AAAS Policy Alert -- November 21, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
Elected Leaders Express Optimism in Fiscal Cliff Negotiations. Following their first post-election meeting to resume fiscal cliff talks, President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner
(R-OH), and other leaders from the House and Senate sounded optimistic that a deal could be reached
to avoid the spending cuts and tax increases that comprise the fiscal cliff, scheduled to begin in January. The main challenge is to find an acceptable balance of new revenue versus spending cuts in any
deficit deal. Democrats, including the President, had taken
a harder line early last week in calling for a high-income tax increase coupled with a freeze on middle-class rates. Republicans responded negatively at the time, but were more circumspect in the meeting
with the President, leaving Democratic Senate staff feeling confident their plan would
serve as the vehicle for a short-term deal with Republicans. Conventional wisdom suggests the initial deal will postpone the first phase of the fiscal cliff in exchange for nearer-term spending cuts, paving
the way for a broader deal in 2013.
In related news, AAAS held a briefing last week for Congressional staff highlighting the potential impacts of sequestration on the nation's science enterprise and scientific workforce, and urging
elected leaders to find a balanced approach to the fiscal cliff. The standing-room-only event was moderated by AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, and featured Orlando Auciello, Endowed Chair Professor at the University
of Texas at Dallas and recently a Distinguished Fellow at Argonne National Lab; Steven J. Fluharty, University of Pennsylvania Senior Vice Provost for Research; and Matt Hourihan, AAAS R&D Budget Program
Director. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) provided introductory remarks. Video highlights can be seen here;
Hourihan's slides are here.
White House, Republicans Throw Cold Water on Carbon Tax. The idea of a carbon tax has recently re-emerged
as a potential tool for closing the deficit, and remains popular among certain thought leaders on the left and right. However,
comments last week made clear its time has not yet come. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was unequivocal that
the White House would not propose a carbon tax anytime soon, after criticism of the idea from multiple
Sen. Coburn Releases Report Critical of Defense R&D. In a new report titled "Department of Everything," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) took the Department
of Defense to task for spending that he argues has little to do with national security and is duplicative – including $6 billion worth of R&D projects. Among the programs highlighted is the
major research enterprise for cancer and other diseases under the Defense Health Program. In recent years, the program's research funding has typically been slated for cuts by the Pentagon, but Congress
has consistently overridden these cuts. Coburn also takes aim at DARPA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of Naval Research, among other offices.
CBO Estimates Cost of Implementing Great Ape Bill. On Nov. 12 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an analysis of the cost to implement the Great Ape Protection Act (S. 810). The
legislation would prohibit invasive research on great apes; would require permanent retirement for those animals that are currently being utilized in research; and expand an existing sanctuary to house
them in retirement. According to CBO, it would cost the federal government $56 million over a four-year period (report summary here; full
For updates on the federal research and development budget for FY 2013 and the recently released AAAS sequestration
report, please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS
Hearings Held in House and Senate on Meningitis Outbreak. Last week both the House
Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held
hearings to investigate the role of various actors in the recent meningitis outbreak. Testifying before the committees were representatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Massachusetts and Tennessee Departments of Public Health, and the New England Compounding Center (NECC). Both committees urged
these groups, particularly FDA, to cooperate with Congress in investigating the outbreak and preventing future problems. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) has
been especially vocal in calling for increased examination and oversight of compounding pharmacies to ensure patient safety.
Senate Passes Whistleblower Act. On Nov. 13 the Senate passed
the Whistleblower Protection
Enhancement Act (S.743) and sent it to the President for signature. The bill protects government employees from retaliation when disclosing evidence of gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds,
or abuse of authority within the government. Of interest to the research community, the legislation includes language that protects against censorship related to research including efforts "to
distort, misrepresent, or suppress research, analysis, or technical information" (further background here).
