AAAS Policy Alert -- December 5, 2012
IN THIS ISSUE
Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Turn Sour. Following some signs of a thaw in the deadlock over how best to address the fiscal cliff, negotiations have apparently hit what House
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called a "stalemate." The
Administration's initial proposal – circulated by Republican aides
last week – took a hard line on both taxes and entitlement spending, with increased tax revenues accounting for the greatest share of deficit reduction in the President's plan. The proposal
was quickly criticized by Boehner, a day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) levied
his own criticisms of Democratic plans to raise taxes on the wealthy. On Dec. 3 Republicans issued
a counteroffer much more focused on entitlement cuts, although with substantial tax revenues included as well. For their part, Democrats appear increasingly unwilling
to accept major cuts to entitlements, which have been a big driver of spending over the past few decades. The state of affairs has led both Erskine
Bowles, co-chair of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to
predict that the nation may well go over the cliff.
Potential Movement on FY 2013 Appropriations. Meanwhile, appropriators are working toward an omnibus FY 2013 spending bill that could emerge
for a vote this week, according to a
recent report in The Hill. The bill would complete the appropriations cycle for the full fiscal year if agreement can be reached. The government is operating through March under a continuing
resolution that sets total discretionary spending in accord with the $1.047 trillion limit agreed to in the Budget Control Act. The omnibus may adopt this spending level for the full year, although
House Republicans have sought to reduce that level by $19 billion.
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
Senate Revises 2012 NDAA, Continues Review of 2013 NDAA. Last week the Senate approved the removal of two provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for
FY 2012 which restricted Department of Defense (DOD) investment in biofuel refineries as well as purchasing of biofuels for such projects as the Navy's "Great Green Fleet" (more details here). The
House has passed an NDAA bill for FY 2013 (H.R. 4310), although the Senate (S.
3254) is still reviewing over 350 proposed amendments,
including several from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) relating to his previously released "Department
of Everything" report on wasteful DOD spending.
House Passes STEM Visa Bill. On Nov. 30 the House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R.
6429) by a vote of 245-139 (press release here). As reported in last week's Policy Alert, the bill, introduced
by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), would eliminate a visa lottery program and establish a new visa targeted specifically to foreign nationals who graduate within the U.S. with an advanced degree in science, technology,
engineering or mathematics.
Congressional Hearings of Interest. On Dec. 5 the House Science, Space and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight will hold a hearing on "The Impact
of International Technology Transfer on American Research and Development" (details found here). A second hearing by the full committee
on "The Future of NASA: Perspectives on Strategic Vision for America's Space Program," originally scheduled for Dec. 6, has been postponed.
House Votes on Congressional Leaders and Chairs. Last week both the Republican and Democratic Caucuses in the House of Representatives re-elected their current leadership for the 113th Congress. In
addition, the Republican leadership voted on the chairs of the standing
committees, including a number of new chairmen. Specifically, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) will chair the Science, Space and Technology Committee; Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) will chair the Judiciary
Committee; Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) will chair the Homeland Security Committee; and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) will chair the Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) -- who was term-limited
-- was given a waiver to continue as the House Budget Committee chairman. The Democratic Caucus unanimously
approved the selections of the following committees' ranking members: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) for the Budget Committee; Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) for the Rules Committee; and Rep. Robert
Brady (D-PA) for the Committee on Administration.
NIH Will Continue Its "Sunset" Policy of A2 Grant Application Submissions. In her blog "Rock Talk," National Institutes of Health Deputy Director for Extramural
Research Sally Rockey wrote last week that a policy to sunset A2 applications --
that is, applications that have been submitted for funding twice before -- will continue despite some concerns from grant applicants. The policy to allow just one resubmission rather than two began in
2009 because of a perception that grants were in a holding pattern that delayed funding until the A1 or A2 resubmission stages. Rockey posted data showing an increase in the proportion of A0 (original)
awards being funded following implementation of the new policy.
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.
