May 16th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or All Hat and No Cattle

I wish I could report on concrete progress made last week in the deficit and debt limit discussions taking place in Washington, but unfortunately the week was heavy on hat, without much cattle (sometimes it helps to imagine I’m out west on a ranch, instead of stuck inside the beltway).

The deficit reduction group convened by Vice President Biden I reported on last week met again at the White House, while President Obama hosted two separate meetings with Senate Democrats and Republicans to discuss the deficit. No news came forth from the “Gang of Six,” despite rumors that they were finally ready to introduce their blueprint, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (R-NE) postponed the FY 2012 budget resolution markup yet again. Rumblings last week indicated that any proposed long-term solution to reduce the deficit would not address the two most contentious issues of Medicare/Medicaid reform and taxes, instead pushing them off until after the 2012 elections. This does not bode well for discretionary spending, including on research, which will continue to bear the brunt of spending cuts. But it also leads me to wonder, if members feel too  vulnerable now—almost 18 months away from the next election—to address the big hot button issues, when won’t they feel that way?

Although Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner has said the government can function within the current debt limit ceiling until August, the issue of raising the limit continues to take center stage. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) emphasized the connection between spending cuts and the debt limit, saying during a speech at the New York Economic Club that the debt limit won’t be increased unless significant spending cuts and reforms are put in place. Meanwhile, Congressional Quarterly reported that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, at a hearing before the Senate Banking, House and Urban Affairs Committee, cautioned that “using the debt limit as a bargaining chip is quite risky. We don’t know exactly what would happen if the debt limit is not approved.”

In the House, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) announced the schedule for appropriations subcommittee markups, vowing to have the 12 bills done “on time and on budget” before the new fiscal year starts in October. The release also included subcommittee allocations (also known as 302(b) allocations), which let each Subcommittee chair know how big their piece of the total budget pie is. Not surprisingly, all the 302(b) allocations, save Defense, were decreased from the FY 2011 enacted continuing resolution (CR) levels. Below are some numbers of particular note to the research community:

Summary of 302(b) Allocations for
Select Appropriations Subcommittees
Pres. Budget
Commerce, Justice, Science
Includes NSF, NASA, NIST
$53.3B $57.7B $50.2B
Includes all defense research
$513.0B $538.9B $530.0B
Energy and Water
Includes Office of Science
$31.7B $36.5B $30.6B
Labor, HHS, Education
Includes NIH
$157.4B $180.8B $139.2B
Source: House Appropriations Committee

Also of Note

At a Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FY 2012 budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH),  Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) expressed support for increased federal funding for NIH and discounted proposals to cut its budget, saying “Let’s set aside for a moment any thoughts about the moral value of trying to improve people’s health, and look at the issue purely from an economic point of view.  NIH research is one of the best investments this country can make.” Harkin then referred to two complementary studies issued last week by United for Medical Research (UMR) and Battelle, both offering estimates of the economic impact of NIH research. The UMR study reports that in FY 2012 alone, NIH research directly and indirectly supported 488,000 jobs and produced $68B in new economic activity. The Battelle study reports that a $3.8B federal investment in the Human Genome Project helped drive $796 billion in economic impact.

During the same hearing, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-AL), the Committee’s Ranking Member, focused his questioning on the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at NIH, a new center that would focus on accelerating the transition of promising therapeutics to the marketplace, something described by The New York Times as “akin to that of a home seller who spruces up properties to attract buyers in a down market.” NCATS would combine several existing translational programs housed in various NIH centers, including the National Center for Research Resources which would be dissolved, and would also house the new Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) included in last year’s health care reform bill. The center has been somewhat controversial, in part because of the rapid speed with which the reorganization has progressed at NIH.

The Department of Energy (DOE) this week released their FY 2011 Strategic Plan, which it describes as “a comprehensive blueprint to guide the agency’s core mission of ensuring America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” What’s not yet clear is how this will relate to the DOE Quadrennial Technology Review, a process the department initiated back in March.

Senator Burr (R-NC) introduced legislation that would combine the DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (S.892), with the goal of saving approximately $3B in FY 2012.  A big portion of the savings would apparently come from cutting research, with the DOE Office of Science funding reduced from $4.8B in the FY 2011 CR to $1.3B for years FY 2012 - FY 2016. It is doubtful that this proposal will gain much traction, and Politico reports that the White House, not surprisingly, “unequivocally oppose(s) this bill.”

This was a busy week for immigration policy, with the President making remarks on comprehensive reform in El Paso, TX and the White House simultaneously issuing its Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System. One tenet of the President’s plan is that immigration reform is an economic imperative, citing among other statistics that “immigrants represent 24 percent of U.S. scientists and 47 percent of U.S. engineers with bachelor or doctorate degrees.” The progressive think tank Third Way issued their report, Becoming a Magnet for Global Talent, arguing the economic importance of attracting foreign talent to the U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it would expand their list of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines that can be used toward the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. This program allows certain students to stay in the U.S. on a student visa for an additional year after graduation to complete practical training related to their field. This policy change will allow graduates of certain disciplines to stay in the U.S. for an additional 17 months beyond the initial year.

Politico reported that Democratic Californian Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Annual Digital Patrons Dinner, referred to federal investment in science and research as a critical “ingredient” in the success of the technology industry.  Representative Eshoo is Co-Chair of the House Internet Caucus and the House Medical Technology Caucus.

If you haven’t visited the American Institute of Physics FYI Bulletin of Science News, I highly recommend it. Richard Jones provides detailed summaries of science-related hearings, usually a few days to weeks after they take place. I particularly enjoyed reading FYI’s recent summary of an April House Science Committee Research and Education Subcommittee oversight hearing on the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

What’s On Deck

The House and Senate adopted independent calendars for this Congressional session, resulting in several weeks when only one chamber will be in session. This week is one of those, as the Senate will convene while the House is in recess.  According to the schedule, at least one chamber will be in session from now until the August recess.

On Wednesday, The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the DOE FY 2012 budget request.

On Monday and Tuesday, The Howard Baker Forum, The Bipartisan Policy Center, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will host A National Summit on Advancing Clean Energy Technologies: Entrepreneurship and Innovation through High Performance Computing.

Also on Wednesday, The House STEM Caucus, in conjunction with several engineering societies, will hold a Hill briefing on Engineering Concepts in the K-12 Classroom.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)  is looking for interns for Fall 2011. The deadline for applications in June 1st.


  1. says:

    May 19th, 2011 at 5:00 pm (#)

    Conrad: No budget resolution markup…

    Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) stated Thursday he is deferring a markup of a budget resolution pending the outcome of deficit speaks being led by Vice President Joe Biden. Democrats have been hammered by the GOP for failing to ag…