AAAS Policy Alert -- July 07, 2011
Appropriations Update. The House will finish debate on the Defense appropriations bill (H.R.2219) this week and then move on to the Energy and Water appropriations bill (H.R.2354). The Energy and Water appropriations bill as reported contains double-digit percentage cuts to a number of applied research energy programs, including a 27.3% cut to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs. That would bring the total to $1.3 billion, less than half of the President's request. Both the Interior and the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations subcommittees are scheduled to mark up their respective bills on July 7.
After some prodding from President Obama, the Senate decided to stay in session rather than take its scheduled July 4th recess. Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) released a Democrat-prepared budget to Senate Democratic leadership on July 5 and then will present it to the full caucus afterward. Conrad likely will not push to mark up this budget in the short-term, however, preferring to wait for a compromise on the debt ceiling. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its first appropriations bill last week, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill (H.R.2055).
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest action on the FY 2012 budget.
What If There Isn't a Debt Ceiling Compromise by August 2? What would be the consequences if Congress and the President fail to reach a compromise to raise the debt ceiling by the announced deadline of August 2? For starters, National Journal lists six consequences, and an article in The Economist discusses possible scenarios if a compromise is not reached. For more in-depth analysis, the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget released a report detailing its recommendations on what a compromise should entail, and the progressive Center for American Progress has a number of related reports including a short course on the debt ceiling and an analysis that projects the impact on the housing market should the debt ceiling not be raised.
Other Congressional News
Stem Cell Bill Introduced. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) has again introduced the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act (H.R. 2376), this time with a new Republican lead cosponsor: Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Dent fills the void left by former Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) after he ran for Senate and lost in the primary election. The bill would essentially codify the Obama stem cell policy, allowing federal funding for research on stem cells obtained from donated embryos left over from fertility treatments, so long as the donations meet certain ethics criteria.
Bill Introduced to Reauthorize BARDA. On June 28 Rep. Michael Rogers (R-MI) introduced legislation (H.R. 2405) that would extend for five years the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Project BioShield's Special Reserve Fund, both provisions of the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act and situated under the Department of Health and Human Services' Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. BARDA and Project BioShield contribute to advanced development and stockpiling of medical countermeasures against biological threats. Their funding is quite complex and has been variable. Rogers' bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. On June 30 Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who chaired a hearing on reauthorization in May, expressed concern over whether the Senate would pass a reauthorization bill this year.
Senate Passes Confirmation Reform Bill. On June 29 the Senate passed by a vote of 79-20 the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 (S. 679) which would exempt some presidential appointments from Senate confirmation. In addition, the bill would create a working group to review ways to streamline the paperwork and background checks required as part of the appointment process. Included in the list of appointments to be exempted are the members of the NSF National Science Board and NOAA's Chief Scientist. The bill has been referred to the House.
Interagency Task Force Seeks Comments on OMB Circular A-21. On June 28 a White House Interagency Working Group on Research Business Models issued a Request for Information (RFI) on ways to improve the OMB Circular A-21 and reduce the "administrative burden or costs" for federal grants and contracts to educational institutions. The notice, issued through NIH, is seeking comments from universities, colleges, non-profit organizations, and the general public on topics such as indirect cost caps, recovery of direct costs, definition of research equipment, and the "rationalization between agencies of regulations and reporting requirements (e.g. deemed exports, Institutional Review Boards, visas …)." Comments are due July 28.
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DOE Quadrennial Technology Review Meeting. The Department of Energy is inviting public participation at its Quadrennial Technology Review (DOE-QTR) Capstone Workshop in Washington, DC on July 13. The DOE-QTR is intended to provide a framework for prioritizing and planning DOE's energy activities, while laying out the principles that will be used to establish program plans with a five-year horizon. Registration is available online.
CDC Requests Comments on Public Health Genomics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is requesting public input into its five-year plan on public health genomics, with emphasis on "opportunities and challenges for using genomics to impact population health." Among the several questions on which public comment is solicited: "What are the most important activities that should be carried out by the public health system in 2012-2017 to apply genomic knowledge to public health goals?" Comments are due by August 1.
New Wireless Broadband Network Raises Concerns About Viability of GPS. A plan backed by a hedge fund billionaire to deploy a massive new wireless network has users of the global positioning system (GPS), including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), worried about use of a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum currently occupied by GPS. The new system, known as LightSquared, has raised $2.3 billion in capital and plans to erect 40,000 ground transmitters and orbit a large satellite. Backers of the ambitious system claim that it would not interfere with GPS signals, although the FAA, eager to implement a new air traffic control system known as NextGen, and members of the international geodesy community are not persuaded and have called for additional studies before the system is implemented and possible limitations on the frequencies it can use.
AAAS Board Issues Statement Condemning Attacks on Climate Researchers. The AAAS Board of Directors released a statement saying that reports of personal attacks on climate scientists -- including harassment, legal challenges, and even death threats -- have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and makes it difficult for factual information to reach policymakers and the public. "AAAS vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions," the Board said in the statement, which was approved on June 28.
NOAA Releases Climate Report. NOAA released its peer-reviewed "2010 State of the Climate" report, which analyzed trends in 41 climate indicators to find that the world is continuing to warm. Key findings include: the world's mountain glaciers lost mass for the 20th consecutive year; Greenland glaciers lost more mass in 2010 than any other year on record; Arctic sea ice shrank to its third smallest area on record; and sea levels continued to rise across the world's oceans on average.
California Delays Cap and Trade Program. In response to delays caused by litigation, California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols announced that the state will delay enforcing its cap-and-trade system to address climate change by one year to 2013.
States Regulate Hydraulic Fracturing in Differing Ways. The New Jersey State Legislature sent Republican Governor Christie a bill that would ban drilling for natural gas if it involves hydraulic fracturing. The bill awaits Governor Christie's signature. In related news, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation recently recommended that the state allow hydraulic fracturing on private lands, provided that certain environmental features are not present near the drilling site and that safety precautions are met. If the state follows the recommendation, New York's ban on hydraulic fracturing would be lifted.
NY Sued to End Participation in Regional Cap-and-Trade. Members of Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and the oil industry, filed a lawsuit against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and two state agencies that would require New York to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Although participation in the program has yielded over $700 million for participating states, the lawsuit asserts that the emissions trading program is an illegal tax because it places a cost on utilities that could be passed on to consumers.
Court Strikes Down Michigan Ban on Affirmative Action. By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for 6th Circuit has ruled that a 2006 voter initiative altering Michigan's State Constitution to prohibit affirmative action by state agencies, including its colleges and universities, is unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the measure alters Michigan political structure to create unreasonable burdens for racial minorities. The initiative had passed with 58% of the vote. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has indicated he will ask the entire U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision. The case is expected to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Egypt Plans R&D Increases. In a sign that the interim government of Egypt is aware of the importance of scientific research, Amr Ezzat Salama, Egypt's minister of higher education, science and technology, announced on June 20 an ambitious plan for a tenfold increase over the next three years in spending on scientific research. Critics questioned the feasibility of achieving that goal so quickly.
People in the News. - On June 30 the Senate confirmed Daniel Ashe to serve as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Ashe has worked for FWS for 15 years, most recently serving as Deputy Director for Policy.
- On July 5 UC San Diego announced that Marye Anne Fox would step down as Chancellor in June 2012 to return to teaching and research. An international search will be conducted for her successor.
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