AAAS Policy Alert -- November 30, 2011
IN THIS ISSUE
As has been widely reported in national news, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to reach agreement on how to achieve $1.2-$1.5 trillion in federal budget cuts. According to the Budget Control Act of 2011, the failure to reach an agreement will trigger automatic cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending over the next ten years beginning in FY 2013. No matter how these impending cuts for FY 2013 and beyond eventually play out, the House and Senate must still continue to negotiate final appropriations for the remaining nine appropriation bills for the current fiscal year (FY 2012) before December 16, when the current continuing resolution expires.
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
New Grant Transparency Act Introduced . On November 16 Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2011 (GRANT Act, H.R. 3433 ) (PDF file), and the bill was reported out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee the following day. The GRANT Act would require federal agencies to establish an extensive set of additional transparency measures as well as setting requirements for merit-based selection procedures. In addition to making their merit-review criteria and procedures publicly available, federal agencies would also have to publicly document the basis for their grant selections, disclosing the name, title, and employer of each peer reviewer; and posting all final reports, written products, and other related data or results of the grant on a publicly available website. Furthermore, the legislation provides that applicants for competitive grants in excess of $100,000, upon request, be given a debriefing by the agency "explaining the basis for the agency's award decision, including, if applicable, the decision not to award a grant." Finally, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be required to establish merit-based selection procedures for all agency grant programs.
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Senate EPW Committee Approves Measure Authorizing Oceans Endowment. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act of 2011, including an amendment introduced by Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) that would establish and authorize funding for a National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes. Funding for the endowment would come from the interest generated from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund established by the RESTORE act. The endowment would be managed by the Department of Commerce, and the funds would be distributed through grant programs to coastal states and regional planning organizations for projects to restore habitat, manage fisheries, plan for sustainable coastal development, acquire coastal properties for preservation, and relocate critical coastal infrastructure.
Senate Committee Members Ask Trade Group to Draft Rewrite of TSCA. At a hearing discussing the Safe Chemicals Act held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on November 17, committee Democrats issued an unusual request to the American Chemical Council (ACC) in response to the industry group's criticism of the bill. Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Calvin Dooley, ACC President and CEO, to draft a rewrite of the Safe Chemicals Act, which seeks to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by the end of 2011. Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) said to Dooley, "If you don't like it, be more specific."
Congressional Briefing on Extreme Events. AAAS has joined with the American Geophysical Union and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) to host a December 2 briefing on extreme weather hazards, their relationship to changes in our climate, and how the country can better prepare for such events. Speakers include Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon; Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America; and Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. Oppenheimer was a coordinating lead author on the recently-released IPCC Report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.
NSF Statistics Unit Seeks Comments on Evaluating the Data System for Scientists and Engineers. In response to recent improvements to the design of the National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG), the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) at NSF has published a notice of its intent to conduct an evaluation of the designs for two of the three surveys that comprise the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System, and has invited comments from those concerned. As part of this evaluation, the NCSES is (1) investigating the possibility of discontinuing the information collection for the National Survey of Recent College Graduates (NSRCG); (2) examining the use of the American Community Survey to increase the sample of young graduates within the NSCG; and (3) studying the impact of providing data on young graduates rather than recent graduates. Written comments are due by January 20, 2012.
Update: Water Pump Failure Wasn't Cyberattack. Last week's Policy Alert reported a security expert's claim that the failure of a pump in a municipal water purification plant in Illinois was caused by a hacker from Russia. However, further investigation, reported in The Washington Post, revealed that the pump's malfunction was not caused by malicious activity and that a contractor for the plant who was traveling in Russia and who was authorized to access the system was the source of the reported Internet traffic.
More Hacked E-mails Released. In advance of the international climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, more than 5,000 hacked e-mails from climate scientists have been released. According to the New York Times, the new batch of e-mails appears to be a fresh selection from the same set of records that was hacked from the University of East Anglia in 2009. The latest release has received far less coverage in the major media than the 2009 release did.
Global AIDS Fund Halts New Grants. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria announced last week that it will make no new grants for the next two years due to the global economic downturn, according to a Washington Post article. The organization will continue to support ongoing treatment and prevention programs - about 400 for AIDS in more than 100 countries - but it will not fund treatment for additional patients or provide additional services. Nearly all of the money in the fund comes from Western industrialized countries, with the United States by far the largest donor. Some nations, including Italy and Spain, have reduced contributions in the wake of the European financial crisis.
Controversial Flu Research Prompts Dilemmas Over Its Dissemination. A controversy is brewing over research conducted with NIH funding on the H5N1 avian influenza strain. (This Daily Mail article provides background on developments.) The research, conducted by teams in The Netherlands, Japan, and the U.S., was intended to determine whether the H5N1 virus has the potential to cause a pandemic. At a flu conference last September, the Dutch research team reported its findings that five mutations to the virus were sufficient to enable it to spread more easily. While knowledge about these mutations could facilitate development of potential countermeasures to the mutated virus, fears that this knowledge could also be used for bioterrorism have raised questions about whether something so potentially lethal to humans should be widely disseminated. Both research teams have submitted manuscripts for journal publication, but no final decisions have been made. In the meantime, the U.S.-based National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a federal advisory committee chartered to provide guidance on the oversight of dual-use biological research but with no enforcement authority, is also reviewing the paper and is expected to release its recommendations soon on how the issues related to publication should be handled.
World Science Forum Document Addresses "A New Era of Global Science." One outcome of the 5th World Science Forum, held in Budapest in mid-November, was a Declaration of the Budapest World Science Forum 2011 on a New Era of Global Science . The document covers considerable ground, touching on such matters as the responsible and ethical conduct of research and innovation, capacity-building for science, enhanced dialogue with the wider society on scientific issues, and the shifting alliances and collaborations that characterize "a new multipolar world of science."
Australia Creates World's Largest Marine Park. On November 25 Australia announced plans to create the world's largest marine park. The park will protect almost 1 million square kilometers of the Coral Sea off the country's northeast coast, falling within Australia's economic zone. In addition to providing protection for fish, pristine coral reefs and nesting sites for sea birds and green turtles, the marine park also includes ships sunk during WWII in the Battle of the Coral Sea.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Emily Lamb, Earl Lane, 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.