September 10th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Month in Review, or Cool Weather Brings Heated Politics

September is here and per usual I am busy trying to figure out what happened to August. School is back in session, traffic has returned, football has begun, parking is scarce, and it is starting to feel like fall. I even turned the air conditioning off yesterday, a pleasant surprise for this New England transplant.

Another sure sign of fall is that Members of Congress have returned to Washington after a five-week long summer recess. Both chambers officially reconvene today and they will try to squeeze as much business as possible into the 14 working days left before they break again in early October for the pre-election marathon. First on the list of business will likely be passing a FY 2013 continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded beyond the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30th. As mentioned in my last post, the House and Senate appear to have reached a deal on the CR, and presumably Congressional staff drafted the bull in August.  All that is left is to pass it, which sounds so simple, but we all know things rarely are in this town.

Last week, the White House was expected to release its report on “sequestration,” the massive budget cuts scheduled to take place in January 2013. This report was required by the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 (Pub.L. 112-155), which was signed by the President on August 7th and gave the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 30 days to outline how it would implement the more than $100 billion in spending cuts during FY 2013. While the cuts are supposed to be taken across-the-board, the OMB has final say on how they would be implemented. Until now, the White House has remained mum on how sequestration would be implemented, instead focusing their efforts on how to stop sequestration. Apparently they are continuing this trend for now, as they announced on Friday that the report would be delayed about a week. When it is released, the report will likely be picked apart and spun by both parties to argue for, and against, sequestration. For those of you interested in a non-partisan analysis of how sequestration would affect the economy, you can read the Congressional Budget Office’s latest analysis here.

With less than two months to go before the election, both parties have officially nominated their Presidential candidates. In August, the Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney, selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate. Ryan currently serves as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, and is the chief architect of the Republican’s budget plan The Path to Prosperity. This budget plan, passed earlier this year by the House, proposes significant cuts to federal spending across many areas, including education and research, in order to address the nation’s deficit. For information on how the Ryan budget would impact science, check out this brief put together by AAAS back in April, and a recent article from Science entitled Ryan’s Record on Science. If you’d like to learn more about both President Obama and Mitt Romney’s stance on science, you can review a side-by-side comparison of their responses to the top 14 science questions, put forth by

Also of Note

Awards.  A group of Congressmen, university associations, scientific societies, and think tanks will host the inaugural Golden Goose Award ceremony on Sept. 13th on Capitol Hill. This award aims to” demonstrate the human and economic benefits of federally funded research by highlighting examples of seemingly obscure studies that have led to major breakthroughs and resulted in significant societal impact.” The intent of the award and the awardees were highlighted in an op-ed by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Alan Leshner, CEO of the AAAS, in today’s Washington Post.

Budget/Appropriations. The AAU and APLU, which combined represent most research universities in the U.S., sent a joint letter to the White House outlining their priorities for the FY 2014 budget. The Administration is in the process of building that budget, which will be delivered to Congress in February 2013. The letter encourages the White House to prioritize investments in scientific research, STEM education, and student financial aid, even as they try to reduce the overall deficit.

Health. The NIH announced a new policy requiring committees that review grant applications to take a second look at those applicants who already receive $1 million per year in NIH awards. While this does not represent a cap on award amounts, it is another effort by NIH to find ways to manage the impact of their recent flat budgets on overall grant funding. Since flat budgets don’t take into account inflation (measured through the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI), pronounced “bird pie,” which I just really love to say), they essentially amount to cuts in funding for the agency.

The NIH also announced that they will begin executing the new conflict-of-interest regulations this month. These regulations, officially published last August but with a one-year time period for implementation, are designed to promote objectivity in federally funded research by increasing transparency of relationships between researchers and industry.

Nature (and many other outlets) have reported on a recent decision in a long-running legal case regarding biomedical research using human embryonic stem cells. As I am by no means a legal expert, I’ll just say that decision appears to affirm that NIH is legally able to fund research based on human embryonic stem cells, and that it could still be appealed at the Supreme Court level. You can read the NIH Director’s statement in support of the ruling here.

Manufacturing. In mid-August, the White House awarded $30 million to a team of universities, industry, and government entities from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to create the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. This is significant not only for the size of the award, but also for its position as the first in what the Administration hopes will be about 15 centers, a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation, to bring together researchers, industry, and government to promote advanced manufacturing.

NIST. NIST released its FY 2103-2015 Programmatic Plan, which “summarizes the focus of NIST programs for use in planning and prioritizing investments.”  This document, required by the America COMPETES Act, provides details on NIST’s mission and the priorities of its scientific and industrial programs.

