September 19th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Senate’s Take on Science

It was another productive week in the Senate, with the Appropriations Committee approving four more FY 2012 spending bills, Commerce, Justice, Science, Defense, Financial Services and Legislative Branch. These first two bills are important for the research community a they include funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Defense basic research programs (more details below).

In the House, appropriators released a draft continuing resolution (CR), which will keep the government flush from the beginning of the next Fiscal Year (October 1st) until just before Thanksgiving. This CR will allow both chambers to complete work on their FY 2012 spending bills before (hopefully) enacting a year long bill. The CR would fund the government at the level for FY 2012 outlined in the Budget Control Act, $1.043 trillion. I hear that the House and Senate may both consider the CR this week, a whole week in advance of the deadline! Final consideration may be held up, however, by some concerns about disaster relief funding and funding for flood control measures, coming in particular from Senator Landrieu (D-LA).

The deficit reduction “Super Committee” kicked off what will surely be a busy few months with a hearing last week on the “history and driver of the nation’s debt.” While I’m sure this history lesson will be informative, I look forward to hearing more in the coming weeks on potential solutions to the nation’s deficit challenges.

 Also of Note

Appropriations. As mentioned above, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved its FY 2012 spending bills for Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Defense.  In general, the research programs in CJS endured cuts, while the defense research programs received slight increases. I encourage you to read the committee reports which are available here for more details on how this money will be spent, but I’ve included some highlights below.

  • NSF received $6.698 billion overall, $162 million less than FY 2011 levels.
  • NASA received $17.9 billion, $509 million less than FY 2011 levels.
  • NOAA received $5.02 billion, $434 million above FY 2011 levels.
  • NIST received $680 million, $70 million below FY 2011 levels.
  • Department of Defense total basic research (6.1) received $2.082 billion, 6.9% over FY 2011 levels.

Education. The Association of American Universities (AAU) this week announced a new initiative to improve undergraduate teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.  This initiative will involve universities, teaching experts, and scientific societies to encourage the use of new teaching techniques in the classroom.

Energy. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing this week to consider the nomination of David T. Danielson, an MIT alumnus, to be the Assistant Secretary of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE). EERE is the umbrella organization that oversees the applied research programs at the DOE.

The American Energy Innovation Council, a group of business leaders that includes Norm Augustine, Ursula Burns, John Doerr, Bill Gates and Chad Holliday, issued a report this week entitled ‘Catalyzing American Ingenuity.’  This report emphasizes the importance of federal support for basic research in energy, building on an earlier report issued by the group called ‘A Business Plan for America’s Energy Future’ that recommended a $16 billion annual investment in energy research. The Senate Energy Committee issued a press release, welcoming the recommendations included in the report.

Patent Reform. President Obama signed the America Invents Act into law on Friday during a visit to a science and technology high school in Alexandria, VA, capping off a six-year effort to reform the U.S. patent system. During his remarks, President Obama stated, “We can’t afford to drag our feet any longer, not at a time when we should be doing everything we can to create good middle-class jobs to put Americans back to work.  We have always succeeded because we have been the most dynamic, innovative economy in the world.  That has to be encouraged.  That has to be continued.”

Space. The battle heated up this week over NASA’s James Webb Telescope, the intended replacement for the Hubble telescope. As I reported earlier this year, the House voted to cancel the project which has been long over-budget and behind schedule. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2012 Commerce-Science-Justice (CJS) funding bill (described above), however, included $529 million for the project, $150 million more than the President’s budget request. A story in Space News points out that Senator Mikulski (D-MD), Chair of the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee in charge of the bill, is a big NASA supporter as the Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the telescope project, is in Greenbelt, Md

In other news, NASA announced this week their plans for a new Deep Space Exploration System, “an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.”

In Print

Rush Holt, Democratic Congressman from New Jersey and one of the few scientists in Congress, penned a piece in Science Magazine entitled Dueling Visions for Science, describing the current political landscape surrounding research funding.

What’s on Deck


  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will mark up their FY 2012 spending bills.


  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will be holding a hearing on Technology and Innovation Subcommittee Hearing - Cloud Computing.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Research and Science Education Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Oversight of the Networking & Information Tech Research.


  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will be holding a hearing on NASA Human Spaceflight.


  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Investigations and Oversight, Energy and Environment Subcommittees will hold a joint hearing on Polar Weather Satellite Program

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