AAAS Policy Alert -- January 23, 2013
IN THIS ISSUE
House, Senate Planning for Debt Ceiling Debate. With the federal debt ceiling drawing ever closer, the House GOP has released legislation that would suspend the debt ceiling for nearly four months, to May 19. The bill would give Congress time to deal with other looming deadlines, including the March 1 sequestration and the expiration of the current FY 2013 continuing resolution on March 27, the latter of which would trigger a government shutdown. Republicans are no longer tying a debt-ceiling vote to demands for deep spending cuts, as they had previously, but nevertheless remain hopeful that a deal will be reached that substantially reduces federal spending during the next rounds of deficit debate. The U.S. Treasury is expected to reach the debt ceiling, and thus risk default, in late February or early March.
In addition to extending the debt ceiling, the House bill would also require both chambers of Congress to pass a budget resolution, which sets a blueprint for Congressional appropriations, by April 15. Congress last passed a budget resolution in spring 2009. On the Senate side, Senate Democrats have said they will pass such a resolution, but that it will include tax provisions that result in new revenue, which has been anathema to many Republicans.
OMB Tells Agencies to Intensify Sequester Planning. In a memo (PDF) released last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told federal agencies to “intensify” their efforts towards planning for the March 1 sequestration. The memo urges agencies to reduce civilian workforce costs, review grants, and take other steps to reduce outlays while minimizing impacts to core missions. Initially, nondefense agencies had been preparing for an 8.2% cut to discretionary spending. The American Taxpayer Relief Act, passed earlier this month, trims those cuts somewhat – closer to 6% of their annual budget, roughly speaking – but also fits them into a smaller timeframe.
Hurricane Sandy Aid Bill Passes House. Last week the House, by a 241-180 vote, passed a $50.5 billion aid bill to assist Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. Among science agencies, the bill includes over $300 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to repair and replace equipment and facilities damaged by the storm; upgrade forecasting capability and supercomputing infrastructure; conduct mapping and marine debris surveys; and pursue weather, ocean, and coastal research activities.. The bill also contains amounts for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s Oil Spill Research program, NASA, the Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, and other agencies. The Senate is expected to pass the bill within days.
OMB Confirms FY 2014 Budget Proposals Will Be Late. Confirming what most observers have long expected, OMB has told House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) that the Administration’s FY 2014 proposed budget will not be released by its statutory deadline of Feb. 4, due to the ongoing fiscal crises and debates. No release date has been set, but some speculators believe the budget may not arrive until March.
Obama Lifts Gun Research Ban. As one of several actions taken last week to address pervasive gun violence, the President signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to conduct and support research into the causes and remedies for gun violence, reversing an NRA-promoted ban on such research first established in the mid-1990s via Congressional amendment. Former Congressman Jay Dickey (R-AR), who had sponsored the amendment, has since come around to support gun violence research funding. AAAS sent the White House a letter (PDF) last week, thanking the President for his support of such efforts.
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New OECD Data Show U.S. Research Intensity Slipped in 2011. Last week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released updated science and technology indicator data. According to the data, U.S. research intensity – the measure of R&D expenditures as a share of the economy – fell to 2.77% in 2011, from 2.83% in 2010 and 2.91% in 2009. The U.S. was in 8th place in 2010, and will likely slide to 9th place in the 2011 data, pending additional reporting from other countries.
For updates on the federal research and development budget for FY 2013 and the AAAS sequestration report, please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy website.
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS
House Passes Pandemics Bill.
The House of Representatives returned for two days of legislative business, and on Jan. 22 passed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 (H.R. 307
) by an overwhelming vote of 395-29. The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), would reauthorize the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for five years. BARDA would be reauthorized at a total of $2.8 billion between FY 2014 and 2018 to support research and procurement of biomedical countermeasures. In other congressional news, a majority of the committees will hold organizing hearings this week at which procedural rules are voted upon.
House Science Committee Chair to Hold Climate Hearing.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) plans to hold a hearing which will provide a new assessment of the science behind climate change. He stated in an article in the Dallas Morning News
, “I believe climate change is due to a combination of factors...but scientists still don’t know for certain how much of these factors contributes to overall climate change....”
Obama Inaugural Speech References Science. In his Inaugural Address on Jan. 21, President Obama called for “collective action,” noting that “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future.” He also focused attention on climate science, stating that “We will respond to the threat of climate change….Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” When asked later about details, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney would not speculate on future actions but did acknowledge the importance of clean energy technologies as part of the future global economy (short background here).
PCAST Releases IT Report. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released Designing a Digital Future: Federally Funding Research and Development in Networking and Information Technology. The Congressionally-mandated report assesses the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program, and concludes that a good deal of progress has been made toward multi-agency coordination to improve health IT, cybersecurity, and big data (which refers to extremely large, complex sets of data that are difficult to process, analyze, visualize, or share). PCAST also identified areas for improvement, such as agency cooperation on projects pertaining to data privacy, energy, transportation, and IT workforce.
NIH Releases Research Integrity Policies. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released NIH Policies and Procedures for Promoting Scientific Integrity. This consolidates into a single location all such policies for NIH, which had been in multiple locations throughout the NIH web site.
NIH Announces Chimpanzee Research Recommendations. NIH’s Council of Councils, which deals with trans-NIH research, has released its recommendations for the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded research. This effort follows a December 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine on the use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research. The council recommended that the majority of NIH research chimpanzees be retired and placed into the federal sanctuary system; about 50 would be kept for future research. The council also stressed the importance of appropriate physical and social environments for chimpanzees. The recommendations will be open for public comment through March 23, after which NIH will decide on them.
Support for CDC Vaccine Schedule. The Institute of Medicine has released a report affirming the safety of the childhood immunization schedule currently recommended by the federal government, amid concerns raised about the schedule by a vocal minority of parents. Says the IOM: “Studies have repeatedly shown the health benefits associated with the recommended schedule, including fewer illnesses, deaths, and hospital stays.”
In related news, last week the Food and Drug Administration approved a new seasonal flu vaccine that is made without live flu virus and without the use of chicken eggs (the process that is now generally used). This means that it could be produced more quickly in the case of a pandemic. The development of Flublok, as it is called, was partially funded by BARDA. A government statement calls the new vaccine “one of the most significant improvements in flu vaccine technology in the past 50 years.”
Evolution Roundup. Missouri, Colorado, and Oklahoma are the latest states to see the introduction of anti-evolution legislation. The majority of these bills, like many such bills filed in recent years, single out evolution—and in some cases, other topics like climate change—and present it as a scientific controversy. AAAS has long maintained that there is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of evolution and climate change, and these subjects should not be taught as if there were such a controversy.
Global Survey of Science Journalists Reports Findings. SciDev.Net has issued a report of a worldwide survey of science journalists that yielded data from over 800 respondents. Among the report’s findings: (1) The typical science journalist is male, aged 21-44 years. However, in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America, science journalism is likely to be populated more by women than men. (2) The majority of science journalists work in print, on web stories, and on Facebook. About half work for radio and a third for television. Social media, such as Twitter and blogs, are engaged in by half the respondents, but are much more likely in North Africa and the Middle East. (3) In Europe, the U.S., and Canada, more people doubt they will be working as science journalists in five years’ time, and fewer recommend the career to younger people. By contrast, across Asia, North and Southern Africa, the future of science journalism is seen to be positive. In these places, as well as in Latin America, there is little doubt about the future, and people happily recommend the career to younger generations.
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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Mark Frankel, Gretchen Seiler, Sara Spizzirri
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