AAAS Policy Alert -- April 04, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
House Passes FY 2013 Budget Framework. Last week, by a vote of 228-191, largely following party lines, the House of Representatives approved the FY 2013 budget resolution that emerged from the House Budget Committee. The budget establishes a baseline discretionary spending limit of $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion level established in the Budget Control Act, which is the limit used in the President's proposed budget and the amount Senate Democrats have accepted as their spending cap. The House accepted the Republican budget over several other competing proposals, some of which would have increased spending, and others of which would have cut spending further. The House budget faces virtually no chance of acceptance by the Senate.
The next milestone in the process is likely to come on April 27, when six House committees - including Energy & Commerce and Agriculture, among others - must submit recommendations for $18 billion in additional deficit reductions across FY 2012 and FY 2013, likely through spending cuts achieved through the reconciliation process. These changes could reduce FY 2012 spending, or reduce FY 2013 spending, or increase revenues from current law, or pursue a mix of these strategies. The budget calls for $8.2 billion in savings from Agriculture, and $3.8 billion in savings from Energy & Commerce. These recommended cuts could come from either discretionary programs - which include R&D - or mandatory programs. Over the next decade, the budget would reportedly reduce baseline discretionary spending by $352 billion below the President's proposals. With this and most of the automatic cuts scheduled in the sequestration, the cuts to discretionary spending could amount to $1 trillion over the next decade, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Lawmakers Call for Increased Funding for NIH, DOE Science. Groups of lawmakers in both the Senate and the House have written letters to the leaders of the appropriations committees, calling for increased investment in two of the premier federal research agencies. On March 26, 49 members of the Senate - nearly half that body's membership - wrote to Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), asking them to "maintain a strong commitment" to R&D funding at the National Institutes of Health (PDF). The week prior, 60 members of the House - representing 14% of that body - wrote to House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN), asking that they prioritize funding at the Department of Energy's Office of Science (PDF). The same day, 153 members of the House also wrote to the Appropriations Committee leadership, seeking $32 billion for NIH. That would represent a billion-dollar increase over the President's FY 2013 budget request, which proposes leaving NIH funding flat at $30.9 billion, while granting DOE Science a 2.5% increase to $5 billion.
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.
Federal Government Issues New Dual-Use Policy. On March 29 the U.S. government issued a government-wide policy to establish procedures for the review of biological research when the research could pose a threat to public health and safety and trigger dual-use concerns. The policy (PDF) requires that all federal agencies review all current and future federally-funded research projects related to 15 select agents. If those reviews reveal that research has the potential to be "dual use research of concern" (DURC), then the government, in collaboration with the research institution or researcher, must create a risk mitigation plan for the project and the release of the research results. This may include enhanced biosafety procedures, requesting voluntary redaction of the research results, and classification of results.
NSABB Shifts Position on Revised Bird Flu Papers. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) met on March 29-30 to reexamine two controversial H5N1 papers involving the transmission of bird flu in ferrets. The NSABB indicated that revisions and clarifications to the manuscripts led them to reconsider the ratio of benefit to risk and that unredacted communication of both papers should be allowed (statement found here)(PDF). The NSABB noted that "the data described in the revised manuscripts do not appear to provide information that would immediately enable misuse of the research in ways that would endanger public health or national security." The Board also noted that its recommendations "were informed by the newly released United States Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern" (see preceding item).
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.
Interagency Announcement of Big Data Initiative. On March 29 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), along with six federal agencies, announced (PDF) the launch of a new interagency R&D initiative to improve the scientific community's ability to "extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of data." The Big Data Initiative is to be led by NSF and will involve NIH, DOE, DOD, DARPA, and USGS, with a combined investment of $200 million (fact sheet found here)(PDF). As part of the efforts, NSF and NIH announced a joint solicitation for research on "[how to better] derive knowledge from data; infrastructure to manage, curate, and serve data to communities; and new approaches to education and workforce development."
NASA Creates Aeronautics Research Institute. To facilitate aeronautics research across multiple disciplines and institutes, NASA's Ames Research Center established a virtual institute last week to improve safety and create "new tools and technologies for reducing air traffic congestion and environmental impacts," according to a press release. The NASA Aeronautics Research Institute (NARI) will have $10 million annually to fund early-stage research and will provide an avenue for individuals in academic, government organizations, and industry to communicate research findings and share technical information.
Update on State Evolution Bills. The Oklahoma science education bill (HB 1551) that would have compromised science education on evolution and climate change is essentially disposed of for this legislative session. The bill passed the state House in March and was referred to the Senate Education Committee. That committee failed to take up the bill before an April 2 deadline, essentially preventing consideration of the bill for the remainder of the session (more details here). Meanwhile in Tennessee, House bill HB 368 was sent to Governor Bill Haslam for signature on March 29 after passing both the House and Senate (more details found here). AAAS sent a letter to the Governor urging that he veto the bill (news item and link to the letter here). The Tennessee bill would encourage teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."
UK Conference Stresses Serious Threats to Global Environment and Natural Resources. Humanity's impact on the earth has become comparable to planetary-scale geological processes such as ice ages, warned the co-chairs of a "Planet Under Pressure" conference last week in London. In "State of the Planet Declaration" (PDF) following the meeting, Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford Smith wrote that "without urgent action, we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity, and other critical resources," with the potential for "a humanitarian emergency on a global scale." Brito is director of science policy and capacity building for UNESCO, and Stafford Smith is a climate adaptation specialist with CSIRO, the Australian national science agency. Further background information about the conference is available here.
How Much Is the Ocean Worth? In the year 2100, the total cost of climate change-related damage to the ocean (in terms of lost or reduced fisheries, sea level rise, storms, tourism, and ocean carbon sink) could range from $612 billion per year (in a low-emissions scenario) to $1.98 trillion (in a high-emissions scenario), according to a study carried out by the Stockholm Environment Institute, as reported by a SciDev.Net article. The study was undertaken to understand "the value of ocean services to humankind and allow policy-makers to more effectively account for these services when assessing the economic implications of global environmental change," as stated in a Draft Executive Summary (PDF) of an upcoming book entitled Valuing the Ocean. According to the summary, this is "the first attempt to actually put a price on the avoidable portion of future global environmental change in the marine domain."
Recommendations Made to Improve Global Food Security. To address the impacts of climate change on food security, changes are needed with regard to policy, global investments, agricultural production, programs, food access and consumption patterns, food loss and waste, and information systems. Seven recommendations were put forth in Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change (PDF), recently released by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, an international initiative of the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security, part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
Conservatives' Trust in Science Declined Significantly in Recent Decades. Trust in science has declined sharply among conservatives since 1974, according to a study published last week in the American Sociological Review(PDF). According to Inside Higher Education, the study found that just over 34% of conservatives had confidence in science as an institution in 2010, compared to 48% in 1974. Study author Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina found that it is the better-educated conservatives who have changed attitudes.
People in the News. - On March 29 President Obama announced his intention to nominate Patricia Falcone to be associate director for national security and international affairs at OSTP. Falcone, detailed to OSTP from Sandia National Laboratories, is currently assistant director of the OSTP unit, and would succeed Phillip E. Coyle III, if confirmed.
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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
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.