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S&T Newsletter: October


Science & Technology in Congress Newsletter

October 2014

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Budget News

R&D Funding in FY 2015 Appropriations: A Roundup

On September 19, President Obama signed into law the continuing resolution passed by Congress earlier in the week. The resolution extends federal expenditures at FY 2014 levels through December 11, thereby avoiding a shutdown and giving appropriators time to work out a full-year deal. The resolution allots $58 million to the Biomedical Advanced R&D Authority for development of an Ebola vaccine, and $30 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional Ebola responses. To pay for these and a handful of other spending increases in the resolution, funding over the ten-week period for which the resolution is in effect will be reduced by less than one-tenth of one percent.

It is hard to say when FY 2015 appropriations will be finalized, and which recommendations from appropriators will survive any eventual negotiations and work their way into law. With the exception of NIH, enough progress has been made to provide a general picture of Congressional preferences for R&D funding in FY 2015. A rundown of the big picture is below, followed by brief agency recaps.

So far, according to AAAS estimates, current House R&D appropriations would result in a 0.8 percent increase from FY 2014 in nominal dollars, while current Senate appropriations would result in just a 0.1 percent increase. Adding in Labor-HHS spending, the Senate increase would rise to 0.7 percent, thanks in part to an increase for NIH. These figures, however, are all still below inflation. R&D funding in each bill exhibits a big sequester-driven drop in FY 2013, followed by at least a partial recovery for all  bills in FY 2014. For FY 2015, appropriations have been generally consistent with that post-sequestration recovery.

Even so, the magnitude of recovery varies by appropriations bill. Collective R&D in the CJS, Energy and Water, and Agriculture bills seems set to match or exceed pre-sequester spending. The recovery in bills dealing with environmental research, health (mainly NIH), and education has lagged. Defense science and technology spending neared pre-sequester levels in FY 2014, but would fall short of that mark in FY 2015 under current appropriations.

Under current appropriations, federal R&D would continue to stagnate as a share of the U.S. economy, as it would under the President's original budget request (excluding the largely-ignored Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative). Federal R&D in FY 2003, at the end of the NIH budget doubling, stood at 1.04 percent of GDP, but is below 0.8 percent today. Current appropriations and the President's request would both place it around 0.75 percent of GDP in FY 2015. Research alone, excluding development, has declined from 0.47 percent of GDP in FY 2003 to around 0.39 percent today, and current proposals would take it a bit lower, to approximately 0.37 percent. Brief agency recaps are below.


Spending Bill: Agriculture (HR 4800 and S 2389); the Forest Service is funded through the Interior and Environment bill.
Current progress: The Agriculture bill has been approved by appropriations committees in both chambers. The Administration's request sought to boost extramural research via the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), while trimming intramural research via the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Appropriators in both chambers took the opposite track, favoring ARS funding over NIFA. The big difference in House and Senate ARS funding is due to an amendment from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) that provides $155 million for construction of a new poultry science center in Georgia.

The House, Senate, and Administration concur on a 2.8 percent funding increase for the competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), while agreement varies over funding for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the Economic Research Service (ERS). Appropriators in both chambers rejected the Administration's proposal to cut research at the Forest Service, with the Senate committee providing flat funding from FY 2014 and the House committee providing an increase near inflation.


Spending Bill: Commerce, Justice, Science (HR 4660 and S 2437)
Current progress: Approved by full House, and by Senate Appropriations Committee.

The two major Commerce R&D funders, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), were slated for R&D increases by the Administration, and both represent areas of relative difference between the House and Senate. The House has recommended a five percent cut for NOAA's primary research arm, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), primarily due to significant cuts to climate research. Senate appropriators, meanwhile, would grant an increase, but smaller than requested. Funding gaps in other NOAA offices are apparent as well.

All seem to agree that funding for NIST's laboratory programs should increase, but there are clear differences over NIST's industrial technology programs, particularly the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program, or AMTech, which would not receive funding in the House bill. 


Spending Bill: Defense (HR 4870Senate report); also the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill.
Current progress: Approved by full House, and by Senate Appropriations Committee.

