On April 15 President Obama spoke at the Kennedy Space Center, responding to criticism of his proposed budget and plans for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The President countered some of the concerns with new initiatives. First, to recoup some investment in the Constellation program, NASA will develop a rescue vehicle for the International Space Station using Orion crew capsule technology. Second, to speed development of the next deep-space launch platform and to alleviate concerns about the future of U.S. space leadership, NASA will invest more than $3 billion in advanced heavy-lift rocket technology to send crew and cargo into orbit and deep-space, and eventually to asteroids and Mars. Finally, to minimize the impact of short-term job losses from retiring the Space Shuttle and canceling the Constellation program, the federal government will undertake a $40 million initiative "to develop a plan for regional economic growth and job creation."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced last week her intention to begin work on a budget resolution, but Budget Committee Chair John Spratt (D-SC) believes that House Democrats are evenly divided on whether to pass a budget. Vulnerable Members do not want to risk criticism on funding decisions in an election year; on the other hand, not passing a budget could call into question Democrats' ability to govern. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said that party leaders will consult Members and decide this week whether to pursue a budget resolution.
The National Institutes of Health released its online FY 2009 NIH Data Book on April 2. In addition, many of the data tables and reports available on RePORT, NIH's web-based reporting database, have been updated with 2009 data. NIH's project database, RePORTER, was also updated on April 9, allowing detailed searches of publications and patents resulting from individual grants as well as by state and congressional district.
For up-to-date news on the FY 2011 budget, visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website
. R&D budget information and a wide array of other S&T policy issues will receive coverage at the 35th annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy
, May 13-14.
Other Congressional News
Bill on Public Access to Research Under Review. Committees in both the House and Senate are reviewing the Federal Research Public Access Act (H.R. 5037 and S. 1373). The bill would require agencies with research budgets of $100 million or more to provide online access to research manuscripts stemming from federal funding within six months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The bill gives individual agencies flexibility in choosing the location of the digital repository for this content, as long as the repositories meet conditions for interoperability and public accessibility and have provisions for long-term archiving.
House Subcommittee Approves NSF portion of COMPETES bill. The House Research and Science Education Subcommittee marked up and approved the portion of the America COMPETES bill that would reauthorize funding and programs within the National Science Foundation (NSF). The legislation would increase the NSF total budget 30% over five years, growing from $8.2 billion in FY 2011 to $10.7 billion in FY 2015. Research and Related Activities (R&RA) would also increase 30% over five years, and the bill would require NSF to set aside 5% of R&RA funding for "high-risk, high-reward research" (see Policy Alert Discussion Space for the subcommittee's definition). The legislation would also create an "Innovation Inducement Prize" program with a total of $12 million for five prizes. In the area of education, the bill would change the current cost-sharing ratio for the Robert Noyce Scholarship program from 50:50 to 70:30 (federal government vs. institution). An amendment introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) would halt the Administration's plans to consolidate Broadening Participation programs until the NSF director has developed and presented a plan and rationale for the programs' consolidation.
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DHS S&T Reauthorization Advances.
TSCA Reform Bill Introduced. On April 15 Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, released draft legislation to update the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the key law regulating chemicals used in commerce. The draft would require companies to submit more data when introducing new products, make it easier for EPA to mandate testing of compounds already in use, and authorize EPA to support "green chemistry" research into safer and alternative compounds. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced a similar discussion draft.
On April 15 the House Committee on Homeland Security reported out favorably H.R. 4842
, a bill to reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. The bill would increase directorate funding to $1.12 billion in 2011 and $1.16 billion in 2012, while also mandating administrative measures intended to make it more effective and transparent. The bipartisan legislation was approved by the committee on a 26-0 vote and now awaits a floor vote in the House.
Draft Climate Mitigation Report Released. The State Department released for public comment a draft of its report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat on U.S. efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The comment period closes May 6. In related news, delegates attending UNFCCC negotiating talks in Bonn, Germany last week acknowledged that the prospects for developing a comprehensive treaty later this year in Mexico appear bleak. Nations did not agree on how the Copenhagen Accord, adopted by most nations following the December 2009 talks, will factor into future discussions.
