AAAS Policy Alert -- March 23, 2011
Appropriations Update. On March 18 President Obama signed a new continuing resolution (CR), H.J.Res.48, containing $6 billion in cuts and funding the government through April 8. The $6 billion in cuts include the elimination of funding for the $50 million Railroad Safety Technology Program and for a number of earmarks in accounts with significant R&D investment including: the Agricultural Research Service ($115 million), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture ($133 million), the National Institute of Standards and Technology ($67 million), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ($117 million), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Cross-Agency Support account ($63 million), and the U.S. Geological Survey ($7 million).
The votes for passage of this CR, the sixth for FY 2011, were much closer than for the previous one, and many members of Congress have said that they are unwilling to vote for another short-term CR. Also, it is widely believed that the cuts contained in the most recent CR are the last that both the House and Senate can easily agree on. Therefore, April 8 is shaping up to be a relatively firm deadline for a budget compromise between the two Congressional chambers and the White House.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its preliminary analysis of the President's FY 2012 budget request last week. The CBO report estimated a $1.4 trillion deficit for FY 2011 and a $1.2 trillion deficit for FY 2012, figures which differ from the OMB estimates contained in the President's budget request ($1.6 trillion and $1.1 trillion, respectively).
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest action on the FY 2011 and FY 2012 budgets.
Other Congressional News
R&D Defended in Floor Debate on H.R. 1. During the floor debates over extending the continuing resolution (H.R. 1) another three weeks, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) spoke on the negative impacts to R&D and U.S. innovation during a floor speech. As part of his speech, Bingaman read a letter submitted by the Task Force on American Innovation, signed by AAAS and over 180 other organizations, which urged the Senate to support funding for NSF, DOE's Office of Science, and NIST.
Congress Moves to Limit EPA. Legislation to limit the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases has advanced through committee in the House, and similar measures have been introduced in the Senate. The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act on March 15 (see March 14 Policy Alert ) by a 34-19 margin. In the Senate, a vote on the Small Business Innovation Research program (see the following item) is serving as a vehicle to debate competing proposals to limit EPA's authority. One proposal, sponsored by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is a companion bill to H.R. 910. Another bill, sponsored by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would delay EPA's regulations for two years, and a third option, introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus ( D-MT), would codify EPA's tailoring rule, which would limit the agency's carbon regulations to just the largest polluters and exempt agricultural producers.
Senate Passage of SBIR Bill Gets Mired in Budget Debate. Last week the U.S. Senate took up the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S. 493) for a floor vote, only to have the legislation get caught up in debates over spending cuts. A group of ten Senators informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that addressing legislation to cut federal spending was of primary importance and that until such efforts to reform the federal budget and spending levels were taken into consideration, they would not vote in favor of non-budget legislation. In addition, the SBIR/STTR bill became a vehicle for other Senators to attach a host of amendments that addressed a range of interests including de-funding the healthcare reform bill; barring EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases (see the preceding item); and eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/National Public Radio. A total of 88 amendments were introduced and considered on the floor, which delayed a final vote on the SBIR/SSTR bill as the Senate turned to voting on a three-week extension of the continuing resolution and then adjourning for a recess.
Senate Committee Approves Key S&T Nominations. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a slate of White House nominations, preparing them for a vote on the Senate floor. Among the nominations were Kathryn D. Sullivan, to be NOAA's Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Observation and Prediction (Sullivan previously served on the AAAS Board of Directors); and Philip E. Coyle, III, to be Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Administration Releases Memo on Regulation of Emerging Technologies. On March 11 the Director of OSTP, the Administrator for OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), and the Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the United States Trade Representative released a Memorandum to all federal agencies and departments on "Principles for Regulation and Oversight of Emerging Technologies." The memo provides a set of overarching principles – including (among others) scientific integrity, publication, risk assessment/management – that all agencies and departments should abide by in order to ensure coordinated R&D, proper regulation, and balanced oversight of technologies such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and genetic engineering.
