May 29th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Dragon Docking

I was sitting in a public meeting of the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on Friday when the big screen shifted from the standard Powerpoint deck to CNN. We watched live as the Dragon spacecraft connected with the International Space Station, representing the first feat of its kind by a commercially built and launched spacecraft. NASA and the White House applauded the  momentous occasion, which supports the Administration’s push toward a stronger commercial space industry.

Coming back down to earth, the Senate spent most of last week debating the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Safety and Innovation Act, which passed on Friday with a vote of 96 to 1. The Senate is now in recess and will be back in session on June 5th. The House took last week off, but will return on Wednesday.

Politico reported on continued budget bickering last week, as Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) said he would be willing to compromise on “fixing” several of the fiscal policies set to come to a head at the end of the year, but only if revenues were included in the mix. This did not go over well with Republicans, who have argued that any potential fix would have to be accompanied by additional spending cuts.

In a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), they outlined the “fiscal cliff” that will take place at the end of the year if no fixing takes place. The report, entitled “Economic Effects of Reducing the Fiscal Restraint that is Scheduled to Occur in 2013,” finds that if several current laws stay in place (e.g., expiration of tax cuts, implementation of sequestration) that the U.S. economy could contract by as much as 1.3% in FY 2013.

Another analysis issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center entitled The 2013 Sequester May Not Be What You Think predicts that the cuts in FY 2013 could be as high as 12.3%, higher than earlier projections to account for the fact that the cuts would take place three months into the fiscal year.

Finally, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided its annual guidance to federal departments and agencies on how to build their FY 2014 budgets. This year, the memo directs agencies to build a budget that is 5% below the amount they were planning on for FY 2014, a sign of preparation for impending spending cuts.

Also of Note

Appointments. The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, announced that he will resign once a successor in the position is confirmed. The President followed with an announcement nominating Allison Macfarlane to be the new Chair.

Education. The National Research Council (NRC) released a report entitled Discipline-Based Education Research; Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. The report summarizes education research across physics, biological sciences, geosciences, and chemistry, and makes recommendations for improvement.

Election. Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney last week released a white paper outlining his education policies, which included the following statement on research: “Finally, in focusing on reform, we must not lose sight of those policies that are working. The long-term federal investment in basic research within institutions of higher learning has been a crucial engine for innovation in our economy, and one that could not be replicated through other sources of funding. A Romney Administration will maintain a strong commitment to research in the physical, biological, and social sciences and to ensure that the priorities for research funding are not hijacked by short-term political imperatives.”

Energy. In a joint blog post, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Associate Director for Energy and Climate Change at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced the launching of the Environmental Data Initiative (EDI). The goal of the initiative is to “drive entrepreneurs to use data to create tools that can help Americans save money on utility bills and at the pump…In doing so, this will generate a rising tide of innovation that can help grow the economy and create jobs.”

The White House announced it is seeking nominations for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). According to the announcement, “PAESMEM recognizes outstanding mentoring efforts that enhance the participation and retention of students and early-career investigators in STEM disciplines, with a special emphasis on those who might not otherwise have considered or had access to opportunities in STEM fields, including women, minorities, and persons with disabilities.”

Health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been contemplating ways to implement budget cuts already faced by the agency, and those that may be coming down the line. In a recent blog post, Sally Rockey, Deputy Director of Extramural Research, announced that NIH will begin a pilot program of conducting special review of applications for research proposals from principal investigators who already have more than $1.5 million a year in research grants. Rockey states, “This is not a cap on the total amount of funds an investigator can receive from NIH. It is a special review during Advisory Council deliberations to determine if additional funds should be provided to well-supported investigators. ”

Innovation.  Senators Warner (D-VA), Coons (D-DE), Moran (R-KA), and Rubio (R-FL) introduced a new version of the Startup Act 2.0 this week. The legislation aims to encourage entrepreneurship by providing tax relief for startup companies and making it easier for international students who receive their education in the U.S. in STEM fields to get visas. The bill also includes a provision on technology transfer, encouraging the “free agency” proposal proposed by the Kauffman Foundation. This proposal would encourage university researchers to approach technology transfer offices beyond their home institution to commercialize their inventions. This provision is generally opposed by university technology transfer officers, who argue there is no demonstrated need to alter the current system.

Space.  NASA announced that they received over 400 proposals for how best to move forward with Mars exploration. The Administration recently sought feedback from the public on how to reformulate the Mars Exploration Program “to be responsive to high-priority science goals and President Obama’s challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.”

In Print

In a New York Times piece entitled American Physics Dreams Deferred, Dennis Overbye discusses challenges in keeping up internationally with physics research, due to budget cuts to the support of infrastructure necessary to explore topics such as dark energy and neutrinos.

Kenneth P. Trevett, president and CEO of Texas Biomedical Research, writes in an op-ed in The Hill that  Chimpanzee research must continue – Here’s why. This piece, a response to a recent op-ed on the same topic by Kristin Bauer and Martin Wasserman entitled A shared passion for ending chimpanzee experiments, points out what Trevett views  as inaccuracies in its treatment of the result of a recent Institute of Medicine report on the necessity of using chimpanzees to conduct biomedical research.

Carol Hirschmugl, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel op-ed entitled Investing in science boosts economy about how cuts to basic research outlined in the House Republican budget would impact research and economic growth.

The American Institute of Pbysics (AIP) FYI blog has a writeup of a recent House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee hearing to  Examine Spending at the National Science Foundation.

What’s on Deck

Wednesday (5/30)

  • The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), The Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE), the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on Nutrient Management & the Chesapeake Bay Experience: Economic and Environmental Considerations (B369 Rayburn House Office Building, 12:00 pm).

Thursday (5/31)


  1. Week in Review, or Examining Energy :: NEWScience Policy says:

    June 4th, 2012 at 7:50 am (#)

    […] As I mentioned in my last post, the commercially built Dragon spacecraft successfully connected with the International Space […]