April 18th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or What’s Behind Door #3?

After a seemingly endless game of Let’s Make a Deal, last week House and Senate appropriators finally revealed the details of how they plan to cut federal spending by some $38.5 billion. Despite some snags, such as when a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis showed the bill would only cut $352 million, versus the promised $38.5 billion,  both chambers passed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 continuing resolution (CR) (H.R. 1473) on Thursday, sending it to the President for his signature on Friday.

Research programs fared relatively well in this CR, which funds the government through September 30th, compared to the considerable cuts they would have faced if H.R. 1 had become law. The CR includes $12 billion in cuts from the three previous CRs, $27 billion in new spending reductions, and an across the board cut of 0.2% for all non-defense discretionary programs. This final spending deal on FY 2011 is particularly important because it sets a baseline against which FY 2012 and later fiscal years will be built. I’ve highlighted some research numbers below (not including the 0.2% across the board cut). For more details, I recommend visiting the website for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) R&D Budget and Policy Program.

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) received $30.7 billion, a 0.8% decrease from FY 2010. The bill does not include a provision limiting the number of NIH grants that was part of H.R. 1 and strongly opposed by the research community.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) received $6.8 billion, a 1% cut from FY 2010.  Within that pot, the Research and Related Activities Directorate received $5.5 billion, a 0.2% increase  from FY 2010, and Education and Human Resources received $862 million, a 1.2% decrease from FY 2010.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) science programs received $4.945 billion, and increase of 10% over FY 2010.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science received $4.88 billion, a 1% decrease from FY 2010.  The FY 2010 funding level includes $77 million in earmarks, however, so the final result is an effective increase in the base budget. The bill also does not include language, as contained in H.R.1, limiting funding for the Biological and Environmental Research program.
  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $180 million in FY 2010, which is a significant win for this new agency that before this year, had no regular annual appropriations.
  • Department of Defense (DoD) basic research received $1.95 billion, a 7% increase over FY 2010.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received $4.6 billion, a 5% increase over FY 2010. The bill does include a provision preventing NOAA from establish a climate service, a major request in their FY 2012 budget request.

As the FY 2011 spending impasse finally dissolved, the FY 2012 and beyond budget debate heated up. The House passed its FY 2012 budget resolution, The Path to Prosperity. While this budget resolution is not expected to make it through the Senate, it does clearly lay out House Republicans’ spending priorities. According to the Committee report accompanying the resolution, the FY2012 allotment for Function 250, which includes NSF, NASA, DOE Office of Science, and Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, will see a 4% reduction from FY 2011 President’s budget request levels. The report also states, “The resolution preserves basic research, providing stable funding for NSF to conduct its authorized activities. The budget also recognizes the vital strategic importance of the United States to remain the pre-eminent space-faring Nation.” The report also calls out the DOE Office of Science for not yet spending half of their stimulus funding (although not clear if some of those funds have already been obligated), and furthers the basic/applied research divide stating that “The resolution levels support preserving the Office of Science’s original role as a venue for groundbreaking scientific discoveries, while paring back applied and commercial research and development.”

The theoretical divide between basic and applied research continues to play a role in budget discussions regarding research funding, with Republicans generally arguing that basic research is an inherent  government function, while the burden of conducting applied research should be shouldered by industry alone. The dividing line is, of course, not that clear. A 2005 National Research Council (NRC) report on basic research at DoD described the interrelationship well, ““It is also important to note that the need for discovery from basic research does not end once a specific use is identified, but continues through applied research, development, and operations stages. Basic research is not part of a sequential, linear process from basic research, to applied research, to development, and to application. DoD should view basic research, applied research, and development as continuing activities occurring in parallel, with numerous supporting connections throughout the process.”

President Obama this week, during a speech at the George Washington University,  laid out his vision on how to address the federal deficit problem. He outlined a goal of  reducing deficits by $4 trillion over 12 years or less, while “supporting our economic recovery and ensuring we are making the investments we need to win the future.”  The President’s plan would include spending cuts and tax increases, and would include a “debt failsafe” trigger that would require an across the board cut if certain goals weren’t reached. During the speech, the President cited the importance of continuing to invest in “medical research, clean energy technology, education, and infrastructure.” The President asked Congressional leaders to appoint 16 members to work with Vice President on a plan to address the federal deficit.

According to Senator Warner (D-VA), the Senate “Gang of Six” is apparently close to revealing their plan to deficit reduction plan, but with Congress in a two-week recess and the Vice President forming his own group, things may get muddier before they become clear.

Also of Note

The House continued its consideration of Patent Reform legislation, H.R. 1249, the America Invents Act, with a markup by the House Judiciary Committee that lasted over six hours. After considering several contentious amendments, the final bill passed the committee with a vote of 32-3. The amended bill, now headed to the House floor, would require the U.S. to adopt a first-to-file system and establish a new post-grant review process. It would also subject business method patents to a special review process, and allows the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to keep revenues from patent fees and to determine how to best process application filings.

The Senate completed its third week of debate on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) legislation (S.493) this week. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) entered a key amendment to the bill, largely supported by the university research community, that would strike the increase in the SBIR set-aside. The amendment will likely be considered when The Senate returns from recess in May. According to Roll Call, A dispute between Sen. Olympia Snow (R-ME) and Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) apparently precluded an agreement from being reached that could complete the bill before the recess.

According to the Texas A&M Battalion newspaper, during a recent visit to campus by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich where he discussed his views of balanced budget, Gingrich  stated, “If I were [making the decisions], I would increase funding to NIH, but I would increase NSF funding even more…If we are going to compete with China and India and solve the problems facing this country, we need to have more science, more technology and very dramatic education reform.”

As part of President Obama’s effort to implement government-wide regulatory reform announced earlier this year, several agencies have requested comments from stakeholders on regulatory burdens. This week, the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), an association of over 180 research institutions that focuses on  the impact of federal regulations, policies, and practices on the performance of research, and the Association of American Universities (AAU), an association of 61 of the top public and private research institutions, submitted a letter to the DHS in response to one such request for information. The letter discusses the treatment of universities under the DHS chemical facilities ant-terrorism regulations, and new H-1B visa requirements regarding export controls.

The National Science Board released their new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Data and Trends tool, a “web-based statistical tool for the STEM education communities…provid[ing] easy access to data for parents, students, guidance counselors, teachers and other stakeholders in pre-college and undergraduate STEM education.”

What’s on Deck

The House and Senate began their two-week recess last Friday, and will reconvene the first week of May. You can keep an eye out for upcoming events on Twitter: http://twitter.com/newscipol.

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