White House Council Releases Report on the U.S. Research Enterprise. The President's Council of Advisors on Science
and Technology on Nov. 30 released a new report assessing challenges facing the U.S. research system. The report identifies two major trends changing the research landscape: U.S. industry's
increasing focus on R&D for short-term needs in the face of increased international competition; and the globalization of science and technology, marked by increased foreign investments in research
capacity, particularly in Asia. These trends, PCAST argues, offer the U.S. the opportunity to renew its commitment to the research and innovation enterprise, with universities taking up a prominent role
alongside industry. The report makes several broad recommendations, including more predictable and stable R&D investments through multiyear planning budgets; new federal strategies to diversify research
and support for new fields and talent; and regulatory reform to incentivize industrial innovation, including a permanent R&D tax credit.
NSABB Reviews Drafts for Dual-Use Research Policies. Last week the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) met to discuss proposed drafts for policies on dual-use research
of concern (DURC) (meeting agenda, materials, and video here). DURC is life science research that could be intentionally
misapplied to pose a significant threat to health and safety. Concerns relating to DURC surfaced recently over publication of research on the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus H5N1.
NSABB reviewed drafts of proposals concerning US government oversight of DURC, attributes of HPAI H5N1 that may warrant alternate communication of research results, and a framework for Health and Human
Services funding decisions of HPAI H5N1 research. Numerous changes and additions to the drafts were discussed, and updated drafts will be reviewed at an upcoming Dec.
17-18 NSABB workshop on HPAI H5N1 research (further information here).
Supreme Court to Hear Human Gene Patentability Case. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether human genes are patentable in a case brought by the American
Civil Liberties Union against Myriad Genetics. Only three months ago a federal appeals court issued a mixed ruling in which it found that isolated genes are patentable, but that certain
methods patents that compare or analyze gene sequences may not be. Plaintiffs in the case argue that the patent "should be invalidated because the genes are products of nature and allowing Myriad
patent protection stifles scientific research and patient access to medical care." Myriad argues that "patent protection is necessary to drive technological innovation." This is
one of several patent cases having been considered by the Court in the past few years, and may yield a ruling that could have a profound effect on biomedical research (more information here).
CO2 Emissions At Record Levels. Global
emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide increased by 3% in 2011 to a record total of 34.7 billion metric tons, and a similar output is likely for 2012, according to a new study by the Global Carbon Project
(summarized here). Emissions are rising so rapidly that an international
goal of limiting future global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit may soon be out of reach, according to authors of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change (requires subscription).
The major emissions contributors in 2011 were China with 28% of the total, the United States with 16%, the European Union with 11%, and India with 7%.
State of Washington Addresses Ocean Acidification. Washington
has become the first state to adopt a policy on ocean acidification, according to a report
in The Washington Post. Gov. Christine Gregoire, who is leaving office in January, signed an executive order directing the Department of Ecology to address the problem. The order, responding
to recommendations by a blue-ribbon advisory panel, calls on the state to invest more money in scientific research, curb nutrient runoff from land, and push for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing
ocean acidity presents a threat to the state's $270 million shellfish industry. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told the Post she expects other coastal states will follow Washington's
lead on the issue.
Qatar Invests $10-20 Billion in New Solar Energy Plant. Qatar has announced an investment of $10-20 billion in a new solar energy plant which should be functional by 2014. The 1800-megawatt
plant will be used to power desalination for drinking water, and will increase Qatar's renewable electricity generation to 16% of total generation (more background here).
As the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter and the leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, Qatar has historically avoided GHG emission reductions or renewable energy expansion. However,
this announcement comes on the heels of a previous government investment of $1 billion in a high-quality polysilicon
plant which will supply materials for the new solar plant.
People in the News. • NIH has named Richard Nakamura to be the new director of the Center for Scientific
Review. Nakamura has served as acting director since September 2011 and has been with NIH since 1976.
• David Kappos is stepping down as director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office effective January 2013, after three-and-a-half-years on the job. PTO Deputy Director Teresa Rea will
serve as acting director until a successor to Kappos is appointed. More on Kappos' tenure at PTO can be found here.
issues of AAAS Policy Alert can be found at http://www.aaas.org/spp/policyalert.
Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Kavita Berger, Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Laci Gerhart, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Earl Lane, Gretchen Seiler, Sara Spizzirri
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