Outlook for FY 2010 Budget. The House passed a long-term continuing resolution (CR) last Wednesday by just six votes. The CR generally funds federal agencies at FY 2010 levels ($1.086 trillion) through the end of FY 2011, but also contains over 150 pages of funding exceptions. The most significant funding exception in terms of R&D investment is the rather detailed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) section which aligns the agency's budget with the adjustments made in the reauthorization bill passed a few months ago. The Senate will take up the CR this week. There are currently three different ideas on how appropriations should proceed. Most Senate Democrats would like to replace the CR with an omnibus that wraps up all 12 appropriation bills into one package, while most Senate Republicans and a few moderate Democrats are leaning toward passing the CR largely as is, and a third group of more fiscally conservative Republicans have recently announced their desire for the CR to expire in February so that a reduced budget can be passed once the next, more conservative, Congress is seated. None of the three options has garnered the support of 60 Senators required for passage, but the omnibus and year-long CR appear to be the most likely options.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on congressional action on the FY 2011 budget.
Other Congressional News
House Republican Leaders Select Committee Chairs. Last week the members of the Republican Steering Committee made their final decisions as to who should serve as the chairs of the House committees for the 112th Congress. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) was nominated to serve as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee; Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) was chosen to lead the Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) was tapped for Armed Services; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is to serve as chair of Foreign Affairs; and Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) is to serve as the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. The nominations are not finalized until the House Republican Conference ratifies the recommendations.
Administration Seeks Comments on Changes to Export Control System. On December 9, the Department of State issued a draft rule seeking public comments on proposed revisions to its U.S. Munitions List (USML) -- which controls the export of weapons and weapons components overseas -- and how the USML list could be aligned with the Commerce Control List (CCL). The Administration's long-term goal is to harmonize and simplify the two systems in a manner that will allow for commercialization of innovative technologies without sacrificing national security. In the proposed revisions the State Department seeks to create a "positive list" of controlled items that reflects "objective criteria" that would narrow controlled items by precise descriptions or technical parameters (e.g., micron, wavelength) rather than utilizing the existing subjective list that reflects broad categories. Furthermore, State is suggesting that a tiered system be created for distinguishing items that should receive "stricter or more permissive levels of control" based on its ultimate destination, end-use, and end-users. Comments are due February 8, 2011.
PCAST Report on Health IT. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has endorsed increased government investment in health information technology. In a letter to President Obama accompanying the report, Realizing the Full Potential of Health Information Technology to Improve Healthcare for Americans: The Path Forward, PCAST co-chairs stated that "it is crucial that the federal government facilitate the nationwide adoption of a universal exchange language for healthcare information and a digital infrastructure for locating patient records while strictly ensuring patient privacy," and further noted that this would create "new high-technology markets and jobs."
New NIH Translational Science Center. On December 7, the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) recommended that NIH realign existing programs to create a new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences that would focus on advancing translational sciences. The proposal is to merge select programs within the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), and the NIH Director's Common Fund, and, potentially, the new Cures Acceleration Network (CAN). NIH plans to present realignment plans to Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius early next year, in time to incorporate any changes into the HHS budget request. In the near term, a task force is seeking feedback as to what programs within NCRR should be merged into the new Center.
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NIH Creates Working Group on Biomedical Workforce. At its December 9th meeting, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) agreed to create a working group to assess the workforce needs of the biomedical research community at present and for the future. The working group, to be chaired by Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman, is to also analyze "the current composition and size of the workforce to understand the consequences of current funding policies on the research framework."
