December 5th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or December Dallying

With the Super Committee’s failed deadline now in the rear view mirror, Congress has turned its focus to other business such as considering extension of the payroll tax, passing the defense authorization bill, and finishing up FY 2012 spending bills. The government is currently operating under a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that lasts until December 16th, a date that is rapidly approaching. Behind the scene negotiations are focused on compiling the nine remaining FY 2012 spending bills into one big omnibus bill that will fund the government through the end of the year. While there seems to be a real desire to get this done before December 16th to avoid any threat of government shutdown, some concerns still exist regarding policy riders that could derail the bill.

Despite veto threats from President Obama, chatter continued last week about trying to move legislation before the holidays to protect defense spending from the effects of sequestration, which is set to begin in January 2013. With FY 2012 still  hanging in the balance, however, it appears that any efforts to alter sequestration won’t hit the floor until next year.  Politico published a useful chart that demonstrates how the different buckets of government spending would be affected by sequestration. According to this chart, non-defense discretionary spending—which funds most basic research—would see a cut of $294 billion over the next ten years.

Also of Note

Energy. President Obama announced the nomination of Dr. Arun Majumdar to be the next Undersecretary of Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE). Dr. Majumdar has been the Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) since 2009, and has been acting Under Secretary since March. It is unclear who will take the helm at ARPA-E if Dr. Majumdar gets confirmed.

Health. Sally Rockey, the Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported in her blog that the agency has posted the feedback received from their recent request for input on the administrative burdens and cost of research. NIH gathered this input as part of an official Request for Information (RFI) from the White House on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-21, which provides rules regarding the administration of federal research grants and contracts

NIH announced that it would adopt 8th Edition of the “Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals,” effective January 1, 2012. The NIH solicited public input on this guide back in the spring, and has now posted a summary of the 806 comments received, its responses to some of the public’s concerns, and a new set of FAQs related to the guide.

The NIH is also preparing for the implementation of a new rule on financial conflict of interest (FCOI) which was announced back in February and goes into effect in August 2012. This new rule, which updates a 1995 regulation, is designed to increase transparency surrounding potential industry influence of research funded by the NIH.  NIH hosted a webinar to help research organizations prepare for the new rule, entitled “What NIH Grantees Need to Know About the 2011 Revised Financial Conflict of Interest (FCOI) Regulations.”

Immigration. The House approved the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act” (H.R. 3012), with a vote of 389 to 15. This bill aims to reform the employment-based visa system that allows highly skilled immigrants (many of whom came to the U.S. to attend higher education institutions) to stay and work in the U.S., by eliminating the caps imposed per country on the number of visas they can receive. This cap particularly effects populous countries like China and India who have high numbers of scientists and engineers who want to work in the U.S.

Research. A group of higher education associations wrote to the House Judiciary Committee with concerns on the  Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act of 2011 (H.R. 3433), a bill reported out by that committee in November. Overall, the letter argues that the new legislation is not necessary, since research organizations already provide much of the requested information to the government, but also outlined a number of specific concerns related to privacy and national security.

The Senate reauthorized the Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. These programs allow for a certain percentage of federal research dollars to  be awarded to small businesses. Both the Senate and the House have contemplated reauthorizing the popular programs, but only the Senate has sought to increase the percentage set-aside to fund the program. Some research entities have opposed the increased funding, as it reduces the overall federal funding available for research to non-profit entities. It remains unclear which version of the bill make it into law.

MIT. I have to throw in a special category this week for my MIT readers, as a number of senior federal officials visited campus last week to explore the intersection of federally funded research and public policy. Secretary of Energy Steve Chu discussed the history of federal support for transformative technologies and steps DOE is taking to win the clean energy race. MIT also hosted a regional meeting of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), which featured the Dr. Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Patrick Gallagher, the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Dr. Ken Gabriel, the Deputy Director of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Administration (DARPA), and Dr. Henry Kelly, the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at DOE. Finally, DARPA Director Dr. Regina Dugan visited the campus to discuss that agency’s efforts surrounding manufacturing.

In Print

A Wall Street Journal piece entitled “Gingrich Evolves on Federal Role” references former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s historic support of federally funded research, particularly at NIH and NSF.

The Wall Street Journal gathered a group of 100 CEOs of large companies to discuss what policies most affect their business and the global economy. Investment in energy research and development made it into their top 5 priorities: “Assure sustained government investment, intelligent legislation and public-private partnership in energy research and development across the range of energy resources, rather than volatile and uncertain funding.”

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) penned an op-ed in the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News on the importance of NIH supported biomedical research, both to the nation and to Kansas.

Bill Brinkman, Director of DOE’s Office of Science argued for continued emphasis on federally funded research, even when times are tight, in an  InsideScience.org piece entitled “In Era of Constrained Budgets, Basic Research Remains Critical for Nation’s Prosperity.

In a Huffington Post piece, Neal Sweeney, a postdoc at University of California Santa Cruz, shared his concerns about the effects of sequestration on federal funding for research.

What’s On Deck

Tuesday

Wednesday

  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Turning the Investigation on the Science of Forensics.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment will hold a hearing on Energy Critical Elements.
  • The National Association of Manufacturers and the Senate Science and Technology Caucus will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on
    Advanced Materials and U.S. Manufacturing Growth. Contact braymond (at) nam.org for more information.

 Thursday

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Dr. Arun Majumdar to be the next Under Secretary for Energy at the DOE (see story under Energy).
  • The Foundation for Nuclear Studies will hold a Capitol Hill Briefing on the “NASA Mars Rover Mission: Nuclear Technologies in Space Exploration.” Contact carter (at) helenmilby.com for additional information.

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