September 12th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or No More Excuses

With the Budget Control Act agreement finally in place, the Senate hit the ground running last week on FY 2012. The Appropriations Committee officially adopted the top-line spending level agreed to in the bill, and doled out spending allocations to its various subcommittees. The full Appropriations Committee then approved three of its FY 2012 spending bills, Energy and Water, Homeland Security, and Agriculture. The Senate also passed the America Invents Act, a patent reform measure that has been years in the making (more on all that below).

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee was supposed to mark up its much anticipated FY 2012 Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS) - Education spending bill on Friday, which includes funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but announced on Thursday that the markup had been postponed. What might have been at issue is disagreement between members as to which top-line funding level to use, that passed by the House back in April, or the newer level included in the Budget Control Act (which is about $18 billion higher).  The House Appropriations Transportation and Housing Subcommittee marked up its FY 2012 bill using the higher allocation, but CQ reports that a similar disagreement may hold it up at the full Committee level.

With the clock running out on FY 2011, both chambers are working to draft a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government temporarily until a final FY 2012 spending package is finalized.

On Thursday, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to announce a new jobs package that would require Congress to approve $447 billion in spending to implement. This package includes provisions that would relieve payroll taxes, improve the nation’s infrastructure, and preserve public service jobs, among many others. While getting Congress to agree to this seems unlikely given the current fiscal environment, certain provisions have already garnered bipartisan support, and President Obama claims that every proposed project would be entirely paid for.

Also of Note

Agriculture. The FY2012 agriculture spending bill skipped its Senate Appropriations subcommittee altogether and was considered by the full Committee on Wednesday.  Within this bill, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) received $266 million, $33 million above the House level but $58 million below the President’s request.

Homeland Security.  The Senate Appropriations Committee Homeland Security Subcommittee marked up its FY 2012 homeland security spending bill on Tuesday, and the full committee approved the bill the next day. This bill  includes $800 million for Science and Technology, $281 million less than the current level but $261 million more than the House legislation. This is a huge improvement over the House bill, which according to the Senate press release, “if enacted, the House funding level will effectively end DHS development of new technologies for DHS operations.”

Energy. The Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee also approved its FY 2012 energy and water spending bill on Tuesday, and the full committee approved the bill the next day. This bill would continue funding the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science at its FY 2011 level of $4.84 billion, $42 million above the House-approved FY 2012 level. The bill also would fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy at $250 million, $70 more than the FY 2011 amount and the FY 2012 House bill. DOE’s Energy and Efficiency and Renewable Energy is funded at $1.8 billion, the same as FY 2011 and $498 million above the House FY 2012 level. Additional details on all three of these spending bills can be found in the committee reports, linked here.

Health. Nature reports that NIH Director Francis Collins is looking into a “Plan B” for establishment of the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), a high priority in the NIH FY 2012 budget request. In order for NCATS to be established by Congress, it would be considered a “new start” of sorts, meaning new money would have to be found to get the center started. This will not easy, especially as most of the appropriations subcommittees are operating at levels less than what they started with in FY 2011. It looks like NIH is trying to get an “anomaly” in the current CR being drafted, which would allow the organization to get started on a limited budget. These are often hard to come by, as the whole point of a CR is to keep the government running at a level previously agreed to while making big decisions on future spending.

NSF. The National Science Foundation announced that it is seeking nominations for the 2012 Vannevar Bush Award,  “honoring lifelong leadership in science and technology and contributions to the nation through public service,” and the 2012 National Science Board Public Service Award, “honoring service in public understanding of science and engineering.” Nominations are due November 2nd.

Patent Reform. On Thursday, the Senate passed the America Invents Act, with a vote of 89 to 9, which Politico reports ends a six year long effort to compete the first major overhaul of the patent system in fifty years. The Senate-passed bill was identical to the bill passed by the House back in June, and is expected to be signed by the President in short order. This bill will bring the U.S. patent system in alignment with many other countries, primarily by moving from a first-to-invent system to a first-inventor-to file system. The bill also improves aims to improve the way the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) receives appropriations to help them move the perpetual backlog of patent applications. ScienceInsider published their take on how the patent reform bill will change the way academics commercialize discoveries.

Regulations. As previously reported, the Obama Administration has undertaken a huge effort to review and streamline regulations throughout the government. On August 23rd, the White House released its final plans to reform regulations across the government, including big research agencies such as DOE and HHS.  Several of these proposed regulatory reforms involve streamlining the awarding of research grants, peer review, etc.

In Print

In a Boston Globe piece published the day after President Obama announced his jobs package, NIH Director Francis Collins touted the positive impact of biomedical research on the economy, claiming that every dollar invested in research stimulates two dollars in benefits to the economy.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) issued a new report this week, Innovation, Chemistry, and Jobs. According to a source at ACS, this report “explains how chemical entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to take high-value innovations and commercialize new products and processes that will greatly stimulate economic productivity – bottom line: to create jobs.”

What’s On Deck


  • The Senate Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee will hold a markup on its FY 2012 defense spending bill.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on STEM in Action: Inspiring the Science and Engineering Workforce of Tomorrow.
  • A reception will beheld on Capitol Hill to celebrate the newly formed Senate Oceans Caucus. According to the press release, “this newly founded Senate Oceans Caucus is an important, bi-partisan group that will increase awareness and find common ground in responding to issues facing the oceans” (including research!)


  • The Senate Appropriations Committee Commerce, Science, and Justice and Financial Services Subcommittees will hold markups on their FY 2012 spending bills.


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