AAAS Policy Alert -- November 23, 2011
IN THIS ISSUE
On November 17 Congress passed the "minibus" package that includes the appropriations for Commerce-Justice-Science; Agriculture; and Transportation for FY 2012. The House voted 298-121 and the Senate voted 70-30 in favor of the measure, and it was signed into law by the President the next day. Details for various R&D agencies funded within the minibus were reported in last week's Policy Alert (see House Appropriations Committee press release, with links to further details, here ). However, in an action not reported in last week's issue, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) received $4.5 million, a figure that falls between the House mark of $3 million and the Senate mark of $6 million, and which is $2.1 million (or 32%) below OSTP's current budget. Although the legislation retains language restricting OSTP's and NASA's ability to participate in bilateral meetings with China, it provides some flexibility for OSTP by allowing it to participate in activities with China provided that it "certifies" [no definition provided] that the activities will not involve the transfer of technology of national security interest. Elsewhere, efforts by the Senate to consider a second minibus that combined the Energy-Water, Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations fell apart last week, increasing the likelihood that the remaining appropriations may be combined into an omnibus appropriations bill rather than a series of minibus bills.
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
House Subcommittee Reviews U.S. Planetary Science. On November 15 the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics met to discuss the future of U.S. planetary science. Witnesses Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA, and Steve Squyres, Chair of the Committee on the Planetary Science Decadal Survey at the National Academy of Sciences, stressed the importance of international partners, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), in carrying out essential flagship missions. A witness from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was invited but declined to participate in the hearing. On November 26, NASA will launch the "Curiosity" Mars rover, two years after its initial planned launch date.
Senate Examines Energy R&D Planning Bills. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on November 15 to examine two bills on energy research. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) testified on his bill, the Quadrennial Energy Review Act of 2011 (S.1703), which calls for a comprehensive review of federal energy programs and technologies every four years. Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) sponsored the other bill under discussion, the Energy Research and Development Coordination Act of 2011 (S.1807), which would establish an interagency planning and budget process for all of the Federal agencies involved in energy research, development, and demonstration. It would create an interagency National Energy Research Coordinating Council that would produce a government-wide plan to achieve solutions to problems in energy supply, transmission, and use, in the short, medium, and long term.
DHHS Announces Health Care Innovation Challenge. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced a new program, The Health Care Innovation Challenge , to identify and promote new ideas to deliver better health, improved care, and lower costs to people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program, particularly those with the highest health care needs. The Challenge will award grants to applicants to identify and test new care delivery and payment models; to identify new models of workforce development, deployment, and training; and to support innovators who can quickly deploy care improvement models through new ventures or expansion of existing efforts. Up to $1 billion will be made available; awards are expected to be made in the range of $1 million to $30 million over three years. Letters of intent are due December 19, and applications are due January 27, 2012. Awards are being made through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, established by the Affordable Care Act.
Comment on the above item. The Policy Alert blog is located on AAAS's MemberCentral . Once you are logged in, click on "Blogs" and look for "Capitol Connection" in the drop-down list.
EPA, DOT Propose Fuel Economy, Greenhouse Gas Standards. On November 16 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a joint proposal to set stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas pollution standards for 2017-2025 model year cars and light trucks. The program would increase fuel efficiency requirements from 35.5 mpg, required by the Obama Administration for 2012-2016, to 54.5 mpg. The estimated net benefit to society would total over $420 billion and reduce vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. After the proposal has been published in the Federal Register , there will be opportunity for public comment for 60 days.
Arizona Leaves Climate Effort . Arizona is withdrawing from the Western Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When Jan Brewer became governor in 2009, she kept the state in the initiative but ordered that a cap-and-trade program not be implemented. She is now formally withdrawing Arizona from the program.
Report Says Engineering, Science Students Study Hardest. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a project run by Indiana University begun with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, issued the findings of its 2011 survey last week. The survey results, probably not surprising to graduates of engineering and science programs, found that engineering students devote the most hours to schoolwork outside the classroom. Physical sciences, biological sciences, arts and humanities, education, and social science majors followed in that order. Business majors ranked lowest. The results are based on data from over 400,000 students at 700 colleges and universities. Read the full report here; the New York Times article here.
Geron Drops Study of Stem-Cell Treatment. The California-based biotech firm Geron has decided to drop a research project on spinal cord injury – significant because it was the first US government-approved clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells (see Associated Press report for more details). Geron said the payoff from stem cell research would not be as great as that of other projects, such as cancer therapies that are near completion. In other medical research-related news, the Food and Drug Administration has revoked its approval for the controversial drug Avastin to treat advanced breast cancer (see Washington Post report for details).
Expert Claims Foreign Hackers Attacked Illinois Water Plant. A computer security expert has told The Washington Post that someone using a computer registered to an IP address in Russia damaged a pump in a water purification plant in Illinois by switching on and off rapidly until the motor burned out. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI indicated uncertainty as to whether this was in fact a case of cyber-sabotage, but if confirmed, it would be the first known successful cyber-attack on U.S. physical infrastructure.
US Funding Halt May Affect UNESCO's Science Programs. In response to UNESCO's vote last month to accept Palestine's bid to be a full member, the United States withdrew its funding to UNESCO. As a result, the UN agency is experiencing funding freezes until the end of the year due to a $65 million shortfall -- and expects a 22% decrease in its 2012-2013 budget of $653 million, according to a SciDev.net article. The impacts on the UNESCO science programs are yet to be determined since their budgets are largely comprised of voluntary contributions (of which the U.S. is the largest donor). However, programs that might potentially be affected, according to SciDev.net, include the early tsunami warning system extending from the Pacific to the Caribbean and science program capacity building in Africa.
AAAS, TWAS Agree to Promote Science Diplomacy. AAAS and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) signed a formal agreement on November 17 to establish a Program on Science and Diplomacy. The joint endeavor will focus on "building regional cooperation and networks among TWAS members and associated countries, and increasing the capacity of foreign ministries, research ministries, and international policy organizations to build science partnerships." Details can be found here.
Changes in Selection Procedures for Turkish Academy of Sciences Spark Resignations. In protest over a decree changing the way its members are selected, fifty-seven members of the Turkish Academy of Sciences have resigned, according to an Istanbul news source. The new regulation divides the authority to appoint members among the government, the Higher Education Board, and the Academy, ending the Academy's previously autonomous selection process. An earlier, more detailed article on events leading up to the mass resignation can be found here.
People in the News . U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. James A. Watson IV will lead the newly-launched Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) within the Department of the Interior. The creation of BSEE and a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) are part of a restructuring of the former Minerals Management Service (MMS).
Archived issues of AAAS Policy Alert can be found at http://www.aaas.org/spp/policyalert .
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Emily Lamb, Earl Lane, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Al Teich, Kasey White, Brad Wible
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.