Little changed this week in the overall funding picture for FY 2014. A $90 billion dollar chasm still exists between what the House is willing to grant and what the Senate is willing to work with as a topline funding level for the FY 2014 budget. Republican House Appropriators did indicate that the 302(b) allocations, or the funding levels for the 12 individual appropriations bills, would be released this coming week and would spare defense further cuts by placing the full burden of sequester on the non-defense discretionary accounts, which includes the research funding portfolio. While the House does hold the power to set such funding limits, this approach to cut already anemic non-defense discretionary programs is unlikely to get traction in the Senate.
Despite this FY 2014 budget impasse, members continue to grumble about the various impacts of sequester slowly bubbling to the surface. In recent weeks, we reported on a shuffling of DOT funds from airport facilities to backfund furloughed TSA officers and bring down airport security lines. This week, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives presented legislation to force the Department of the Interior to pay out $110 million in mineral payments to states based on 2012 revenues from oil, gas, and coal revenue. The Interior decided in March to withhold the payments to counter the across-the-board sequester cuts. On Tuesday, EPA also got some traction with House members at a hearing when reporting on cutbacks to toxic cleanup at Superfund sites across the country. In and amongst these various concerns, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a report on the impact of sequester and outlined general strategies that have been used to apply these cuts as well as details on specific cuts across individual agencies.
To add insult to injury, the debt ceiling will soon expire. With an eye towards yet another fiscal cliff crisis, the House passed a bill last week that would require the Treasury to prioritize interest payments on the debt above all other government spending once the ceiling is reached. The idea does little to address the ongoing fiscal crisis loop and the bill is both unlikely to get traction in the Senate and has already garnered a veto threat from the President.
Regarding the continuing saga of NSF and the draft High Quality Research Act, NSF did finally respond to House Science Committee Chairman Smith’s request regarding five specific grants “of question.” However, the NSF did not include the reviewer information as requested. According to Science, Chairman Smith is displeased, while the larger research community continues to argue against this draft bill, and associated requests to NSF, as an unfortunate example of the politicization of science.
The White House stayed out of the fray on NSF this week, but continues to try and draw positive attention to science holding its first “We The Geeks” Google+ hangout this week. The focus of the discussion was grand challenges as identified in President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation.
Also of Note
Appointments and Confirmations. The Senate confirmed Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy on Thursday and Marilyn Tavenner as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Wednesday. Pending nominations include Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the reconfirmation for Allison Macfarlane, current chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, whose term expires next month.
Education. E&E News reports (subscription) on a meeting Thursday in which John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, briefed the Senate Budget Committee’s Government Performance Task Force on the President’s proposal to consolidate STEM education programs across the government. Holdren indicated the forthcoming plan will delete at least 78 current programs and focus administration of K-12 programs at the Department of Education, undergraduate and graduate training at NSF, and informal education at the Smithsonian.
On the issue of STEM education and careers, NSF released a report this week, based on a February National Academies workshop, entitled, Transitioning Veterans to Engineering-Related Careers. Among the key recommendations in the report is the goal of increasing awareness among military personal about engineering-related careers and career pathways.
Health. Scientists at Oregon Health Science University announced they succeeded in creating embryonic stems cells through cloning. The scientific breakthrough reignited discussion about the ethical use of stem cells.
In her Rock Talk blog, NIH’s Sally Rocky announced changes to the NIH Pathway to Independence awards that include shortening the eligibility period from 5 to 4 years and increasing the awards to a 30% success rate. This is based on recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) working group studying the biomedical research workforce.
Immigration. Ongoing ‘Gang of Eight’ negotiations on immigration reforms moved forward in fits and starts this week but the group announced the goal to present a bipartisan, bicameral measure during the first week in June. Of interest in the ongoing discussions is the STEM Education and Training Account that, in its current iteration, would raise an additional $100 million in new funding to support STEM initiatives at the Department of Education. This new fund would be seeded by additional fees on visa labor certifications, which has caused some ire from non-profits such as universities.
Information Technology. Related to the open data policy and Executive Order the President announced as Project Open Data last week, the General Accounting Office released a report, Data Center Consolidation: Strengthened Oversight Needed to Achieve Billions of Dollars in Savings (GAO-13-627T), regarding the President’s 2010 Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative designed to optimize IT across the federal government.
NASA. Google and NASA are teaming up to launch the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab to better understand how quantum computing can impact machine learning.
A malfunction in the second of four wheels of NASA’s Kepler Mission could mark the end for the telescope a little less than four years since its launch. The loss of this flagship mission would be a tragedy both scientifically and politically.
Research. The National Science Board (NSB) Task Force on Administrative Burdens issued a request for information (RFI) on reducing the administrative workload associated with federally funded research and extended the deadline for comments this week from May 24th to June 7th.
Technology. Eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus addressed a letter to Google’s CEO this week requesting answers to a range of questions associated with privacy concerns about Google Glass. The members requested a response by June 14th.
Danielle Kurtzleben writes for U.S. News about sequestration impacts in Sequestration Could Make the U.S. Sicker, Fatter.
What’s on Deck
- The STEM Education and Workforce Caucus will hold its Inaugural Briefing, Stakeholder Response to the President’s FY 14 STEM Proposal, at 1:30 pm in SVC-210.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittees on Research and on Technology will hold a Joint Hearing on The Current and Future Applications of Biometric Technologies.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing on Next Steps in Human Exploration to Mars and Beyond.
- The House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a hearing on Reviewing the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Proposal for the U.S. Department of Education and may discuss the President’s STEM consolidation plan.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Cyber Threats and Security Solutions.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on Cybersecurity: An Examination of the Communications Supply Chain.
- The Computing Research Association will hold a briefing, IT for People, Homes, and Cities from 11:15-12:45 pm in Room 2325 of the Rayburn Office Building. RSVP to mnorr(at)cra.org.
- Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center will host The Microsoft Research D.C. TechFair from 1:00-4:00 pm. Registration is available online.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on Exascale Computing Challenges and Opportunities.
- The Joint Economic Committee will hold a hearing on The Economic Outlook with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
- The American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association will host a joint briefing, The BRAIN Initiative: What is it and What Does It Mean for Stroke and Other Neurological Conditions? in 538 Dirksen Senate Office Building from 1:00-2:00p. RSVP to cindy.salinas(at)heart.org.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment will hold a hearing on Restoring U.S. Leadership in Weather Forecasting.