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Science Policy Updates

The Office of Government Relations publishes a weekly e-newsletter, the AAAS Policy Alert, which provides an inside look at policies affecting science and technology and the S&T community to AAAS members. AAAS members may sign up to receive the alert on in the Contact Preferences Section.

COVID-19 News in the May 12, 2020 Policy Alert

AAAS and Other Resources

NIH Director and Colleagues Urge Collaboration. In a Policy Forum piece published in the journal Science, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins was joined by Anthony Fauci, Laurence Corey and John Mascola in urging collaboration as the key to developing a COVID-19 vaccine. They outline why the development of vaccines will rely on public-private partnerships among “governments, academic institutions, industry and global philanthropic partners.”   

Federal Budget Updates

Senate Appropriators Eye June Action. While it remains tentative, Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) — who has oversight of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding — have indicated they see June as a possible target for votes on 10 of 12 pieces of FY 2021 spending legislation. Regular appropriations have been delayed while Congress has focused its spending energy on COVID-19 emergency response. Appropriators are also likely to delay the Homeland Security and Military Construction bills over continuing border wall disagreements.

CBO Reports Massive Deficit. As expected, the federal deficit exploded in April, according to the latest review from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Due to COVID-19 emergency spending and delayed tax filing, the deficit in April alone reached $737 billion, a nearly $900 billion swing from last year’s April surplus. The year-to-date deficit is $1.5 trillion, though CBO expects it to grow much larger and approach World War II-era levels.

Legislative Branch Updates

S&T Hearings This Week. On Tuesday, May 12, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on safely getting back to work and school. The virtual hearing featured testimony from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Brett Giroir, who serves as assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Also on May 12, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on examining liability during the pandemic. On Wednesday, May 13, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will review the Cyberspace Solarium Commission’s finished report and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will discuss the state of broadband amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, May 14, former BARDA Director Rick Bright will testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on protecting scientific integrity in the COVID-19 response.

Executive Branch Updates

Changes Ahead for White House Task Force. After initially suggesting it would be disbanded, President Trump announced last week that the White House’s coronavirus task force would shift to focus on reopening the economy. Meanwhile, at least three members of the task force are in full or partial self-quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19.

Administration Announces Remdesivir Distribution Plan. After a reportedly rocky rollout of distribution for remdesivir to treat patients with advanced cases of COVID-19, the federal government announced a plan to distribute the drug via state health departments. Those departments would then determine distribution to hospitals in their states.

Federal Watchdog Recommends Reinstatement of BARDA Official. The Office of Special Counsel has recommended that Rick Bright, whom the administration removed from his post as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), should be temporarily reinstated pending an investigation. The office said it found “reasonable grounds to believe” Bright’s allegation that the demotion was retaliation for clashes with other top health officials.

AP Shares Unpublished CDC Recommendations to Safely Reopen Country. According to the Associated Press, the Trump administration “shelved a document created by the nation’s top disease investigators with step-by-step advice to local authorities on how and when to reopen restaurants and other public places during the still-raging coronavirus outbreak.” The guidance was meant to assist business owners, educators, faith leaders and others in reopening. White House adviser Deborah Birx denied the report had been stopped, saying, “We’re still in editing.”

FDA Changes Antibody Test Policy. After initially allowing antibody tests for COVID-19 onto the market without Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review, the FDA now requires manufacturers of antibody tests to apply for emergency use authorization within 10 business days after their product hits the market.

International Updates

OECD Survey on Impact of COVID-19 on Science and Policy. The OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy and the Working Party of National Experts of Science and Technology Indicators (NESTI) launched a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on science and the use of science in decision-making. Researchers, administrators, policymakers and science communicators are encouraged to participate in the short survey.