Appropriators in both chambers have been more generous than the Administration across most DOD science and technology funding accounts; one exception is DARPA funding, though the DARPA budget would still grow faster than inflation in both bills. Another notable development this spring was the Senate boost for Defense basic research (6.1 account).

Elsewhere, appropriators in both chambers would make significant cuts from the current year to DOD's medical research programs. As a result, overall DOD science and technology funding would drop by 3.1 percent in the House bill, and 0.6 percent in the Senate bill. Note that some of the estimates may be adjusted downward due to a House amendment that made an unspecified reduction of $69 million to DARPA funding, and this unspecified reduction does not yet show up in the 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 accounts.


Spending Bill: Energy and Water (HR 4923Senate draft report)
Current progress: Approved by full House, and by Senate subcommittee.

Senate committee proceedings over the Energy and Water bill were marred by disagreement over the President's climate agenda, and the bill was withdrawn on short notice from the full committee markup due to planned amendments to restrict the regulation of emissions.

Overall Office of Science (SC) funding levels would change little in either bill. Appropriators have generally matched or exceeded the request in nuclear physics, computing, and high-energy physics, though the latter program would still receive a cut from FY 2014 levels. Within fusion energy, appropriators in both chambers have expressed skepticism over ITER, the international fusion energy project under construction in France, though House appropriators would give the project time to make necessary managerial improvements, while Senate appropriators would withdraw from the program outright. Environmental research also remains a sticking point for the House.

Variation in funding outcomes has also emerged among DOE's energy technology programs, echoing earlier debates. Senate appropriators are more bullish on efficiency, renewables, and grid-related research funding, reflecting major Administration priorities, while the House tends to favor fossil energy R&D. One somewhat surprising outcome is a higher funding recommendation in the House for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), due to a favorable floor amendment from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).


Spending Bill: Interior and Environment (HR 5171Senate draft report)
Current progress: Approved by House Appropriations Committee; released in Senate.

The Administration had sought only flat R&D funding for EPA, but it appears they will not receive even that. EPA R&D would be cut by 7.2 percent below FY 2014 levels in the committee-approved House bill, according to current AAAS estimates, while the Senate bill, released shortly before the August recess but yet to be voted upon in subcommittee, would cut R&D by roughly 2.8 percent. EPA's overall science and technology account, including some non-R&D funding, would be cut by 5.6 percent in the House, and 0.8 percent in the current Senate draft. Most notably, of course, the House bill contains several controversial riders to restrict the agency's ability to regulate power plant emissions. See also an updated funding table.


Spending Bill: Commerce, Justice, Science (HR 4660 and S 2437)
Current progress: Approved by full House, and by Senate Appropriations Committee.

Appropriators in both chambers have been more generous to NASA than the Administration, with each adding at least $435 million to the Administration's proposed NASA budget, and at least $221 million to the NASA Science directorate specifically. Appropriators in both chambers have restored funding for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The House remains particularly supportive in funding the Europa mission, and less willing to fund the Earth Science program and the Administration's asteroid redirect mission.

Appropriators in both chambers are also bearish on the Administration's proposed funding boosts for the Space Technology and Space Operations missions, to varying degrees. Particularly acute disagreement continues on the Exploration funding front. Appropriators in both committees have expressed frustration with NASA's requests for Space Launch System and Orion crew vehicle funding, which appropriators feel are continually insufficient.  A concern echoed by the House Science Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith in a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. The largest relative gap between the chambers appears to be over the Aeronautics directorate, with the House particularly keen on boosting funding there. 


Spending Bill: Labor, HHS, Education (Draft Senate bill and report); some funding for NIEHS is also contained in the Interior and Environment bill.
Current progress: Labor-HHS bill has been approved by Senate subcommittee; House Democrats released a bill in mid-September.

Much has been written about the NIH funding stagnation in recent years, with current-year R&D funding estimates 11 percent below FY 2003 levels adjusted for inflation. The Administration had requested a sub-inflation R&D increase of 0.9 percent or $272 million in FY 2015, including mandatory diabetes research funding and Dept. of the Interior transfers to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The largest relative increases in the request were reserved for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), the Office of the Director (OD), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).


