AAAS Policy Alert -- August 10, 2011
Congress Begins August "Recess." Congress began its traditional August recess last week, at least in spirit, as many legislators have returned home to their districts. However, the House will hold pro forma sessions throughout the month to prevent the Senate from adjourning, as the Constitution states that neither chamber can adjourn without the other chamber's consent. Thus, by holding pro forma sessions, the House will foil attempts by President Obama to make recess appointments to a number of executive branch and judicial positions.
Despite the fact that most Members were out of town, the House and Senate managed to work out a compromise to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and end the partial shutdown that had placed around 4,000 FAA employees on furlough, including many scientists and researchers. The Senate passed the House version of the reauthorization bill by unanimous consent with the stipulation that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood use his authority to grant waivers to rural airports, allowing them to continue to receive their federal subsidies, thus resolving, at least temporarily, the issues that have prevented passage of the bill.
While the yearly appropriations schedule presses both chambers to pass their own versions of the 12 appropriations bills by the August recess, leaving September to conference the bills, neither chamber has accomplished this task. The House has passed just half of its appropriations bills, and three others have been reported by the House Appropriations Committee and are ready for House floor action. R&D investment thus far has received mixed support in the House, with themes similar to last year. Basic research has generally been supported, while applied research programs have seen deep cuts in their budgets -- in some cases more than 30 percent. There have also been a number of policy riders in the appropriations bills blocking funding for climate science. The Senate has barely started work on the appropriations process, passing just a single appropriations bill thus far, preferring to wait for the debt ceiling discussion to finish. The Senate is likely to start work on its appropriations bills after returning from recess, with a total discretionary budget near $1.043 trillion, the spending cap specified in the debt ceiling compromise bill. The House has set its total discretionary budget at $1.020 trillion.
Details can be found on the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website.
NSF and EPA Release Scientific Integrity Guidelines. On August 4, the National Science Foundation released its draft Scientific Integrity Principles in the Federal Register for public comments. The next day, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft plan for its Scientific Integrity Policy on its web site. Comments for both agency plans are due September 6, 2011.
National Science Board Appointments Confirmed. The Senate has confirmed three appointees to the National Science Board for terms ending in May 2016. Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science, will be serving their second terms on the board, which advises the President and Congress on S&T policy matters and sets policy for the National Science Foundation. W. Carl Lineberger, professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is a new member of the board.
NIH Forms New Center, Names Director. Mahendra S. Rao has been appointed director of the NIH Intramural Center for Regenerative Medicine (NIH-CRM), a new center that will focus on stem cell technologies for use in therapeutics and serve as a resource for materials and protocols to develop stem cell technologies. The center will be administered by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Rao has worked in the stem cell field for more than two decades, with stints in academia, government affairs and industry.
EPA Proposes New Carbon Capture and Sequestration Rule. The EPA has proposed a new rule that promotes the use of carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, carbon dioxide (CO2) streams will be excluded from hazardous waste regulations if they are injected into wells specifically designed for geological sequestration. Once this rule is published in the Federal Register, public comment will be open for 60 days.
Commerce Issues Report on Women and STEM Workforce. Last week, the Department of Commerce Economic and Statistics Administration (ESA) issued a report on women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce. The report, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, found that women continue to be "vastly underrepresented" and hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. On a brighter note, women in STEM jobs "earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs."
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New Open Access Coalition Launched. More than 20 universities, including the University of Kansas, Harvard University, MIT and Stanford University, announced the creation of a new Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI). The coalition "will collaborate and share implementation strategies and advocate on a national level for institutions with open access policies."
India Creates Jobs in Silicon Valley. Providing new evidence of the globalization of the job market for highly-skilled workers, the San Jose MercuryNews reports that Indian firms are increasingly setting up U.S. branches and "insourcing jobs" to this country. Unable to hire sufficient high-level talent in India (in part because of competition from American companies), the firms, mainly in the information technology field, are looking to the United States, especially Silicon Valley, for top-level employees. Tata Consultancy Services has 2,100 U.S. employees and plans to hire an additional 1,200 in fiscal 2012. Wipro, which describes itself as "the world's largest independent R&D services provider," with 8,500 U.S.-based workers, is adding 1,500 more this year.
India Gets BSL-4 Lab. The National Institute of Virology in India has announced that a Biosafety Level 4, or BSL-4, laboratory located at its Pashan campus will be operational by November of this year. The laboratory will be the first one of its kind in Southeast Asia.
Judge Rejects NOAA Hydropower Plan (Again). A U.S. District Court judge rejected for the third time a plan by the federal government to ensure that hydropower generation does not threaten salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Columbia River basin. The judge cited inadequate detail for management beyond 2013 in the plan submitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
People in the News
Bernadine Healy, the first (and so far the only) female director of NIH, died on Saturday of cancer. She was 67. Healy also served as head of the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health, the American Heart Association, and the American Red Cross.
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