August 1st, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Making Monty Proud

With the August 2nd deadline to lift the debt ceiling approaching, and high level talks broken down, Congress spent last week considering two separate plans, one put forth by House Republicans and another by Senate Democrats. I could bore you with the details of both plans, but honestly neither of them stood a chance in the other chamber, and as of Sunday night a third plan emerged that reportedly has bipartisan support.  This plan would raise the debt ceiling in two phases, first by $900 billion to carry the government through early next year, and then by up to $1.5 trillion, but only if a bipartisan and bicameral deficit reduction committee identifies an equal amount of cuts. Democrats also agreed to vote on a balanced budget amendment, a central part of the House Republican plan put forth earlier in the week, but the amendment doesn’t necessarily have to pass. Speaker of the House Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) will present the deal to their caucuses this morning, who will likely need convincing on both sides.  It is too soon to tell what this deal may mean for research funding, but one certainty is that the new deficit reduction committee will leave no stone unturned in the coming months trying to identify the significant cuts called for in the deal.

Also of Note

Education. The National Academies of Science board on Science Education released a Framework for K-12 Science Education. This framework offers a new approach to development of K-12 science and engineering standards According to NAS, the overarching goal is for “all high school graduates to have sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on science-related issues; be careful consumers of scientific and technological information; and have the skills to enter the careers of their choice.”

Energy. The President announced his intent to nominate Dr. David Danielson to be the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the Department of Energy (DOE).  Dr. Danielson, a materials scientist, former venture capitalist, and MIT alum, is currently a Program Director at DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

Health. A U.S. District Judge last week threw out a lawsuit that would seek to block federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. As reported previously, this same judge had initially issued an injunction on such research based on the lawsuit, but that decision was overturned by an appeals court. The original plaintiffs still have 60 days to file an appeal.

A group of 80+ associations and universities organized by the Coalition to Promote Research (CPR) urged House appropriators this week to support peer review at NIH. According to the American Association of Universities, this letter—in part—responded to a recent report from the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) which criticized certain NIH grants.

According to the Society of Toxicology, Antonio Scarpa, M.D., Ph.D. announced that he will resign as Director of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in early September.

Homeland Security. The full House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved H.R. 2096, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2011, a bill designed to enhance coordination of research and other activities related to cyber security across the government.

Science. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced its new Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, a public-private partnership that will encourage commercialization of federally funded research by providing monetary and mentoring support to researchers with nascent commercial concepts. I-Corps will initially support up to 100 projects per year, at $50,000 a project.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing on the Merit Review Process for Awarding of Federal Research Grants. Witnesses from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the American Chemical Society, the University of California San Francisco, and Indiana University testified on the importance of merit review to the scientific enterprise. Despite expectations that some Republican committee members may attack merit review, much of their questioning focused on trying to improve their understanding of the process.

The Democratic Staff of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee released a report entitled “Out of Focus: A Critical Assessment of the Senate Report, “The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope” refuting many of the claims made in that report recently released by Senator Coburn. In her press release, the committee’s Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) stated that after looking into Coburn’s allegations, “what they found was that the claims were unsubstantiated—and reflected a misunderstanding of appropriations law, grant management practices, and the actual findings of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports.”

As reported last week, the White House is seeking guidance on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-21, which governs  reimbursement of expenses on government research grants and and contracts with universities. The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) submitted a joint response to this request, which is recommended reading only for those of you interested in the nitty-gritting of federal grants and contracting.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has named E. William (Bill) Colglazier to be her new Science and Technology Adviser. Dr. Colglazier, a physicist, recently retired as executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council.

In print

In Thomas Friedman’s new column in the New York Times“Can’t We Do This Right?”, he argues for targeted support of the five basic pillars of our nation’s success, which according to him include educating the workforce, attracting the world’s brightest talent, building the best infrastructure, putting together regulations to incentivize risk taking, and “funding research to push out the boundaries of science and then let American innovators and venture capitalists pluck off the most promising new ideas for new business.”

The American Enterprise Institute issued a report entitled For Want of a Nail: The Case for Increased Agricultural R&D Spending. This report, authored by Philip G. Pardey of the University of Minnesota and Julian M. Alstonhich of the University of California-Davis, highlights the high social rate of return on agriculture research investments.

Building on the successful launch of MIT’s White Paper on Convergence in January 2011, MIT professors Phil Sharp and Bob Langer published an article in Science magazine’s Policy Forum, entitled “Promoting Convergence in Biomedical Science.” In this piece, the authors argue that a more interdisciplinary research approach will be necessary to solve increasingly complex biomedical challenges.

What’s On Deck

Wednesday

Thursday

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