AAAS Policy Alert -- March 7, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
House and Senate Budget Hearings Continue. As noted in last week's Policy Alert (2/29/12), the House and Senate appropriations and authorizing committees are continuing to move full speed ahead with FY 2013 budget hearings. The House Appropriations Committee calendar can be seen here (PDF), while the Senate Appropriations calendar is here.
NASA to Study a More Affordable Mars Mission. Amid controversy surrounding the nearly 40% cuts to NASA's Mars program in the President's proposed budget for FY 2013, and NASA's withdrawal from the joint European Mars initiative, the space agency's science chief announced the creation of a panel to study an alternative mission to the Red Planet. The alternative program would have a budget cap in the neighborhood of $700 million. The budget limitations will likely produce a less ambitious program than the joint European effort would have been. It could also slow progress toward returning Martian samples to Earth, a key priority for the planetary science community. An interim report is expected from the new panel on March 15, with the full strategy due this summer.
For a full breakdown of the President's FY 2013 research and development budget proposals, with the latest estimates, please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy website.
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS
House Passes Higher Ed Academic Freedom Bill. Last week the House voted 303-114 to pass the Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act (H.R. 2117) (roll-call vote found here). The bill would repeal a regulation issued by the Department of Education that allows the federal government to define "credit hour" and repeal certain regulations that govern participation of state distance-learning programs in federal programs. According to news reports, the Senate is not expected to take up its version (S. 1297) of the bill.
Bingaman Introduces Clean-Energy Standard Legislation. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the retiring chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation that would require utility companies to provide a specific percentage of their electricity from clean energy sources (e.g., defined in the bill to include solar, nuclear, wind, natural gas, and coal with carbon capture and storage). The Clean Energy Standards Act of 2012 (S. 2146) would require that by 2015, 24% of electricity provided by utilities come from renewable sources and that amount would increase 3% every year through 2035 (more details here).
More Congressional Retirements Create Leadership Openings. Three new retirements announced last week will create some key leadership openings in the 113th Congress. Last week Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) announced her decision not to seek re-election. Sen. Snowe serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and was expected to assume that committee's leadership role as ranking member or as chair if the Republicans were to win back the Senate majority in the November election. House Rules Committee chair Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) also announced his retirement last week, leaving the powerful seat open to potential candidates such as Reps. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Doc Hastings (R-WA). Finally, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, announced his intention to retire at the end of the year. Filling this choice spot is complicated by the fact that the senior Democrat on the committee, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), is in a tight primary battle against Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
NSABB May Review H5N1 Papers Again. Revised versions of two controversial manuscripts on transmission of the H5N1 avian flu virus in mammals - one submitted to Science and the other to Nature - will be reviewed by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a possible step toward altering the board's earlier recommendation that the papers not be published in full due to security concerns. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the research, said that federal officials will ask for the new review so that the 23 members of the NSABB can have access to the same data and discussion as a group of global health and influenza experts convened in February by the World Health Organization in Geneva. That group recommended that the papers be published in full, but only after a full review of biosafety and biosecurity issues. It recommended that a voluntary moratorium on the research be continued. Fauci made his announcement at a Feb. 29 panel discussion during a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Washington, DC (webcast of the session found here). Paul Keim, acting chair of the NSABB, would not speculate on the possible outcome of the new review but did say that recommendations from NSABB are subject to change if warranted. The board is expected to consider the revised manuscripts in a meeting late this month or in early April.
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OMB Reform of Cost Principles and Grant and Cooperative Agreements. On Feb. 28, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Guidance (ANPG) (PDF) stating that it intends to reduce the regulatory burden by potentially consolidating a number of OMB Circulars relating to Grants and Cooperative Agreements and Cost Principles and Administrative Requirements. OMB is seeking public comments on proposed revisions to the following: "OMB Circulars A-21, A-87, A-110, and A-122 (which have been placed in 2 C.F.R. Parts 220, 225, 215, and 230); Circulars A-89, A-102, and A-133; the guidance in Circular A-50 on Single Audit Act follow-up; and the Cost Principles for Hospitals at 45 C.F.R. Part 74, Appendix E." Comments are due March 29. OMB will then develop a set of proposed amendments for public comment before establishing a final set of reforms.
