July 11th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Fiscal Fireworks

Washington was abuzz with a lot more than fireworks last week, which is definitely not the norm for a fourth of July week during which Congress would normally be in recess. As reported in my last update, the Senate cancelled their recess in order to allow more time for debt ceiling/deficit negotiations. The House took their recess the week prior to the fourth, keeping in line with their two-week-in-DC-one-week-at home schedule.

The House passed the Department of Defense (DoD) FY 2012 appropriations bill on Friday morning, after almost a week-long debate and consideration of amendments. The House also kicked off its consideration of the FY 2012 Energy & Water bill which is expected to continue through next week. The House Appropriations Committee released its draft Commerce, Science, and Justice Subcommittee and Interior and Environment bills in preparation for subcommittee markups (more on that below).

In the Senate, Budget Committee Chairman Senator Conrad (D-ND) delayed once again the anticipated public release of the FY 2012 budget resolution, although he apparently revealed the plan to Democrats on Wednesday and it was well received.

Debt limit/deficit reduction talks continued throughout the week and over the weekend at the White House between President Obama and Congressional leadership. Despite reports early on Sunday that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) had pulled out of the talks, news after a meeting at the White House later that day was that the two parties were continuing to negotiate and will meet again today. At stake continue to be the issues of taxes, Medicare and Medicaid, and more so this week Social Security and Defense, on top of already proposed cuts to discretionary spending (where most research funding comes from of). While negotiators are working toward the August 2nd deadline set by the Treasury, chances seem slim that a broad deal will be negotiated by that point. Instead, Congress could enact a short-term debt ceiling package that would push the real decision making off until next year which, being an election year, could make things even more complicated.

Also of note

Appropriations. On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee released its Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill for FY 2012, in anticipation of the Subcommittee’s markup of the bill the next day. The bill would cut funding for the the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), while maintaining level funding (from FY 2011) for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The overall funding levels for these agencies are below, and you can view the committee’s  comparison chart of FY 2011 vs. FY 2012 here.

  • NASA: $16.8 billion, 8.9% less than FY  2011
  • NIST: $750.1 million, 6.6% less than FY 2011
  • NSF: $6.85 billion, same as FY 2011
  • OSTP: $3 million, 55.2% (!) from FY 2011

One item of note in the bill is that within NSF and NIST, research accounts are increased while other accounts are decreased or kept level. Also, a large chunk of the NASA cut comes from the elimination of the James Webb Telescope due to alleged budget overruns and mismanagement. This funding may very well get restored as the bill moves forward, given NASA’s large supporter base on the Hill. Finally, the bill contain similar language to the FY 2011 final appropriations bill that would prohibit NASA and OSTP from engaging in joint research programs with China (link back).

The House Appropriations Committee also this week released its draft FY 2012 Interior-Environment appropriations bill, which funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), among others. The USGS funding level is $27.5 billion, 7.1% less than FY 2011.  This cut in research specifically targets climate change research, continuing an ongoing trend in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. I don’t track EPA’s funding here since they don’t conduct much extramural research, but you can read the bill language (linked above) if you are curious about their programs.

Energy. The House of Representatives will continue its consideration of FY 2012 Energy & Water Development Appropriations this week. I have heard there may be some Democratic amendments considered to restore research funding to its FY 2011 levels (the bill now cuts Office of Science by $43 million), so will report on the outcome of this next week (or you can watch it on C-SPAN). The White House weighed in on this bill last week with a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) that listed cut to DOE research at the top of its concerns. The SAP devotes two paragraphs to concerns over cuts to clean energy and climate related R&D.

National Science Foundation. NSF announced a new initiative that would bring NSF and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) together to connect domestic and foreign researchers to study challenges facing developing nations. The Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) will support both existing and new research collaborations.

The National Science Board announced this week that it is seeking nominations for new board members to serve for the years 2012-2018.

Patent reform. It looks like the patent reform bill that passed the House two weeks ago is stalled in the Senate for now, due to the focus in that chamber on the debt limit.

Transportation. The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) at the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced this week via Federal Register that it would be conducting a competition for University Transportation Centers (UTC) Program grants in the areas of multi-modal and multidisciplinary research, education, and technology transfer.

In print. The latest issue of Issues in Science and Technology contains a piece written by representatives from the Association of American Universities (AAU) and Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) that discusses burdensome federal regulations governing sponsored research, and offers a framework to improve them.

In an article released last week in the journal Science Translational Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins defended his new initiative, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), a center designed to streamline the transition of research results to the marketplace.

Robert Creamer wrote a piece in Huffington Post on how cutting funding for NIH would decrease our national security by taking resources from the “war” against outbreaks of the flu and other viruses.

David Brooks penned an op-ed in the New York Times on the importance of Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) research, an area which has been under attack lately on the Hill, for example in Senator Coburn’s (R-OK) recent report “Under the Microscope” which recommended elimination of the SBE Directorate at NSF.

James Surowiec’s latest piece on the Financial Page of The New Yorker, Sputnikonomics, argues that government investment in areas such as R&D and infrastructure provide the fuel for long-term economic growth.

What’s On Deck:


  • The full House Appropriations Committee will mark up the Commerce, Science, and Justice FY 2012 funding bill.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider several pieces of legislation, including one to improve administration at the DOE.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation will hold a markup on The Border Security Technology Innovation Act of 2011.


  • The full House Appropriations Committee will mark up the Interior and Environment FY 2012 funding bill.


  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on The National Nanotechnology Investment: Manufacturing, Commercialization, and Job Creation.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee Energy and Water Subcommittee will hold a hearing on An Examination of the Safety and Economics of Light Water Small Modular Reactors.


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