November 7th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Let the Conferencing Begin

The Senate passed it’s first FY 2012 “minibus” spending bill last week, which includes the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), Transportation-HUD, and Agriculture spending bills. This bill lays out funding for several research agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  The bill doesn’t contain any surprises, as it provides funding levels that match individual bills already considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee (you can learn more by reading a recent letter to appropriators from the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)  in support of the CJS portion of the bill). The real negotiations will take place during conference, when the House and Senate try to reconcile their disparate bills.

In a signal of how lost the concept of “regular order” has become, CQ reports that this will be the first official appropriations conference held in nearly two years. While the House already passed the three spending bills included in this minibus, their bills provide less funding overall than the Senate’s bill. This is partly because the Senate bill was drafted after the Budget Control Act was enacted, which provided a top-line number for FY 2012 spending that both parties agreed on. It appears that the conferees will stick to the higher number used by the Senate, which means the final numbers are likely to trend upward in the direction of the Senate bill. This could be good news for research funding agencies.

The next minibus to be considered by the Senate will likely include the Energy and Water Development bill, which includes research funding for the DOE Office of Science. We will also likely see one of these minibuses have attached to it another short-term continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past November 18th, when the current CR runs out.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction appeared to have a slow week of negotiations on deficit reduction measures, despite the fact that they continue to receive piles of recommendations from their fellow members of Congress and beyond. Roll Call reported that a bipartisan group of 100 House members (60 Democrats and 40 Republicans) wrote to the Joint Committee urging it to consider “all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues” and to aim for a $4 trillion deficit reduction package.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) spearheaded a letter signed by over 70 higher education associations, universities, and scientific societies urging the committee to “ keep in mind that drastic cuts to research investments in the discretionary accounts, both defense and non-defense, would set a dangerous precedent that would inhibit immediate scientific progress and threaten our international competitiveness long into the future.”

Also of Note


Energy. Senator Bingaman (D-NM), Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced a bill last week “to amend the Federal Non-nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 1974 to provide for the prioritization, coordination, and streamlining of energy research, development, and demonstration programs to meet current and future energy needs” (S.1807). I haven’t seen the text yet, but it will likely address research undertaken at the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science.

Health. ScienceInsider reported on a National Research Council (NRC) study titled Toward Precision Medicine: Building a Knowledge Network for Biomedical Research and a New Taxonomy of Disease. Calling it a “Google Map” for disease, this data network would combine genomic and molecular data on patients’ diseases with their medical records, all in the hopes of moving health care into “precision medicine.”

Research. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently announced the creation of a Council on Financial Assistance Reform, to improve outreach to the public on the availability of federal grants, to streamline the grant-making process, and to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse. This council, which replaces the former Grants Policy Council and Grants Executive Board, will be composed of the heads of nine agencies, including some major research agencies (Health and Human Services and the DOE) and a senior policy official from the NSF. You can read more about the new council in this Government Executive article.

Space. Space News reported on a debate on the future health of NASA’s planetary science program. Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, wrote in a recent op-ed that the Administration’s FY 2013 budget would kill the program. At a recent NASA Advisory Council on Planetary Science subcommittee meeting, however, the head of that program stated explicitly “It is not true the planetary program is being killed.” It does appear, however, that funding for the program—which received $1.5 billion in the just passed minibus bill—will continue to decline over coming years.

In Print

An op-ed in the Washington Post this weekend asked the question, “Who needs government-funded research on a cow’s stomach? We all do.” The piece addresses the many threats to cut government funding for silly-sounding science, with a discussion of the important role of government in funding basic research.

A Boston Globe op-ed written by a pharmaceutical scientist criticizes the newly proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) at NIH, citing the government’s lack of knowledge of the drug development process, limited budget, and institutional culture as barriers to this new organization’s success.

In a Roll Call op-ed, Former Democratic Member of Congress Vic Fazio from California calls investments in NSF and NIH “critical,” and argues that they should be protected in deficit reduction measures.

An article in the New York Times, “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just so Darn Hard)” looks beyond K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and discusses how colleges and universities contribute to students leaving STEM fields.

The Sacremento Bee reported on a new study by comScore that ranks the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website #1 among visited government sites, with 10.6 million Americans accessing it in September 2011 alone.

What’s On Deck

The House is on recess this week, the Senate is in session.


  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing  to consider market developments for U.S. natural gas, including the approval process and potential for liquefied natural gas exports.


  • Arizona State University will hold a forum at the National Press Club addressing the question, Has the U.S. Ceded its Lead in Science and Technology?



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