December 12th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Organizing the Omnibus

Congressional appropriators continued to work behind the scenes last week to formulate an FY 2012 “omnibus” package which would  include the nine remaining spending bills that have yet to be passed by Congress. According to CQ, however, two of these bills remain especially contentiousLabor/Health and Human Services (HHS)/Education, due to policy riders regarding health care reform, and Interior-Environment due to policy riders regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With one week to go, it remains unclear whether or not appropriators will be able to resolve the sticking points in these two bills, which may result in these two (and maybe others) being included in the final omnibus as year-long continuing resolutions (CRs). If that is the case, the agencies and Departments funded in these bills would remain at FY 2011 levels for the rest of the year, while those covered in the other less controversial spending bills would get new guidance on FY 2012 spending. From a research standpoint, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is covered under Labor/HHS/Education, and therefore could see stagnation in its funding until FY 2013.

It looks like an omnibus bill will be introduced in the House early this week, which will give both chambers only a few days to pass the bill before the end of the week, or to declare defeat and pass another short-term CR until after the holidays. Despite the current glacial pace of Congress, a lot can happen when faced with a deadline such as this Friday, when the current CR runs out and Congress is set to recess for the holidays.

Also of Note

Energy. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a confirmation hearing for Dr. Arun Majumdar to be the next Under Secretary of Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE). Dr. Majumdar has been acting in this position for several months, while also serving as director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). ScienceInsider‘s coverage of the friendly hearing quotes Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) as calling it a bipartisan “competition for throwing bouquets” in Dr. Majumdar’s direction. The question of whether Dr. Majumdar will remain a director of ARPA-E once confirmed as Under Secretary remains.

Health. December 6th was the deadline to submit comments in response to the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Request for Information (RFI) on the development of a Bioeconomy Blueprint. The goal of the Blueprint is to delineate “Administration-wide steps to harness biological research innovations to address national challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment.”  The Association of American Universities and MIT, among many others I’m sure, submitted comments.

As reported back in June, the Institute of Medicine established a Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research that is set to release its report this week. While the report was completed at the request of NIH, its results could influence legislation currently being considered by Congress that would stop the use of chimpanzees for research in the U.S. The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011 (H.R. 1513), and its companion bill in the Senate (S.810) are both under review by their respective Committees of jurisdiction.

Research. As reported last week, the Senate passed an extension of the Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program that would increase funding for the SBIR program at the expense of funding for extramural research administered by federal agencies. The Federal of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) coordinated a letter signed by several higher education associations, scientific societies, and universities opposing the increase to SBIR. The letter argues against reducing funding for basic research at agencies such as NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and that the Defense Authorization Bill which contained the reauthorization is an inappropriate legislative vehicle.

Space. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held another hearing on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. According to press releases issued by the Committee’s Republicans and Democrats, the members generally expressed support for the telescope, and concerns about recent cost overruns and management challenges. Witnesses, including the NASA Program Director for the telescope and the director for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems which helps to manage the program, offered assurances on the project.

In Print

In a CNN op-ed, Harvard Professor Lisa Randall writes about how America can’t afford to lose its grip on science. In the piece, she argues that the U.S. is not only cutting its investments in science and education, but is also losing support for the scientific method more broadly, saying “If current political discussions are any indication, America is in danger not only of losing scientific leadership but also of losing respect for the scientific method itself.”

Fareed Zakaria writes in the Washington Post about how Obama’s economic speech shifts the focus from deficits to growth. In the piece, Zakaria responds to the President’s recent speech on the economy in Osawatomie, Kansas by arguing for more investments in physical and human capital.  The article also states that “Research and development spending has risen under Obama, but the basic trend has been downward for two decades. In percentage terms, the federal share of research spending — which funds basic science — is half of what it was in the 1950s.”

What’s on Deck


  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold an executive session to consider a number of pieces of legislation, including S. 1953, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Reauthorization Act of 2011. RITA is the program at the Department of Transportation (DOT) that supports most of its extramural research.
  • The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on The Leadership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).


  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard will hold a hearing on the Environmental Risks of Genetically Engineered Fish.
  • The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Full Committee and its Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will hold a joint hearing on  a Review of the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century.


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