May 2nd, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Research and the Royals

It was another quiet week in Washington, which allowed for plenty of time to anticipate the royal wedding that took place on Friday in London. Some highly scientific research conducted by The Telegraph revealed the most joyous moments of the spectacle, as experienced by both men and women. For those of us watching on the East Coast, that joy was tempered by the fact that the wedding aired at 6:00 in the morning!

With the royal festivities over, Washington will be abuzz this week with budget watching. When Congress reconvenes today it will turn its attention to the next budget battle, the fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations process. While the appropriations committees have already held many hearings on the FY 2012 budget request, they will now focus on writing and marking up their bills. In the House, these bills will be guided by the budget resolution adopted before recess, while it remains to be seen how the Senate will proceed with their budget resolution.

Another topic of increasing interest this session will be whether or not to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit ceiling. A recent cautionary warning from Standard & Poors, downgrading the U.S. credit outlook, will certainly add some intensity to this debate. As one of its reasons for the downgrade, S&P stated “Because the U.S. has, relative to its ‘AAA’ peers, what we consider to be very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness and the path to addressing these is not clear to us.” Clearly we’re not the only ones wondering how the country will emerge from its current debt/deficit dilemma.

Also of Note

As part of the FY 2011 continuing resolution (CR), agencies are required to submit spend plans to Congress outlining how they will spend their funds. The National Institute of Health (NIH) released their plan last week, outlining how the 1% reduction in funds would be impact research funding. While some grants will be reduced, the agency expects to award 9050 new and competing research grants, and restated its commitment to new investigators.

A federal appeals court overturned an injunction barring the federal government from funding research conducted with human embryonic stem cells, reversing a previous decision in August 2010 that would have stopped the practice.  NIH Director Francis Collins lauded the decision, stating “This is a momentous day—not only for science, but for the hopes of thousands of patients and their families who are relying on NIH-funded scientists to pursue life-saving discoveries and therapies that could come from stem cell research.”  ScienceInsider reports on this positive development for scientific research, but warns that the legal battle is far from over.

The NIH announced the establishment of a new advisory group on the future of the biomedical research workforce. The new committee, composed of officials from universities and other research organizations, will “recommend actions to the Advisory Committee to the Director to ensure a diverse and sustainable biomedical and behavioral research workforce.” The advisory committee will shape its recommendations with input from students, postdocs, investigators, scientific societies, and research institutions.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced a $130 million funding opportunity focused on the areas of rare earth alternatives, biofuels, thermal storage, grid controls, and solar power electronics. ARPA-E recently got its first significant annual appropriation of $180 million in the FY 2011 CR; prior funding for the agency came through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

As I reported last week, The Heritage Foundation issued a report on the DOE FY 2012 budget request, arguing that funding for applied research at the agency should be essentially eliminated, and funding for basic research drastically reduced. In response, The Breakthrough Institute, The Information Technology Innovation Foundation, and Americans for Energy Leadership issued a white paper in which they detail the “numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies about federal investment in energy innovation” contained in the Heritage report.

The Council on Competitiveness announced that Bart Gordon, former Chair of the House Science Committee, will join the Council as a Distinguished Fellow. Chairman Gordon’s legacy includes The America COMPETES Act, which set out a path to double investments in scientific research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the DOE Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  The Council’s President & CEO Deborah Wince-Smith said of the announcement, “Chairman Gordon’s expertise in science, technology and innovation policy is unmatched…We are privileged to welcome one of the great architects of America’s competitiveness agenda to our team.”

Roger Beachy, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which supports research, education, and extension programs, announced that he would leave his position after less than two years to spend more time with his family in Missouri. As reported by ScienceInsider, Dr. Cathie Woteki, Chief Scientist of the USDA, praised Beachy for his leadership that “contributed to increasing the visibility of science and innovation at USDA so that American agriculture can continue to be the economic engine our nation needs, and help our country keep providing a safe and healthy food supply to the world.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spoke out again last week on the importance of funding for scientific research. According to the Wall Street Journal, at an event at the Brookings Institution, Gingrich outlined some differences between how he and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would reduce the deficit, stating “One of them is [not] cutting investment in science and research…It’s essentially like saying I want to save money on your car [so] we’re not going to change the oil. And for about a year I can get away with it, then the engine will freeze, and we have to change the engine.”

What’s On Deck

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will hold a hearing on The Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s FY 2012 budget request. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will explore The Role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in America’s Energy Future, and The American Energy Initiative: Challenges and Opportunities for Alternative Transportation Fuels and Vehicles. The House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science will hold a hearing on the Office of Science Technology Policy’s FY 2012 budget request.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Clean Energy Deployment Administration, as proposed in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009. The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold several hearings this week, including a look at the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

RTI International will host a policy briefing on Wednesday at the National Press Club on Nanotechnology: The Huge Challenge of Regulating Tiny Technologies.

Save the Date

On May 25th-27th, the DOE will hold a conference on “Science for Our Nation’s Energy Future,” highlighting the Department’s Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). The agenda will include speakers from science, industry, and government, and a poster reception featuring the 46 EFRCs. EFRCs are integrated, multi-investigator centers based at universities, labs, and other research organizations, that conduct “fundamental research focusing on one or more of several ‘grand challenges’ and use-inspired ‘basic research needs’.” Registration for the conference is free and open to the public.



Comments are closed.