As Congress returns to Washington this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to mark-up the Defense appropriations bill on September 16. If approved, it would be the tenth spending bill approved by the full Committee. However, none of those Senate committee-approved bills have made it to the Senate floor. For its part, the House has passed two appropriations bills, and its appropriations subcommittees have approved another nine.
Work has also begun on a continuing resolution (CR) to extend funding past September 30, the end of the 2010 fiscal year, since it seem unlikely all appropriations will have been passed by then. Other issues, such as the struggling economy and extension of the expiring 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, have taken priority over appropriations legislation. The initial CR is expected to extend funding until the lame-duck work period after the November elections, and the election results will likely determine how appropriations proceed from there. If Republicans win a majority in either chamber, appropriations will likely be pushed into the 2011 calendar year so that the new majority party can more strongly influence the spending bills. However, if Democrats remain in control, appropriations may be finished during the post-election lame-duck period. There is also discussion of an omnibus bill that could potentially contain all 12 appropriations bills, since none have been completed.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website for additional news on the FY 2011 budget, to order the AAAS Report XXXV: Research and Development FY 2011, or to download presentation slides or audio from the Forum.
Other Congressional News
Senate Committee To Vote on NSF Director. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is scheduled to vote September 15 on the nomination of Subra Suresh as Director of the National Science Foundation. Suresh currently is Dean of the MIT School of Engineering.
GAO Reports on DOD Indirect Costs to Universities. Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that analyzed the indirect cost reimbursements to universities that receive Defense Department grants. Although DOD nominally maintains a cap of 26% for indirect cost reimbursement, the GAO analysis found that the department negotiated a wide range of rates below that figure, and GAO recommended that the current cap and how it is applied be reexamined by the Office of Management and Budget.
EPA Examines "Fracking." The Environmental Protection Agency has taken several actions recently to examine hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," a method used to recover natural gas from sources such as coalbeds and shale gas formations. EPA sent letters to nine drilling companies last week requesting detailed information about the chemicals contained in fluids used during hydraulic fracturing. EPA has also held several meetings in advance of designing a long-term scientific study of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and public health. EPA is accepting public comments on the design of the study until September 28.
Appeals Court Temporarily Lifts Stem Cell Ban. After U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the Department of Justice’s request to stay his injunction on federally funded human embryonic stem cell research, the DOJ went to the U.S. Appeals Court, which opted to lift the ban until at least September 20, a deadline for parties involved in the lawsuit to file legal briefs. The National Institutes of Health is using the time to expedite some of its stem cell research grants, including the 24 scheduled for annual renewal this month. NIH also has cautiously started up intramural activities again. On Capitol Hill, the Senate Appropriations panel with oversight over NIH will hold a hearing on September 16 to address the stem cell research issue.
NCAA Challenged on Sickle Cell Testing Policy. Earlier this year the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) adopted a policy to test for sickle cell carrier status for all student athletes in Division I sports. The decision was part of a settlement between Rice University and the parents of a student football player whose death was linked to sickle cell trait. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (subscription required) raises some pointed questions about the new policy – for example, will counseling be provided to students who test positive? Will athletes risk their scholarships if they test positive? How will the confidentiality of the information gained from the test be protected? The authors challenged the NCAA to collect data that would enable evaluation of the policy’s costs and benefits.
UK R&D May Face Major Cuts. Last week the British government, which has been conducting a comprehensive spending review and trying to cut its budget in many areas, heard from the scientific community regarding concerns over the possibility of major cuts, thought to be 25% or more in some research areas. Some of the responses were a reaction to a speech by Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, in which he stated that taxpayer money should not be used to support “research which is neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding.” Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said that the cuts risk “sending a signal to young people that the UK is no longer a country that aspires to scientific leadership.” Some scientists expressed concern that this could lead to a brain drain from the UK.
European Budget Austerity Hits Science. Britain is not the only European nation facing cuts in R&D. According to a report in the Washington Post, “an era of fiscal austerity is sweeping over Europe,” and several major science institutions and projects are being hit by declining budgets. One example: CERN officials, ordered by European governments to cut costs, are reportedly planning to shut down all particle accelerators at the facility, perhaps for a year, beginning in 2012. (One of these, the Large Hadron Collider, was already scheduled for a year-long shutdown in 2012 for upgrades, and its down-time would now be extended for an additional three months.) European science officials, however, say that the EU nations are still “strongly committed to long-term research,” and believe that the current budget pressures are temporary.
EU Agrees on New Animal Research Rules. The European Union has agreed on new rules for animal research, and EU member states have two years to adopt them into law. Labs would have to get approval from national authorities to conduct animal tests, with the understanding that alternatives to animals must be used if they exist. The new directive replaces rules that go back to 1986.
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