Spending Bill: Commerce, Justice, Science (HR 4660 and S 2437)
Current progress: Approved by full House, and by Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Administration had set a modest target for National Science Foundation funding in FY 2015, requesting only a sub-inflation 1.2 percent increase overall, and essentially flat funding for the Research & Related Activities (RR&A) account, NSF's primary research account. The House has topped both figures, notably providing an additional $166 million above the request for the research account. But this increase comes with strings attached. A floor amendment from Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) sought to keep social sciences funding flat from FY 2014 levels. And, House report language indicated that geosciences research is not to receive additional funding above the requested amount.

Thus, under these constraints, the other four directorates — covering biology, computing, engineering, and the mathematical and physical sciences — might end up with increases in the realm of three to five percent above FY 2014 levels, depending on how final budget allocations play out.

The Senate committee attached no such constraints, but also showed funding restraint, matching the overall request and only granting a smaller $30 million increase to the RR&A account. Both chambers do seem to agree on equipment and facilities funding, nearly unchanged from FY 2014.


Spending Bill: Interior and Environment (HR 5171Senate draft report)
Current progress: Approved by House Appropriations Committee; released in Senate.

Like the Department of Commerce agencies, USGS was among those slated for a larger relative increase under the President's request at 5.5 percent above FY 2014, and a four percent increase in total budget. Appropriators in neither chamber would match these increases, but the draft Senate bill, which has not yet been subject to a subcommittee vote, would get closest. The Senate draft would boost USGS R&D by 2.7 percent according to current AAAS estimates, and the overall budget by 1.4 percent. The House bill would provide only a 1.3 percent increase in R&D, and a 0.4 percent increase in total budget. Natural hazards research is the only area in which appropriators in both chambers have exceeded the request. See an updated funding table for the Department of the Interior.

-Matt Hourihan


Future Uncertain for COMPETES Legislation

The America COMPETES Act first became law in 2007, to promote innovation and boost American global competitiveness. It was reauthorized once in 2010, and is once again up for reauthorization. Although the 2007 bill had bipartisan support, division along party lines has prevented progress in the legislative process for a comprehensive 2014 reauthorization.

There are currently four COMPETES bills; the House Republicans initially split the legislation into two separate bills (the FIRST Act and the EINSTEIN Act) while the House Democrats and the Senate proposed their own versions. Hence, the outlook for the most recent iterations of the bill is uncertain.

The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act (FIRST Act, H.R. 4186) proposed a two-year reauthorization (FY 2014-FY 2015) for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with both agencies receiving a 1.5 percent increase in FY 2015. The Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology, and Energy in America Act (EINSTEIN Act) reauthorized the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (OSC) but not the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) which was created under the 2007 COMPETES bill.

Meanwhile, the House Democrats and the Senate opted to introduce versions that propose four-year reauthorizations at higher funding levels, from FY 2015-FY 2019. However, they do differ in a few key areas.

The House Democrats’ bill (H.R. 4159) reauthorizes NSF, NIST, and DOE OSC, and focuses on four goals: supporting research, fostering innovation, creating jobs, and improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. In order to support research and foster innovation, the bill would increase funding for the three agencies by 5 percent year by year, and it would reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative, ARPA-E, a Regional Innovation Program, and Innovation Hubs run by DOE. It would also establish the Federal Acceleration of State Technology Commercialization program in order to “advance United States productivity and global competitiveness by accelerating commercialization of innovative technology by leveraging Federal support for State commercialization efforts.” (See section 505 of the bill.)

Provisions for job creation in H.R. 4159 would include offering federal loan guarantees to small and mid-sized manufacturers to help them stay competitive, improving the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program run by NIST, and helping local governments employ more technologies that improve energy efficiency.

And, efforts to support and improve STEM education and the STEM workforce would include establishing an ARPA-ED to invest in R&D for educational technology, providing grants for students who receive STEM-related undergraduate degrees, and increasing diversity (namely, participation by women and minorities) in STEM fields.

