AAAS Policy Alert -- April 11, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
CBO, GAO Provide Current and Future Fiscal Updates. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last week announced that the federal government has accumulated a $777 billion deficit in the first six months of FY 2012. The CBO had previously estimated a $1.2 trillion deficit for the full fiscal year, while the Administration's estimate was $1.3 trillion. With the new six-month figures, both original forecasts now appear low.
Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released an estimate of the government's fiscal health over the next few decades. Under the baseline scenario, the federal government would face a fiscal deficit of 1.8% of GDP over the next several decades. However, under GAO's alternative scenario - which relies on somewhat more realistic assumptions for spending and revenue policies - the gap would increase to 8% of GDP, while total public debt would rise to 200% of GDP well before mid-century. GAO also finds that fairly significant steps would have to be taken - on either revenues or spending, or both - to close this gap.
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
Senators Reaffirm Support For Space Program. In a McClatchy-Tribune editorial, Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) praised the priorities set forth in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act: advancing the technology needed for deep space exploration; completing the James Webb Space Telescope; and working with private companies to transport astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. Long-term space exploration goals, including the moon and Mars, should not be viewed as competing with the need to develop commercialized crew and cargo transportation to the International Space Station, Hutchison and Nelson wrote. On a related issue: Following NASA's withdrawal from the $1.3 billion ExoMars project, a mission to sample dirt on Mars for signs of life, a spokeswoman for the chief of Russia's Federal Space Agency said the agency will work with the European Space Agency on the effort. The agencies are expected to come to an official agreement by the end of the year. The first of two ExoMars project launches is expected in 2016.
Republican Lawmakers Voice Concerns Over Proposed EPA Rule. The rule would require new coal plants to include carbon capture and sequestration technology which is still under development. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) expressed concern that President Obama would apply the rule to existing plants after the November election, a scenario that would "really be devastating to our economy," he said. However, the Obama administration and Democrats argue that power plants have had time to prepare for the rule, which has been in development for years and would not take effect for months.
Bioethics Commission Seeks Comments on Availability of Genome Data. The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is seeking public comment on ethical issues raised by the widespread availability of large-scale human genome sequence data, with specific interest in privacy and data access issues that arise as sequencing is integrated into research and clinical care. Comments are due by May 25 (details found here).
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.
EPA to Permit 15% Renewable Fuel in Gasoline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started approving applications for registration of ethanol for use in making E15, a vehicle fuel that contains up to 15% ethanol. Gasoline currently on the market is limited to a maximum of 10% ethanol. Registration by manufacturers is a prerequisite before the fuel can be introduced. E15 is not permitted for use in motor vehicles built prior to the 2001 model year, nor in off-road vehicles and equipment such as boats and lawn and garden equipment. Gas pumps dispensing E15 will have to be clearly labeled (news release found here).
Updates on OK and TN Anti-evolution Bills. Last week the Oklahoma science education bill (HB 1551), which would compromise science education on evolution and climate change, was given a second legislative chance and now has another opportunity for passage into law. Last week's Policy Alert noted that the bill appeared to be disposed of for this legislative session, because the Senate Education Committee failed to take up the bill before an April 2 deadline. However, the language in HB 1551 was introduced as an amendment to a separate bill (HB 2341; bill details found here) that addresses state media, equipment, and textbook standards, and which could be taken up on the Senate floor (more background found here). Meanwhile in Tennessee, House bill HB 368 that was sent to Governor Bill Haslam for signature is expected to be signed into law (more details found here). A petition signed by more than three thousand Tennessee citizens was sent to the governor urging that he veto the legislation. Both states' measures are so-called "academic freedom" bills, featuring language that encourages teachers to help their students critique the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of theories, making specific mention of topics that include evolution and climate change.
IOM Releases Report on Improved Food and Drug Regulatory Systems Worldwide. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has released a report, "Ensuring Safe Foods and Medical Products Through Stronger Regulatory Systems Abroad," summarizing a study conducted at the request of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The report outlines 13 strategies for the FDA and other international partners to implement to improve product safety systems in developing countries. These strategies include "development of low-cost technologies to prevent fraud" and "provid[ing] technical expertise, training, and tools to strengthen the surveillance systems in developing countries," according to a press release. The report also identifies the core elements of regulatory systems and nine cross-cutting issues in the safety systems of developing countries, such as weak scientific infrastructures or personnel shortages.
International Graduate School Applications Continue to Grow. A Council of Graduate Schools survey of 242 institutions for fall 2012 admissions finds growth in foreign student applications over 2011. Increases were found for students from China (18%), Mexico (17%), Brazil (14%), Canada (9%), and India (+2%). Small declines were reported from South Korea (-1%) and Taiwan (-2%). Applications increased in all fields, with the exception of life sciences which saw no growth. Engineering saw an increase of 12%, followed closely by business (11%), physical and earth sciences (10%), and social sciences and psychology (8%). Consistent with three-year trends, gains at private, not-for-profit institutions have outpaced those at public institutions.
UNESCO Issues Open Access Policy Guidelines. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has published a non-binding set of Policy Guidelines to facilitate knowledge-based decision-making regarding open access and to strengthen national policies. Its purpose is "to demystify the concept of Open Access … and to provide concrete steps [for] putting relevant policies in place." UNESCO hopes the guidelines will assist in creating an "enabling policy environment for [open access]."
Annual Global IT Report Released. In this year's Global Information Technology Report, an annual analysis by the World Economic Forum and INSEAD on national capacity to leverage information technology for competitiveness and other impacts, the top country overall was Sweden, followed by Singapore and Finland. The U.S. placed 8th. The report includes data and analysis by country across multiple variables, along with particular case studies.
People in the News. - Gary H. Gibbons has been named director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health. Gibbons is the founder and current director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute, chair of the Department of Physiology, and professor of physiology and medicine at the Morehouse School of Medicine.
- Lisa M. Lee is the new Executive Director of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. She has been with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 1998.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Matt Hourihan, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Ric Weibl, Brad Wible, Katharine Zambon
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.