AAAS Policy Alert -- March 22, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
House Budget Chairman Unveils Budget Resolution, Senate Establishes Spending Cap. On March 20, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled the GOP's proposed FY 2013 budget, which if passed would serve as a budget blueprint for the House. Ryan proposes an overall discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion in FY 2013 - $19 billion below the spending caps established in the Budget Control Act (which the Administration followed in its proposed budget) but $97 billion above the reduced spending levels sought by some in the House. Even as the budget proposes an overall spending decline, it would seek to increase defense spending to $554 billion, $8 billion above the FY 2013 cap. Over the next ten years, the budget would lead to $352 billion less in discretionary spending than the President's budget.
The budget would also replace the automatic sequester specified in the Budget Control Act, which currently calls for approximately $98 billion in additional cuts to discretionary spending in FY 2013, $55 billion of which would come from defense. The House budget would roll back these defense cuts, and instead would task six House committees - including Energy & Commerce and Agriculture - with finding additional cuts from "low-priority" spending. The additional cuts would equal approximately $18.5 billion in FY 2013 and $261 billion cumulatively over the next ten years. These savings would be enacted via a process known as reconciliation, which allows for expedited consideration of legislation to change spending and revenues but would require Senate agreement.
Meanwhile, at the same time that Ryan was releasing his committee's budget, Senate Democrats announced they would officially establish their own spending level of $1.047 trillion, reflecting the caps agreed upon in the Budget Control Act. The House Budget Committee is expected to vote on the Ryan budget on March 21.
CBO Issues Revised Deficit Figures. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has issued an alternative analysis of the President's proposed budget for FY 2013. CBO estimates a deficit of $1.3 trillion in FY 2012, shrinking to $488 billion in FY 2017 before growing again to $728 billion in FY 2022. These annual figures - and the cumulative figure - are slightly more optimistic than the Administration's projections for most years and overall. CBO also estimates the President's budget would add an additional $3.5 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years above the baseline. The baseline assumes that many controversial policies - including the automatic sequestration and the expiration of the tax cuts enacted under President Bush and extended under President Obama - would continue unchanged.
Social Media, Petitions, and R&D Budgets. Increasingly researchers are utilizing social media tools to advocate for increasing government R&D budgets. In Spain, over 30,000 individuals signed an online petition opposing the government's plan to cut R&D by 9% for a total budget of $10.3 billion. The Spanish government is scheduled to vote on the 2012 budget later this month. In the U.S., scientists have started an online petition on the White House website, arguing that the budget request of $30.7 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will have a negative impact on medical research and the economy and should be increased to $33 billion. The NIH petition is seeking 25,000 signatures by April 17, after which the Administration is expected to make a formal response.
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
Senate Passes Transportation Bill. Last week, by a vote of 74-22, the Senate passed a massive transportation reauthorization bill (S. 1813) that includes research funds for Gulf Restoration (see Policy Alert, 3/14/12). The Senate, however, rejected by a vote of 41-57 an amendment to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The House has been unsuccessful in passing its version of a transportation reauthorization bill and is expected to take up the Senate version, which could result in further amendments to that legislation.
Complaint Filed Against China for Rare Earth Minerals Export Restrictions. Last week the U.S., Japan, and the European Union filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization regarding China's export restrictions on rare earth minerals, which are essential in manufacturing items such as computers and wind turbines. According to Reuters, China is accused of reducing rare earth mineral prices for Chinese manufacturers, which puts pressure on international companies to manufacture products in China. However, China says that the export restrictions are necessary to "control environmental problems caused by rare earth mining and to preserve supplies of an exhaustible resource." Meanwhile, according to the National Journal (subscription required), the Pentagon has delivered a report to the Senate Armed Services Committee claiming that all but one of the seven rare-earth minerals that the military requires to support defense weapon systems could be produced by the U.S. by next year.
Agencies' Renewable Energy Initiatives Documented by GAO Report. In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) documented the range and purpose of federal initiatives in renewable energy (description of the report found here, and the report itself here (PDF file)). The report identifies nearly 700 initiatives across 23 agencies implemented in 2010. The initiatives included those supporting R&D; using renewable energy in fleet vehicles and facilities; providing incentives to commercialization and deployment; and regulation, permitting, and ensuring compliance.
