AAAS Policy Alert -- January 9, 2013
IN THIS ISSUE
Tax Deal Postpones, Doesn't Turn Off, Sequestration. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 - passed on the first day of 2013 by a 257-167 vote
in the House, after passing by an 89-8 vote in the Senate - makes substantial changes to the tax code,
and may allow the country to avoid a recession, but it does not address the fundamental question of how to avoid the across-the-board sequestration. The bill raises roughly $620 billion in new revenues and will save more than $100 billion
in federal interest payments, according to OMB. Instead of tackling sequestration head-on, however, it delays the cuts until March 1 and reduces them in the current year by $24 billion, which means the total FY 2013 cuts would amount to $85 billion; future years would remain at the higher $109 billion figure. In exchange, Congress agreed to cut base discretionary spending by $12 billion over the next two years: by $4 billion in FY 2013, and $8 billion in FY 2014. These cuts are to be distributed evenly
between defense and nondefense accounts, and would effectively keep base spending flat at 2012 levels. The Administration and Congress will have discretion in allocating these new cuts, rather than the across-the-board approach dictated by the sequester - which leaves open the possibility that they could prioritize science and innovation funding.
The spending portion of the fiscal cliff thus remains in nearly full effect, only with a new deadline. This means that significant uncertainty remains in place for federal science agencies and research institutions that rely on federal funding - especially given that full-year
base appropriations for FY 2013 remain to be determined by Congress. It may also mean a more difficult budget crunch this summer, as still-sizeable cuts are crammed into a shortened time period before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2013. OMB had issued guidance
before the holidays on how agencies should plan for sequestration, and that planning will now apparently continue beyond January.
Parties Stake Out Positions for Next Round of Fiscal Debate. Even as the immediate tax deadline has been dealt with, Congress still must grapple with at least three additional major deadlines: (1) a potential breach of the debt ceiling
in late February; (2) the aforementioned March 1 sequester; and (3) the expiration of the current FY 2013 continuing resolution on March 27. Getting safely past these hurdles will require at least one additional deal, if not more. Already, Democrats have begun calls
for a $2 trillion deficit plan that achieves half of its savings from closing tax loopholes that benefit high-income Americans, while Republicans have said taxes are now off the table, and that raising the debt ceiling requires equivalent spending cuts.
It bears noting that breaching the debt ceiling could have economically calamitous effects - far greater than the fiscal cliff would have.
The challenge for science funding is that, the tax deal notwithstanding, the nation continues on an unsustainable fiscal path, and deficit reduction remains a major focus for both parties. There are three ways for legislators to adjust fiscal course: raise revenues, reduce entitlements, or reduce discretionary spending (a fourth course would include pro-growth policies and investments that boost economic activity and, thus, revenues). Taking taxes off the table removes one means of deficit-reduction,
and thus may leave science funding at greater risk - especially given House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) recent comments
that sequestration has substantial support within the GOP. Overall federal R&D funding has declined by about 10% in constant (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars over the past few years; sequestration would result in cuts of another 8% or so on top of that.
FY 2014 Budget Facing Delay. According to a report from Defense News, a
senior Defense Department official has said that the FY 2014 President's budget request - ordinarily due on the first Monday in February - is likely to be delayed significantly, and may not be issued until March, due to the ongoing fiscal debate. The report echoes previous reporting from Politico that also suggests a March release for the FY 2014 budget is likely.
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 Policy website.
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS
Sen. Mikulski to Chair Appropriations. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will serve as the new chairperson of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. She is the first woman to serve as chair of the committee, succeeding to the post after the death of former chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI). She was formally ratified as chair on Jan. 7, and in her
remarks she noted that her first act would be to work in bipartisan fashion to address the sequestration, stating: "We can have a stronger economy and a safer country. We can be frugal without being heartless."
Defense Bill Gives President Flexibility on Export Controls for Satellites. Tucked within the Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013
(H.R. 4310) conference report is language that gives the President the authority to remove certain non-military satellites from the Pentagon-controlled U.S. Munitions List (USML) and place them under the control of the Commerce Department's Commerce Control List. The language removes the statutory rule that all satellites -- regardless of whether they pose limited risk to national security -- fall under the export control of the Department of Defense.
