April 16th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Weeks in Review, or Spring has Sprung

It’s been lovely and quiet in Washington, with schools on spring break, Congress in recess, and the cherry blossoms already come and gone. When both chambers return to the capitol this week, they will continue on with the appropriations process, despite the looming election impasse expected later in the year.

Contrary to previous reports, CQ indicates that the Senate Budget Committee will now markup a budget resolution for FY 2013. Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) had previously indicated that he wouldn’t bother with such a markup, since the Budget Control Act already specified a top-line number for this year’s spending. The change of heart may have come about, however, after the House passed a budget resolution before recess that would cut $19 billion from the previously agreed to amount. A Senate budget resolution would send a strong counter signal, further solidifying the differing views of the two chambers’ majority parties on how to deal with the federal deficit.

Also of Note

Defense. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced a new Robotics Challenge that will launch in October 2012. For this initiative, which supports the broader National Robotics Initiative, DARPA seeks teams “to compete in challenges involving staged disaster-response scenarios in which robots will have to successfully navigate a series of physical tasks corresponding to anticipated, real-world disaster-response requirements. ”

Health. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins participated in the TEDMED 2012 conference in Washington where,  according to the Wall Street Journal, he spoke about challenges related to the translation of research results into useful therapies. He also brought his guitar along, performing an entertaining rendition of Disease Don’t Care.

The NIH and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an upcoming workshop on “Natural History Studies of Rare Diseases: Meeting the Needs of Drug Development and Research.” This workshop will be held in May, and “aims to bring together thought leaders in the design, conduct, and evaluation of natural history studies to discuss the role of these studies in the development of therapeutic candidates.”

Dr. Collins has named Gary Gibbons as the new director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Dr. Gibbons comes to the position from the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Innovation. The Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that it plans to hold a conference this summer on 21st Century Grand Challenges. “Grand Challenges” have been a consistent theme during President Obama’s Administration, and are highlighted in the Administration’s Strategy for American Innovation. Examples of grand challenges include the sequencing of the human genome, and making electric vehicles affordable and accessible for all. In support of this strategy, OSTP also announced a new report on the use of prizes to spur innovation.

Research. The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a notice on March 27th outlining its plan to implement the National Science Board (NSB) recommendations on updating merit review criteria used to evaluate research proposals. While the agency doesn’t intend to change the merit review criteria, the notice outlines the process they intend to use to “articulate the underlying principles” of the existing criteria.

The White House released a new report entitled A Report To Congress on the Coordination of Policies Related to the Dissemination and Long-Term Stewardship of the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research. This report, as required by the America COMPETES Act of 201o, outlines the various initiatives the government has undertaken to receive input on public access, including the outcomes of several requests for information (RFIs) and task forces on the subject.

The White House announced that a majority of federal departments and agencies have now posted scientific-integrity guidelines online. These guidelines are designed to ensure that agencies use science appropriately in supporting and accomplishing their missions.

Space. NASA announced that its working group on the future of Mars Exploration is now accepting abstracts and input from the public on its future path. This working group was put in place after the President’s FY 2013 budget request for NASA included a significant cut to the Planetary Science account, effectively delaying existing Mars exploration plans.

In Print

The American Institute of Physics FYI blog summarizes several research-related hearings, including a March hearing on keeping America competitive through R&D, three recent hearings related to the FY 2013 NASA budget, and a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on public access to federally funded research.

SpacePolicyOnline reports on a recent discussion between the National Research Council (NRC) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials about the Administration’s stance toward NASA’s “flagship missions.” OMB officials indicated they are not against flagship missions, but rather are trying to operate within a constrained fiscal environment.

Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, President of the American Heart Association, writes in a ScienceProgress piece entitled Protect the National Institutes of Health from Sequester about what sequester would mean for biomedical research at NIH.

What’s On Deck

Monday (4/16)

  • The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will hold a conference call to discuss two new reports, one on Advanced Manufacturing Partnership and another on Advancing Innovation in Drug Development and Evaluation.

Tuesday (4/17)

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold subcommittee markups of its Commerce, Justice, Science FY 2013 spending bill and its Transportation, Housing and Urban Development FY 2013 spending bill.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on the health and status of the Department of Defense science and technology laboratories and enterprise.
  • The House Armed Services Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Budget Request for Atomic Energy Defense Activities and Nuclear Forces Programs.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Tapping America’s Unconventional Oil Resources for Job Creation and Affordable Domestic Energy: Technology and Policy Pathways.

Wednesday (4/18)

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on the National Nuclear Security Administration management of its National Security Laboratories.
  • The House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee will mark up its Energy and Water Development FY 2013 spending bill.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold subcommittee hearings on budget and spending concerns at the DOE and FDA User Fees 2012: How Innovation Helps Patients and Jobs.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold subcommittee hearings on NSF Major Multi-User Research Facilities Management and Growing the Wireless Economy through Innovation.

Thursday (4/19)

  • The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DOE National Labs: Finding Efficiencies and Optimizing Outputs in Homeland Security Research and Development.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Impact of Tax Policies on the Commercial Application of Renewable Energy Technology.
  • The American Chemical Society will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on Cybersecurity and Smart Infrastructure: Ensuring Resilience and Deterrence.


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