Both congressional chambers continue to defer action on their FY 2011 budget resolutions. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) stated that chances are "fading" that the full Senate will pass a budget this year and he is now considering a "deeming" resolution to move the FY 2011 budget process along. A deeming resolution would set the discretionary spending levels for next year only, instead of the next five years as is typical in a full budget resolution. Conrad may add the deeming resolution to the supplemental defense appropriations bill scheduled for action this week. Negotiations on the House side are ongoing, but a compromise is unlikely before the Memorial Day recess. The House and Senate have passed a final budget resolution only once, in 2008, in the last five election years.
The full Senate plans to discuss a $59 billion supplemental defense appropriations bill this week. A filibuster is expected, along with amendments to reduce or offset the cost of the bill. The House version is in the hands of the Appropriations Committee, which may mark up the bill this week.
Powerpoint presentations from the 35th Annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy are now posted online. Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to order the AAAS Report XXXV: Research and Development FY 2011, download presentations from the Forum, and get additional news on the FY 2011 budget.
Other Congressional News
COMPETES Act Fails Second Time; Third Attempt Scheduled. The America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116), which was pulled from the House floor during the first floor vote, was reintroduced last week as H.R.5325. The revised legislation includes all amendments that had passed the House during the May 13th floor debate and incorporates language to reduce the number of authorization years from five to three (see May 17 Policy Alert). This reduction in years was viewed as a compromise by House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) to assuage concerns expressed by Republicans over the overall government spending levels. The new bill was brought to the House floor last week under a suspension calendar -- which requires a supermajority to pass -- to avoid further amendments. That strategy was unsuccessful, as the bill failed to garner sufficient votes and received only 261 yeas compared to 148 nays. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has placed the bill on the floor calendar again this week.
House Science Committee Spotlights CDC Environmental Health Assessments. The House Science and Technology Committee's investigations panel held a hearing on environmental health evaluations performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in particular its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Special attention focused on questions about lead in the Washington, D.C., water system and public health assessments on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, which had served as a location for Navy training activities.
House Committee Examining Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests. In the wake of the announcement that Walgreens would stock a genetic test on its shelves -- a decision that was quickly rescinded when the Food and Drug Administration questioned its legality -- the House Energy and Commerce Committee is launching an investigation into direct-to-consumer genetic tests. It has sent letters to Pathway Genomics, the company that produced the Walgreens test, as well as 23andMe and Navigenics, requesting information about the companies' products.
FDA Task Force Releases Draft Transparency Proposals. The Food and Drug Administration's Transparency Task Force has released 21 draft proposals aimed at enhancing public understanding of the agency. The comment period is open for 60 days.
NIH Releases Draft Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest. The National Institutes of Health has released its draft policy on financial conflicts of interest. The new policy would put the onus on the institution, not the principal investigator, to determine and report financial conflicts of interest. It also would lower the minimum threshold for reporting conflicts of interest from $10,000 to $5,000. Public comment will be open for 60 days. Senate conflict-of-interest watchdog Charles Grassley (R-IA) approved of the step.
Obama Administration Releases Guidance for Small Biotech Tax Credits. The Obama Administration has released guidance on a new tax credit for medical research conducted by small biotech businesses. Claims for the credit could total $1 billion. Eligible companies must apply by July 21.
NIH Calls Scientists to Serve. On May 7, the NIH Office of Extramural Research issued a Notice on "Expectation for Service on NIH Peer Review and Advisory Groups." The Notice addresses NIH's need for grant reviewers by appealing to scientists' sense of social responsibility. Specifically, it states that "NIH calls upon investigators who have received research grant funding from the NIH to serve on NIH study sections and advisory groups when invited to do so. However, this expectation for service is entirely voluntary and an inability to serve has no impact on an investigator's ability to compete for grant support."