The Senate bill (S. 2757) reauthorizes NSF and NIST from FY 2015-FY 2019, but excludes DOE which is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The bill would provide annual increases for both agencies at 6.7 percent which would result in significant growth. Other goals include: improving STEM education, supporting NSF’s social, behavioral, and economic sciences (SBE) directorate, reducing administrative burdens for government researchers, maintaining attendance at science conferences, and supporting NSF’s merit review process.

Like the House Democrats’ bill, S. 2757 prioritizes STEM education and the STEM workforce; the bill directs the National Science and Technology Council to collect input from various stakeholders on the five-year STEM education reorganization that was approved in the 2010 COMPETES Act.

In section 101 of the bill, the Senate calls for “sustained and steady growth in funding” for R&D, including basic research in SBE, in light of the largely Republican effort to drastically reduce funding for social sciences research by shifting the money to other NSF directorates.

The bill would also establish a subcommittee to review administrative burdens on federally funded researchers (section 103), and issue a report containing recommendations for improving efficiency in the grant submission and review processes. This is likely a response to findings of a recent National Science Board report, which found that grant applicants often spend more than 40 percent of their work time on administrative tasks.

Finally, the Senate offers support and praise for NSF’s merit review process, but does require a report from the agency detailing steps taken to improve transparency and accountability. This appears to be in response to certain provisions in the FIRST Act, which would have required NSF to write a justification for each grant awarded that certifies that the research in question would accomplish at least one of a few national goals (section 106).

It is this example of policy-related language coupled with low funding levels that has made it difficult to move a bipartisan bill forward in the House.  While FIRST was voted out of both the subcommittee and full committee, the votes fell along party lines and received little support from the scientific community.  The EINSTEIN bill received a hearing, but ultimately was not marked up as a stand-alone bill.  That legislation was absorbed into a broader Department of Energy Research and Development Act of 2014 that authorized funding for a broader range of DOE programs.    

Meanwhile, the Senate bill still lacks an energy counterpart, and as the days draw closer to the general election, the prospects grow dim.        

An article in Science notes, however, that there may be a “glimmer of hope” for the Senate bill’s provisions for NSF and STEM education. As a first step, the House has already passed two bills—the NIST Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5035) and the Research and Development Efficiency Act (H.R. 5056) which include provisions that were originally part of the FIRST Act. 

- Sara Spizzirri


In Brief

On September 18, the R&D tax credit was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a larger bill (HR 4) tackling several tax policy changes for small businesses, medical devices, and other areas. The bill would make the credit permanent, but passage faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) introduced legislation to facilitate funding increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), however, the potential for NIH budget growth is currently limited by the tight cap on discretionary spending. The bill, dubbed the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act, would adjust the spending cap to allow for increased NIH appropriations of up to 10 percent above the current year estimate for two years, , and up to five percent subsequently thereafter.

The House passed by voice vote the bipartisan Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2014 (H.R. 2996), introduced by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) in partnership with Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA). The legislation would establish a Network for Manufacturing Innovation Program within the National Institute of Standards and Technology with the goal of improving U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.

The House of Representatives passed the American Super Computing Leadership Act of 2014 (H.R. 2495) and the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act (H.R. 5309). The supercomputing bill would require that the Department of Energy develop, through a competitive merit review process, a program for partnerships between national laboratories, industry, and universities for exascale supercomputing research. The tsunami legislation would reauthorize funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation and Tsunami Research programs.


Agency Updates

The Office of Science and Technology Policy released its policy for institutional oversight of life sciences dual-use research of concern (DURC). The policy details the necessary oversight to identify DURC and implement risk mitigation measures. The policy covers specific types of experiments, such as enhancing the harmful consequences of an agent or toxin for 15 pathogens and toxins, including avian influenza virus. Accompanying the new policy are two complementary documents: A Companion Guide of Tools for the Identification, Assessment, Management, and Responsible Communication of Dual Use Research of Concern and Implementation of the U.S. Government Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences DURC: Case Studies.