NIH Posts New Grant Data. Sally Rockey, deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, has posted to her blog new grant data for FY 2012. Notably, the overall success rate for research project grants in 2012 stayed the same as the previous year: 18%.
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.
NIH Announces Chimpanzee Relocation Plans. NIH announced
last month that it plans to transfer all chimpanzees permanently ineligible for biomedical research at the New Iberia Research Center to the Louisiana-based Chimp Haven federal sanctuary. Chimp Haven will work with the Foundation for the NIH and the Humane Society of the United States to raise the $2.3 million necessary to build additional enclosures needed to house the full group of new chimpanzees.
FDA Proposes New Anti-Contamination Regulations as "Science-Based Standards."
The Food and Drug Administration is proposing new rules for both produce and processed foods aimed at reducing the risk of contamination. Both proposed rules are intended to establish science-based standards as part of the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. The Standards for Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (available here)
focus on microbiological hazards in fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. The other proposed rule, Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food (available here),
requires facilities to establish and implement a food safety system that includes a hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls. Both proposed rules are open to public comment until May 16, 2013.
USPTO to Hold Discussions of Software Patents.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will hold a set of two roundtable events to discuss topics relevant to the software community. The events are the start of an initiative, the Software Partnership, to enhance the quality of software-related patents. The roundtable events will be in Silicon Valley and in New York City in February. Information on registration, webcasting, and submitting written comments is available here.
Supreme Court Denies Appeal of Stem Cell Ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 7 announced that it would not hear an appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. This ends the case. The plaintiffs, represented by an anti-abortion legal group, had contended that the NIH Stem Cell Guidelines violated the so-called Dickey-Wicker provision contained in the annual NIH appropriations bill that bans federal funding of embryo research. They also contended that the Administrative Procedures Act was
violated when the NIH Guidelines were issued. A panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff's claims in August 2012, as did a lower court in 2011 (more information here and here).
Evolution Roundup. On the heels of the Texas anti-evolution legislation reported in the last Policy Alert (12/19/12), a draft bill in Montana
encourages administrators to "assist teachers in finding effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and says they can't prohibit teachers from presenting "scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories" -- common language used in conjunction with the goal of introducing intelligent design and creationism into classrooms. Meanwhile, taking the opposite approach, a school board in Louisiana -- the state that
passed a bill in 2008 singling out science on topics such as evolution and global warming as controversial -- recently passed policies prohibiting the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in science classrooms.
India Adopts New S&T and Innovation Policy. The Indian government has adopted a new science, technology and innovation policy
that calls for significant increases in science over the next five years. The new plan calls for a rise in science and technology investments to 2% of gross domestic product, up from the current 1%. According to an article in the University World News,
it outlines goals and priorities, including critical areas for research and development, along with a roadmap for achieving the goals, and includes a large investment in space.
Kyoto Protocol Enters New Phase. Fifteen years after its inception, the Kyoto Protocol came to an end on Dec. 31, 2012. Although participating countries claim that they exceeded goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5% below 1990 levels, global
emissions are up by about 50%. While Canada, Russia, Japan, and New Zealand have pulled out, the European Union and Australia agreed to extend the Protocol. This time, participating nations hope to reduce emissions by 18% below 1990 levels by 2020.
China Implements New Rules Regulating Academic Misconduct.
China's Ministry of Education has issued a sweeping new regulation on academic misconduct. It will cover such matters as plagiarism, fabrication of research data, ghostwriting, and buying or selling academic degrees or theses. The regulations come after failure by universities to take sufficient action to curb academic misconduct during the past few years in response to warnings from the Ministry. Infractions of the law, which took effect on Jan. 1, are punishable by suspension or expulsion from a
university, the withholding of degrees, and the revocation of degrees already awarded (more details here).
People in the News. On Dec. 21 President Obama nominated Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to serve as the next Secretary of State. On Jan. 7 he nominated
former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) to serve as Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan currently serves as Deputy National Security Advisor to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Other changes in the executive branch include EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's announcement
that she will step down from that office.
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, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Mark Frankel, Barbara Jasny, 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