June 25th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Calling their Bluff

With Congressional legislative days dwindling, and no obvious solution to the looming fiscal crisis in sight, buzz in DC last week turned to a law requiring that layoff notices go out to employees 60 days before termination. Defense contractors and others who rely on federal funding to support their employees seem to have realized that with sequestration—which will cut federal spending by 8-10%—scheduled to take effect on January 1st, layoff notices for employees would have to go out on November 2nd, a mere four days before election day. This convenient timing is causing some speculation that lawmakers could finally be swayed to come up with a compromise solution to replace sequester, one that many hope will include a balance of discretionary spending, entitlements, and revenues.

While everyone knows that sequestration will cut 8-10% of federal spending, the Obama Administration has been very quiet about any plans to implement the cuts. In an attempt to get more information from the Administration about how sequestration would actually get implemented, Senators  McCain (R-AZ) and Murray (D-WA) worked to craft a bipartisan amendment to the recently-passed Senate “farm bill” which would require the Secretary of Defense and the White House To release details on how non-defense and defense discretionary spending would be affected by the sequester.

The Senate was busy passing the farm bill last week, and continuing negotiations with the House on the transportation bill. The House Appropriations Committee approved three more FY 2013 spending bills last week—Agriculture, Financial Services, and Transportation—and held a subcommittee markup of its FY 2013 Interior-Environment spending bill, which funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) (more below). Both chambers are in session this week.

This week also begins the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, a piece of legislation signed in 1862 that created the U.S. Department of Agriculture and established land-grant universities, the foundation for today’s public university system. There are a number of events this week to celebrate this occasion, including a convocation in DC hosted by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities which many university Presidents and Chancellors will participate in.

Also of Note

Appointments.  Secretary of Commerce John Bryson announced last week that he would be stepping down from his position effective immediately. This announcement came shortly after Bryson took a leave of absence after being involved in a series of car accidents and a brief hospitalization while off duty in California last month.

Appropriations. The House Appropriations Committee held a subcommittee markup of the FY 2013 spending bill for Interior-Environment. The bill provides $7 billion for the EPA, $1.4 billion (17%) below the FY 2012 enacted level and similar to the agency’s funding level in FY 1998.   The Committee release states “the legislation reflects significant efforts to rein in the EPA – an agency that has been rife with governmental overreach, overspending on ineffective and unnecessary programs, and costly and questionable regulations”

The bill also provides $967 million for the USGS, $101 million below the FY 2012 enacted level. The Committee release states “the majority of the reductions are in climate change, ecosystems, and administrative accounts, while programs dealing with energy and minerals, mapping, and water are prioritized.”

Health. The controversy over whether or not to publish research results on avian flu that were initially deemed too much of a national security threat was officially resolved this week, when the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced that its journal, Science, has published the article in full.

Patents. Back in April, the U.S. Patent and Trade Mark Office (USPTO) issued a “Notice of Request for Comments on the Feasibility of Placing Economically Significant Patents Under a Secrecy Order and the Need To Review Criteria Used in Determining Secrecy Orders Related to National Security.” Currently, the USPTO has the ability to screen patent application and keep secret those deemed a threat to national security. Congress has asked the USPTO to look at expanding this policy to patents that could pose a threat to economic security. The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Council on Government Relations (COGR), both of which represent research universities who hold thousands of patents, submitted comments to the USPTO opposing this policy. Their letter indicates that this policy would undermine the current patent system and prevent access to information that is a critical part of our nation’s innovation ecosystem.

For those of you with a particular interest in the legislative history of the America Invents Act, which passed last year and provided the first significant reform of the patent system in many years, the Patently-O blog reports on a new comprehensive legislative history of the Act.

Space. In the wake of the historic commercial Dragon spacecraft’s rendez-vous with the International Space Station, NASA and the FAA have signed an agreement to “coordinate standards for commercial space travel of government and non-government astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).”

NASA also announced a new technology transfer portal. According their new release, the goal of this new portal is to “provide an Internet-based one-stop front door to the agency’s unique intellectual property assets available for technology transfer and infusion into America’s new technology and innovation-driven economy. ”

In Print

The Boston Globe reports on a recent gathering of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Boston, including a focus on how cuts to the NIH could impact the industry.

Carrie Wolinetz writes in Science magazine’s Policy Forum on Implementing the New U.S. Dual-Use Policy, which was instituted in part after the controversy surrounding the publication of avian flu research results (as referenced above under Health).

The Association of American Medical Colleges has posted a summary of a recent House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on NIH oversight. NIH Director Francis Collins was the witness.

The American Institute of Physics FYI blog has posted a summary of a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the role of government in energy innovation.

SpacePolicyOnline has posted a summary of a recent Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Risks, Opportunities, and Oversight of Commercial Space, as well as a summary of a  Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies.

What’s on Deck


Monday (6/25)

  • Representatives DeFazio and Hanna will host a roundtable discussion on “Agricultural Research, Education, and Extension.” Contact  megan.debates (at) mail.house.gov for more information.
  • Cornell University will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on What You Need to Know about “Fracking Today:  Engineering, Jobs, and Community Response.” Contact (202) 434­‐8035 for more information.

Wednesday (6/27)

  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a full committee markup of the FY 2013 Interior-Environment spending bill.
  • The House Armed Services Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on The Creation and Implementation of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold subcommittee hearings on The Role of Research Universities in Securing America’s Future Prosperity: Challenges and Expectations and Continuing Oversight of the Nation’s Weather Satellite Programs: An Update on JPSS and GOES-R.
  • IBM will host a capitol hill briefing on “Big Data:  The New Natural Resource”, featuring their Watson computer (yes, the computer that won at Jeopardy!). Contact tal.zavlodaver (at) ketchum.com for more information.
  • The American Chemical Society will hold a briefing on Nanomaterial Safety:  Do We Have the Right Tools? 

Thursday (6/28)

  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Strengthening the Scientific Backbone of the EPA: An Examination of Agency Practices and Foundations for Regulations Affecting the American Economy.

Friday (6/29)

  • The Council on Competitiveness will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on the National Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Consortium. Contact RDCBriefingRSVP(at) compete.org for more information.

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