: On June 3rd, President Obama formally announced his nomination of Subra Suresh to serve as the new Director of the National Science Foundation
On May 27 the full Senate passed H.R. 4899, a $59.0 billion supplemental defense appropriations bill. The bill provides $33.5 billion for the Department of Defense, including $274 million for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E); $6.5 billion for the State Department; and $5.1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). On March 24 the House passed a supplemental bill that was significantly narrower in scope and less costly than the version that emerged from the Senate. A more comparable House bill is slated to be marked up by the Appropriations Committee. The latest House bill is similar to the Senate's except for an additional $24.7 billion for jobs programs.
The House passed the Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 5136, on May 28. The Senate Armed Services Committee completed its markup and reported out the bill the same day. Both versions of the bill would repeal DOD's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy pending a comprehensive review and formulation of an implementation plan by DOD. However, the bills differ on funding the controversial alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Each chamber's bill takes similar positions to last year's on this issue; the House bill funds the alternative engine, while the Senate bill does not.
On May 28 House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) introduced H.R. 5454
which would give the President 45 days to examine spending bills after they are signed into law and submit to Congress a list of proposed rescissions (deletions of funding for specific programs), which would then be voted on as a package by Congress without amendment. The "expedited rescission" bills would be fast-tracked through Congress and would require only a majority vote in both chambers to pass. Although the chances of both houses passing the Spratt bill are problematic, similar proposals have arisen in five different bills between the two houses, and if passed, such legislation could have significant implications for earmarks or particular R&D programs.
Other Congressional News
COMPETES Bill Finally Passes House. The America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116), which failed on two previous attempts to pass the full House, finally passed on May 28 by a vote of 262 to 150. House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) brought the original bill, as amended on May 13 during the first floor debate, back to the House chamber for a vote. Gordon successfully used an arcane parliamentary procedure (division of the question) to divide the Republican-backed motion to send the bill back to committee (i.e., the motion to recommit) into nine separate amendments that could be voted on separately by the chamber. Of the nine amendments, seven failed to pass, including the amendments to reduce the number of years and the funding levels authorized by the bill. This strategy allowed the House to retain the full funding authorization levels for five years for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program website has a detailed table of the COMPETES funding levels, as passed by the House. A companion bill in the Senate has yet to be introduced.
NIH Seeks Comment on Registry of Gene Tests. The National Institutes of Health is seeking public comment on its plan to develop a Genetic Testing Registry, a central, publicly available source of information on genetic tests to which researchers, test developers, and manufacturers can voluntarily submit gene test information. The comment period will be open for 30 days.
Defense Memo Reaffirms Unrestricted Basic Research. On May 24 Under Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter issued a guidance memorandum that articulated the Department of Defense's commitment to ensuring that "the products of fundamental research are to remain unrestricted to the maximum extent possible." The memo, sent to the secretaries of each military department, the directors of the defense agencies, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, essentially reaffirms the National Security Directive (NSDD) 189 issued during the Reagan Administration to protect basic research from unnecessary classification. In addition, it expands on the original document by stating specifically that its provisions apply to subcontracts for fundamental research under industry prime contracts -- an issue that has concerned universities for at least the past decade.
GAO Examines FDA's Food Safety Efforts. The Government Accountability Office has released a report examining the Food and Drug Administration's recent efforts on food safety. The report found that FDA has done better in harnessing science and expert advice, but still faces knowledge gaps in areas such as food labeling, fresh produce contamination, and dietary supplements. In related news, FDA has teamed with the National Institutes of Health to launch a website that can be used to report food safety problems, as well as problems with animal drugs or human gene transfer clinical trials. The website will ultimately be expanded to address additional safety problems.HHS Committee Considers Rescinding Blanket Ban on Gay Men's Blood Donations.
The Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, which provides advice on blood-related issues to the Secretary of Health & Human Services and the Assistant Secretary for Health, will consider lifting the ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with another man -- even once -- at a meeting on June 10 and 11
. The ban, which went into effect in 1983, has been criticized by various groups, including the American Red Cross and America's Blood Centers
and several U.S. Senators, who claim it is "scientifically unwarranted" due to recent advances in testing.
National Academies Releases Final Stem Cell Guidelines. The National Academies have released their final Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, an update designed to take into account the Obama Administration's stem cell policy.
UVA Fights Attorney General's Demands. The University of Virginia has filed a motion in court to fight Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli's demand for documents related to former UVA climate researcher Michael Mann (see 5/24/10 Policy Alert). UVA argued that Cuccinelli's demand threatens academic freedom and exceeds the attorney general's authority under state law. In its May 18 statement the AAAS Board of Directors asked Cuccinelli to either justify his investigation of Mann or end it, calling it "an apparently political action" that could have a chilling effect on scientific research.
Climate Change Education Challenged. A petition has been submitted to the Mesa County (Colorado) School Board to prohibit "the teaching of man-made climate change theory as scientific fact in the students' curriculum." The petition, which has 700 signatures, was circulated by a movement called Balanced Education for All, a group denying the reality of and human role in climate change, which also submitted a petition to "create and enforce a policy that prohibits teachers from applying their political views to the teaching and grading of students." School Board members accepted the petition but took no action. The petition is part of a larger campaign by the Independent Women's Forum, a non-profit based in Washington, DC, "challenging public schools to provide balanced education on the issue of global warming." The group is promoting a documentary, Not Evil, Just Wrong, that claims to "confront erroneous claims of environmental extremists," and offers an allegedly "compelling and scientifically accurate film about the true relationship between humans and the environment."
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People In The News
- Cora B. Marrett will serve as Acting Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the interim between the departure of NSF Director Ardent L. Bement (effective June 1) and the naming and Senate confirmation of the new Director. The search for the next Director is ongoing, although the rumor persists that Subra Suresh, Dean of Engineering at MIT, will be the next NSF Director.
- General Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, was named the first director of the U.S. Cyber Command on May 21. The U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) will coordinate computer-network defense and direct cyber-attack operations.
- Nicolaus Copernicus, who died in 1543 and whose theory of the heliocentric solar system was originally condemned by the Catholic Church and played a central role in the heresy trial of Galileo Galilei, was reburied by Polish priests on May 22 after archaeologists found his remains in an unmarked grave beneath the Frombork Cathedral in 2005. His new tombstone identifies him as the founder of heliocentric theory and a church canon and includes a graphic representation of his model of the solar system.
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