AAAS Policy Alert -- May 30, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Homeland Security, Veterans Spending Bills. Both bills passed the committee on May 22 and will now be sent to the Senate floor. The Homeland Security bill (S. 3215) passed by a 27-3 vote, while the vote was unanimous for the Military Construction/Veterans bill (S. 3216). Although the current Homeland Security bill would cut total funding by more than $1 billion from FY 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate, the major source of R&D within the department, would be granted $831 million, a $163 million or 24.5% increase above FY 2012 funding, in accord with the President's budget request (PDF table). Additionally, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, another key R&D funder at DHS, would receive $328 million, a $38 million or 13.1% increase above FY 2012. In the House version of the bill, which passed committee on May 16, both offices would receive increases nearly as large as in the Senate bill. The Senate Committee's Military Construction/Veterans bill would keep R&D funding at the Department of Veterans Affairs essentially flat relative to FY 2012 levels, as would the House version of the bill and the President's budget (PDF table). Both bills await floor action in their respective chambers.
Sequestration Remains a Topic of Controversy on the Hill. Last week thirty Republican Senators introduced the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, which would force President Obama to submit a detailed plan of sequestration cuts to Congress by July 9. House Republicans intend to introduce similar legislation this week. Democrats in the Senate are also taking a stance on the sequestration cuts. Last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would block Republican attempts to bypass sequestration unless the proposal included revenue increases in combination with the spending cuts. Currently, the House budget includes additional cuts to discretionary non-defense spending instead of the automatic cuts to defense spending.
For updates on the federal research and development budget for FY 2013, please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy website.
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS
"Startup" Innovation Bill Merged with Tax Benefit Bill. The Startup Act (S. 1965), originally introduced by Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mark Warner (D-VA), has been merged with the AGREE Act (S. 1866), introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). The Startup Act (see December 14, 2011 Policy Alert) creates a new grant program to be managed through the Department of Commerce for universities "to improve commercialization capacity" and to allow faculty "to approach technology transfer programs outside their institution of employment." The program would be funded by creating a new set-aside of 1.5% from the federal R&D budget. The AGREE Act would extend tax relief to small businesses, ease regulations, and provide research credits for qualified domestic manufacturers. The newly merged bill is called Startup 2.0 (S. 3217), and it would also create a new visa for foreign students who graduate from a U.S. institution with either a master's degree or Ph.D. in a STEM field to extend their stay by one year in order to facilitate their ability to receive a green card.
Rep. Johnson Introduces Clean Water Research Bills. On May 18 Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, introduced two bills, H.R. 5826 (PDF file), the Coordinating Water Research for a Clean Water Future Act of 2012, and H.R. 5827 (PDF file), the Energy and Water Research Integration Act of 2012. The former would establish the National Water Research and Development Initiative at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in order to improve coordination of federal water research projects that track changes in the U.S. supply of clean water. The latter bill directs the Secretary of Energy to include water research in the Department of Energy's future projects. In particular, the bill requires the Secretary to identify new ways to minimize freshwater consumption and increase water use efficiency. Both bills seek to ensure that clean water remains available for all U.S. citizens.
NIH Posts Notice on Pilot Project to Review PIs Receiving Over $1.5 Million. The National Institutes of Health has posted a notice on its plan to pilot a new procedure that would trigger an additional layer of review for principal investigators or program directors who apply for funding and already receive more than $1.5 million per year in research project grants. The additional review would be provided by the advisory council to the funding institute or center at NIH. The program does not represent a cap on total funding for individual investigators.
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Commercial Space Vehicle Docks with Space Station. In a first for the commercial space industry, the unmanned Dragon capsule built by SpaceX has docked with the International Space Station, delivering a cargo of over 1,000 pounds of supplies. The mission is supported by NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, which provides investments intended to lead to regular resupply missions to the space station and to stimulate the commercial space industry in America (NASA statement found here).
SBA To Hold Meetings on Proposal to Amend Eligibility Regulations. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will be holding roundtable meetings regarding its proposal to amend its regulations governing size and eligibility for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs (proposed amendments found here). The roundtable meetings will be held June 8 in Washington, DC and June 19 in Austin, TX (registration details are here). Comments on the proposed changes must be received by July 16.
Discipline-Based Education Research Could Improve Undergraduate Science and Engineering Teaching. Discipline-based education research (DBER) has generated insights that could help improve undergraduate education in science and engineering, but these findings have not yet prompted widespread changes in teaching practice, says a new report of the National Research Council. The report recommends that science and engineering faculty, institutions, disciplinary societies, and professional societies should all support high-quality DBER and the adoption of the evidence-based teaching strategies that have emerged from it. It also recommends that graduate programs offer future faculty an understanding of research on learning and evidence-based teaching strategies. The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Awards $50 Million for Undergraduate Science Education. The HHMI grants will support forty-seven (47) small colleges and universities working to improve undergraduate science education in the United States by creating more engaging science classes, bringing real-world research experiences to students, and increasing the diversity of students who study science.
Multi-Community Broadband Gigabit Project Announced. The University Community Next Generation Innovation Project (Gig.U) (a group of over 30 universities working in partnership with their local communities to develop ultra high-speed network services) and Gigabit Squared (a digital economic development corporation) have announced a new program called the Gigabit Neighborhood Gateway Program with the availability of $200 million in funding (see press release here (PDF file)). These projects will allow communities to build and test gigabit-speed broadband networks, and to serve as demonstration projects of the opportunities that such networks represent for purposes such as business, health care, and education. Selections will be announced between November 2012 and March 2013.
Romney Announces Support for Basic Research Funding. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney released a new education plan last week which includes a supportive statement on basic research. "The long-term federal investment in basic research within institutions of higher learning has been a crucial engine for innovation in our economy, and one that could not be replicated through other sources of funding," the platform document (PDF file) says. "A Romney Administration will maintain a strong commitment to research in the physical, biological, and social sciences and...ensure that the priorities for research funding are not hijacked by short-term political imperatives."
Square Kilometer Array Group Decides on Dual Site Arrangement. The Square Kilometer Array Organization, undertaking the building of the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope, has decided to go forward with both sites under consideration. The proposals led by South Africa and Australia will both be developed, but with each focused on a different part of the spectrum (see news release here). The projected cost for the project is $1.9 billion. Construction is intended to start in 2016.
People in the News. President Barack Obama has nominated Allison Macfarlane, an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University, to replace Gregory Jaczko as head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (see AP story here). Jaczko, who announced last week that he was stepping down, strongly defended his record at NRC and said his decision to leave was unrelated to criticisms of his management style that led to congressional hearings and an inquiry by the agency's Inspector General.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Kelly Anderson, Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Earl Lane, Anne Poduska, Gretchen Seiler, Sara Spizzirri, Ric Weibl
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