this bill are the U.S. Geological Survey ($1.1 billion for Surveys, Investigations and Research, $1.4 million less than the House); the Environmental Protection Agency ($843 million for Science and Technology, $6.85 million less than the House); the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service ($307 million for Forest and Rangeland Research, $1.6 million less than the House); and the Smithsonian Institution ($759 million in total, $14.8 million less than the House). The full Senate also began consideration of the Defense appropriations bill (H.R.3326) on September 24 and is scheduled to continue consideration of it this week. For an update on the current status of appropriations, see the
AAAS R&D Budget Web site.
As noted in earlier Alerts, the House passed all its appropriations bills before the August recess. The Senate has now passed six of its 12 bills, and conference committees are working to reconcile those bills passed by both chambers. September 30 marks the end of FY 2009, and because FY 2010 appropriations have not been completed, Congress needs to pass a
Continuing Resolution (CR), keeping agencies funded at a specified level (usually that of the preceding fiscal year) for a specified period, by which time Congress hopes to have passed the spending bills. A CR that would extend FY 2009 funding levels until October 31 was attached to the House-Senate conference bill for Legislative Branch appropriations, which has been passed by the House. The Senate must now pass the conference bill, and the President must sign it into law by midnight September 30 in order for the federal government to continue operating without interruption.
House Energy and Commerce Republicans Question NIH Grants. House Energy and Commerce Ranking Minority Member Joe Barton (R-TX) and Greg Walden (R-OR) have written a
letter to NIH Director Francis Collins raising questions about recent grants approved through the peer review process, including studies on drug use, HIV, and cancer survivorship.
SBIR Reauthorization Extended Again. Last week the House and Senate passed a bill (H.R. 3614) to extend for another thirty days the authorization of the government's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Both the SBIR and STTR programs expired at the end of July and were operating under a two-month temporary legislative extension set to expire September 30. The House and Senate have passed separate reauthorization bills but have yet to negotiate a conference agreement.
Legislation to Promote Interagency Cybersecurity R&D. The House Science and Technology Committee's
Research and Education Subcommittee introduced and unanimously approved legislation that would require greater coordination among agencies to address cybersecurity threats. The
bill, which is not yet numbered, would require the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to prepare an assessment of the nation's cybersecurity risks, prepare a strategic plan to guide federal research and development (R&D) programs to address the risks, provide grants to support cybersecurity R&D, and create scholarships to promote education through the postdoctoral level in cybersecurity. There is no companion bill in the Senate at this time.
Coral Reef Protection Measure Advances. The House passed the Coral Reef Conservation Act Reauthorization and Enhancement Amendments of 2009 (H.R. 860), which promote international cooperation to protect coral reefs and codify the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. The bill would extend existing grants programs supporting coral reef monitoring and assessment, coral reef and ocean research, pollution reduction, education, and technical support.
NIH Establishes Stem Cell Panel. The National Institutes of Health has assembled its much-anticipated
panel for evaluating the eligibility of human embryonic stem cell lines for federally funded research. The panel will be chaired by bioethicist Jeffrey Botkin. NIH is now accepting information about stem cell lines via
GAO Examines NIH "Exception" Grants. The Government Accountability Office has
found that 19% of grants awarded to individual scientists by the National Institutes of Health in 2007 were made as
"exceptions," meaning they were granted outside of strict rankings according to peer reviewer scores, according to
The New York Times. Many of these exceptions went to new investigators, a group that NIH leaders have seen a need to target in recent years. Exceptions are made at the discretion of the directors of NIH institutes and centers; all have been for
"highly meritorious applications," according to an NIH official. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) stated in the article that the rationale for all exceptions should be transparent.
FDA Re-Examining Knee Device Approval. The Food and Drug Administration is re-examining its 2008 approval of Menaflex, a patch for injured knees produced by ReGen Biologics, because of a concern that four New Jersey Members of Congress and former FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach exercised undue influence over the approval process. Menaflex was approved despite repeated and unanimous warnings from agency scientists that the device failed too often to be considered safe. According to
The New York Times,
"the agency has never before publicly questioned the process behind one of its approvals, never admitted that a regulatory decision was influenced by politics, and never accused a former commissioner of questionable conduct." For their part, von Eschenbach and the lawmakers say they did not act improperly, and ReGen says the agency's characterization of the Menaflex approval history is
"inaccurate." FDA has asked the Institute of Medicine to review the agency's medical device approval process.
EPA Finalizes Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule. On September 22, EPA announced a
final rule that requires companies to track and report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data. Fossil fuel and industrial GHG suppliers, motor vehicle and engine manufacturers, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of CO2 equivalent per year will be required to report GHG emissions data. These sources cover approximately 85% of U.S. emissions. In other EPA news, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has placed a hold on the nomination of Paul Anastas, nominated in May to be EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development. Sen. Vitter's hold appears be due to EPA's assessment of risks of formaldehyde rather than concerns about Anastas himself.
People in the News.
Roger Beachy, president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO, has been named the first director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The Institute, created by the 2008 Farm Bill, will administer USDA's competitive research grants. Beachy has led the non-profit Danforth center since its founding in 1998.
- Steve Robinson, most recently a special advisor on STEM education to Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has
moved to the White House to handle those issues within the Domestic Policy Council. Robinson is a former researcher, high school science teacher, Einstein Fellow, and staffer to then-Senator Obama. He is expected to help coordinate the STEM education activities of the various agencies and departments.
Backlash Against Chamber's Opposition to Climate Legislation. Three electric utilities
-- Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Exelon, and Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM Resources)
-- will be leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the Chamber's position on climate change. Nike and Johnson & Johnson have also expressed concern over the Chamber's opposition to climate legislation, though they have not announced plans to withdraw. The Chamber has
proposed holding a trial on the science of climate change similar to the famous 1925 Scopes trial in which lawyers debated the teaching of evolution.
UNEP Climate Report Released. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released
"The Climate Change Science Compendium," a review of the major peer-reviewed literature over the past three years, since the close of research for consideration by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Authors found that the Earth's temperature is likely to rise 6º F between now and 2100, even if every country cuts greenhouse gas emissions as proposed.
Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Patrick Clemins, Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Shirley Malcom, Al Teich, Ric Weibl, Jamie Wheeler, Kasey White, Brad Wible
NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to
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