June 18th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Reviewing Research Universities

The National Academies released their much-anticipated report “Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security” last week in a public briefing at their headquarters in Washington, DC.  The report, requested by Congress and overseen by an all-star committee of university and industry leaders, outlines a number of challenges facing research universities today, including flat or falling federal and state funding, underinvestment in infrastructure, and increasing competition from overseas. It also recommends ten actions that the federal government, state governments, universities, and the private sector should take to strengthen America’s research universities. These actions fall into three broad buckets, including revitalizing university partnerships with public and private sector organizations; improving efficiency and effectiveness of university operations; and protecting and supporting the talent pipeline. I commend this report for anyone interested in science policy, as it addresses a broad range of issues faced by the American research enterprise today.

Now on to Congress…the House was in recess last week, while the Senate kept itself busy with continued consideration of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (otherwise known as the “Farm Bill”). This humongous bill authorizes agricultural research programs, as well as a host of other programs that support U.S. agriculture. The Senate Appropriations Committee also considered two more spending bills, the FY 2013 Financial Services spending bill and the FY 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education bill, which funds the National Institutes of Health (more on that below).

Both the House and Senate will be in session this week, beginning the busy rush leading up to the 4th of July recess.

Also of Note

Appointments. The Secretary of Commerce, John Bryson, announced last week that he would be taking a leave of absence after being involved in a series of car accidents and a brief hospitalization while off duty in California over last weekend. Deputy Secretary Dr. Rebecca Blank will be acting Secretary of Commerce in his absence.

Dr. Henry Kelly, who recently transferred to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) after serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program, will succeed Dr. Steve Fetter as OSTP’s Principal Assistant Director for Environment and Energy.

Appropriations. The Senate Appropriations Committee held subcommittee and full committee markups of the FY 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), Education spending bill. This bill funds, among other things, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and federal financial aid programs. The bill would provide $30.7 billion for NIH, $100 million more than the FY 2012 enacted amount, and in line with the President’s request. During the full committee markup, Senator Moran (R-KS) offered an amendment that would have funded the NIH at $32 billion, but the amendment did not succeed. In addition to providing funding for Pell Grants and other financial aid programs housed at the Department of Education, the bill also provides over $44 million dollars for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-ED) program to conduct education-related R&D.

In preparation for the Senate’s upcoming consideration of the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science bill—which funds several research agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF)—a group of over 120 entities signed an advocacy letter to Senate leadership expressing support for the NSF and urging them to stop any effort to reduce funding for the agency, or to single out research areas for reductions (as happened in the House with political science).

A great source for detailed research budget and appropriations information is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) R&D Budget and Policy Program. That program recently completed an in-depth analysis of the progress of FY 2013 spending bills for energy research, and have many others in progress.

Energy. The DOE held a “SunShot Grand Challenge Summit” in Denver, CO last week. SunShot is a DOE “collaborative national initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.” During the summit, Secretary of Energy Steve Chu announced several new research programs aimed at this goal.

Health. At a recent meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the NIH, a sub-working group within that committee presented NIH Director Francis Collins with a draft Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group Draft Report. This working group was tasked back in 2011 with “developing a model for a sustainable and diverse U.S. biomedical research workforce that can inform decisions about training the optimal number of people for the appropriate types of positions that will advance science and promote health. Based on this analysis and recognizing that there are limits to NIH’s ability to control aspects of the training pipeline, the working group was asked to make recommendations for actions that NIH should take to support a future sustainable biomedical research infrastructure.”

In addition to this report, two other ACD working groups, on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce and Data and Informatics, presented reports to Collins during the meeting.

If you’re interested in learning more about the impact of NIH on the nation’s health, economy, and communities, the agency recently updated its website with information on the agency’s contributions.

Regulations. Backlash from the recent Government Services Administration (GSA) scandal surrounding an expensive conference held in Las Vegas may impact the federal government’s interaction with extramural research organizations. Recent amendments to bills in both the House and Senate would limit the number of times a federal employee (such as a research program manager or administrator) could visit a single institution (such as a university). The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) wrote a joint letter to Congressional leaders in the House and Senate urging them to adjust the language of these amendments to preserve the ability for federal employees to interact regularly with universities, a key part of the federal government-university partnership which underlies the country’s R&D system.

In Print

Former Republican Senator and Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist writes in an op-ed published in The Week  that “America must invest in research universities—or get left behind.” Dr. Frist is a member of the National Academies committee on Research Universities that recently issued the report described above.

ScienceInsider posted an article last week entitled  What the Doctor May Not Be Telling You, which calls into question some of the claims made in the research university report described above, including the state of reduced research funding and the impact of international competitiveness.

Matt Cooper and Elizabeth Wiley write in a Washington Post op-ed entitled Keep the library open after graduation about their view that federally supported research results published in scholarly journals should be accessible to all.

In an op-ed in The Hill entitled Doors open to innovation in Northern Virginia, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Roger R. Stough from George Mason University discuss the return on investment of government support of R&D.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (6/19)

  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a full committee markup of the FY 2013 Agriculture and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bills.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold subcommittee hearings on the American Energy Initiative: A Focus on EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations and the Federal Green Jobs Agenda.
  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the Obama Administration’s Green Energy Gamble Part II: Were All the Taxpayer Subsidies Necessary?
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies.
  • The Senate Finance Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Confronting The Looming Fiscal Crisis.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold subcommittee hearings on Best Practices in Transforming Research into Innovation: Creative Approaches to the Bayh-Dole Act and The Science of How Hunting Assists Species Conservation and Management.
  • The House Judiciary Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on New Technologies and Innovations in the Mobile and Online space, and the Implications for Public Policy.

Wednesday (6/20)

  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee markup of the FY 2013 Interior and Environment spending bill.
  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Risks, Opportunities, and Oversight of Commercial Space.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Oversight of the United States Patent and Trademark Office: Implementation of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act and International Harmonization Efforts.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies .

Thursday (6/21)

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on The National Institutes of Health – A Review of Its Reforms, Priorities, and Progress.
  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Mismanagement of Appropriated Funds within the National Weather Service.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Department of Energy User Facilities: Utilizing the Tools of Science to Drive Innovation through Fundamental Research.

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