AAAS Policy Alert -- September 8, 2011
The Senate returns this week from the August recess, ready to move forward on a number of FY 2012 appropriations bills. Both Energy and Water and Homeland Security subcommittees meet on Sept. 6, and on Sept. 7 the full Appropriations Committee has scheduled the approval of the "302(b)" allocations (the allocation of discretionary spending totals among the 12 appropriations subcommittees), along with consideration of the Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Homeland Security appropriation bills.
The first meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the "Budget Super Committee"), established by The Budget Control Act of 2011, will take place on Sept. 8. The meeting is open to the public, and the agenda includes opening statements by the committee members and consideration of the committee rules. C-SPAN has created a dedicated website for the committee.
On August 17 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jacob Lew sent a memo to department and agency heads directing agencies to submit FY 2013 budget requests totaling at least 5% below their FY 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation, and to identify additional reductions that could bring the total request to at least 10% below their FY 2011 levels.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on the latest congressional action on the FY 2012 budget.
Other Congressional News
Senate to Vote on Patent Reform Compromise. This week the Senate will vote on a revised version of the American Invents Act (H.R. 1249), containing measures to reform the nation's patent system. The Senate approved the original bill on March 8 by a vote of 95-5, and the House passed its somewhat different bill by a vote of 304-117 on June 23. Compromise language now allows any excess user fees to be placed into a dedicated fund that appropriators would then direct back to the Patent and Trademark Office.
GAO Releases Geoengineering Report. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report commissioned by former House Science Committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) that examines the current state of climate engineering science and technology, experts' views of the future of U.S. climate engineering research, and potential public responses to climate engineering. The report concludes that "climate engineering technologies are not now an option for addressing global climate change," given their cost, potential effectiveness, and possible consequences.
Final Conflict-of-Interest Rule for Biomedical Researchers Released. The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a final rule governing conflicts of interest among biomedical researchers. Investigators must disclose to their institutions all significant financial interests related to their work, and the threshold requiring disclosure of financial interests has been reduced from $10,000 to $5,000. Although DHHS considered requiring institutions to post researchers' financial conflicts on a website, the final draft says institutions should provide written information in response to a request within five business days. Institutions have a year to begin complying with the new rule.
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NIH Forms Diversity Working Group. Following a recent Science paper showing that African-American scientists are less likely to receive NIH research project grants than other candidates, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director has formed a working group to address diversity in biomedical research. Another working group, on the future of the biomedical research workforce, is asking for public comment on workforce issues by October 7.
NSF BIO Directorate Changes Proposal Submission Process. Responding to the rising number of grant proposals, the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) announced that its Divisions of Environmental Biology (DEB) and Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) will move to an annual cycle of preliminary and full proposals, effective January 2012. Following the review of preliminary proposals by a panel of outside experts, each applicant will be notified of the decision to invite or not invite submission of a full proposal. Details can be found in a program solicitation posted on each division's website (DEB) and (IOS), along with a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs).
NSF IG Absolves Mann. The National Science Foundation's inspector general has found no evidence to support scientific misconduct and other allegations against climate scientist Michael Mann. In a "closeout memorandum," the agency said it could find no evidence that Mann had "falsified or fabricated any data and no evidence that his actions amounted to research misconduct."
Comments Sought on "Nuclear Future" Draft Report. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future is accepting public comment on its draft report on nuclear waste management. Individuals may provide comments online, by email, or during public meetings to be held in Denver, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., in September and October.
Industry to Double Engineering Internships. On August 31 the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a government-industry working group, announced that 45-50 companies have committed to double by 2012 the number of internships available for engineering students. The effort, supported by companies such as AT&T, DuPont, and Boeing, will generate an additional 6,000 internship opportunities.
Commission Calls for Compensation System for Research Subjects. The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has issued a comprehensive review of unethical syphilis experiments conducted in Guatemala in the 1940s which came to light last year. The panel recommended establishing a compensation system for subjects harmed by their participation in research.
DOD Amends Acquisition Regulations for Unclassified Research, Implements "Rapid Innovation Fund." The Pentagon extended to Nov. 30 the comment period for its proposal to amend the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) and the DFAR contract clauses that regulate unclassified research. According to the original Federal Register notice in June, one of the proposed changes would allow the principal investigator and security officer (rather than the contracting officer) to determine what constitutes fundamental, and thereby unclassified, research. DOD also is implementing a "Rapid Innovation Fund," for which DOD was provided authorization and nearly $100 million in funding for FY 2011. The fund is intended to support "rapid insertion of innovative technologies that meet critical national security needs," and will apparently focus on small businesses.
NJ Supreme Court Orders New Rules for Eyewitness Testimony. In late August the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered changes to the way eyewitness identifications are used, saying that the current system is not reliable enough and overstates jurors' ability to evaluate the evidence. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that it was necessary to revise the test for reliability of eyewitness testimony, based on a growing body of scientific research. The ruling stated that "study after study revealed a troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications...it is now widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country." This fall the U.S. Supreme Court will hear its first case on eyewitness identification in more than 30 years.
New Japanese S&T Plan Revises Nuclear Technologies Strategy. The Japanese Cabinet recently approved a five-year science and technology program that dropped references to promoting next-generation nuclear technologies such as fast-breeder reactors and advanced light-water reactors. According to a report by the Kyodo news agency, the change reflects the government's reassessment of atomic power policy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The plan calls for strengthening research in areas such as radiation monitoring and decontamination.
Fracking Stirs Disputes in South Africa. In South Africa controversy has arisen over the potential hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") by energy companies in a large shale field in the semi-arid Karoo region. Although the firms assure the public that the chemicals used during fracking are safe and that energy security and jobs will result, environmental groups and farmers are concerned about water pollution and depletion, according to Yale Environment 360. The issue of royalties is intensifying the debate further – in South Africa, property rights are divided between landowners, who own the surface of the land, and the government, which owns the subterranean land and any resources therein.
China to Increase Numbers of Women in Science and Technology. A new ten-year plan, "Outline for the Development of Chinese Women (2011-2020)", was released last month by the Chinese government's State Council. One goal of the plan is to increase the proportion of women in S&T professions to 35%, largely through education and training programs at national laboratories, according to a SciDev.net article. Other goals include increasing the number of women in leadership positions and eliminating employment-related gender discrimination.
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