The White House released a National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria that outlines five goals for combating the spread of resistant bacteria. The goals of the strategy are to: 1) slow the emergence and prevention of their spread; 2) strengthen efforts to identify cases of antibiotic resistance; 3) advance the development and use of rapid diagnostic tests; 4) accelerate basic and applied research of new antibiotics, therapeutics, and vaccines; and 5) improve international collaboration. President Obama signed an Executive Order directing the enactment of the strategy as well as creating a new Task Force for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria to be co-chaired by the Secretaries of Defense, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. As part of the overall strategy, the Administration is directing the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to co-sponsor a $20 million prize for the development of a rapid point-of-care diagnostic test to assist health-care workers. Timed to coincide with the release of the White House strategy, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued its report on Combating Antibiotic Resistance. The report outlines a series of recommendations for the federal government which parallel many of the actions outlined in the White House national strategy. The PCAST report assesses antibiotic resistance within human health care, including prescription overuse; animal agriculture, including promoting animal growth; drug development; and surveillance and response.

NASA has selected two commercial companies for contracts to transport U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Under the contracts to be awarded to Boeing Corporation and to Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), the companies will complete NASA certification for transporting people to low earth orbit, then start conducting crewed missions to the ISS.

The United States government has announced increased efforts to combat the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa. The response includes a Joint Force Command headquartered in Liberia to provide regional command and control support to U.S. military activities and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts, along with an increase in aid workers, training, and materials being supplied. At the same time, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that declared the spread of the virus a threat to international peace and security, calling for countries to send more health care workers and supplies to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.




Climate Summit 2014: Warm-Up for 2015

Climate Change and Existing Law: A Survey of Legal Issues Past, Present, and Future


TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER: Federal Laboratory Consortium Should Increase Communication with Potential Customers to Improve Initiatives

EPA REGULATIONS AND ELECTRICITY: Update on Agencies' Monitoring Efforts and Coal-Fueled Generating Unit Retirements

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Actions Needed to Strengthen Management of Research and Development

HEALTH PREVENTION: Cost-effective Services in Recent Peer-Reviewed Health Care Literature

National Academies

Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification


Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream

American Academy of Arts and Sciences



On September 18, eight scientists were presented with Golden Goose Awards at a ceremony at the Library of Congress. The awards recognize scientists whose federally-funded basic research, while seemingly obscure or esoteric initially, has had significant impact. The awardees were: Larry Smarr, a physicist whose work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on the physics of black hole collisions led him to advance a federal commitment to dramatically enhance U.S. computing power and to foster the development of NCSA Mosaic, the precursor to today’s web browsers; Robert Wilson, Paul Milgrom, and R. Preston McAfee, economists whose basic research on game theory and auctions—conducted at Stanford University, Northwestern University, and the University of Texas, Austin—enabled the Federal Communications Commission to auction spectrum licenses in 1994, which helped make possible the telecommunications revolution; and Saul Schanberg (deceased), Tiffany Martini Field, Cynthia Kuhn, and Gary Evoniuk, scientists at Duke University and the University of Miami whose research led to the groundbreaking discovery of the importance of touch to human development and the introduction of massage as a dramatically successful element of treatment for premature infants. AAAS is one of the founding organizers of the Golden Goose Awards.

On September 18, more than 300 patients, researchers, and medical research advocates came to Washington, DC for the Rally for Medical Research Capitol Hill Day; AAAS was among the participating organizations. The focus of the event was funding for the National Institutes of Health.


Frontiers in Science

“The Nobel Committee recognized three researchers as contributing equally to the breakthrough: Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University in Nagoya and of Nagoya University; Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University; and Shuji Nakamura, now of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Light-emitting diodes appeared in commercial applications in the early 1960s. But even until the early 1990s they only came in such colors as red and green. They were used as indicator lights in electronic devices and in electronic displays and, later, in high center-mount auto brake lights. But without a blue LED there was no way to create the white light needed for general purpose lighting.”

Read the article, “Physicists who changed the light bulb win Nobel Prize” in ScienceInsider.




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