Appropriations Update. The current continuing resolution (CR) expires at the end of this week, April 8, and Congress is moving slowly toward a compromise for FY 2011 funding. Although the two sides appear to have tentatively agreed on an overall figure for total discretionary spending ($1.055 trillion) that is $33 billion less than current spending levels, there seems to be no clear consensus on what specific cuts to make to get to that spending level. In addition, there are a number of contentious policy issues that House Republicans would like to address in the resulting spending bill that have yet to be worked out, including funding for implementing the health care and financial reform bills and EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. There is little support for yet another short-term CR unless it were to be for just a couple of days to finalize an agreement. This leaves negotiators only a few more days to reach a compromise and prevent a government shutdown.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) releases his FY 2012 budget proposal on April 5. Over the past weekend, he revealed that his budget plan will cut $4 trillion in spending over the next 10 years and include both tax and entitlement reform. The plan will propose lower tax rates, but with a broader tax base (by eliminating some special-interest tax breaks) to maintain current revenue levels. Medicare and Medicaid reform will be included in the plan, with proposals to transition Medicare to a voucher system to allow seniors to choose between a variety of private insurance plans, and to change Medicaid to a block-grant system to give states more flexibility in how they utilize those funds. Although certain to attract considerable controversy, the proposal will likely serve as a counter marker to the Administration’s FY 2012 budget proposals as Congress considers appropriations for the coming year.
AAAS to Hold Congressional Briefing on R&D Budget. On April 7 the AAAS Office of Government Relations will host a congressional briefing on the "Outlook for Federal Research and Development." The briefing, to be held the day before the current CR is set to expire, is organized in conjunction with the House Research and Development Caucus.
University and Industry Leaders Call for Entitlement Reform. Last week the presidents of the Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, National Academy of Engineering, Council on Competitiveness, Business Roundtable, and retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine sent a letter to the President and congressional leaders, stating that reducing the national debt cannot focus solely in decreasing discretionary spending and that national leaders should attend to entitlement reform as a critical element for reducing the deficit.
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 & Technology Policy, May 5-6 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.
Other Congressional News
House Patent Reform Bill Introduced. Reform of the U.S. patent system took another step forward with the introduction of the America Invents Act (HR 1249) by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill recognizes the "first-to-file" standard and other principles included in a bill approved by the Senate. However, among other differences with the Senate bill, the House bill would lengthen the post-grant review period. While the rationale for doing so is to weed out weaker patents, some argue that it could also result in increasing patent infringement litigation.
Bipartisan Bill to Streamline Confirmation Process Introduced. On March 30 Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) introduced bipartisan legislation (S. 679) to eliminate the need for Senate confirmation of almost 200 executive branch positions, including all members of the National Science Board, the four Associate Directors of OSTP, and the Chief Scientist of NOAA. The bill to streamline the confirmation process is supported by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Energy Plans Released. In a speech at Georgetown University last week, President Obama highlighted his new energy plan, Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future, that aims to reduce foreign oil imports by a third over the next decade through increased domestic drilling, new government incentives for production of biofuels and natural-gas vehicles, stronger energy efficiency standards, increased energy R&D, and higher vehicle fuel-economy standards. Also last week, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced a Republican energy bill entitled Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act that would lift the President’s ban on new offshore drilling.
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Comments Requested on Federal Health IT Plan. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is accepting public comments, through April 22, on the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan: 2011-2015. The plan describes how the ONC will work together with other agencies and the private sector to fully implement a health IT system that can "improve health care and transform the health care system."
NIH Announces Obesity Research Plan. The National Institutes of Health has announced a new Strategic Plan for Obesity Research. The plan emphasizes taking research "from laboratory to clinical trials to practical solutions." NIH spent nearly $1 billion in FY 2010 on obesity research.
E-Government May Suffer From Budget Actions. The Office of Management and Budget is planning to shut down various e-government initiatives by May 31, due to lack of funding. One of the sites, Data.gov, makes datasets produced by the executive branch available for public use. The White House requested $35 million for FY 2011 e-government activities, but the House and Senate plans would appropriate $2 million and $20 million, respectively.
USGS Seeks Comments on Plan for Research on Climate Change Impacts on Fresh Water. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is seeking public comment through April 22 on a draft report titled Strengthening the Scientific Understanding of Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Resources of the United States. The report reviews key issues related to freshwater resource data and climate change and identifies next steps to improve the nation’s capacity to detect and predict changes in freshwater resources that are likely to result from a changing climate.
Tennessee Anti-Evolution Bill Moves. An anti-evolution bill is poised for a Tennessee House floor vote this week after it passed the chamber’s education committee. A similar bill is also pending in the Senate. The bill, if enacted, would require state and local education authorities to assist teachers in helping students "analyze" and "critique" the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of theories it labels as controversial, including evolution and global warming.
Judges Hear Arguments in Gene Patent Case. A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments on April 4 before a packed courtroom for the case involving Myriad Genetics and the patents it holds related to BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes linked with breast and ovarian cancer. The judges are expected to issue their decision in the coming months.
New Project on Energy Begun. The Bipartisan Policy Center announced that it is forming a new BPC Energy Project with a focus on improving the nation’s energy security. The project will be led by former Senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), former National Security Advisor General Jim Jones (Ret.), and Oil Spill Commission Co-chair William K. Reilly.
AAAS Hosts Nuclear Nonproliferation Briefing. On March 31 AAAS’s Center for Science Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) hosted an event on Capitol Hill entitled "Technical and Policy Perspectives on U.S. Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Programs." Mary Alice Hayward, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy and Negotiations, and Larry Satkowiak, Director of Global Security and Nonproliferation at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, provided insights into policy considerations and technical challenges facing U.S. efforts to reduce nuclear proliferation risks around the globe.
ERC Announces New Funding Initiative. The European Research Council has announced a new initiative called "Proof of Concept," as part of the Seventh Framework Programme. This new funding initiative will allow researchers who have already received ERC grants to apply for up to €150,000 each in an effort to bring more research to the market.
People in the News. - Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering, will receive the National Science Board’s 2011 Vannevar Bush Award at a ceremony on May 10. The award is made annually to an individual who, through public service in science and technology, has made an "outstanding contribution toward the welfare of mankind and the nation."
- Sherburne (Shere) Abbott is leaving her position as White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) associate director of environment to become Vice President for Sustainability Initiatives at Syracuse University and University Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy. Abbott previously served as chief international officer of AAAS. Her husband, James Steinberg, Deputy Secretary of State, will become dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse.
- Bart Gordon (D-TN, retired), former chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, has joined K&L Gates, LLP, a Washington, DC public policy and law firm.
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