March 21st, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Can Kicked

State of Play

Congress this week failed to reach a spending agreement for the remainder of the year, instead passing a three-week spending measure (H.J. Res 48) that funds the government through April 8th at a level $6 billion less than current spending.  The additional three weeks will get Congress through their week-long recess that began on March 18th and two weeks in session before having to pass another spending measure or face a government shutdown. Most major research agencies continue to be protected in this bill, but it does reduce support for several research and construction-related earmarks at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) (see this article in Space News for more on the impact to NASA).

This short-term funding measure, the sixth of its kind in this fiscal year alone, passed the House on Tuesday March 15th, with 54 Republican members voting against the measure because it did not cut enough spending, and 85 Democrats voting for the measure. In the Senate, nine conservative Republicans opposed the bill for not cutting enough, while three Democrats and one Independent opposed the bill for cutting too much. Both parties are now calling for this to be the last short-term spending measure of the year, as negotiations continue between the House, Senate, and the White House to craft a long-term solution.

This week we heard more members address the elephant in the room, entitlement spending. A bipartisan group of 64 Senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to engage on entitlement reform as part of the plan to address the federal deficit. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to issue his FY 2012 budget resolution before the next Congressional recess in April, which will likely include a multi-year plan to address discretionary spending and entitlement reform.  A bipartisan group of six Senators, led by Mark Warner (D-WV) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), continues to work on a plan to address the nation’s deficit, building on the findings of the President’s bipartisan fiscal commission. This increased attention on entitlement reform is good news for R&D accounts, which will likely continue to be targeted if future cuts are drawn only from the relatively small piece of the federal funding pie, discretionary spending.

The FY 2012 appropriations hearing season continued this week in force, despite the lack of resolution on FY 2011 spending.  The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on March 17th on “Investing in R&D to Spur American Job Growth and Innovation.” Witnesses included the President’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren; National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Dr. Subra Suresh; NIST Director Patrick Gallagher, and NASA’s Chief Scientist Dr. Waleed Abdalati. In kicking off the hearing, Chairman Rockefeller (D-WV) stated “America’s expertise in science, technology and innovation has made us a leader in the global economy. But our role as a global leader is being challenged, and we need to be smart about how to maintain our competitive edge.”

On March 15th, Secretary of Energy Chu testified before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee on the DOE FY 2012 budget request, with an emphasis on the situation in Japan and its implications for the U.S. The next day, Under Secretary for Science Steve Koonin testified before the same committee on the Office of Science FY 2012 request.  Chairman Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) opened both of these hearings with a statement that the Subcommittee would likely not see an increase in funding allocation for FY 2012.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their preliminary analysis of the President’s FY 2012 budget request’s impact on the federal deficit this week, which showed that the budget would increase the deficit by nearly $2 trillion more than the White House projected.

Also of Note

The Senate this week continued to debate a bill to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs (S.493), but will not vote on the measure until after they return from recess. On March 16th, The House Small Business Committee held a hearing on SBIR/STTR, and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the programs before the next recess.

Senator Kerry (D-MA), along with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), introduced the Startup Visa Act of 2011 (S.565), which would expand visa eligibility for immigrant entrepreneurs who are able to show that qualified U.S. investors are willing to invest in their startup ventures.

The nuclear situation in Fukushima, Japan continues to deteriorate, and has spurred much debate and concern regarding U.S. nuclear plants.  There are numerous sources of real-time updates on the incident, but I’ve enjoyed reading a new blog started by students in MIT’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Department to provide “non-sensationalized, factual data from engineers in a manner that the general public can understand.

The Department of Energy this week announced the beginning of their Quadrennial Technology Review (DOE-QTR). The recommendation for this new review, similar to the Department of Defense’s well-established Quadrennial Defense Review, was included in the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) November 2010 “Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy.” The launch included release of a DOE-QTR “framing document” as well as a request for information published in the Federal Register.

The Presidents of Harvard and MIT, Drew Faust and Susan Hockfield, authored an op-ed in the Boston Globe on March 14th titled “Riding the Innovation Wave.” In this piece, the authors argue that investments in R&D and innovation are critical inputs to securing our country’s future.

David Brooks announced this week that he has started a new blog at the New York Times online “celebrating odd and brilliant studies from researchers around the world.”

What’s on Deck

Members of Congress are back in their states this week for the early spring recess, so it should be quiet on Capitol Hill (except for all the ongoing staff work of course!).

On Monday March 21st, The American Geological Institute and the American Geophysical Union will host an open briefing with senior officials from the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA, as well as scientific researchers to discuss “Earthquakes and Tsunamis: What Happened in Japan and What it Means for the U.S.”

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