AAAS Policy Alert -- October 13, 2011
IN THIS ISSUE
The House passed the Senate-approved continuing resolution (H.R.2608) on October 4, and President Obama signed it the next day, thereby funding the federal government through November 18. The bill cuts most discretionary accounts by 1.5%, resulting in a total discretionary spending level of $1.042 trillion, $1 billion less than what had been agreed upon in The Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L.112-25). The continuing resolution expires just five days before recommendations are due from The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, setting up a potentially interesting interplay between congressional appropriators and the "Super Committee."
Congressional committees have until this Friday, October 14, to submit proposals to The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The Committee continues to meet regularly, largely in private, but an Associated Press article released October 9 reports growing skepticism that the Committee will be able to meet its goal of $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next 10 years.
The Senate is planning to bring at least three appropriations bills to the floor before the end of October, according to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). Harkin, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee and sits on several other Appropriations subcommittees, reportedly wants to push the bills for Agriculture, Transportation-HUD, and Commerce-Justice-Science.
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 Version of Elementary & Secondary Education Act Introduced. On October 11 Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), introduced his bill (S. 1677) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The bill (formerly the No Child Left Behind Act) would do away with the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provision that measures a school's achievement and improvements over time. The bill would also require states to adopt reading, math, and science standards that meet college readiness standards. The Senate HELP Committee has scheduled a hearing on the legislation for October 18. An article in Education Week provides additional background on the bill, and the text of the bill can be found here (PDF file). In related news, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Preparing Students for Success in the Global Economy Act (S. 1675), a bill to reauthorize STEM-specific programs under ESEA. For example, the bill would support the Math and Science Partnerships program and balance formula and competitive grant funding. See the press release on the bill (bill text not available at this writing).
STEM Immigration Bill to be Introduced. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) is expected to introduce an immigration bill that focuses on attracting and retaining foreign-national graduates in STEM fields. The bill proposes to ease the green card backlog for STEM students transitioning to a job in the United States and would assess a fee to employers of foreign-national STEM graduates of $2,000 for each such new employee, which would go toward a STEM scholarship fund for U.S. citizens to be managed by NSF.
NIH Issues Revised Conflict-of-Interest Policy for Peer Review of Funding Applications. On September 26 the National Institutes of Health released a revised policy on managing conflicts of interest (COI) in the initial peer review of NIH grant and cooperative agreement applications. The revised policy is particularly intended "to facilitate reviews that involve multi-site or multi-component projects, consortia, networks, aggregate data sets, and/or multi-authored publications." The policy covers both federal-employee and non-federal members of scientific review groups (including mail reviewers). Non-federal members, in particular, may not participate in the review of an application if they have "a real COI or an appearance of a COI with [the] application." Bases for COI can include "employment, financial benefit, personal relationships, professional relationships, or other interests." The new policy applies to all applications submitted for the September 25, 2011 deadline and thereafter.
OSTP Seeks Input on Developing National Bioeconomy Blueprint. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has issued a Request for Information for input on developing the National Bioeconomy Blueprint (announced in the September 21 Policy Alert). The request (see text here) (PDF file) seeks recommendations to meet national challenges through biological research innovation. Comments will be accepted until December 6.
OSTP Requests Applications for Student Volunteers. OSTP is accepting applications from students enrolled in a college or university to serve as a Student Volunteer during the Spring 2012 semester, with an opportunity to "experience science and technology policy firsthand." Applications are due November 4, and instructions and application requirements can be found here.
FDA Releases Blueprint for Biomedical Innovation. The Food and Drug Administration last week released a blueprint for biomedical innovation featuring seven steps: rebuilding small business outreach services; building infrastructure to drive and support personalized medicine; creating a rapid drug development pathway for targeted therapies; harnessing the potential of data mining and information sharing; improving the medical device review process; training new innovators; and streamlining FDA regulations. "Our innovation blueprint highlights some of the initiatives FDA will be implementing to ensure that [new scientific] opportunities are translated into safe and effective treatments that can help keep both American patients and American industry healthy and strong," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. In addition, the agency's medical device branch released a report on its regulatory science activities, and FDA put out eight draft transparency proposals open for public comment until December 2.
Gulf Coast Restoration Plan Released by EPA Panel. On October 5 the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force issued a report outlining a preliminary strategy to address long-term environmental problems along the Gulf Coast, and is seeking public comments until October 26. Created a year ago as an EPA working group, the task force, consisting of representatives of 11 federal agencies and of the Gulf States, "consulted nongovernmental organizations and representatives of the private sector," according to a New York Times article. The report and details about submitting comments can be found here.
NSB Seeks Nominations for Two Major Awards. The National Science Board is seeking nominations for its 2012 Vannevar Bush Award and its 2012 Public Service Award. Nominations are due by November 2. Details about both awards and their respective nomination processes may be found here.
Renewable Fuel Standard Judged Unlikely To Be Met. A report recently released by the National Research Council finds that the cellulosic biofuel consumption mandate set forth in the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) is not likely to be met unless "major technological innovation or policy changes" occur (see EurekAlert press release). The RFS2 mandates that by 2022 the U.S. will consume 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels and one billion gallons of biomass-based diesel annually. Barriers to achieving this mandate, according to the report, Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy (2011), include market uncertainties and the greater expense of producing cellulosic biofuels as compared with petroleum-based fuels. Moreover, according to the report's summary of key findings, "RFS2 may be an ineffective policy for reducing global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions because the effect of biofuels on GHG emissions depends on how the biofuels are produced and what land-use or land-cover changes occur in the process."
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UK Plans Stem Cell Therapy Center. British Prime Minister David Cameron is set to announce this month the creation of a $47-million stem cell therapy center, part of a campaign to drive innovation, according to The Guardian. The center is scheduled to open next April, likely in southeast England. A third of its funding will come from the British government, a third from the EU, and a third from major pharmaceutical companies.
Australia's Chief Scientist Cites Dangers to Science. In a recent speech echoing (and quoting in part) a statement by the AAAS Board of Directors, the Chief Scientist of the Australian government, Ian Chubb, expressed concern that "Matters which cut to the core of science and which form the very basis of science and of an informed, progressive and enlightened society are apparently under siege... We are caught up fighting a rear guard action against those who seek to question and tear down the very ideals, the values, the principles and the practices of science." Using climate change as an example, he noted, "All science risks damage when some science is attacked." (See text of speech here.) (PDF file)
Concern Expressed Over Scientific Literacy Levels in Chinese Adults. At an international meeting in September sponsored by the Chinese Research Institute for Science Popularization (CRISP), researchers and government officials discussed the low level of scientific literacy in Chinese adults. According to CRISP's national survey results released a few months earlier, only 3% of respondents have scientific literacy levels sufficient to understand scientific terminology and concepts. This is in contrast to 28% of U.S. adults surveyed in 2008 using the same instrument. An opinion piece by Li Daguang on SciDev.net summarizes the meeting and outlines ways to improve Chinese adults' scientific literacy, including building stronger connections between scientists and the media as well as changes to scientific television programs in China.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Patrick Clemins, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Al Teich
NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest. Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications. Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and private use of our members. Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.