Last week both Senate and House Republican caucuses agreed to an earmark ban for the 112th Congress. The ban could make it harder for Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to win Republican support for the omnibus appropriations bill being put together, covering all department and agency budgets, especially with the announcement that Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not support such a bill. The other leading option is a House-crafted long-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at FY 2010 levels for FY 2011. Sen. Inouye appears optimistic about being able to get the handful of Republican votes needed to pass the omnibus bill, but the odds currently appear about even between that and a year-long CR as the means of finalizing FY 2011 appropriations.
The Senate Republican caucus also passed a resolution to reduce FY 2012 non-security discretionary spending to inflation-adjusted FY 2008 levels. The Obama administration has requested a 5-10% decrease from originally-projected FY 2012 discretionary spending levels, and the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform proposed FY 2010 discretionary spending levels for FY 2012 along with a 1%-per-year decrease through FY 2015. The President's proposed budget for FY 2012 is due to be presented the first week of February 2011.
To stay informed about congressional action on the FY 2011 budget and the potential impact of proposed deficit reduction plans on federal R&D investment, visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.
Other Congressional News
Chances for Passage of COMPETES Wane. Final passage of the America COMPETES Act, which calls for substantially increased science funding, during the current lame duck session is looking less likely due to two converging factors. First, the bill has yet to be filed in the Senate, a step that is required in order to bring it to the floor. Second, the uncertainty surrounding the final FY 2011 budget numbers, due to growing pressure to reduce the federal deficit and cut discretionary spending, complicates the process. Some observers believe that even if Congress does not complete action on the bill during the lame duck session, chances for its passage in the next Congress appear reasonably good. However, there is considerable uncertainty about when, and with what authorization levels, the bill might be passed.
PCAST Report on Energy Policy. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will release a report on energy technology innovation at an event to be held at the AAAS building on November 29. The "Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy" will be presented at the briefing, and the event will include presentations by OSTP Director John Holdren and PCAST members Ernest Moniz of MIT and Maxine Savitz of the National Academy of Engineering. To register to attend the meeting, which will also be webcast, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/pcast
NIH Director Favors Merger of Institutes. NIH Director Francis Collins released a statement last week saying that the creation of a new institute focusing on addictions, as recommended by NIH's Scientific Management Review Board, "makes scientific sense and would enhance NIH's efforts to address the substance abuse and addiction problems." This would include incorporating most current programs of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as well as relevant programs from other Institutes and Centers, such as those at the National Cancer Institute and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Collins announced the creation of a task force to explore how forming the new institute could best be conducted. The task force plans to issue recommendations by next summer.
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Clean Water Act to Consider Ocean Acidification. EPA issued a November 15 memorandum providing guidance to states that they should list bodies of water that have become more acidic because of increased carbon dioxide as impaired under the Clean Water Act. The memo states that the changing ocean chemistry from acidification "is likely to negatively affect important marine species and ecosystems, including coral reefs, shellfish, and fisheries." The EPA memo stems from a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity.
EPA to Expand Chemicals Testing for Endocrine Disruption. The EPA has announced a list of 134 chemicals that will be screened for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates growth, metabolism, and reproduction. EPA is already screening an initial group of 67 pesticide chemicals. At the same time, EPA announced draft policies and procedures that it will follow to order testing, minimize duplicative testing, promote equitable cost-sharing, and address issues that are unique to chemicals regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Details on both proposals, which are open for public comment, are available on the EPA web site.
PTO Extends Expedited Patenting for GHG Reduction Technologies. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) announced that it will extend a trial program to expedite the processing of patent applications for technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions until December 31, 2011. Under the Green Technology Pilot Program, the first 3,000 applications pertaining to environmental quality, energy conservation, development of renewable energy, or greenhouse gas emission reduction will be advanced out of turn for examination, compressing the normal two-year waiting period for receiving a patent to 49 days.
NNSA and EU Sign New Agreement. DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently signed a new agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) to promote greater cooperation in nuclear security within the areas of export controls and safeguards, among others. The agreement also calls for enhanced outreach coordination with additional countries.
Justice Programs Office Creates New Science Advisory Board. Criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University has been named to lead a new Science Advisory Board at the Office of Justice Programs, an arm of the US Justice Department that disseminates state-of-the-art knowledge and practices to law enforcement agencies and provides grants to implement crime-fighting strategies. According to The Crime Report, an online news outlet, the advisory board includes 16 other academic, law enforcement and judicial specialists, including AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, who formerly directed the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Governors Association Creates STEM Advisory Committee. Last week the National Governors Association announced the formation of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Advisory Committee to assist both the 29 new incoming governors and incumbent governors in the development and implementation of comprehensive STEM education programs. The advisory committee is expected to host a national meeting on STEM education in the fall of 2011.
NRC Report Cites Flaws in DHS Safety Assessment. A new National Research Council report has found several major shortcomings in the Department of Homeland Security's safety assessment for the proposed national Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, including overly optimistic projections on how readily an escaped pathogen could be controlled and eradicated. The report said there is nearly a 70% chance over the 50-year lifetime of the facility that a release of foot-and-mouth disease could result in infection of livestock outside of the facility, with an impact on the economy of $9 billion to $50 billion. The facility is intended to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, located off the northeast coast of Long Island.
Report Critical of Climate Change Research Comes Under Investigation. A USA Today analysis found that a 2006 congressional report that criticized the statistics and scholarship of climate scientists (Mann, Bradley and Hughes) who found the last century the warmest in 1,000 years was partly based on material copied from textbooks, Wikipedia, and the writings of one of the scientists criticized in the report. The report by George Mason University (GMU) statistician Edward Wegman was requested by then-Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-TX) and served as the centerpiece of several congressional hearings and has been cited by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in his current investigation of Michael Mann's work. GMU has said the matter is under investigation, although much of Wegman's data is inaccessible.
Minority Graduate Enrollment Rates Found to Drop in States With Affirmative Action Bans. Research presented by Liliana Garces of the Harvard Graduate School of Education at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education suggests that states that have implemented bans on affirmative action have seen a reduction in the graduate enrollment share for students from underrepresented minority groups. Enrollment rates for the groups were reduced by one percentage point across all fields, and by two percentage points within the natural sciences, engineering, and social sciences.
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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 email@example.com.