Congress is on recess until after the November 2 elections. Although the new fiscal year began October 1 without any FY 2011 appropriations bills having been passed by both chambers and signed by the President, the federal government is functioning under a continuing resolution (CR) extending FY 2010 funding levels for most programs until December 3.
SBIR/STTR Programs Extended. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs have been extended through January 31, 2011, after the President signed S. 3839 on September 30, the day the programs were due to expire. The SBIR and STTR programs administer grants to small businesses and small business-university partnerships for R&D activities.
Deepwater Drilling Ban Lifted. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced on October 12 that the Administration will lift the deepwater drilling suspensions, provided that operators certify compliance with all existing rules and requirements. He said the decision was based in large part on an October 1 report from Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEM) Director Michael R. Bromwich that showed significant progress in reforms to drilling and workplace safety regulations and standards, increased availability of oil-spill response resources, and improved blowout-containment capabilities. New permits will be based on the ability of the operators to meet new DOI operating and safety rules for deep-water drilling.
NASA Authorization Bill Signed into Law. On October 11 President Obama signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (S. 3729), which authorizes a total of $58 billion for NASA over three years. The legislation will extend the life of the International Space Station by four years to 2020 and will provide an additional Space Shuttle launch. Although the bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, there were still disagreements within the House over the future direction of NASA's spaceflight plans, leaving a window open for continued debate on Capitol Hill.
Supreme Court Hears Case on JPL Scientists and Privacy. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case regarding NASA's implementation of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which sets standards for issuing identification badges to all federal employees including contract employees. The plaintiffs in the case involve Caltech researchers who work at the Jet Propulsion Lab and must agree to background checks even though they work on unclassified projects. The central question before the Supreme Court is whether "the government violates a federal contract employee's constitutional right to informational privacy" when it asks questions of a personal nature (e.g., illegal drug use) in the course of a background investigation. The Supreme Court's decision could have implications for many other researchers under contract to the government.
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FDA News. Last week the Food and Drug Administration released a white paper outlining a plan of action for its regulatory science initiative, which involves using science to enhance the agency's capabilities to determine whether foods, drugs, and other products it regulates are safe and effective. The FDA plans to put $25 million toward the initiative in FY 2011. In addition, the agency has scheduled a public meeting on November 2-3 to gather input on its implementation of the part of the healthcare reform law that authorizes the creation of a regulatory pathway for generic biologics (drugs that are made using living material).
GAO Report on COMPETES Act. A new report from the Government Accountability Office analyzed the three agencies funded by the America COMPETES Act of 2007 -- DOE's Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology -- and concluded that "it is too early to assess the effectiveness of these programs" (presumably, in improving U.S. competitiveness). However, the report recommended that the agencies should each "set a goal for funding high-risk, high-reward research and that [they] coordinate in doing so." It further recommended that the agencies include information on such research "with their annual budget requests, which are available to the public."
Nominations Sought for NSB Awards. The National Science Board is currently accepting nominations for the 2011 Vannevar Bush Award and the 2011 NSB Public Service Award (deadline: November 3, 2010). The Vannevar Bush Award is given to exceptional lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service activities in science, technology, and public policy. Recent recipients have included Bruce Alberts, Mildred Dresselhaus, and Norman Augustine. The NSB Public Service Award is given to individuals and groups that have made substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science and engineering in the United States. Previous recipients have included the TV show "NUMB3RS," NPR's "Science Friday" host Ira Flatow, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Bill Nye The Science Guy®.
People in the News. - Subra Suresh, Dean of the MIT School of Engineering, was confirmed by the Senate on Sept. 29 to be the next Director of the National Science Foundation.
- Farnam Jahanian will head NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate, effective Feb. 1, 2011. He has been chair of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan.
- The National Academy of Engineering recently presented the Arthur M. Bueche Award for leadership in the development of science and technology policy to Anita Jones, University Professor Emerita at the University of Virginia and former Director of DDR&E at the Department of Defense; and its Founders Award to Robert Langer, the David Koch Institute Professor at MIT's department of chemical engineering.
Expanding Under-Represented Minority Participation: A new report from the National Academies explores the role of diversity in the STEM workforce and its value in keeping America innovative and competitive. The report analyzes the challenges the nation currently faces in developing a strong and diverse workforce and identifies the characteristics of best practices in STEM education that make them effective and sustainable. The report, by a subcommittee of the Academy's Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, identified two high-priority areas for near-term action: undergraduate retention and completion; and teacher preparation, college preparatory programs, and transition to graduate study for students.
Nanotech Study Available for Comment. Following a workshop held at NSF on September 30, the NSF-funded World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) report Nanotechnology Long-term Impacts and Research Directions: 2000-2020 has been made available for review and comment. Chapter 13, "Innovative and Responsible Governance," may be of particular interest to the policy community. The site provides a link for posting comments but does not specify a date by which they are due.
Archived issues of AAAS Policy Alert can be found at http://www.aaas.org/spp/policyalert
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Patrick Clemins, Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Gretchen Seiler, Al Teich, Ric Weibl, Kasey White
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 to firstname.lastname@example.org.