AAAS Policy Alert -- January 30, 2013
IN THIS ISSUE
House Passes Debt Ceiling Plan, Which Moves to Senate. On Jan. 23 the House of Representatives passed the GOP’s debt ceiling plan as expected, on a 285-144 vote. The bill suspends the debt ceiling until May 18, allowing the U.S. to avoid the risk of default while Congress tackles broader fiscal issues, and suspending congressional pay until each chamber passes a budget resolution. The plan does not directly address sequestration, which is still scheduled to take effect March 1.
Federal Employees Union Fails to Get Sequestration Information From Agencies. According to a recent report, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – which represents many federal employees – has had its efforts to obtain sequestration planning information turned away by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). AFGE had been attempting to get information on how the agency was planning to adapt to sequestration, including which cuts might be in store, but EPA has declined the request. The planning process has generally been opaque at other agencies as well, although there are signs that the looming sequestration is already taking a toll. While the American Taxpayer Relief Act reduced the size of the FY 2013 cuts somewhat, billions in cuts remain on the docket for federal agencies and their research funding, now and in future years.
Senate Budget Committee Establishes Website for Citizen Input. The website, announced Monday, is called MyBudget, and provides Americans the opportunity to share their stories, identify their budget priorities, and provide ideas for how to achieve fiscal reform. Participating on the site may be of particular interest to those in the science and innovation community who have firsthand experience with federal R&D funding.
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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
Government Pushes to Improve US Cybersecurity. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced S.21, the Cybersecurity and American Cyber Competitiveness Act of 2013. Sponsors of the bill hope “to secure the United States against cyber attack, to improve communication and collaboration between the private sector and Federal Government, to enhance American competitiveness and create jobs in the information technology industry, and to protect the identities and sensitive information of American citizens and businesses.” The bill also includes language that promotes R&D investments to expand the IT workforce and improve the US economy.
In related news, the Pentagon also announced new plans to improve U.S. cybersecurity by expanding DOD’s Cyber Command from 900 to 4,900 employees. The Command works closely with the National Security Agency, although some military officials believe that it should be more autonomous so that leaders can create “independent, strategic doctrine,” and focus on both offensive and defensive programs.
Bipartisan Senate Group Formulates Principles for Immigration Reform. On January 28, a bipartisan group of eight Senators released a set of principles for immigration reform at a press conference. The draft framework includes a proposal to “award a green card to immigrants who have received a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math from an American university.” It further states that “It makes no sense to educate the world’s future innovators and entrepreneurs only to ultimately force them to leave our country at the moment they are most able to contribute to our economy.” In addition, it will establish an easier path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors—similar to the DREAM Act. This final point is expected to be a point of contention as the debate unfolds, especially as the draft principles still need to be crafted into legislation (more background found here). The bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who crafted the principles are Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
Senate Committee Addresses Mental Health Issues. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on Jan. 24 to assess the state of the U.S. mental health system, reportedly the first such hearing since 2007. Six witnesses testified, including Tom Insel, head of the National Institute of Mental Health, who noted that about one in five Americans is affected by mental illness (additional details here). Portions of the hearing focused on the status of research on mental health issues and the adequacy of current funding for such research. A video of the full hearing can be found here.
Darwin Day Resolution Introduced in Congress. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced a resolution (H. Res. 41) that would express the House’s support for “Darwin Day” on Feb. 12, 2013, and would recognize Charles Darwin as “a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.” A virtually identical resolution was introduced during the last session by now-former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) but did not progress to a vote (more details here).
House Committees on Science and Appropriations Announce Subcommittee Memberships. Both the majority (Republican) and the minority (Democratic) members of the subcommittees of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology were announced last week. The majority and minority members of the House Appropriations Committee were also recently announced.
Sen. Harkin Will Not Seek Re-election in 2014. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2014. He has been heavily involved in biomedical policy for many years, recently as chairman of both the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that handles Health and Human Services funding. All of Harkin’s Senate committee assignments can be found here.
NSTC Releases Preliminary Design of Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) released a report outlining a preliminary design for a national network for manufacturing innovation. The network would include “up to 15 manufacturing institutes around the country that would serve as regional hubs of innovation to boost U.S. competitiveness and strengthen state and local economies.” The concept was announced almost a year ago. The report drew on the input of nearly 900 stakeholders to provide the framework for the selection and operations of the Institutes of Manufacturing Innovation to be supported within the network.
DARPA, SRC Announce Funding for Network of Research Centers. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) have announced a research network for university-based microelectronic research centers. Each of six centers will receive about $6 million per year for the next five years, with total program costs estimated at $194 million. Funding comes from DARPA and U.S. semiconductor and supplier industries. SRC will administer the network.
H5N1 Researchers Announce End of Moratorium. Leading influenza researchers are ending a nearly yearlong voluntary moratorium on certain types of controversial experiments involving H5N1 avian flu virus. The announcement came in a letter published online Jan. 23 by Science and Nature. More details can be found here.
Winning Areas Announced in Major EC Science Competition. The European Commission has announced the winners of its Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship Initiative, the largest single science competition to be held in Europe to date. The two winning areas were international proposals to study graphene (to “investigate and exploit the unique properties of [the] revolutionary carbon-based material”) and the human brain (creating “the world’s largest experimental facility for developing the most detailed model of the brain, for studying how the human brain works, and ultimately to develop personalized treatment of neurological and related diseases”). The two projects may each receive a 1 billion Euro investment over ten years. The press release, video press announcement, and background document can be found here, and an early article with more details of the competition, including its unprecedented scale, can be found here.
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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
NOTE: 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 email@example.com.