AAAS Policy Alert -- March 30, 2011
Appropriations Update. Negotiations on the FY 2011 budget will continue this week – with the fiscal year already half over – as Congress returns from last week's district work period. Reports on progress during last week's budget negotiations are mixed. Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY) stated that progress has been made on the $51 billion gap between the House and Senate proposals, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) responded that negotiations are not going well. The current continuing resolution (CR) expires April 8, and with the new House rules that require bills to be publicly available for 72 hours before a vote, a compromise will need to be worked out and introduced by Tuesday, April 5. Both sides have stated their unwillingness to pass another short-term CR, but with time to forge a compromise running short, it might be the only option other than a government shutdown.
The Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee is accepting written testimony from outside witnesses until April 11 (the corresponding House subcommittee is not taking outside testimony this year). In related news, 117 Democratic Members of Congress have signed a letter urging increased funding for the National Institutes of Health in 2012. In addition, the Coalition for Health Funding has released a letter advocating $65 billion for discretionary public health programs (including the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others) in FY 2012 – a $7 billion increase over FY 2010. The letter was signed by 470 organizations and six former Surgeons General.
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, and to register for the annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy, to be held May 5-6 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.
Other Congressional News
House Science Committee Releases "Views & Estimates" on Budget. On March 18 the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee released its "Views and Estimates" report on the FY 2012 budget request for research agencies under its jurisdiction. The document, a requirement of the Congressional Budget Act, provides a perspective on the range of concerns and issues surrounding the budget that the committee is expected to address throughout the year. For example, the document states that while it supports a "robust budget request for NSF," the 13% requested increase for NSF is not "fiscally responsible" given the constraints on the economy. The report, issued by the committee's Republican majority, includes additional views of individual Members, as well as the minority Democratic caucus's views.
House Judiciary to Introduce Patent Reform Bill. This week the House Judiciary Committee is expected to introduce patent reform legislation as a companion to the Senate bill, the America Invents Act (S.23), which passed that chamber earlier this month. The House bill will be the topic of a hearing before the committee on March 30.
Senate Committee Requests Comments on a Clean Energy Standard. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) released a white paper soliciting comments, through April 11, on key questions and potential design elements of a Clean Energy Standard (CES). The full text of the white paper, along with instructions and forms for submitting responses, can be found on the Energy Committee website.
Other Hearings This Week. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on March 30 on NASA's exploration program. It will hold two more hearings on March 31: Climate Change: Examining the Processes Used to Create Science and Policy, and The Role of Small Business in Innovation and Job Creation: The SBIR and STTR Programs. House Appropriations subcommittees are holding hearings throughout the week on the FY 2012 budgets for NOAA, NASA, OSTP, and Homeland Security science and technology.
OMB Releases Report on Computer Security Incidents. Federal agencies reported 41,776 computer security incidents during FY2010, up 39% from FY 2009, according to a new report from the White House Office of Management and Budget. While incidents involving the federal government were up, the total number of security incidents reported to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team – including those involving the private sector – was down slightly from FY 2009 (107,439 incidents compared to 108,710 in FY 2009). Of the total incidents in FY 2010, 11,001 involved computer viruses, trojans, worms, and logic bombs. "Phishing," an effort to secure sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy entity, was the most widely used form of attack, with 56,579 incidents. The report noted that affected federal agencies spent $12 billion for information technology security, or about 15.6% of their total IT budget.
IT Industry Group To Develop Standards For Improving Computer Security. A new industry-organized group called the Open Networking Foundation will develop programming standards for small and large computer networks as distributed "cloud" computing and hosted services become increasingly popular. According to The New York Times, the new technologies will offer ways to improve computer security and could possibly enhance individual privacy within the rapidly growing e-commerce and social networking markets.
CEQ, PTO Seek Comments on Improving Federal Regulatory Review. As a result of Executive Order 13563, "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review,'" both the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) are accepting comments to improve regulatory practices. CEQ is accepting nominations until June 15 for "innovative pilot projects" that will promote efficient and effective environmental reviews in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The PTO is asking for comments by April 21 to help develop a plan to review PTO regulations.
UNEP-NOAA Conference Tackles Marine Debris. A conference co-sponsored by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), held in Honolulu last week, yielded a commitment by representatives of 35 countries, corporations, trade associations, and researchers to address the problem of marine debris (i.e., trash in the oceans) at several levels, including managing the waste on-shore, conducting public awareness campaigns, and using other technical, legal, and market-based solutions. Marine debris has serious consequences for marine habitats, biodiversity, human health, and the global economy.
MIT Study Finds Increasing Proportion of Women on Its Faculty. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made substantial progress in addressing gender inequity in the dozen years since it acknowledged the obstacles faced by female professors and pledged reforms, according to a new study by women at MIT's schools of science and engineering. The study says the number of female faculty on the science and engineering faculties has increased from 46 (or 7% of the total) in 1995 to 112 (or 17% of the total) in 2011.
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U. of Texas Reassigns Critic of Academic Research. A special adviser to the U. of Texas Board of Regents who was appointed March 1 with the support of the chairman was reassigned last week to a new job that will end August 31. Rick O'Donnell, previously a senior research fellow with a conservative think tank in Austin, has asserted that much academic research lacks value and called for replacement of some tenured faculty with lower-cost instructors. His views are said to reflect those of the Regents' chairman as well as Governor Rick Perry. The Texas legislature, in contrast, has given high priority to academic research, increasing state funding and encouraging the development of research at such institutions as the University of Houston and UT-Arlington. O'Donnell was reassigned in response to pressure from legislators, as well as business executives, alumni, and others.
Court to Hear Appeal in Gene Patent Case. On April 4 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will begin to hear oral arguments in an appeal by Myriad Genetics, the company that controls patents on two genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2), and other defendants. A year ago a district court judge issued a ruling invalidating the patents, a ruling which, if upheld, could significantly affect genetics research and patent law. The appeals court hopes to make a decision by June.
Oceans Group Sets Up Relief Fund for Japanese Ocean Scientists. In response to the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the northern Pacific coast of Japan, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that represents 95 of the leading public and private ocean research education institutions, aquaria and industrial firms, has set up a relief fund for the Japanese ocean science community. Proceeds will go directly to Japanese ocean science universities and organizations. Details are available on the Ocean Leadership website.
Science Journalists to Meet in Qatar. On June 27-29, the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) will meet for the first time in an Arab country, Qatar, with an aim of stimulating science journalism in the Middle East. The conference will allow Arab journalists to share ideas and experiences with other science journalists from around the globe. Past conferences have favored scientific issues in the West, but this year the WCSJ has taken measures to accommodate more speakers from the developing world in order to provide greater insights into the scientific issues of these countries.
Review of UN-REDD Initiatives. The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD) released a review of its National and Global Programmes in 2010. In 2010 nine pilot countries submitted National Programmes, and seven of the nine had begun implementing them.
People in the News. • Richard Pierre Claude, respected political scientist and human rights education advocate, passed away recently following a long illness. Claude, who contributed significantly to the work of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, was a principal proponent of multi-disciplinary approaches to human rights problem-solving, particularly in the application of scientific tools and methodologies to human rights challenges.
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