Congress passed its second continuing resolution for FY 2011 last week (H.J.Res. 101), extending federal funding at FY 2010 levels until December 18. The House is expected to pass a long-term continuing resolution (CR) on December 8 which would fund the federal government at FY 2010 levels through the end of FY 2011 with limited exceptions. It will then be up to the Senate to either pass the CR as is, or to attach, with the intention of substituting, an omnibus appropriations bill as discussed in last week's Policy Alert. If the Senate does make changes to the CR or attach the omnibus, the House will then have to approve the changes. With a large Democratic majority in the House during the lame duck, approval of those changes is likely, assuming no highly contentious amendments are added.
Deficit Commission Final Report Released.
The President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released its final report on December 1. Although 11 of the 18 commission members lent their support to the report, that fell short of the 14 needed to force a Senate vote on the recommendations. The report reflects a strategy similar to the Co-Chairs' Proposal released on November 10. However, there were two changes that could affect federal R&D investments. First, discretionary spending cuts proposed in the final report are slightly more severe, with the recommendation that FY 2012 spending be held at or below FY 2011 levels, followed by inflation-adjusted FY 2008 spending levels in FY 2013 an
d spending increases of half the rate of inflation each year through FY
2020. Second, the biennial budgeting recommendation, which would have
provided more stable guidance to agencies when planning future investments,
was removed from the final report.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website for a more detailed analysis of deficit commission recommendations and to stay up-to-date on congressional action on the FY 2011 budget.
House Republicans Selecting Committee Chairs.
Last week the Republican Steering Committee held a series of organizing
hearings to hear testimony from Members vying to serve as chairs of key
committees in the 112th Congress. The Steering Committee heard from a
range of individuals, including Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), currently the
Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, who needs a waiver due
to term limits to continue to serve as chairman of the full committee; Joe
Barton (R-TX), currently the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, who also needs a waiver to continue as the full committee
chairman; and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who lobbied to serve as the
chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee. The Republican
Steering Committee is expected to reveal its decisions with regard to the
committee leadership positions this week.
New Video Calls on Citizens to Identify "Wasteful" Grants.
In an online video employing contemporary technology to follow in the
footsteps of the late Senator William Proxmire's (D-WI) famous "golden
fleece" awards, Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) has launched a "You Cut Citizen Review" asking viewers "to identify wasteful spending that should be cut and begin to hold agencies accountable for how they are spending your money." Rep. Smith's first target is the National Science Foundation, and he provides a helpful link to NSF's award search page and suggests keywords such as "culture," "media," "games," and "stimulus" that viewers might use to identify and report "wasteful" grants. An article in USA Today compares Smith's exercise with past congressional attempts to ridicule NSF grants on the basis of incomplete information.
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Food Safety Bill Hits Constitutional Snag.
Last week's Policy Alert
reported on Senate passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) with bipartisan support. At that time it was anticipated that the House would propose a House vote on the Senate bill and move the bill to the President's desk quickly. However, a number of Representatives have argued against the constitutionality of the Senate bill since it includes revenue-raising fees, and according to the U.S. Constitution, all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House. Both chambers are working to reach an agreement that will allow the legislation to move forward during the limited time left in the lame-duck session.
Administration Changes Course, Prohibits Offshore Drilling for
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Administration will not allow any offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida for at least the next seven years, reversing an Administration decision from this spring. "As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill we learned a number of lessons, most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime," Salazar said.
NIH's Planned Move of Research Chimps
NIH, through its National Center for Research Resources, has
overseen a research reserve colony of chimpanzees at the Alamogordo
Primate Facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where the chimps are
held pending any need to move them to sites with ongoing or planned research
studies. The NCRR is planning to relocate the nearly 200 chimps to a research facility in Texas. Animal rights groups have recruited New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to appeal to the U.S. Agriculture Secretary to halt the transfer, arguing that the planned research at the Texas facility could kill some of the chimps. What makes this significant is that the chimpanzee is the only reliable animal model for Hepatitis C vaccine studies. In the U.S. alone, about 3.2 million individuals are infected with chronic Hepatitis C.
Number of PhDs Awarded in U.S.
A recent NSF InfoBrief analyzed trends in doctoral degrees awarded by U.S. academic institutions. The report found that from 2008 to 2009 there was a 1.6% increase in total research doctorates awarded and a 1.9% increase in science and engineering (S&E) fields. Females accounted for the entire 1.9% increase and realized a 4.8% increase in S&E doctorates awarded, while racial/ethnic minority groups saw a 6.4% increase in S&E doctorates. In 2009, 49,562 doctorates were awarded, 33,470 of which were in S&E.
AAAS Signs On to Case Headed for Supreme Court.
AAAS will sign on to an amicus brief for a case scheduled to be heard
by the U.S. Supreme Court next year. The case,
Stanford v. Roche, appeals a ruling by a court of appeals that casts doubt on the rights of universities and the federal government alike to inventions arising from hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding. The decision would allow rights in federally funded patents to be disposed of through private contracts between researchers and third parties (for example, companies), rather than according to the Bayh-Dole Act, which establishes a presumption that ownership is allocated to the university or other nonprofit institution hosting the research. AAAS joins almost two dozen universities, higher education associations, and the U.S. Department of Justice in opposing the appeals court ruling.
In a related development
last week, the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) held a
special seminar to honor the 30th anniversary of passage of the Bayh-Dole Act (P.L. 96-517), which allows for the technology transfer of federally funded research. The event included speeches by former Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) and the release of The Better World Report which outlined examples of commercial products that benefited from the Bayh-Dole Act.
's Planned Biblical Tourist Attraction to Receive
The State of Kentucky, with support from Gov. Steven L. Beshear, has
"promised generous tax incentives to a group of entrepreneurs who plan to
construct a full-size replica of Noah's ark, load it with animals and
actors, and make it the centerpiece of a Bible-based tourist attraction
called Ark Encounter," The New York Times
reported December 6. The proposed Ark Encounter was conceived by Answers in Genesis, the same organization that built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Gov. Beshear has said the Ark Encounter project would provide jobs for his state. The Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper pointed out that the project would generate only low-wage jobs and could tarnish the state's image. Answers in Genesis believes the Earth is only about 6,000 years old.
Farmers, Environmentalists Battle Over GM Sugar Beets.
A federal district court judge in San Francisco last week ordered that 256
acres of genetically-modified (GM) Roundup-resistant sugar beet plants be
uprooted. Judge Jeffrey S. White accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) and the seed-growers with whom it is working of violating his previous
order barring planting of GM beets until USDA has completed an environmental
impact statement. The plants are intended to produce seeds for future
beet plantings. According to
The New York Times GM beets make up nearly all of the United States crop, and farmers fear the move could create a beet shortage, leading to increased prices for sugar in the U.S.
Report on International STEM Assessment.
On December 7 the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
released Highlights from PISA 2009: Performance of U.S.
15-Year-Old Students in Reading
, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context
. Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment
(PISA) conducts a comprehensive study to assess and compare international
student performance in reading, math, and science literacy. Overall the science literacy performance of U.S. students fell in the middle of the pack among the other 33 OECD countries, although it was higher than the U.S. scores in 2006. The full text of the report is available online effective December 7.
Marine Ecosystems in Peril.
According to a United Nations Environment Program report, increased CO2 emissions, the cause of ocean acidification, will make it harder for many marine species to survive. The report states that marine pH has decreased by 30%, and total acidity is expected to increase 150% by the end of the century. This rate of change in pH has not been experienced for 65 million years. In an unrelated report, researchers state that depleted fish stocks, as a result of over-fishing, have forced fisherman to expand to less exploited areas in order to meet demand.
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