FBI Requests Last Minute Delay to NAS Report on Anthrax Inquiry. The FBI last week requested that the National Academies of Science delay its report on the Anthrax inquiry. The report, originally scheduled to be released in November, will now be postponed until the additional 500 pages of investigative documents, just released by the FBI, can be analyzed. In response to the delay, Representative Rush D. Holt, wrote a letter to the FBI, stating the request was "disturbing" and asking why these new documents were not previously disclosed
Climate Change News
UN Climate Conference Ends with Modest Package of Agreements. On December 11th more than 190 countries that participated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) adopted a set of agreements called the Cancún Agreements to move countries forward at a modest pace in addressing the impacts of climate change. The package, which is not legally binding, will allow those nations that participated in the Kyoto Protocol one more year to continue negotiating implementation of the Protocol's goal to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It also includes a pledge to establish a $30 billion "adaptation" fund supported by industrialized countries to assist developing nations in addressing climate change. Unresolved, however, is how developed nations will raise the $30 billion fund, which includes the long-term goal of raising that level to $100 billion by 2020, to support the program.
Supreme Court to Hear Climate Case. The Supreme Court agreed to hear challenges by power companies to a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York that they can be sued to curb their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The High Court granted petitions from the five companies -- American Electric Power, Southern Company, Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority -- to review the decision in Connecticut v. American Electric Power. A coalition of states led by Connecticut alleged that GHG emissions from the nation's largest electric utilities are a "public nuisance" that harms each entity. The appeals court agreed, and ruled that the coalition may proceed with their federal legal claim to curb carbon emissions coming from power plants outside their borders, unless and until the EPA actually regulates those emissions under the Clean Air Act. The case will likely be heard by the Supreme Court next spring.
In a related matter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has rejected a request from the State of Texas and a number of companies to delay regulation of GHG emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency. The ruling reportedly will allow EPA to begin regulating CO2 emissions from large sources. It is likely however, that any EPA regulatory actions on GHG emissions will face strong opposition in Congress.
Court Hears Oral Arguments on Stem Cell Injunction. After hearing the second round of oral arguments on December 6 in the ongoing human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research controversy, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit must now decide whether to overturn a District Court's September ruling to issue a preliminary injunction. During the hearing, Judge Thomas B. Griffith noted that the underlying issue of the case is whether the research to derive embryonic stem cells from human embryos is distinct from hESC research. In its brief, the government cites ten years of Congressional and Presidential interpretation of the contested Amendment, which supports the separation of derivation research from embryonic stem cell research. The plaintiffs argued that derivation is an inherent aspect of hESC research, and that federal funding incentivizes the destruction of embryos in direct violation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.
Federal Judge Rules a Portion of Health Care Reform Unconstitutional. A Virginia federal judge ruled on December 13, 2010, that one of the primary underpinnings of the Administration's healthcare reform is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson ruled that the federal government could not compel individuals to purchase health insurance and that it reflects an over reach of federal power. The suit, filed by the Virginia State Attorney, is one of approximately a dozen similar cases filed throughout the United States.
Louisiana School Board Approves Biology Textbook. The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted 8-2 to approve high school biology textbooks that teach evolution, despite a lobbying effort to include disclaimers in the textbooks challenging the scientific theory of evolution. The textbook review occurs every ten years. The National Center for Science Education has a summary of the Board's decision.
WHO Approves New TB Test. On December 8, the World Health Organization endorsed and called for the roll-out of a new test that could accurately diagnose tuberculosis in under two hours, compared to current tests which can take 2 months. Manufactured by Cepheid, in partnership with the Foundation for Innovation New Diagnostics (FIND) and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the test is a fully automated nucleic acid amplification test.
Last week, President Obama announced a number of nominations of importance to the science and technology community: Kathryn Sullivan was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce (Observation and Prediction). Sullivan is currently the director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Ohio State University. - Dan Ashe was nominated to be Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Ashe has served as Deputy Director of FWS since September 2009 and previously served as Science Advisor to the FWS director. - Kelvin Droegemeier was nominated to serve a second term on the National Science Board. Droegemeier currently serves as the Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma.
Jeremy M. Berg is stepping down as director of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to become the first associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning for the Schools of the Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh. Berg has served as Director since November 2003.
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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.