Comments Sought on Future of NOAA Ocean R&D. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) is seeking comments on its strategic plan for 2011-2015. The draft plan describes OER's vision, mission, core activities, and organization.
SBIR Award Limits Increased.
The Small Business Administration has amended the Small Business Innovation Research Policy Directive
to increase the award maximum amounts in order to account for inflation since 1992 when limits were last set. Phase I awards are now up to $150,000 (up from $100,000), and Phase II awards are now up to $1,000,000 (up from $750,000).
AAAS Board Adopts Statement Concerning Right to Benefits of Scientific Progress. On April 16 the AAAS Board of Directors adopted a statement on the human right to the benefits of scientific progress. The Statement notes that an "international process is currently underway... [for] defining ... the meaning of the right and ... determining how best to implement the right in practice." Acknowledging that "this right lies at the heart of the AAAS mission and the social responsibilities of scientists," the Board endorses the efforts of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program to engage scientists and scientific associations so that their "voice, interests and concerns" can be brought to bear on conceptualizing and promoting this right.
Government Cancer Research Network Approaching "Crisis." The National Cancer Institute's cancer research network, called the Clinical Trials Cooperative Group Program, is "approaching a state of crisis" according to a new Institute of Medicine report. Forty percent of late-stage clinical trials are abandoned prior to completion, and waste and inefficiency are major culprits. The report recommends simplifying the trial design and launch process (which typically takes years), boosting support for promising studies, and offering better incentives for doctors and patients to participate.
GE Crops Benefit Farmers, But Overuse is a Risk. A National Research Council report found that genetically engineered (abbreviated "GE" in the report) crops provide a substantial benefit to farmers, both in terms of the economy and the environment, but that overuse of the technology threatens to erode such gains. The report is the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of GE crops on U.S. farmers since their introduction in 1996. GE crops have allowed farmers to use less harmful—or simply less—chemicals, and the higher costs of the seeds have been offset by lower production costs and higher outputs and convenience. But too many "Roundup Ready" crops—crops that are engineered to be impervious to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray weeds while sparing the surrounding crops—could backfire as overuse renders weeds Roundup-resistant.
College Scholarships Possible for Alaska High School Students Taking Math and Science. The Alaska legislature has approved a college scholarship plan for high school students who take more rigorous course loads, including more math and science, but it provided no funding for the program and left details -- including how to pay for it -- to a 15-person task force of lawmakers, educators, and a budget specialist. According to a report in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, graduates would be eligible for up to $4,755 a year in college scholarship money starting in 2011, assuming a way is found to pay for the program.
Another "Climategate" Investigation Completed. An independent international panel commissioned to examine key publications of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit released a report finding "no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit." The commission noted that better statistical methods and bookkeeping skills could have been used but would not have changed the overall results.
Lancet, UN Reach Different Conclusions on Maternal Deaths. The number of women dying in childbirth worldwide has dropped dramatically, according to a paper published by The Lancet last week -- from 526,300 in 1980 to 342,900 in 2008 (about 35 percent over 28 years). This contrasts significantly with United Nations figures that state maternal deaths continue to be around 500,000 a year. Lancet editor Richard Horton said he was pressured to delay his journal's findings while public health officials readied to ask for aid at UN meetings.
U.K. Libel Ruling Stands. As previously reported (Policy Alert, 4/5/10), a U.K. court had ruled against the British Chiropractic Association in its suit against a science writer for allegedly defaming its reputation in his article critical of some chiropractic treatments endorsed by the BCA. The ruling was seen as a victory for those in the U.K. advocating for a change in that country's libel laws. After further consideration, the BCA announced last week that it would not appeal the ruling.
People in the News. - Kathie L. Olsen, former deputy director and chief operating officer of the National Science Foundation, will become Vice President, International Programs for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, effective May 3.
- Gretchen Kalonji, a materials scientist from the Office of the President at the University of California, has been named assistant director-general of UNESCO's Natural Sciences Sector, which together with the Education Sector, receives the bulk of the organization's budget. She reportedly has strong ties to Asian research centers and is committed to promoting science in Africa, a key component of her new role.
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Editor: Steve Nelson
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