December 23rd, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Onward and Upward!

As NEWScience Policy closes out its third year, the federal research and development scenario is much different than it was when the blog was founded in early 2011. We have shifted from applauding the opportunities provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to highlighting the impacts of cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act, particularly sequestration.

As we begin 2014, heartened by a rare glimmer of bipartisanship but knowing that there is still much work to be done, we are going to pivot from providing Week in Review weekly updates to keeping the community engaged through a more real-time approach.  Keep an eye out for regular science and technology policy updates on twitter (@newscipol) and the NEWScience Policy Facebook page.

It has been a pleasure over these last three years for us to share our perspective on the state of science and technology policy from inside the beltway, thank you to all of our readers for your continued interest. We hope you have a fantastic 2014, and that you keep in touch!

The first session of the 113th Congress ended on what many would call a high note, as the Senate passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, formalizing the budget deal that was announced last week. The Senate vote was 64-36, with all Democrats, 2 Independents, and 9 Republicans voting for the bill. As reported last week, the House passed the same bill before adjourning for their holiday recess on the 13th. In the House, the bill was supported by 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats.  The President is expected to sign the bill.

While this bill doesn’t solve the long-term fiscal challenges facing the country, it does provide some sorely needed stability in the federal budget process by providing top-line spending numbers for both FY 2014 ($1.012 trillion) and FY 2015 ($1.014 trillion). This agreement will allow House and Senate appropriators to finalize their FY 2014 spending bills, ideally before January 15th when the current continuing resolution (CR) expires.

House and Senate appropriators have been given their 302 (b) allocations, which split the total spending level by subcommittee, and will now  work to reconcile their existing bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee has considered eleven bills this year, but none were passed by the full Senate. The House has passed four spending bills, and moved five more through full appropriations committee. While both chambers have considered bills to fund research at the NSF, NASA, NOAA, NIST, DOE, and DoD, the bills funding the NIH, USGS, and EPA are very much up in the air (see the status of all the spending bills here).  The final spending package to emerge will likely be some form of an “omnibus” bill, but it is not yet clear which of the individual spending bills will be included in their entirety, and which will be included as simple continuing resolutions.

As a reminder of why we at NEWScience Policy care about the state of federally-funded research, here is a list of Science Magazine’s top 10 research breakthroughs of the year - including cancer immunotherapy, which harnesses the immune system to battle tumors. And hopefully with more breakthroughs, we’ll see more celebrations of science such as the black-tie gala held in California last week, and hosted by actor Kevin Spacey, to award six scientists $21 million in Breakthrough Prizes.

Also of Note

Appointments/Departures. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a 17-term representative from Northern Virginia and Chair of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee, announced that he will not seek another term. Rep. Wolf has been a long time supporter of federally funded research, which you can read about from ScienceInsider here.  

President Obama has announced his intent to nominate Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) to serve as the next Ambassador to China. Senator Baucus had previously announced his intention to not seek another term, but this announcement moves up his departure significantly and will likely set into motion a number of committee chairmanship shifts in the Senate.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved the nomination of Dr. France Cordova to serve as the next director of the NSF. Dr. Cordova’s nomination will join a long list of research agency nominations awaiting approval by the full Senate early next year.

The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee held a nomination hearing to consider the nominations of MIT’s Marc Kastner to serve as head of DOE’s Office of Science and Ellen Williams to serve as the next head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). You can watch the archived hearing here.

Defense. Late into the night on Thursday, the Senate passed the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending levels for the Pentagon. In addition to authorizing funding levels for DoD research and development programs, the final NDAA includes several policy provisions of interest, including one that would provide a proof of concept fund for commercialization of DoD research.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held its Robotics Challenge Trials at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida this week. Sixteen teams competed  for slots in the Robotics Finals event which will be held in 2014. The winner of the finals will take home $2 million.

Education.  The President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a brief report to the President on Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs). The report highlights the promise of MOOCs, but cautions the President to allow market forces to drive their expansion.

Health.  NIH announced that it will award $40 million in FY 2014 in support of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.  These opportunities will focus on “advancing our technological capabilities for understanding how circuits of interacting neurons function to create behavior, with the ultimate goal of improving our scientific foundation for the diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders.”

NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey writes in a recent blog post that the success rate (the percentage of grants awarded vs. proposals submitted) in FY 2013 was 16.8%, down from 17.6%  in FY 2012. Rockey explains in her blog that while the agency actually awarded 8% fewer awards than last year, they received slightly fewer proposals so the success rate is disproportionately less. More details will be released in January.

Manufacturing. The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Council  on Competitiveness released a new report recommending two new public-private partnership models to support advanced manufacturing. The report, entitled Amplify, was drafted after EERE and the Council co-hosted a series of dialogues over the course of last year soliciting input from industry, academia, labor, and government. 

Research. A group of nearly 90 associations, universities, and industry partners making up the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) wrote a letter to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee outlining concerns with the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2013. As previously reported, the FIRST Act would authorize NSF, NIST, OSTP, and STEM programs, but has been controversial due to several potentially constraining provisions on NSF.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the final Uniformed Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards “omnicircular.”  This guidance document, which has been undergoing a top-to-bottom review for several years, provides detailed instructions for universities and others on the administration of federal research grants.

Senator Coburn released his latest “Wastebook,” an annual report highlighting examples of “questionable and lower-priority spending” by the government. This year’s report offers up $30 billion worth of this spending, including several research projects funded by the NSF.

Space.  SpacePolicyOnline reports on two letters released this week by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who as you read above chairs the House spending committee that oversees NASA and recently announced his to decision to retire. In the first letter, Wolf asks President Obama to hold a conference early next year to develop a plan to go back to the moon. In the second letter, Wolf asks Director of National Intelligence  (DNI) James Clapper to report on the implications of China’s recent moon landing.

Tech/IP. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to review the Senate’s version of “patent troll” legislation, the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act of 2013 (S. 1720), which is co-sponsored by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Michael Lee (R-UT). Several higher education associations wrote to Senator Leahy in advance of the hearing thanking him for his efforts and suggesting modifications to the bill. As previously reported, these same organizations recently weighed in on the House “patent troll” legislation, The Innovation Act (H.R. 3309)

In Print

George Will writes in the Washington Post about the promise of DOE-funded fusion research.

What’s on Deck

Both the House and Senate have adjourned for the holiday recess, and will return to DC the week of January 6th.

Save the date! President Obama will deliver his 2014 State of the Union address to Congress on January 28th.