Comment on the above item. The Policy Alert blog is now located on AAAS's MemberCentral. Once you are logged in, click on "Blogs" and look for "Capitol Connection" in the drop-down list.
White House Creates Chief Performance Officer Position. On March 16 President Obama issued a Memorandum on Government Reform for Competitiveness and Innovation that creates a new position, Chief Performance Officer, who will also serve as the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget. The primary role of the Chief Performance Officer is to submit recommendations to the President for ways to "restructure and streamline" programs within the executive branch to improve U.S. trade and competitiveness.
Input Sought on DOE Review. Last week DOE announced details of its Quadrennial Technology Review (DOE-QTR) to provide a context and framework for the Department's energy programs, as well as principles by which to establish program plans with a five-year horizon. DOE is soliciting input through April 15 via a framing document and an associated request for information (RFI).
EPA Proposes First National Standard for Mercury Pollution from Power Plants. On March 16, under a court-ordered deadline and 11 years after announcing it would set a standard, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first-ever national standards for mercury and air toxics including arsenic, chromium, and nickel. The rules, known as the "utility MACT" (maximum achievable control technology), will require all power plants to install technology to control toxic air pollutants. Currently less than half of plants have this technology installed. EPA estimates that the rules would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths, 1,000 heart attacks, and 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms each year, and that every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants would result in $13 in health and economic benefits. The draft rules are available for public comment for 60 days.
"i6 Green Challenge" Announced. The Commerce Department announced the opening of its $12 million i6 Green Challenge to promote clean energy innovation and economic growth. In partnership with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Science Foundation, this year's competition focuses on promoting Proof of Concept Centers, which support all aspects of the entrepreneurship process and allow emerging technologies to mature and demonstrate their market potential. The deadline for submitting an application is May 26.
NIEHS Seeks "Visionary Ideas," Stakeholder Nominations. The National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is seeking input from both researchers and the public for its 15-month strategic planning process. One can propose "visionary ideas" or comment on proposed ideas through April 30. Also, NIEHS is seeking nominations of participants for a stakeholder community workshop in mid-July in Research Triangle Park, NC.
NICHD Seeks Comments on White Papers. NIH's National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is soliciting comments on the first two of nine white papers, as a step toward developing a scientific vision of research priorities for the Institute. The themes of the first two white papers are reproduction and plasticity. Eventually, the remaining seven white papers – covering development, cognition, behavior, pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes, developmental origins of health and diseases, environment, and diagnostics and therapeutics – will also be posted for comment.
AAU Names New President. On March 21 the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization of 61 top research universities in the U.S. and Canada, announced that Hunter R. Rawlings III will become its next president, effective June 1. Rawlings, a former president of Cornell University and the University of Iowa, succeeds Robert Berdahl, who has served as AAU president since 2006.
Stem Cell Activity in the States. The Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill last week that would prohibit embryonic stem cell research in the state. The bill now moves to the Oklahoma Senate. A similar bill passed the legislature in 2009 but was vetoed by then-Governor Brad Henry (D). The state now has a new Governor, Mary Fallin (R). A bill in Minnesota, to outlaw somatic cell nuclear transfer (often called "research cloning"), has just passed through key state Senate and House committees.
Europe to Support Extending Life of ISS. The ten European Space Agency nations have agreed to fund their portion of extending the life of the International Space Station (ISS) until 2020. Those nations currently account for 8% of the ISS funding.
Bill Introduced to Reform UK's Libel Laws. A bill introduced in the United Kingdom's Parliament may help ensure open scientific discourse if it becomes law. The draft Defamation Bill would offer greater protection for statements made in the "public interest." The bill comes after recent instances in which scientists have been sued for writing about controversial issues. "We cannot continue to tolerate a culture in which scientists, journalists and bloggers are afraid to tackle issues of public importance for fear of being sued," commented Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
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