AAAS Weighs In on Virginia Investigation. The AAAS Board of Directors has asked Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli to either justify his investigation of climate researcher Michael Mann or end it, calling it "an apparently political action" that could have a chilling effect on scientific research. The Board, while acknowledging the responsibility of state and federal officials to oversee the proper use of grant funds, said Cuccinelli's request "goes far beyond what is needed to determine financial propriety, including substantive emails with colleagues, computer codes, and the detailed data resulting from Dr. Mann's work." On April 23, Cuccinelli requested detailed information from the University of Virginia on climate-related grants involving Mann while he was on the school's faculty from 1999 to 2005. Mann is currently director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. The lack of a clear rationale for the inquiry suggests that it "may be aimed at something other than financial malfeasance," the Board said in its May 18 statement. AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner made similar points regarding the Cuccinelli probe in a May 23 op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The deadline for the University of Virginia to respond to Cuccinelli's request is May 27.
White House, Congress React to Synthetic Biology Paper. The publication in Science last week of a paper reporting a proof of principle that it is possible to start from sequence information on a page and generate a genome that can successfully drive normal cellular processes generated immediate reaction from diverse sources. President Obama referred to it as a "milestone in the emerging field of ...synthetic biology" and requested that his newly-appointed Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues "undertake as its first order of business, a study of the implications of this scientific milestone, as well as other advances that may lie ahead in this field of research." The House Energy and Commerce Committee is also interested; it plans to hold a hearing featuring J. Craig Venter this week. Meanwhile, the Vatican responded cautiously, calling it a "great scientific discovery" and noting that "Now we have to understand how it will be implemented in the future."
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National Academy of Sciences Releases Reports on Climate Change. On May 19, NAS panels released three reports reviewing climate change science, adaptation options, and methods to mitigate change. The panels concluded that climate change is occurring, caused largely by human activities, and that the United States should significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while also creating a national strategy for dealing with the effects of climate change.
Evolution News. A campaign ad maligned Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne for endorsing evolution. Byrne responded with a statement insisting he has "fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books." In Missouri the 2010 legislative session ended earlier this month without movement of an anti-evolution bill with language encouraging teachers to help students "critique" the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of evolution.
Canadians Agree on Largest Forest-Conservation Deal in History. 21 members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and nine leading environmental organizations unveiled an agreement on May 18 to protect Canada's Boreal Forest. Combined with commitments made by local and federal governments, there will be a three-year suspension of logging over 1.6 million square kilometers, making it the largest area of protected forest in the world. Supporters hope the deal will protect wildlife and, given the forest's role as a carbon sink, potentially slow global warming.
UK Withdraws Autism Researcher's Medical License. Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor found to have acted unethically during now-retracted research linking autism to a childhood vaccine, will no longer be able to practice medicine in the United Kingdom. The Associated Press reported on May 24 that Britain's General Medical Council had struck off Wakefield from the country's medical register because of "serious professional misconduct" during his controversial research.
Maryland Stem Cell Projects Announced. Last week, the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission announced funding of 42 projects, a dozen of which will be collaborations between Maryland universities and for-profit companies.
JASONs Examine DOD's Basic Research. The U.S. Department of Defense commitment to long-term, fundamental, "basic" research is being compromised in favor of shorter-term, more applied research, according to a report by the independent JASONs advisory group. The report cites instances in which projects coded as 6.1, which is intended to denote basic research, were targeted more toward defense applications. The panel recommends protection of 6.1 funding, as well as other "systemic, institutionalized changes in process, organization, and personnel," such as support for basic research fellowships.
Berkeley Freshman DNA Test Stirs Controversy. The University of California-Berkeley is offering all incoming freshman an opportunity to voluntarily participate in genetic testing. The DNA test of the students would analyze for markers related to three tolerance levels: folic acid, lactose and alcohol. The proposal has been met with a range of criticism regarding the ethics of the experiment as well as questions over privacy.
Analysis Questions Reliability of Antimissile Program. A paper by MIT physicist Ted Postol and Cornell physicist George Lewis published in Arms Control Today analyzed the reliability of the interception capability of the Pentagon's SM-3 antimissile and found that the success rate of the program was 10-20 percent, far lower than previous government reports. The Pentagon criticized the analysis as "flawed" and "inaccurate".
People In The News
On May 17, Christiana Figueres was nominated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She will assume her new duties on July 1.
- The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a May 20 hearing on the nomination of Dr. Carl Wieman to be Associate Director for Science of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
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