March 28th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Recess Reprieve

State of Play

Last week’s recess allowed members of Congress to retreat to their home states, where they surely received feedback from their constituents on the spending battles still being waged inside the beltway.  Members return to DC this week, kicking off the two-week countdown to April 8th when current federal spending runs out.  If no spending legislation makes its way through both the House and Senate over these next two weeks—and it’s not at all clear what compromise will—the country could face a government shutdown.

Both chambers this week will continue to negotiate on Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 spending, to hold hearings on the FY 2012 President’s budget request, and most certainly to address the ongoing nuclear situation in Japan and conflict in Libya. In addition, the Senate will continue it’s consideration of legislation to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. In the House, the Judiciary Committee is expected to introduce its version of legislation to reform the U.S. patent system. In discussing patent reform legislation at an event this week at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) indicated that the House would take up “legislation to reduce the backlog and encourage invention once again because innovation is the lifeblood of new job creation, entrepreneurism, and business growth.

Also of Note

The House Science, Space, and Technology committee this week submitted their “Views and Estimates” on the President’s FY 2012 budget request to the House Budget Committee, which is expected to release its FY 2012 budget resolution in early April. In this document, members outline their views on the specifics of agency research budget requests, and offer valuable insights into the Committee’s priorities.

Support ramped up this week for sustained funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which faced an almost $2 billion proposed cut in H.R. 1 as passed by the House in February.  The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research is circulating a petition this week calling for maintained funding for NIH in FY 2011. Last I checked, the petition had already gained over 12,800 individual signatures. Congressman Markey spearheaded a Dear Colleague letter signed by 117 members and delivered to House Appropriators on Monday March 21st, urging them to provide the NIH at least $32 billion in funding for FY2012, slightly more than the President’s request of $31.8 billion.  Even Lance Armstrong was in DC this week advocating for cancer research funding at an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Event at the National Press Club. For those interested in learning more about the NIH, The Congressional Research Service recently issued a new report on the history of the agency, entitled “The National Institutes of Health (NIH): Organization, Funding, and Congressional Issues.”

Many in the science policy world have experience explaining the benefit of “silly sounding science,” as recognized by the Association of American Universities (AAU) who this week released their latest edition of the Scientific Enquirer with the tag line Why Cutting Funding for Funny-sounding Science Isn’t Funny. Inquiring minds reading this edition will learn all about how research involving organisms such as flies, zebra fish, and worms has positively impacted the defense, health, and energy sectors.

The Stanford Press published a new book this month titled The Science of Science Policy. This text, edited by Kaye Husbands Fealing, Julia I. Lane, John H. Marburger III, and Stephanie S. Shipp, covers a broad range of science policy issues, including a chapter by Bill Bonvillian, Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Washington, DC Office, on The Problem of Political Design in Federal Innovation Organization.

What’s On Deck

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold hearings this week on climate change (with MIT faculty member Kerry Emmanuel as one witness), small business and job creation, and human spaceflight. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold hearings on the effects of health care reform legislation, and chemical facility anti-terrorism standards. The House Appropriations Committee will explore the FY 2012 budget requests for DOE’s applied programs (e.g., Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Fossil Energy), the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) (full list of hearings here).

The Senate Energy Committee this week will hold hearings on the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor and on several pieces of hydropower legislation.  The Senate Appropriations committee will hold hearings on the FY 2012 budget requests for Health and Human Services and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), as well as nuclear safety related to the Japan disaster (with MIT Energy Initiative Director Ernie Moniz as one witness) (full list of hearings here).

On Tuesday, March 29th, MIT will host one of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Reducing Barriers Roundtables on its campus in Massachusetts. This roundtable is one of eight the White House is hosting around the country as part of their Startup America initiative.  Participants, including SBA Administrator Karen Mills, Secretary of Energy Steve Chu, Commissioner of Food and Drugs Peggy Hamburg, Director of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, and local business leaders, entrepreneurs, and faculty members, will explore ways to reduce barriers to entrepreneurism. Other SBA roundtables will be held this year in Durham, NC; Austin, TX; Minneapolis, MN; Silicon Valley, CA; Atlanta, GA; Pittsburgh, PA; and Boulder, CO.

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