NSF. The Director of the NSF announced a reorganization of several programs reporting directly to him, including moving the Office of Polar Programs and the Office of Cybersecurity into existing directorates, and combining the Office of International Science and Engineering and the Office of Integrative Activities. As explained in this Science article, one goal of this administrative move is to have fewer programs reporting to the Director, and instead provide more control through the large directorates (e.g. geosciences, engineering, biological sciences) that manage the majority of NSF’s funding.

The NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences released a report entitled Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade: Opportunities and Challenges which prioritizes the astronomy-based goals outlined in two of the NRC decadal surveys on astronomy (New Worlds, New Horizons ) and planetary sciences (Visions and Voyages).  Decadal surveys are coordinated by the NRC at the request of NASA to “once each decade to look out ten or more years into the future and prioritize research areas, observations, and notional missions to make those observations.” Since these surveys had more robust funding in mind when they were drafted, this NSF report prioritizes the recommendations assuming less funding, as is expected in the current fiscal environment.

Space. The NAS Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board has officially launched a new study on Commercial Human Spaceflight. This study, required by Section 204 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, aims to “review the long-term goals, core capabilities, and direction of the U.S. human spaceflight program and make recommendations to enable a sustainable U.S. human spaceflight program.”

The NAS also issued a new decadal survey on heliophysics entitled “Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society.” The report provides a “prioritized program of basic and applied research for 2013-2022 that will advance scientific understanding of the sun, sun-Earth connections and the origins of “space weather,” and the sun’s interactions with other bodies in the solar system.”

State. In late July, the Department of State announced a new program called the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Expert Partnership. This program brought together ten scientific organizations to “introduce U.S. science and technology experts to foreign audiences through U.S. Embassy supported public diplomacy programs. The Partnership advances the [State] Department’s efforts to promote economic prosperity, democratic governance, social development, and global scientific knowledge and to share that information with foreign audiences.”

In Print

Gary Becker and James Heckman write in The Wall Street Journal on Why the Dismal Science Deserves Federal Funding: Basic economic research can pay public dividends, much as in medicine and chemistry (subscription required). This article is in part a response to recent efforts by Congress to bar the NIH from funding economic research.

Mike Milken writes, also in the Wall Street Journal, about Investing in Science, Reaping Rewards: Budget officials count the National Institutes of Health as a $31 billion cost, but they don’t count the net benefit (subscription required).

Congressman Brian P. Bilbray (R-CA) and Dr. John C. Reed write in The Washington Times that We Choose to End Cancer. In this piece, the authors compare the war against cancer to the challenge of sending the first man to the moon.

The Hill reports on a new public opinion poll showing that Voters would pay higher taxes for more medical research. The poll was supported by biomedical research advocacy group Research!America, in partnership with JZ Analytics.

An editorial in The Houston Chronicle entitled Let’s bring logic to NASA’s budget process outlines efforts by Congressmen John Culberson (R-TX) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) to ” to take the politics out of NASA … and create continuity in the space agency.”

Ahmed Zewail writes in The Los Angeles Times about How curiosity begat Curiosity: Scientific breakthroughs come from investing in science education and basic research. IN this article, the author argues that while the U.S. is a leaders in science, “decreases in [U.S.] science funding and increases in its bureaucracy threaten that leadership position”

A piece in The Economist entitled Arrested development: America and Europe are relying on private firms in the global R&D race looks at the trend of decreased public funding for R&D and private industry efforts to bridge the gap.

Daniel Lametti wonders in a Slate piece, Is a Science Ph.D. a Waste of Time? This article responds in part to a recent piece by Brian Vantag in the Washington Post entitled U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there by arguing that there are many other benefits of receiving a science Ph.D, beyond just finding a job.

What’s on Deck


Wednesday (9/12)

  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a full committee hearing on The Path from Low Earth Orbit to Mars.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a full committee hearing on S. 3469, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012.
  • The Senate and Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Implementation of Recommendations for Enhancing Nuclear Reactor Safety in the 21st Century.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a Subcommittee hearing on DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Complex: Challenges to Safety, Security, and Taxpayer Stewardship.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold subcommittee hearings on Examining NASA’s Development of the Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule and Mismanagement of Funds at the National Weather Service and the Impact on the Future of Weather Forecasting.
  • The State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI) will hold a Capitol Hill briefing titled “Lessons from the Field on a Path to Economic Growth and Job Creation. Contact SDaugherty (at) for more information.

Thursday (9/13)

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on The American Energy Initiative: A Focus on the Outlook for Achieving North American Energy Independence Within the Decade.

Friday (9/14)

  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full hearing on Recent Developments in NASA’s Commercial Crew Acquisition Strategy.


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