AAAS Policy Alert -- May 18, 2011
Budget Update. On May 11 the House Appropriations Committee released its draft 302(b) allocations (i.e., allocations of spending caps for each of the appropriations subcommittees) along with a schedule of subcommittee markups. The Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee received an allocation of $50.3 billion, $3.1 billion (5.8%) less than FY 2011 and $7.4 billion (12.9%) less than the President's FY 2012 request. Apart from the Defense subcommittee, which received a $17 billion increase, the other eleven subcommittees faced an average reduction of 8.8% from FY 2011. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) may release the Senate budget resolution for committee markup this week.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest action on the FY 2012 budget.
Other Congressional News
NIH Success Rate Likely to Reach Historic Low. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins testified before the Senate Appropriations panel with jurisdiction over NIH last week and projected that the success rate for grant applications would reach a historic low in FY 2011 -- around 17 or 18%. Collins also discussed his proposal to create a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). In related news, two new reports analyze the economic impact of NIH funding. The first, by United for Medical Research, estimates that NIH supported nearly 488,000 jobs and produced $68 billion in new economic activity in 2010 alone; and the second, by Battelle, says that NIH's Human Genome Project and its associated genomic advancements have resulted in $796 billion in economic gains since 1988. Some economists have disputed the Battelle findings.
National Endowment for the Oceans Proposed. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have introduced legislation (S. 973) to establish a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO). The bill would establish a permanent funding source for ocean research and restoration, funded primarily by interest accrued from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and revenues from offshore energy development. The bill has not yet been filed, and information is not yet available on how much revenue might be generated from those sources.
Offshore Drilling Bills Advance in House . Over the past two weeks the House has passed, by comfortable margins, three bills to increase offshore oil and gas drilling: (1) the "Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act" ( H.R. 1229) which would set a deadline of 30 days for federal officials to approve a permit application, with an option to extend review for up to 30 more days; (2) the "Reversing President Obama's Offshore Moratorium Act" ( H.R. 1231 ), which would require the Interior Department to hold sales for leases off the East Coast from Maine to North Carolina, off Southern California, in the Arctic Ocean, and in Alaska's Bristol Bay; and (3) the "Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act" ( H.R. 1230 ), which would require the Interior Secretary to conduct offshore oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia. The measures are not likely to advance in the Senate, and the White House has issued Statements of Administrative Policy opposing each of the bills.
House Debates the Need to Study Hydraulic Fracturing. In the wake of a natural-gas well eruption and two new reports, one published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the other prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- both stating that hydraulic fracturing could lead to contaminated drinking water -- the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on the safety of the practice. The hearing focused on a Congressionally-mandated study being planned by EPA. Republicans on the committee were generally opposed to the study, while Democrats defended the need for it.
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Carbon Capture Legislation Examined . The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led by Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), held a May 12 hearing on two pieces of legislation to encourage the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology: the Carbon Dioxide Capture Technology Act (S. 757), which would create incentives for developing new CCS technologies through a prize system; and S. 699, which would create a system to encourage demonstration projects of integrated geologic CCS. Meanwhile, a study released by the American Physical Society (APS) concluded that capturing carbon dioxide from the air was far too costly, although technically feasible. Other energy analysts argued that the technology is still at an infant stage and that it would be premature to consider the option unvi able.
NSF Releases Strategic Plan. On May 10 the National Science Foundation (NSF) released its strategic plan for FY 2011-2016. Empowering the Nation Through Discovery and Innovation: NSF Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2011-2016 sets three strategic goals: "transform the frontiers, innovate for society, and perform as a model organization." The agency notes that it will continue to utilize both intellectual merit and broader impacts as metrics for awarding grants and as tools for finding ways "to reach out to the range of communities that play complementary roles in the innovation process and are essential to ensuring the impact of NSF investments."
DOE Strategic Plan Released. The Department of Energy released its 2011 Strategic Plan , which aims to serve as a blueprint for DOE to address the nation's energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges. The plan is organized into four categories: catalyzing the transformation of the nation's energy system and securing U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies; maintaining a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of U.S. economic prosperity; enhancing nuclear security through defense, nonproliferation, and environmental efforts; and establishing a framework to maximize mission success.
White House Call for Immigration Reform Addresses STEM PhDs . On May 10 President Obama gave a speech on immigration reform, and while most of his talk focused on topics such as guest worker programs, he also discussed the importance of keeping foreign students who receive PhDs in STEM fields in the United States. The White House blueprint for reform released in conjunction with the President's speech reiterated the importance of trying to retain foreign advanced degree holders. Two days later, on May 12, U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced revised rules expanding the list of degree programs that qualify eligible graduates to extend their student visas for an additional 17 months via the Optional Practic al Train ing program.
Advisory Commission Issues Draft Guidelines for Nuclear Waste. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, formed by President Obama in 2010 to advise the U.S. on nuclear waste issues, released draft recommendations that include a call for above-ground storage sites. The Commission was formed after the Administration canceled long-standing plans to bury waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. A full draft report is due this summer, with a final version due in 2012.
FDA Science Advisory Board to Meet on May 20. The Science Board Advisory Committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will hold a public meeting on May 20. Agenda items include updates on the Agency's nanotechnology research program and its work on comparative effectiveness research (see details and background materials for the meeting). The meeting will also be webcast.
IOM Names Committee to Examine Chimp Research. The Institute of Medicine has created a Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research. Its first meeting will take place on May 26, and it aims to release a report on the topic by the end of the year. The 15 member committee includes AAAS CEO Alan Leshner.
State-level Anti-evolution Bills Fail. The Florida legislature adjourned on May 7, without acting on SB 1854, which would have required "critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." A similar bill in Missouri also failed to progress before the adjournment of that state's legislature on May 13.
CA School Board Requires Presenting "Multiple Perspectives" on Climate Change. Trustees of the Los Alamitos Unifed School District in Orange County, CA have voted unanimously to require the teachers of an advanced placement science class to present multiple perspectives on global warming, including the views of those who deny that burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change. According to the Orange County Register , the new policy requires teachers in courses with "controversial material" to provide an annual update detailing how "multiple perspectives" will be taught. Some parents have criticized the board's action.
European Court Official's Opinion Roils Stem Cell Research Community. The Advocate General to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has caused a stir among stem cell researchers in Europe with his recommendation to the Court that "an invention cannot be patentable where the application of the technical process for which the patent is filed necessitates the prior destruction of human embryos for their use as base material...." More than a dozen scientists published a letter in Nature objecting to the recommendation, arguing that it would adversely affect both stem cell research and industry participation in developing useful applications. The ECJ is expected to render a final opinion on the matter within the next two months.The mandate of the EJC is to ensure the uniform application and interpretation of European Union law, so its decisions are binding on EU member nations.
OECD Releases International Research Cooperation "Good Practices" Report. A report on Opportunities, Challenges and Good Practices in International Research Cooperation between Developed and Developing Countries was released last month by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Global Science Forum. The report addresses the issues and options for establishing (or improving) international cooperative efforts -- ranging from the initial program design to the outcome evaluation.
People in the News. President Obama announced his intention to nominate Terry D. Garcia, currently Executive Vice President for Mission Programs at the National Geographic Society, to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Garcia previously held high-level positions at NOAA and served on BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission.
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