AAAS Policy Alert -- February 1, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
Administration Pledges to Protect Defense S&T Budgets. In a budget preview last week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta outlined billions of dollars in expected cuts to the FY 2013 DOD budget request, to be released on Monday, Feb. 13 along with the rest of the President's budget. The proposed DOD budget would achieve its savings through reductions in force size and in scaled-back spending on various weapons systems - but not, it appears, on science and technology. According to the preview document (PDF), DOD will continue to emphasize the nation's technological advantages in national security, and states that "science and technology programs are largely protected within this budget," as are various space systems. Meanwhile, some Congressional leaders remain concerned about the looming sequestration, particularly as it impacts defense spending.
Please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy website for additional details on the proposed budget for FY 2013 as they become available.
Congress Considering Bills on Budget Process. Several pieces of legislation that would modify the federal budget process are currently under scrutiny by House committees. Last week, the House Rules Committee held a hearing on the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act of 2011 (H.R. 114), which would create a two-year funding cycle for the federal budget. Some have argued that a multi-year budget would allow for more effective long-term planning and responsible fiscal stewardship, and may make budgeting easier for multi-year research initiatives. The Rules Committee is also holding a hearing this week on legislation to re-establish a form of the line-item veto, which would enable the President to identify and recommend for rescission any spending items he opposed. Congress would then make the final funding decision.
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS
GAO Reports Overlapping STEM Education Programs. In January the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education: Strategic Planning Needed to Better Manage Overlapping Programs across Multiple Agencies. The report, requested by the House Education and Labor Committee, examined federal agencies' STEM education programs in 2010 to assess the extent to which programs have similar objectives, serve similar target groups, provide similar services, and where opportunities exist to increase coordination. The report found that 13 federal agencies invested over $3 billion in 209 programs in FY 2010, with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Energy and the National Science Foundation administering more than half of these programs. Eighty-three percent of the programs GAO identified overlapped to some degree with at least one other program, in that they offered similar services to similar target groups in similar STEM fields to achieve similar objectives. The report observes that the 2010 reauthorization of the American COMPETES Act (PDF) directed the Director of OSTP to establish a committee under the National Science and Technology Council to inventory, review, and coordinate federal STEM education programs.
PCAST to Release Report on Undergraduate STEM Education. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is scheduled to release a report outlining a strategy for improving STEM education in the first two years of undergraduate studies at universities and colleges. The report, Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, will be released at a public briefing in the AAAS Auditorium on Feb. 7. A form to register to attend the event appears here. This report is not the one called for in the America COMPETES Act and referenced in the preceding item.
Report on America's Nuclear Future. Last week a bipartisan 15-member commission established by the White House "to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and recommend a new plan" issued its final report (PDF) to the Department of Energy. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future made three main recommendations: 1) establish a consent‐based approach for future nuclear waste storage and disposal site locations, rather than "trying to force such facilities on unwilling states"; 2) transfer responsibility for the nation's nuclear waste management program to a new organization that is independent of DOE; and 3) create a new mechanism for paying fees into the Nuclear Waste Fund "to ensure they are being set aside and available for use as Congress initially intended." The Commission's Co-chairs, former Congressman Lee Hamilton and Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Retired), will testify on the Commission's findings before a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on Feb. 2.
NSF Unveils State Data Tool for S&T. As part of its recent Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 release, the National Science Board unveiled a State Data Tool that allows users to compare states on several science and technology variables, including elementary and higher education, workforce development, R&D funding and outputs, and magnitude of the local knowledge-based economy. The tool draws on data contained in the report's Chapter 8 (PDF), dealing with state indicators.
Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections Seeks Nominations. The Secretary's Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP), which advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services, seeks nominations for the Committee, according to the HHS Office of Human Research Protections. Nominations are due Feb. 17, and instructions for submission appear in the Federal Register notice.
