April 22nd, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Shuttle Sightings

Science was at the forefront of many Washingtonians’ minds (and TVs) last week as they staked out spots from the National Mall to Dulles airport to watch the space shuttle Discovery, perched on the back of a 747, make its final flight. While I missed the overflight due to a meeting on the Hill (about science!), I enjoyed hearing all the buzz about science, space, and discovery that surrounded the flight.

Science was also on the minds of House and Senate Appropriators last week as they marked up FY 2013 spending bills that would fund the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (more details below).

The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved its 302 (b) allocations, which designate how much money each subcommittee can appropriate. Despite the fact that the Senate hasn’t passed an official budget resolution (although Senate Budget Committee Chair, Kent Conrad (D-ND), came close last week), these allocations are based on the FY 2013 spending level agreed to in the Budget Control Act (BCA) last summer. Two Republican members of the Appropriations committee approved the allocations, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a move at odds with his counterpart in the House, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), who approved a House budget that would cut total spending $19 billion below the BCA-agreed-to level.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) last week released an analysis of the impacts of this House budget to research accounts. According to the estimate, the budget would result in total R&D cuts of 3%, and non-defense R&D cuts of 5% below FY 2012. These reductions would be even further exacerbated by sequestration, which is supposed to kick in in January 2013. The AAAS analysis estimates that this could result in combined R&D  cuts of up to 12% below current levels.

Also of Note

Appropriations. The Senate Appropriations Committee held subcommittee and full committee markups of its Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) FY 2013 spending bill and the House Appropriations Committee held subcommittee markups of both its CJS bill and its Energy and Water Development (E&W) bill. I’ve included some of the research highlights below, visit the links for more details:

Senate FY 2013 CJS Bill:

  • NSF: The bill provides $7.3 billion, an increase of $240 million over the FY 2012 enacted level.
  • NASA: The bill provides $19.4 billion, an increase of $1.6 billion over the FY 2012 enacted level. Within NASA, the bill provides $5 billion for Science, $69 million below the FY 2012 level, and includes a restoration of the controversial President’s budget request that would cut the planetary science account.
  • NIST: The bill provides $826 million, $75 million above the FY 2012 enacted level. This includes an increase for NIST laboratories and $14.5 million for new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia.
  • NOAA: The bill provides $3.4 billion, which is $1.47 billion below the FY 2012 enacted level. This big reduction is due to a proposed transfer of funding for weather satellites from NOAA to NASA.

House FY 2013 CJS Bill:

  • NSF: The bill provides $7.3 billion,$299 million above the Fiscal Year 2012 enacted level.
  • NASA: The bill provides $17.6 billion, $226 million below the FY 2012 enacted level. Within NASA, Science receives $5.1 billion, an increase from FY 2012, and a restoration of planetary science funding contingent on a National Research Council (NRC) certification.
  • NIST: The bill provides $830 million, $79 million above the FY 2012 enacted level. This includes an increase to NIST’s laboratories and $21 million for the new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia.
  • NOAA: The bill provides $5.0 billion for NOAA, $68 million above the FY 2012 enacted level. This bill does not include the proposed transfer of satellites to NASA included in the Senate bill.

House E&W Bill:

  • DOE: The bill provides $26.3 billion, $358 million below the FY 2012 enacted level. Within DOE, the Office of Science receives $4.8 billion, $64 million below the FY 2012 level. The Advanced research Projects Agency -Energy (ARPA-E) receives $200 million, $75 million below the FY 2012 enacted level.

Defense. The Rand Corporation released a new report entitled Improving Basic Army Research, which summarizes activities of a panel of experts who looked at “national trends in basic research and R&D, including trends in Department of Defense research funding; conducted an in-depth examination of the Army research enterprise; and profiled several non-Army laboratories known for their high-quality basic research, to gain insight into how the Army might better structure and fund its own labs.” The report gives a strong endorsement of the importance of Army basic research, but provides recommendations for management improvements.

Education. The White House released the 2010 Federal STEM Education Inventory Data Set. This data set includes “information on what STEM education programs the government funded in 2010, what audiences were targeted, what outcomes were monitored, and much more. The data set, which includes information from 13 Federal agencies that support education programs focused on STEM subjects, is the most comprehensive description of Federal STEM education programs.”

Energy. The Brookings Institution, the Breakthrough Institute, and the World Resources Institute released a report called Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech On a Path To Subsidy Independence. This report outlines challenges in the U.S. clean tech industry that is heavily dependent on waning federal investments in the forms of R&D, loans, and subsidies.

Health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a checklist that will help research entities ensure they are abiding by new Federal Conflict of Interest (FCOI) rules. According to the document, it’s purpose is “to provide an overview of the requirements of the 2011 revised FCOI regulation to serve as a checklist resource when developing, revising or reviewing an Institution’s FCOI policy to determine compliance with all regulatory requirements.”

The Director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, announced that he and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Kathleen Sebelius, would formally accept the recommendation of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to publish two manuscripts on avian flu research that have been at the center of a swirling controversy over dual use research of concern.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology released its analysis of how sequestration would affect funding for the NIH, including a breakout of impacts by state. The report assumes a 9.1% cut to NIH, with a 11.1% cut to extramural grants, taking into account that some funding, such as that which supports salaries, is more difficult to cut than other kinds.

Research. It looks like the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) will come to the House floor this week for a vote. The goal of this legislation is to improve transparency and accountability of federal grant-making, through increased reporting requirements. Several research entities, including the Association of American Universities, are concerned that this legislation puts in place duplicative reporting requirements that will be overly burdensome to research entities.  

In Print

In an Atlantic op-ed entitled School Power: The Case for Keeping Innovation in the Hands of Universities, former Senator Birch Bayh and Joseph Allen write about the importance of maintaining the current technology transfer regime in which universities, rather than individual researchers, manage the technology transfer of the result of federally funded research. This regime has been challenged in recent years by the Kauffman Foundation, which recommends a “free agency” proposal, under which researchers would retain the right to manage the tech transfer of their discoveries.

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) FYI blog summarizes some key excerpts from a recent House Appropriations CJS Subcommittee hearing and an E&W Subcommittee hearing.

The Task Force on American Innovation has posted the video of a recent Capitol Hill briefing describing how federally funded research influenced the technologies used in the iPad.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (4/24)

Wednesday (4/25)

Thursday (4/26)

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