April 11th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Countdown to a Shutdown

State of Play

A government shutdown was narrowly averted last week when, hours before the midnight April 8th deadline, President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) finally announced a deal had been reached to cut $38 billion in spending from current Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 levels.  The House and Senate quickly voted on a one-week stopgap measure that will allow staff time to hammer out the details of the agreement this week. It is unclear at this point whether research funding will be impacted, but the White House blog post on the deal does make reference to “protecting funding for critical programs that invest in science.”

Leading up to the Friday deadline, The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance on the mechanics of a government shutdown, followed by individual federal agencies. Among the research agencies issuing shutdown guidance were The Department of Energy (DOE), National Science Foundation (NSF), Health and Human Services (HHS), National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), Department of Commerce (including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)), and The Department of Agriculture Research, Education, and Economics. While the government didn’t shut down this time, you never know when these guidance documents may come in handy again!

On Wednesday April 6th, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) revealed his FY 2012 budget resolution, “The Path to Prosperity.” This resolution, which sets top-line spending levels for FY 2012 and beyond, would reportedly save the government $6 trillion over the next 10 years through cuts to discretionary spending, reform of mandatory programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and simplification of the tax code. The summary document only includes one mention of research, distinguishing between basic and applied efforts at the DOE, stating “This budget would continue funding essential government missions, including energy security and basic research and development, while paring back spending in areas of duplication or non-core functions, such as applied and commercial research or development projects best left to the private sector.”

Also of Note

As spending negotiations continued last week, stakeholders voiced further opposition to proposed cuts to research funding included in the House-passed H.R.1 continuing resolution. A group of 137 associations, institutions, and patient groups sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators opposing language limiting the number of grants the National Institutes of Health (NIH) could award in FY 2011, especially when those grants would come from a pot of funding reduced by $1.6 in the same legislation. The Task Force on American Innovation, a coalition of industry, scientific societies, and universities, sent a letter to House leaders urging them to protect research funding in FY 2011.

Jack Marburger, President Bush’s former Science Advisor and current Vice President for Research at Stony Brook University, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Huffington post, entitled “House’s Science Cuts Threaten Our Future.” In it, Marburger states, “Science is not a luxury; it reaches deep into the national infrastructure – economic, physical, and intellectual – that makes modern civilization possible.” Nobel Laureate Burt Richter wrote in Politico, “The House version of the continuing resolution should be called ‘The China Innovation Advantage Act.’ It erodes our nation’s position as a high-tech leader while providing a major boost to our global competitors.” Andrew Larkoski, a Stanford graduate student at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, published a piece in The San Jose Mercury News on the impact that cuts in H.R. 1 would have on training the next generation of scientists.

The Senate continued its debate on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) legislation (S.493).  A group of university associations oppose the provision of this bill that would increase the set-aside for small business research at federal agencies with research budgets over $100 million, arguing that this increase would reduce critical research capabilities at these agencies by hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the face of uncertain economic times, the NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey announced that NIH is cutting 20% of the contractors working for the Electronic Research Administration (eRA) that runs its grants system. This change is expected to increase wait times for eRA staff to respond to inquiries and address system problems.

A group of five higher education associations submitted feedback to The Department of Commerce on the President’s Strategy for American Innovation. In their submission, the associations emphasized the need for sustained investments in R&D, increased funding for proof-of-concept centers, and improved technology transfer.

On April 6th and 7th, The Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group held their Annual Congressional Visits Day. Over 300 scientists, engineers, students, and technology professionals visited Washington to meet with their members of Congress and discuss the importance of funding for science and engineering. The group held a reception on the Hill on Wednesday evening where they awarded the George E. Brown, Jr. Science-Engineering-Technology Leadership Award to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.

The National Science Board (NSB) announced that the 2011 Vannevar Bush Award will go to Chuck Vest, head of the National Academy of Engineering and former President of MIT. This prestigious award is bestowed annually for distinguished public service leadership in science and technology. I was also excited to see that the NSB will award the San Francisco-based Exploratorium–one of my favorite places–the 2011 award for a group for unique contributions to increasing the public understanding of science and engineering.

If you haven’t already seen it, The United Kingdom’s Royal Society, equivalent of the U.S. NSF, issued a report a few weeks ago entitled “Knowledge, Networks and Nations.” This survey of the global scientific landscape reports on increases in scientific research output and the “rise of new scientific powers such as China, India and Brazil; as well as the emergence of scientific nations in the Middle East, South-East Asia and North Africa.”

What’s On Deck

Keep an eye out this week for emerging details on the FY 2011 spending deal, and for President Obama to outline his vision for a deficit reduction package.

This is a light week for science-related hearings. The Senate Appropriations Committee will explore the FY 2012 budget requests for NASA on Monday.

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