June 6th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Regarding Research Reductions

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 appropriations process moved forward in the House of Representatives this week, with the full chamber passing the Homeland Security bill, the full Appropriations Committee passing the Agriculture bill, and the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee passing its bill. Each of these bills included varying degrees of cuts to research funding from FY 2011 levels, as detailed further below.

The House also kicked off the week by holding a symbolic vote on raising the U.S. debt ceiling. The bill was not expected to pass, but rather to send a message to the White House that the debt ceiling would not be raised without accompanying cuts in spending. The bill failed by a vote of 97-318, with no Republicans and about half of Democrats voting for it. Shortly after the vote, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) released a statement signed by more than 150 economists saying “It is critical that any debt limit legislation enacted by Congress include spending cuts and reforms that are greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority.” Among the Democratic voices opposing this vote was that of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who said in a statement that “Unfortunately this week we played a game…[The debt limit vote] was political theater, and everybody recognized it was political theater. When you have every Republican voting against a piece of legislation, that their leader says would have been an adult moment, you know this is not real. We’ve got to be real. We’ve got to be serious.”

Meanwhile, Vice President Biden convened his debt/deficit group again last week, and President Obama met with both Republican and Democratic members of Congress at the White House to discuss the country’s fiscal situation. I reported a few weeks ago that the bipartisan “Gang of Six” had essentially fallen apart when Senator Coburn (R-OK) left the group. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Former Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, wrote that the rumors of the demise of the “Gang of Six” were over-hyped, and that this group still provides the best hope for finding a solution to the country’s fiscal woes, “Members of both parties and both houses must publicly support the work of the Gang of Six.  This is the time for heroes.  The country is ready for leaders in Washington to put politics aside, pull together—not apart—put national interest ahead of political interests and put the next generation over the next election.”

Also of Note

Energy. The House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee approved its FY2012 spending bill, which includes funding for research at the Department of Energy (DOE). This bill provides $4.8 billion for the Office of Science, $43 million less than FY 2011 funding. While this is a reduction from FY 2011, this could be viewed as a positive outcome for the Office of Science if you take into account that HR1, the bill initially proposed by the House to cut spending back in February, would have cut close to a billion dollars from this office alone. The bill also provides $100 million for Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), $80 million less than the FY 2011 funding, and will increase the number of Energy Innovation Hubs from three to five. The DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office takes a significant cut of $491 million, with  a final funding level of $1.3 billion.

In the Senate, two groups of Senators weighed in with appropriators in support for DOE research. The first letter, sponsored by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and signed by 19 Senators, asks appropriators to treat DOE Office of Science as one of its  highest priorities in FY 2012. The second letter, initiated by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Bingaman and signed by 17 Senators, expresses support for ARPA-E, Energy Innovation Hubs, and Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs).

Agriculture. The full House Appropriations Committee met passed its FY 2012 spending bill. The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) agriculture advocacy arm provides a great summary of this bill on their website. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) took a 16% cut from FY 2011, bringing its total funding down to $1.02 billion. Within NIFA, the Research and Education accounts took a $97 million cut from the FY 2011 enacted amount of $698 million.

Homeland Security. The full House approved the FY 2012 Homeland Security bill, which cuts the appropriation for DHS’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate by some 70%. This bill preserves funding for the DHS university-based Centers of Excellence, but drastically cuts all other R&D conducted by the Directorate, a sign that this Directorate’s future could be in real jeopardy. The Administration opposed the cuts to the S&T Directorate in the Office of Management and Budget’s “Statement of Administration Position” (SAP), and is expected to oppose such cuts when the bill is considered by the Senate.

Commerce. The President nominated John Bryson to be the next Secretary of Commerce, replacing current Secretary Gary Locke who has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to China. Bryson previously served as CEO of the energy company Edison International. The Department of Commerce is home to several agencies and offices that conduct/impact scientific research, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Current Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke wrote the House sponsors of the patent reform bill, the America Invents Act,to provide the Department’s views on the legislation. The Department previously supported the Senate version of the bill which passed in March, and expressed in the letter that while the two bills are different, he is “confident that the variations between the two can be resolved and that enactment of a bipartisan consensus bill is within reach.” The House Judiciary Committee website also lists a number of other organizations supporting this legislation.

NSF. After nearly a year since being first nominated, the Senate finally confirmed Dr. Cora Marrett as the 12th Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). President Obama first nominated Dr. Marrett for this position back in August 2010, and then re-nominated her when the new Congress convened in January 2011.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing examining the need for federal investments in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences (SBE). SBE research has been “Under the Microscope” lately, particularly with the release of Senator Coburn’s report last week of the same name that questioned federal investments in NSF and particularly in SBE-related research. A recurring theme in this hearing was the need for SBE-related research versus “hard science” research, particularly in times of dwindling budgets.

The National Science Board released its FY 2010 Report on the NSF Merit Review Process. Among its findings was that there is a growing amount of  proposed research out there wanting for funding.  In FY 2010, NSF received an increase of 23% of proposals from the number received in FY 2009, which was an overall increase of 74% from the number of proposals received in FY 2001. The NSF funding rate was 23%, down from last year’s 32%, but that is in part due to the influx of funding that NSF received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. stimulus package).

NIH. The National Academies Institute of Medicine (IOM) announced the membership for a new committee that will explore the use of chimpanzees in medical research in the U.S. According to a blog on Nature.com, the new committee will spend the next eight months considering whether or not chimpanzees housed in the four National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported primate centers across the country should be continued to be used in research.

What’s on Deck

The House will be in recess this week.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold several hearings of interest, including one on Tuesday to explore the Nuclear Power 2021 Act;  the American Alternative Fuels Act of 2011; and a bill addressing nuclear research, development and demonstration; another on Thursday to consider a series of bills to promote energy efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles; and a third, also on Thursday, to explore critical minerals and materials legislation.

The American Chemical Society will host a Capitol Hill luncheon briefing on Wednesday on “Innovation, Jobs, and Patents: Understanding the Connection.” For more information on the briefing, contact the ACS Science and the Congress project.

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