DOE SunShot Initiative Requests Information on Residential-Scale Solar Energy. The Department of Energy's (DOE's) SunShot Initiative has released a Request for Information for approaches to reduce the installation price of residential-scale solar energy to $2 per watt. Open-ended responses will be accepted until 5 p.m. EDT, March 28, and will help inform future DOE SunShot activities, such as funding opportunities or competitions.
U.S. Total R&D Spending Dropped in 2009. NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) has released a report showing that total U.S. R&D spending in 2009 was 0.6% lower than in 2008. Such a drop has only occurred twice since the early 1950s. Reductions in business investments were cited as the primary cause; all other sectors continued to rise. For example, in the government sector, a one-time increase of $18.9 billion was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). International comparisons show the ratio of U.S. R&D spending to gross domestic product at 2.88% in 2009, placing the U.S. behind Israel (4.28%), Finland (3.96%), Sweden (3.62%), South Korea (3.36%), Japan (3.33%), Denmark (3.02%), Switzerland (3.00%), and Taiwan (2.93%).
More Oversight Recommended for Synthetic Biology. Voicing concern over the lack of regulations for the field of synthetic biology, over 100 non-governmental organizations have co-authored a report providing detailed recommendations to address potential environmental and public health risks that may be associated with synthetic biology. The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology (PDF file), released by Friends of the Earth, proposes applying a precautionary principle and calls for a "moratorium on the release and commercial use of synthetic organisms, cells, or genomes" until risk assessments, international oversight, and security mechanisms are in place. Moreover, the report states that any attempts to alter the human genome, epigenome, and human microbiome should be prohibited because they are "too risky and fraught with ethical concerns."
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Survey Shows Public Support for and Concerns About U.S. S&T. Although over three-quarters of respondents in a recent U.S. nationwide survey agreed that U.S. leadership in science is important for economic competitiveness, less than half said they believed that the U.S. would be the world leader in science and technology by 2020. The survey of 1005 likely U.S. voters, conducted for the research advocacy organization Research!America, showed that over 80% of respondents felt that science, innovation, and health were at least somewhat important themes for presidential debates, with over half being more likely to vote for a candidate who favored increased federal support for health and medical research (report found here (PDF file).
Nominations Sought for New Norman Borlaug Award. The World Food Prize Foundation has announced the creation of a new award for young persons working in agricultural research and related areas. The Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application is supported by an endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation. Criteria and procedures for online nominations (due June 30), as well as other details, can be found here.
Amicus Brief Filed on Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Over ten scientific, medical, and academic organizations joined together to submit an amicus brief to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against a federal lawsuit that was filed to challenge the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (P.L. 109-374). The AETA provides law enforcement with more authority to target animal rights activists who interfere with "animal enterprises" including academic institutions. Animal rights activists claim that the AETA inhibits their lawful right to advocate on behalf of animal rights.
Youth Concern for Environment Erodes. Drawing on two major national longitudinal surveys, the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study of high school seniors and UCLA's American Freshman survey of new college students, researchers have found that increasing numbers of young people have made no effort to help the environment. Comparing three cohorts - baby boomers (surveyed between 1966-78), Generation X'ers (surveyed between 1979-1999) and millennials (surveyed between 2000-2009) - the authors of the paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that interest in becoming involved in programs to clean up the environment has decreased from 33% for boomers to 20% for millennials. Millennials also report less effort to conserve electricity or fuel used to heat their homes.
Science Communication Challenge Posed by Alan Alda. Actor Alan Alda has been a strong advocate for more effective science communication. In a March 2 editorial in Science, he challenged scientists to explain what a flame is for a curious 11-year-old. He had asked that question when he was 11 and found his teacher's answer - "It's oxidation" - wanting. Entries in "The Flame Challenge" (website found here) are being accepted until April 2 by Stony Brook University's Center for Communication Science, where Alda is a founding board member.
People in the News. Regina Dugan, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), will be leaving the Department of Defense to assume a new role as a senior executive at Google. DARPA Deputy Director Kaigham Gabriel will serve as acting director of the agency.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Matt Hourihan, Earl Lane, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Ric Weibl, Brad Wible
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