PCORI Releases Draft of Research Priorities. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has released its "Draft National Priorities for Research and Research Agenda (PDF)." The draft addresses five broad issue areas, including improving healthcare systems and addressing healthcare disparities. The public can comment on the draft through March 15. PCORI will conduct a webcast and teleconference on the draft on Feb. 27.
Lawsuit Documents Show FDA Monitored Personal E-mail Correspondence of Staff. Six former and current FDA employees have filed a complaint against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in U.S. District Court, saying that the agency monitored correspondence sent through their personal Gmail accounts from government computers and took screenshots of their computer desktops. The employees were all staffers of the agency's Office of Device Evaluation and had expressed concerns about certain devices that the agency had approved or was primed to approve. The FDA would not comment on the case. FDA computers display a warning that employees have "no reasonable expectation of privacy".
National Climate Adaptation Strategy. In 2009 Congress directed (PDF) that the Council on Environmental Quality and the Interior Department develop a national climate adaptation strategy to improve the resilience of natural ecosystems. The draft strategy offers current and projected impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, and plant species; actions that agriculture, energy, transportation, and other sectors might take to reduce impacts; and a framework for implementing the national strategy across all levels of government. Comments are invited through March 5.
Voting Opens for Top Energy Innovator. The voting is now open for America's Next Top Energy Innovator Challenge. The challenge is a part of the Startup America initiative, making it easier for start-ups to use inventions and technology developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's 17 national laboratories and the Y-12 National Security Complex. The competitors are small businesses that have signed option agreements to license technology developed at national labs. More on the competitors and the competition can be found here. Voting continues until Feb. 6.
NRC Releases Report on Nanomaterial Risks. The National Research Council (NRC) recently released a report, A Research Strategy for Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Engineered Nanomaterials, which outlines a research plan, priorities, and funding requirements for assessing the risks associated with using nanomaterials in consumer products. In addition to identifying four high-priority research areas, the report recommends that federal agencies receive $120 million annually for the next 5 years in order to research the health and environmental impacts of nanomaterials. Moreover, according to a press release, the report voices concerns: 1) that the structure of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) "hinders its accountability for effective implementation of the research strategy;" and 2) that there are potentially conflicting roles of the NNI in "developing and promoting nanotechnology and its applications while also identifying and mitigating risks that arise from such applications."
Comment on the above item. Policy Alert blog entries are located on AAAS's MemberCentral. Once you are logged in, click on "Blogs" and look for "Capitol Connection" in the drop-down list.
Indiana "Creation Science" Bill Approved by State Senate Committee. An Indiana bill (SB 89) that would allow local school districts to "require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science" has passed the Senate Education and Career Development Committee by an 8-2 margin. The bill's sponsor, Dennis Kruse, chairs the committee. The bill is now cleared to go to the Senate floor for a vote.
China Halts Unapproved Stem Cell Research and Treatments. China has ordered a stop to all unapproved stem cell treatments and clinical trials and put a hold on all new clinical trial applications until July 1, in response to growing international concern over the promotion and accessibility of untested stem cell products as "therapies" for a wide range of medical conditions from cancer to spinal cord injuries. Those unsupported claims have drawn patients from all over the world to China, paying thousands of dollars for dubious treatments and, in some cases, paying with their lives. More details can be found here.
People in the News.
- The first White House Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, has announced that he will leave his position in order to be more active in national and Virginia state politics.
- Bruce B. Darling is the new executive officer for the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council, succeeding William Colglazier, who now serves as science and technology adviser at the U.S. Department of State. Darling, who will transition to his new position over the next several months, is vice president for laboratory management at the University of California, responsible for management oversight of three national research facilities operated by the university for the U.S. Department of Energy: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
- On Jan. 24, President Obama formally withdrew the nomination of Scott Doney of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to be chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Doney's nomination, submitted to the Senate almost a year ago, was blocked by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) who objected to the Administration's moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Earl Lane, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Ric Weibl, 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 email@example.com.