AAAS Policy Alert -- June 29, 2011
Budget Update. The House began debate on its Defense appropriations bill (H.R.2219) on June 23. Floor discussion will continue when the House returns from its July 4th recess. The bill currently funds Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) at $73.4 billion for FY 2012, a $2.1 billion (2.8%) cut from FY 2011.
Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, has decided to move forward on the Senate appropriations bills, despite the fact that the Senate has not yet passed a budget resolution. This means that the twelve appropriations subcommittees will have to propose funding levels without formal guidance on their respective allocations within the overall discretionary budget. The full Appropriations Committee will markup the Military Construction/Veteran's Affairs bill on June 28.
The bipartisan budget negotiations led by Vice President Biden collapsed last week when Republican members House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Senate Minority Whip John Kyl (R-AZ) announced on June 23 that they were dropping out. Difficulties in reaching agreement on tax revenues and health care entitlements were given as the reason for the breakup. Congressional Republicans have called on President Obama to get involved in the negotiations, and he scheduled separate meetings with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on June 27 to discuss the status of the negotiations. Before the breakup, negotiators indicated they had reached agreement on around $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years, near the $2.5 trillion thought to be needed to pass the debt ceiling increase.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest action on the FY 2012 budget.
NCATS Drawing Congressional Criticism. The proposed new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is facing early criticism from Congress. After NIH Director Francis Collins announced that the search for a director for the new center had begun, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), chair of the House Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said that such actions were premature, considering that Congress has not received sufficient information on the organization of the new center and has not approved its establishment. Other House members have expressed similar concerns.
Other Congressional News
House Committee Approves Unified Tracking of Federal Funds : Last week the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (H.R. 2146), also supported by the Senate and the White House, in an effort to create a new framework for improved tracking of how federal funds are spent. The new system would replace USASpending.gov, launched in December 2007. The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU ) objected to the bill, claiming it would increase costs because of the increased paperwork load on researchers and other university staff.
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House Passes Patent Reform Bill. Last week the House of Representatives passed the America Invents Act (H.R. 1249 ) which would reform the U.S. patent system. However, a provision of the House bill differs significantly from the Senate-passed version of the bill and will need to be resolved in conference. Specifically, the House bill would transfer fees collected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to a special fund that would be appropriated to the PTO, whereas the Senate bill would allow the PTO to keep all the fees without oversight from appropriators.
Immigration Reform Legislation Begins to Emerge . On June 22 Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) reintroduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 (S. 1258; text not yet available). As in past years, his legislation focuses primarily on issues such as border security and guest worker visas, but it also includes language that would exempt individuals with an "advanced degree" in a science, math, or engineering field from visa caps. Meanwhile, on June 14 Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America (IDEA) Act of 2011 (H.R. 2161 ) which would ease green-card applications for non-immigrants with advanced STEM degrees, but would also protect fair wages. The primary legislative driver, however, for comprehensive immigration reform in the Congress is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011, also known as the DREAM Act of 2011, which does not address foreign nationals studying in a STEM field, in either the House (H.R. 1842 ) or the Senate (S. 952) version.
Bills Introduced to Promote Biopreparedness . Bipartisan legislation creating a special assistant to the President to help craft a national biodefense strategy has been introduced in the House by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY). Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) plans to introduce similar legislation in the Senate. The WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011 (H.R. 2356; text not yet available) responds to recommendations of a commission created by Congress in 2009 that found the United States to be unprepared for an attack using weapons of mass destruction.
White House Announces New Advanced Manufacturing Partnership . During a June 24 visit to Carnegie-Mellon University, President Obama announced the establishment of a new Advanced Manufacturing Partnership between industry and academia to work in tandem to accelerate the coordination of "information, automation, computation, software, sensing, networking, and materials to advance new manufacturing concepts." Funding for the program would come from pre-existing federal research accounts as well as FY 2012 funds (the latter not yet appropriated). The announcement follows the recommendations of a new report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, released the same day.
NSABB Approves Draft Reports. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) held a public meeting on June 23 at NIH. The Board approved two draft reports: "Guidance for Enhancing Personnel Reliability and Strengthening the Culture of Responsibility" and "Strategies to Educate Non-Traditional Audiences about Dual Use Research in the Life Sciences: Amateur Biologists and Scientists in Non-life Science Disciplines." See this link for more information and drafts of the approved reports.
NOAA Seeks Comments on Scientific Integrity Documents. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking public comment on its draft scientific integrity policy and handbook for dealing with scientific misconduct allegations. These documents are available for review and comment until August 15.
Navy Increases Support for STEM Education. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the Navy's commitment to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The Navy will increase funding for STEM education initiatives from $54 million in 2010 to over $100 million in 2015. The Navy views this as an investment in its future workforce.
Supreme Court Rules on Climate Regulation. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that EPA, and not the courts, should be in charge of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The June 20 decision in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut ruled in favor of utility companies sued by eight states under common law public nuisance claims, but the decision was also a partial victory for those seeking greenhouse gas regulations, as it reaffirmed EPA's climate-change regulatory authority.
Multiple Stressors Putting Oceans at High Risk of Widespread Species Loss. A new report, one of the very few multidisciplinary studies that focus on all the stresses facing the oceans, found that the world's oceans are at high risk of an unprecedented loss of species. The report draws from the first interdisciplinary workshop convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to consider the cumulative impact of stressors affecting the ocean, including pollution, acidification, ocean warming, over-fishing, and hypoxia.
House Examines National Climate Service Proposal. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing last week to examine NOAA's proposal to establish a new National Climate Service. Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) expressed his concern that NOAA was already implementing the Service without congressional approval and questioned the Service's impact on existing research. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco testified that the Service has not been established and that when it was, it would allow NOAA to meet increased demand for information needed to address drought, floods, and national security while also strengthening science.
NASA Sued over Climate Change The American Tradition Institute (ATI) has sued NASA to disclose records detailing climate scientist James Hansen's compliance with federal ethics and disclosure rules. The ATI cited compensation Dr. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has received from outside employment and awards related to his work at NASA, because "Under federal statutes and NASA rules, employees may not privately benefit from their public office." ATI has also sought documents from the University of Virginia on climate scientist Michael Mann.
NRC Releases Report on Effective STEM Education . The National Research Council released a report, Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics , providing recommendations to schools, districts, and policymakers at the state and national levels on supporting effective K-12 STEM education. In addition to proposing criteria to identify successful STEM schools, the report encourages policymakers to "elevate science to the same level of importance as reading and mathematics" by investing in systematic support for STEM teachers and by increasing the frequency of relevant STEM assessment.
Texas Requires Disclosure of Chemicals Used in Drilling. Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry signed into law a bill that will require drillers for oil and natural gas to disclose on FracFocus.org the chemicals used for their hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") operations, beginning in July 2012. Texas is the first state to pass this type of disclosure law.
New Internet Security System Implemented. In the most ambitious attempt to date to thwart the growing number of hackers, data thieves, spies, and Internet scam artists, a group of Internet security experts meeting in Singapore last week put into operation a new system designed to ensure trust online. The system, which has five layers of security -- electronic, cryptographic, and physical -- involves hardened data centers in Singapore, Zurich, and San Jose, CA. It will provide a secure directory (DNS) connecting names to numerical Internet addresses, giving Internet users confidence that the person or organization with whom they are communicating is not being spoofed.
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