On October 20 the Senate agreed to the Homeland Security (H.R.
2892) conference report. Both the Homeland Security and Energy and
Water appropriations bills are awaiting the President's signature.
These are the third and fourth (out of a total of twelve) appropriation
bills to be finalized by Congress.
The Commerce, Science, Justice and
Related Agencies (H.R. 2847)
appropriations bill and the Defense
authorization bill (H.R. 2647)
conference report have seen recent
action on the Senate floor, but with a full Senate calendar, it is not
clear when either bill might get more debate time. Three appropriation
bills -- Defense, Interior, and Transportation, all with significant
R&D components -- are waiting to be discussed in conference, but no
date has been set for any of these bills. The Senate has yet to pass
the remaining five spending bills, after which they will go to
conference. For an update on the current status of appropriations, see
the AAAS R&D Budget Web site.
The current Continuing Resolution
(CR) expires on October 31, but it is expected that a new CR will be
introduced this week, extending FY 2009 spending levels until December
15 for those agencies whose FY 2010 appropriations have not yet become
Senate Begins Consideration
of Climate Legislation. The Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee has scheduled three days of hearings with more than 50
witnesses on its climate bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power
Act (S. 1733). Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released an updated
version of her bill that includes details on how emissions
allowances will be distributed, as well as new provisions on clean coal
technology, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
AAAS Joins Leading Scientific
Organizations in Climate Letter. AAAS joined with other leading
scientific organizations to send a letter to all Senators reaffirming
the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that
greenhouse gases from human activities are the primary drivers. The letter,
sent October 21 and signed by leaders from 18 organizations, states
that conclusions based upon "rigorous scientific research" and
"multiple independent lines of evidence" indicate that climate change
driven by human activities is occurring and will have broad impacts on
society, including the global economy and the environment.
Senate Committee to Mark Up WMD
Bill. On October 28 the Senate Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs Committee plans to mark up S. 1649,
its bill to address weapons of mass destruction prevention and
preparedness. The bill would, among other things, require that the
Department of Homeland Security develop security standards for
laboratories that handle dangerous pathogens. In other news, the
bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction
Proliferation and Terrorism released an interim report on the
government's handling of terrorist threats, saying that the
Administration needs to do more to counter bioterrorism threats.
Senate Approves Nominations.
On October 21 the U.S. Senate confirmed Marcia McNutt to be director of
the United States Geological Survey and Arun Majumdar to be director of
DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
Obama Speech at MIT on
Innovation and Energy. On October 23 President Obama visited
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to tour an energy laboratory
that works on solar, wind, and battery research as well as on LED
lights. During his visit the President gave a speech
(archived Webcast here)
on the importance of passing climate change and energy legislation as
well as investing in research and development (R&D) on new
Augustine Commission Releases
Final Report on NASA. The Review of Human Spaceflight Plans
Committee (aka the Augustine Committee) released its final report to
NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on the
future of human spaceflight last week. The report, Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy
of a Great Nation, warned that the beleaguered agency lacks
a sufficient budget to meet all its human and robotic exploratory
goals. It recommends extending the life of the Space Shuttle beyond its
planned retirement next year; delaying abandoning the International
Space Station until 2020; and relinquishing the goal of returning
humans to the Moon, focusing instead on the longer-term goal of sending
humans in a flyby of the Martian moons. The committee also recommends
scrapping the existing Ares launch vehicle prototype in favor of a new
heavy-lift launch vehicle. NASA is scheduled
to test an early-stage launch of the Ares this week.
OMB Announces Greater Emphasis
on Program Evaluation. In an October
7 memo to all federal departments and agencies, Peter Orszag,
Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, outlined a
series of steps that the federal government will take to promote
greater use of systematic evaluations of federal programs. These
include online information about all existing and planned Federal
evaluations focused on program impacts; formation of an interagency
working group to promote stronger evaluations; and limited funding for
agencies to strengthen their program evaluation efforts.
GAO Says FDA Must Do More to
Follow Up on Unproven Drugs. According to a new report by the
Government Accountability Office, the Food and Drug Administration
needs to do more to track whether drugs approved based on preliminary
results are benefiting patients. The report said the agency has allowed
drugs for diseases to stay on the market even after follow-up studies
cast doubt on their effectiveness in extending patients' lives. The FDA
the report is too negative in its assessment of the agency's
accelerated drug approval process, which is designed to approve drugs
for the most serious conditions.
FDA Requests Nominations for
Advisory Committees. The Food and
Drug Administration is requesting nominations for members to serve
on several of its advisory committees. Openings currently exist on the
following committees: Veterinary
Medicine Advisory Committee; Blood,
Vaccines, Biological Products Committee; Drug
Products Committee; and the Science
Board to the FDA. A complete list of openings is available here.
National Academies Report on
Hidden Costs of Energy. While many analysts calculate the
costs of producing various energy sources (e.g., coal, oil, diesel
fuel), a new National Academies report calculates the hidden costs
associated with fuel production and use. Hidden Costs of
Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use found
that burning fossil fuels costs the U.S. approximately $120 billion a
year in the public health sector. The report, a project of the Board on
Science, Technology and Economic Policy (STEP), estimates that air
pollution contributes to nearly 20,000 premature deaths annually.
China and India Announce Energy
Collaboration. China and India announced a new collaboration on
renewable power and energy-efficiency projects in a memo of
understanding signed in New Delhi. The two nations agreed to work on
slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, but resisted making
those limits binding.
Evolution Education in Hong Kong.
Last month Hong Kong's Education Bureau downplayed language in its new
science education standards that had appeared to open the door to
teaching creationism. The bureau decided to issue an explicitly
pro-evolution statement as an appendix to the guidelines rather than as
part of them. All of Hong Kong's schools are publicly funded but many
are run independently and have church affiliations.
South Korean Researcher
Convicted. Hwang Woo-Suk, who falsely claimed major
breakthroughs in stem cell research a few years ago, was convicted this
week for embezzlement and other charges related to the scandal. Hwang
received a suspended sentence and will not serve jail time if he
remains on good behavior for three years.
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Patrick Clemins,
Erin Heath, Al Teich, Ric Weibl, Kasey White, 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