May 9th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or a Bipartisan Bravo

The capture of Osama Bin Laden announced by the White House last Sunday night dominated the news this week in Washington, as I’m sure it did across the country. Members of both political parties took advantage of this opportunity to take a break from the endless budget debates and offer praise for President Obama’s leadership of the operation.

In the meantime, a number of groups around Washington continued their efforts to address the nation’s deficit woes. If you’re having a hard time keeping track of them, you’re not alone! Vice President Biden convened one bipartisan group of Congressmen and Senators at the White House last week to discuss the $14.3 trillion debt limit and the current budget impasse. This is the group that President Obama called for after he released his budget plan a few weeks ago, and includes House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-SC), House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI). Members from both parties reported optimism after the meeting, although with Medicare reform and tax disagreements blocking the way, they are admittedly far from a clear path forward.

Meanwhile, the Senate “Gang of Six” continued its work on a plan to reduce the deficit. The group has been working for weeks with no obvious outcome, and some have deemed them irrelevant now that Biden has his group in place. Perhaps sensing the increased pressure, the group is expected to release their plan sometime this week. The “Gang of Six” includes Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-NE), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Mike Crapo (R-ID).  One member of the “Gang of Six,” Chairman Conrad (R-NE), announced last week that he plans to markup his own FY 2012 budget resolution this week. In his position as Chair of the Budget Committee, Senator Conrad needs to do this in order to let the normal (?) appropriations process begin in the Senate.

In the House, the appropriations process soldiers on, with the first deadlines for programmatic requests to appropriations subcommittees due this week. These requests give members of Congress the opportunity to weigh in with appropriators on their priorities for federal spending. Spending bill markups should begin in the coming weeks.

Also of Note

During his keynote address at The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2011 Forum on Science and Technology Policy, Dr. John Holdren, the President’s Science Advisor, discussed the Administration’s successes and challenges in research, technology, and education. While Dr. Holdren touted the commitment to research funding included in the FY 2012 budget request, he acknowledged that getting matching appropriations in the current budget environment would not be easy, saying “an enormous challenge…will be sustaining support for science and technology in a regime of overall budget cuts.”

Dr. Holdren also testified this week in front of the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee on the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) FY 2012 budget request. Space News reports that during the hearing, Dr. Holdren discussed the potential for collaboration with China on future travel to Mars, arguing that such a mission would be better undertaken in concert with other nations, including China, rather than by the U.S on its own. As I reported two weeks ago, the Chairman of that Subcommittee, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), included language in the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) prohibiting NASA and OSTP from collaborating with China. In response to questioning from Chairman Wolf, Holdren argued, “The efforts we are undertaking to do things together with China in science and technology are very carefully crafted to be efforts that are in our own national interest…That does not mean that we admire the Chinese government; that does not mean we are blind to the human rights abuses.”

The House continued its consideration of its version of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) bill this week. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee unanimously approved the bill last Wednesday, and The House Small Business Committee will mark up the bill this Wednesday. The House bill reauthorizes the program, but does not include an increase in the set-aside of research dollars that would fund the program. Many research institutions oppose an increase in the set-aside, which would reduce federal funding for research that is already being targeted in the current environment. The bill, as reported out of the Science Committee, included an amendment offered by Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL), also supported by many research institutions, that would provide funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) STTR program to support Proof of Concept Centers to help commercialize emerging technologies. Despite the movement of the SBIR/STTR bill in the House, the Senate this week failed to reach cloture on their version, which does not bode well for the legislation to progress anytime soon.

Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), the Freshman Chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee, called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide greater disclosure on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus, funding. In his 5-page letter to the Department, Chairman Harris questioned certain projects at DOE, including an unfortunately named project entitled “Green Beer: Not Just for St. Patrick’s Day,” which provided New York beer distributors funding to convert their diesel delivery trucks to compressed natural gas. DOE’s handling of its stimulus funds also came under fire in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity, which claimed that the DOE had not yet spent half of its $1.6 billion in stimulus funds provided to the Office of Science. Sources at DOE indicate that this number deceptively does not count the majority of funds that have already been obligated to specific research programs and projects.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week held a hearing on a proposed Clean Energy Deployment Agency (CEDA). This proposal was included in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, a broad energy bill approved by the Committee during the last Congress. Chairman Bingaman (D-NM) plans to bring the proposal independently to a committee vote during this session, understanding that CEDA would meet a significant need of bridging the “valley of death” by providing financing mechanisms to help bring promising technologies to market.

What’s On Deck

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will explore Hydraulic Fracturing Technologies on Wednesday, and The House Small Business Committee will mark up its version of the SBIR/STTR reauthorization bill, also on Wednesday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will examine the FY 2012 budget requests for the NIH and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Wednesday and Thursday respectively. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will look at New Developments in Upstream Oil and Gas Technologies (Tuesday) and Carbon Capture and Sequestration legislation (Thursday).

Cornell, General Motors, and EMC2 will hold a briefing on capitol hill Monday at noon (2103 Rayburn House Office Building) on “Sustainable Transportation: Accelerating Technology Development through University-Industry Partnerships.”

Bruce Brown, The Chief Technology Officer for Procter & Gamble, will speak at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Wednesday about “Innovation in the Global Economy.”

The Coalition for National Science Funding will hold its annual Capitol Hill reception on Wednesday entitled “STEM Research and Education: Underpinning American Innovation“, featuring exhibits from National Science Foundation researchers.

Save the Date

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences will hold a brief on Capitol Hill on May 26th on how Modeling and Simulation Will Drive 21st Century Manufacturing.

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