Census Bureau Reports on U.S. Education Attainment. The U.S. Census Bureau has released new data and analysis on education attainment in the U.S. In March 2011, for the first time ever, more than 30% of U.S. adults 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree. In addition, more than one-third (20 million) of the nation's 56 million bachelor's degree holders held their degrees in science and engineering, including 4 million each in the social sciences and engineering, and 3 million in the combined fields of biological, agricultural, and environmental sciences. A news release can be found here, and data tables here.
U.S. to Boost Role of S&T in International Development. A new program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Higher Education Solutions Network, is seeking proposals (PDF) to establish institutional partnerships that will create a virtual network of leading science, technology, and engineering experts who will help USAID solve distinct global development challenges as outlined in USAID's Policy Framework 2011-2015 (PDF). Preliminary concept notes are due to the agency by March 22.
NIH Genetic Test Registry Goes Live. After two years of development, NIH has announced the availability of its new Genetic Testing Registry, a searchable online tool that will provide users with information on genetic tests.
Planned Livestock Disease Lab Being Reviewed. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued an Updated Site-Specific Risk Assessment (SSRA) of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which has been planned for construction in Kansas (news release found here). NBAF is designed as a state-of-the-art bio-containment facility for the study of foreign animal, emerging, and zoonotic diseases that threaten the U.S. animal agriculture and public health, but the President's proposed budget for FY 2013 contained no construction funds for the project and called for a "comprehensive assessment" of it (background information found here). The Updated SSRA, however, finds the design sound. This spring DHS will convene an expert and stakeholder committee to conduct a comprehensive threat assessment and evaluation of the project's viability in terms of cost, safety, and capabilities.
DOE Labs Gain New Contracting Mechanism. The Department of Energy has launched a new contracting mechanism under which businesses may develop partnerships with participating DOE laboratories for R&D that commercializes technology (see here for more information). Called ACT (Agreement for Commercializing Technologies), the mechanism is an alternative to the existing CRADA (Cooperative Research and Development Agreements) and WFO (Work for Others) mechanisms. ACT, being offered as a pilot program at selected labs, is intended to provide greater flexibility in negotiation of intellectual property arrangements, as well as multi-party options.
Virginia Attorney General's Demand for Documents Dismissed. The Virginia State Supreme Court has dismissed "with prejudice" the efforts of Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli to force the University of Virginia to release thousands of documents related to the work of Michael Mann, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at the University from 1999 to 2005. The court found (PDF) that the University was not covered by the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. Cuccinelli had pursued fraud allegations suggesting intentional misrepresentation of scientific findings in order to obtain research grants on climate change.
Alabama Religious Education Bill Approved by Committee. Alabama's HB 133, which would allow local school boards to award course credit for religious education, was approved by the House Education Policy Committee. The bill's sponsor, Blaine Galliher, has said in press interviews that his motivation for introducing the bill was to support the teaching of creationism. The bill can now go to the Alabama House floor.
Animal Lab Interim Director Steps Down Following Monkey's Death. The interim director of Harvard Medical School's New England Primate Center resigned last week following reports that an elderly cotton-top tamarin monkey used in scientific experiments had died due to dehydration. Frederick C.S. Wang had been appointed in September to help correct deficiencies at the facility. It now has had four monkey deaths since June 2010, according to The Boston Globe (print version requires subscription). All research at the facility has been suspended, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
British Bioethics Group Invites Comments on Neurotechnologies' Effects on Brain. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent bioethics body based in the UK, has announced a public consultation on "novel neurotechnologies that intervene in the brain," such as brain-computer interfaces, neurostimulation, and neural stem cell therapy. The consultation is open to all (details found here). The deadline for responses is April 23. The consultation will provide input to a report to be published in the autumn of 2013.
People in the News. • Christine Grady is the new chief of the NIH Clinical Center's Department of Bioethics, after serving as deputy director and acting chief. Grady is a member of the President's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Earl Lane, Gretchen Seiler, Ric Weibl
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