AAAS Policy Alert -- May 9, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
Last week House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a bill that would replace the budget sequester established by the Budget Control Act of 2011, in order to protect defense discretionary spending from automatic cuts. The Sequester Replacement Act of 2012 (H.R. 4966) would replace cuts to defense spending, triggered by the sequestration currently scheduled to start January 2013, with larger reductions to mandatory spending programs and additional cuts to nondefense discretionary spending - the latter of which would significantly affect federal research and development (R&D). The House Budget Committee passed the Sequester Replacement Act along party lines by a vote of 21-9 on May 7, and it is scheduled to go to the House floor for a vote on May 10.
Meanwhile, the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill (H.R. 5326) is scheduled to go to the House floor for a vote this week, as early as May 8. The legislation will be considered under an Open Rule, meaning that amendments to the CJS bill are not required to be filed in advance in the Congressional Record. The CJS bill, as previously reported, would provide boosts to NIST, NSF, and NOAA, and while trimming the NASA budget, it would also seek to restore some of the cuts to planetary science proposed by the Administration.
The White House, however, issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) expressing opposition to portions of the CJS bill and warning that Administration staff were recommending that the President veto the legislation, if not amended. Although the Administration did express appreciation for the funding levels for NSF, NIST, NASA, OSTP, and some NOAA programs, it also said that it opposed decreases in some programmatic areas. The Administration reserved its strongest objections for non-R&D related issues that the White House argued reflected "ideological and political provisions that are beyond the scope of funding legislation," for example, a prohibition on the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.
For updates on the federal research and development budget for FY 2013, please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy website.
New NIH Program to Stimulate Drug Treatments. NIH announced a new program to match researchers with a selection of pharmaceutical industry compounds in order to promote academic research to search for new treatments. The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) will initially partner with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly and Co., which have agreed to make dozens of their compounds available for a pilot phase. The initiative, Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules, provides templates for handling intellectual property used in or developed through the program. Industry partners will retain ownership of their compounds, while academic research partners will own any intellectual property they discover, with the right to publish the results of their work. More information can be found here.
Interior Department Releases Draft Rule on Hydraulic Fracking. On May 4 the Department of Interior released a draft rule that would require companies that utilize hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") when drilling for oil and natural gas to disclose, within 30 days of the fracturing operation, the chemicals they use as part of the process (DOI press release found here). The draft rule would also require that companies file reports to verify that "fluids used in wells during fracturing operations are not escaping;" and that they have established a water management plan in the event that chemical fluids do escape. A 60-day comment period is planned once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.
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NRC Report Finds Decline in US's Earth Observing System Capabilities. The United States' Earth observing system "is beginning a rapid decline in capability" that might affect weather forecasting and natural hazard responses, according to a report by the National Research Council titled Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA's Implementation of the Decadal Survey. In assessing the progress after a decadal survey of NASA's Earth Science Division in 2007, this study found that in addition to budget cuts, "launch failures, delays, changes in scope, and cost estimate growth have further hampered the program." To deal with the Division's insufficient budget, the report provides recommendations such as creating a cost-constrained approach for mission development, according to a press release.
National Academy Welcomes Largest Class of New Members. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has elected the largest class in its history, welcoming 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. According to Science Insider, the new group of scholars includes 26 women, eclipsing the previous record of 19 inducted in 2005. The average age of the new class, 58, is 3.5 years younger than that in previous years.
Oklahoma Anti-Science Legislation Fails Again. After two anti-evolution bills, HB 1551 and SB 1742, died in committee, the same language appeared as an amendment to another bill, HB 2341, which would have extended a deadline for local school districts to meet standards for media, equipment and textbooks. The deadline for the legislature to consider that bill has now passed. Whether further amendments of this nature will appear in other bills, however, remains to be seen. The Oklahoma legislative session is scheduled to end on May 25 (more background appears here).
Vermont Considers Alternate Measures of State's Economy. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) may not be a thing of the past, but scholars and even some legislators are actively pursuing supplements or alternatives. The Vermont state legislature is currently considering a bill calling for cooperation between the government and the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics to develop a new approach to analyzing the state economy - a "Vermont Genuine Progress Indicator." According to a University news release, the hope is that it will enable better identification of public policy priorities, including measures of the quality of people's lives.
Branscomb Gift Establishes UCS Center for Science and Democracy. Physicist Lewis M. Branscomb, former chief scientist at IBM and a past chairman of the National Science Board, has donated $1 million to the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for the establishment of a Center for Science and Democracy. According to the UCS news release, the center "will work toward restoring the essential role science, evidence-based knowledge, and constructive debate play in the U.S. policymaking process."
People in the News. Bruce Alberts plans to step down as editor-in-chief of Science in March 2013 (background article found here). The AAAS Board of Directors will shortly initiate a search for his successor. Also planning to step down next year is Charles Vest, who will not pursue a second term as president of the National Academy of Engineering (more information found here).
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Barbara Jasny, Earl Lane, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Ric Weibl
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.