AAAS Policy Alert -- June 22, 2011
The House continued to make progress on its appropriations bills last week, passing the Military Construction and Veterans Administration bill (H.R.2055) on Tuesday and the Agriculture bill (H.R.2112) on Thursday. The Agriculture bill includes deep cuts to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) R&D, including a 12.9% ($146 million) cut from FY 2011 funding levels to the intramural Agricultural Research Service; a 16.7% ($203 million) cut to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA); and within NIFA, a 13.9% ($37 million) cut to the competitive, extramural Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The bill also includes an amendment from Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) which prohibits funding for implementing the June 3rd USDA departmental regulation dealing with climate change adaptation.
The House Committee on Appropriations deleted an amendment by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) that would have restricted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from regulating the use of a substance unless the regulation was based on "hard science," which would have ruled out such matters as consumer behavior. The amendment's removal was a procedural move that did not require a vote because the amendment would have included authorization language in an appropriations bill, in violation of House rules. The House also passed an amendment to the same bill offered by Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) that would ban the FDA from using FY 2012 funding to approve any application for approval of genetically modified salmon.
The House Appropriations Report that accompanies the Committee-passed Energy and Water appropriations bill, states that "no less than one third" of the members of a recently announced Department of Energy committee formed to study hydraulic fracturing should "be industry representatives who actively work in the natural gas industry." Committee Republicans are concerned that without this mandate, the study might not adequately represent industry perspectives.
The bipartisan budget negotiating group led by Vice President Biden stepped up its tempo, meeting three times last week. Topics of discussion included automatic spending cuts or revenue increases if future spending limits are not met, cuts to mandatory programs, and the removal of tax expenditures from the tax code. The group will continue its grueling schedule, meeting at least three more times this week in an effort to finish its work by the self-imposed deadline of July 1.
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
Senators Speak Out for NIH. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) distributed a bipartisan Dear Colleague letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders in support of the National Institutes of Health budget. The letter, with a reported final signature count of 41 senators, called for a "strong commitment to funding" NIH in FY 2012.
Vote on Patent Reform Bill Postponed. An expected vote on the America Invents Act (H.R. 1249) was postponed last week while Members of Congress worked on compromise language on how to allocate the funds collected from patent fees. The current version of the bill would allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to retain the fees. Some Members of Congress view this as a shift from discretionary to mandatory spending. The bill is scheduled for a floor vote again this week.
Bipartisan Effort Underway to Reauthorize BARDA. Speaking at a policy forum at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University on June 14, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced their intention to introduce measures to reauthorize the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Lieberman also intends to reintroduce the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act to the Senate, complementing House efforts on similar legislation. The bill will be the subject of a House subcommittee hearing scheduled for June 23.
House Subcommittee Chairman Wants IPPC to Adopt Conflict of Interest Policy. House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urging him to use his influence to encourage the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to adopt a "rigorous" conflict of interest policy. This comes in the wake of reports that one of the authors of Chapter 10 of the IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy was a member of Greenpeace International and a co-author of one of the studies that was reviewed in that chapter.
National Science Board Seeks Comments on Merit Review Criteria. A task force of the National Science Board has been reviewing NSF's Merit Review Criteria for research proposals. NSF and the NSB are now seeking feedback on proposed revisions to the criteria and the underlying principles upon which they are based. Comments are being collected through July 14 and can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patients Being Recruited for Stem Cell Clinical Trials. The first set of patients is now being recruited for the second of only two experiments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that involve the insertion of human embryonic stem cells into patients. The experiments will target two types of progressive blindness, and will focus on safety issues, although investigators will also look for signs of efficacy.
FDA Seeks Comments on Draft Guidance for Regulation of Nanotechnology. The FDA has issued draft guidance in order to stimulate a discussion with stakeholders on establishing safety standards that will not inhibit innovation. A central issue is the establishment of definitions of nanotechnology, nanoscale, and related terms. The guidance includes points to consider when determining whether a product under FDA regulation (an engineered material or end product) includes nanomaterials or applications of nanotechnology. Comments are due by August 15 and should be submitted electronically to http://www.regulations.gov or in writing to the address shown on the guidance document.
ONR Issues Grand Challenge in STEM Education. At a Forum last week, the Office of Naval Research announced a Grand Challenge competition to award up to $1.5 million for proposals to develop an "intelligent tutor" or system of computers to assist the teaching of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses in middle and high school. The competition will be awarded in two phases, with four awards to be granted in Phase 1 and two awards to be granted in Phase 2. The deadline for "white paper" proposals is August 1; full proposals are due September 30.
Federal Biosecurity Panel Releases Recommendations. The Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel (FESAP), established by Executive Order 13546 to advise the Select Agent Program (SAP), released its recommendations last week. The panel recommended that 11 of the 82 agents in the Select Agent Program be designated as Tier 1 agents (agents that have the greatest potential to be misused, result in a mass casualty event, or cause severe disruptions in the economy, infrastructure, or public confidence); and that 25 agents be removed from the select agent list. Other recommendations covered modifications of the Security Risk Assessments process, the use of pre-access suitability assessments, and on-going personnel monitoring. The recommendations will be considered by the SAP during upcoming revisions to select agent regulations.
EPA Increases Access to Chemical Data. On June 8 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the identities of more than 150 chemicals that had previously been claimed as confidential by industry. In addition, the EPA is releasing two databases – the Toxicity Forecaster database (ToxCastDB) and the database of chemical exposure studies (ExpoCastDB). These two databases provide chemical toxicity and exposure data, both of which are required when considering potential risks posed by chemicals. The databases are connected through EPA's Aggregated Computational Toxicology Resource (ACToR), an online data warehouse that collects data on over 500,000 chemicals from over 500 public sources.
Fourteen Universities Among Top Recipients of U.S. Patents in 2010. This is the finding of a study by the Intellectual Property Owners Association. Fourteen universities were among the 300 organizations that earned the most U.S. patents in 2010. The overall leader, IBM, received 5,866 patents, and the University of California system led universities with 349 patents.
New Coalition for Republicans on Climate Change. Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) announced he will create a new coalition for conservative Republicans who want to take action to address climate change, largely through the private sector. Inglis said he hopes his coalition will become a factor in the 2012 elections. "What I hope to do is be a part of an effort that calls conservatives to return to conservatism and to turn away from the populist rejection of science," Inglis said.
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WHO Seeks to Improve Public Health through Genomics. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the Grand Challenges in Genomics for Public Health in Developing Countries project. The project will attempt to develop ten public health priorities that developing countries should strive to overcome by harnessing genomics-based interventions. Once the priorities are developed, WHO will encourage member states to pursue complementary research and public health strategies on genomics.
New Study Highlights Need for Closer Look at Mexican Farmers' Social and Economic Networks. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on May 23 highlights issues relating to agricultural innovation in Mexico. The study focuses on the increased need for researchers to focus their attention on farmers' knowledge networks, especially their social and economic networks, so that new technologies may be adopted.
People in the News. - Vivek Kundra, the federal government's first Chief Information Officer, has announced that he will leave his post in August to accept a fellowship at Harvard. He leaves at a time when the President's e-government initiative is expected to lose two-thirds of its funding in budget cuts, including much of what is in Kundra's current portfolio.
- Judith Greenberg has been named by NIH Director Francis Collins to serve as acting director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences while the search continues for a permanent director. Greenberg replaces departing director Jeremy Berg, effective early next month.
- President Obama announced his intent to nominate Rebecca Wodder to be assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks at the Department of the Interior. She will oversee the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as U.S. national parks. Wodder has served as president and CEO of American Rivers since 1995.
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