Week in Review, or Finally Finishing FY 2012
The research community breathed a collective sigh of relief last week as Congress passed and sent to the President an omnibus bill that funds the government for the rest of fiscal year (FY) 2012. The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012 includes funding for research conducted at the Departments of Defense (DoD), Energy (DOE), and Homeland Security (DHS), as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While the overall government spending for FY 2012 is less than FY 2011 (as specified in the Budget Control Act), research programs generally saw increases from last year (with one exception at DHS, see more below). Most of these increases were small, and well below the amounts requested by the President back in February, but any increases in the current fiscal environment can be viewed as positive. The Association of American Universities (AAU) provides a great summary of the research portions of the bill in their weekly wrap up, and I’ve included some highlights below. More details can always be found in the extensive conference reports that accompany each bill (linked below for each agency).
- Overall DoD Science and Technology (including defense-wide and service-specific funding for basic and applied research programs) receives $12.4 billion, 4.1 % more than FY 2011.
- Within this, basic research (6.1) receives $2.1 billion, an 8.7% increase from FY 2011, and applied research (6.2) receives $4.7 billion, a 6.6% increase from FY11 level.
- The Office of Science receives $4.89 billion, just shy of a 1% increase from FY 2011.
- Within the applied programs, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) receives $1.8 billion, the same as FY 2011.
- The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) receives $275 million, a 54% increase over FY 2011.
- Within the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, the Research, Development and Innovation account receives $266 million, a 54% decrease from FY 2011. The conference reports states that “S&T and the Department must prioritize this consolidated research budget, which is substantially reduced from recent fiscal years, to focus on areas with the greatest promise for delivering material improvements or tangible contributions to homeland security missions in the near term.”
- NIH receives $30.64 billion in funding, less than a 1% increase from FY 2011.
- The bill allows the NIH to create the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and eliminate the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). The bill also provides NCATS with $10 million for the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN).
The Senate has officially adjourned for the year, but the House remains in session to vote on a controversial piece of legislation that would extend the payroll tax. While the Senate may return at some point this week to consider the same legislation, this should be the only piece of business that remains before members of Congress really go home for the holidays. Congress is scheduled to reconvene during the week of January 16th.
Also of Note
Defense. Congress also passed the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week, a bill which tells the DoD how to spend its appropriated funds. This bill includes a request from Congress to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a “holistic review of the Defense Science and Technology (S&T) enterprise, including its investment strategy, technology development and transition activity.” The motivation behind the report appears to be one of cutting costs, as the report language states, “In current times of fiscal austerity, the conferees firmly believe that all activities within the Department of Defense (DOD) must be reviewed to identify potential cost-savings and increase efficiencies.”
Health. As reported previously, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee has been studying the use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research. The committee report released last week, Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity, argues that advances in technology have obviated the need to use chimpanzees in most research, and recommends that the NIH significantly limit its support of such projects. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, released a statement in response to the report announcing that the agency will accept these recommendations, and will create a working group to look at current NIH-funded projects and new grant applications that propose the use of chimpanzees.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues also issued its report, entitled Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research, which examines current rules and regulations on the use of human subjects in research. The Commission found that the “U.S. system provides substantial protections for the health, rights, and welfare of research subjects,” but also identified a number of “immediate changes [that] can be made to increase accountability and thereby reduce the likelihood of harm or unethical treatment.”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, also known as the stimulus package) provided significant funding for research agencies, above and beyond the normal 2009-2010 fiscal year appropriations. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled National Institutes of Health: Employment and Other Impacts Reported by NIH Recovery Act Grantees explores how the $8.2 billion received by the NIH contributed to the nation’s employment. The report finds that the ARRA funds did in fact increase the number of jobs supported by NIH research, and also helped to prevent reductions in employment and hours worked.
Manufacturing. The White House announced last week that Secretary of Commerce John Bryson and Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling will oversee all things manufacturing across the federal government. This includes the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a public-private partnership which aims to bring universities, industry, and federal research agencies together to identify ways to improve the state of advanced manufacturing in the U.S.
Research/Technology Transfer. As reported last week, the House and Senate have been negotiating on a reauthorization and funding increase for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The final FY 2012 NDAA conference agreement requires SBIR agencies to increases funding for the program from 2.5% to 3.2% of their overall research budgets over the course of six years.
This same legislation also creates a new pilot program at the NIH for “proof of concept” grants. A press release from Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who sponsored the provision, states that the pilot program would offer grants of up to $100,000 to “help academic and national laboratory researchers turn breakthroughs into successful businesses that create jobs.”
Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jim Moran (R-KA) introduced The Startup Act, which aims to support the creation of small businesses. The legislation includes a provision, first proposed by the Kauffman Foundation, which would allow the Department of Commerce to award “Collaborative Commercialization Grants” to universities that help their researchers shop potential research advances around to technology transfer offices at universities other than their home institutions. This provision is of concern to many universities because of potential effects on their technology transfer programs, and because the grants would be paid for by shaving 0.15% off of certain federal research agency budgets.
As reported a few weeks ago, another piece of legislation concerning to the research community is the GRANT Act. The Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and the Ranking Member of that committee’s Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform, Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter to their fellow members of Congress asking them to oppose the provision of the GRANT Act requiring research agencies to post full grant applications online. In the letter, the Congressmen argue that requiring researchers to post full applications (versus abstracts) could compromise intellectual property protections.
An opinion piece by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in the Washington Post entitled “A Boom in Shale Gas? Credit the Feds,” argues that recent advances in shale gas extraction in the U.S. has been underpinned by years of government investment in technologies to help make the extraction of shale gas possible.
What’s On Deck
Congress will be out of session until the week of January 16th, when I will post my next Week in Review update.
Follow me on Twitter (@NEWSciPol) for updates between now and then on upcoming events not related to the Hill.