Bill Dead Again. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) lamented last week that "A bill that was and is most important to national security was just killed...cybersecurity
is dead for this Congress." Republican leadership opposed the bill largely because Reid would not allow an open amendment process (more detail here and here). The
Senate also failed to pass cybersecurity legislation in August. At that time Republicans were concerned that mandatory security standards in the bill would put unnecessary burdens on the private
Cancer Bill Struggles in Congress. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) opposed a bill that would require the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to identify at least two recalcitrant types of cancer that
have five-year survival rates of less than 20% and cause at least 30,000 American deaths annually, and develop a framework for guiding research on each of those types of cancer. While Coburn, a three-time
cancer survivor, supports cancer research, he does not believe that Congress should dictate which types of research NCI chooses to fund. Otherwise, the bill has widespread bipartisan support. Members
will discuss Sen. Coburn's objections and attempt to pass a revised version to send to the President before this Congress ends (Roll Call article here).
NIH Drug and Alcohol Institutes Will Not Merge After All. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, announced on
Nov. 16 that he has decided not to move forward with a recommendation from NIH's Scientific Management Review Board that NIH establish a new institute focused on substance use, abuse, and addiction-related
research. As such, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) will retain their institutional identities. Collins was initially
favorable about the idea and formed an internal task force to recommend how a merger of the two institutes could best be accomplished, but in the recent statement he said he "concluded that it
is more appropriate for NIH to pursue functional integration, rather than major structural reorganization, to advance substance use, abuse, and addiction-related research."
NIH Takes Steps to Enforce Public Access Policy. NIH has announced its intention to take steps to promote compliance with its public access policy for publications resulting from
NIH-sponsored research. NIH will begin to hold processing of non-competing continuation awards if publications arising from grant awards are not in compliance with the public access policy. The award will
not be processed until recipients have demonstrated compliance. The policy will go into effect as early as spring 2013 (NIH announcement 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 Denies Waiver Requests, Maintains Renewable Fuel Standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated waiving the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in the face of potential "severe
economic harm" resulting from the widespread drought earlier this year. After reviewing economic modeling analyses provided by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy, EPA concluded that
the requirements for waiving the RFS had not been met (full report here). A waiver was also considered
in 2008 but was denied using similar analyses.
BP Settlement Payments Benefit Coastal Restoration, National Academies. Of the $4 billion BP will pay to settle the criminal suit related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil
spill, $2.4 billion will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and $350 million will go to the National Academies. The NFWF funds will be used for ecological restoration projects
along the Gulf Coast (NFWF statement here), while the National Academies will
create a 30-year program focused on human health and environmental protection in the Gulf of Mexico (Academies statement here).
Global Fund Absorbs Malaria Program. Despite
a promising evaluation published in a recent Lancet issue,
the Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria (AMFm), which provides a global subsidy to make artemisinin-based combination therapies more widely available via the private sector, will cease to exist
as a stand-alone organization and will instead be
incorporated into the general programming of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. While the Global Fund argues that this will help improve and expand the plan, supporters
of AMFm decry political motivations to kill the program, which could subsequently make high-quality malaria drugs more expensive, and harder to find, in Africa.
World Bank Issues Report on Climate Change. On
Nov. 18 the World Bank issued
a report on the consequences of a changing climate to nations of the world. The report, Turn
Down the Heat, warned that a warming planet would lead to heat waves, declining food stocks, and an increase in malnutrition. It urged banks to be prepared to support long-term activities relating
to "adaptation, mitigation, inclusive green growth, and climate-smart development." The World Bank commissioned the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics
to conduct the study.
France Promotes Commercial Use of Publicly-Funded Research. The French government has announced a series of measures to be taken to improve the economic impact of public research in France. The
measures include clarifying technology transfer operations, simplifying administration of intellectual property resulting from public research, supporting joint research between academic labs and small
and medium enterprises, including a compulsory course on innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education programs, and promoting mobility between private and public sectors (further details here in
English and the ministerial statement in French here).
Creates World's Largest Network of Marine Protected Areas. Last week Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke announced new
marine environmental reserves covering 2.3 million square kilometers. This expansion tripled the country's marine reserves and created the largest network of marine-protected areas in the world,
totaling 3.1 million square kilometers. Commercial fishing and oil and gas exploration will be limited in these areas, although Minister Burke also announced a package
providing compensation to commercial fishers to offset economic impacts. New protected areas (map) are distributed amongst six
regions surrounding the continent.
Archived issues of AAAS Policy Alert can be found at http://www.aaas.org/spp/policyalert.
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Laci Gerhart, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Deborah Runkle, Gretchen Seiler, Sara Spizzirri, Brad Wible
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