September 24th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Election Evacuation

Members of Congress left Washington late last week, not to return until after the elections in mid-November. Although the official Congressional schedule planned for another week in session, it became clear last week that both chambers would recess early to allow more time for campaigning back home. Before departing on Saturday, the Senate passed the Continuing Resolution (CR) that will keep the government running through the first six months of FY 2013, which begins October 1st. You will recall from last week’s post that the House approved their version of the measure on September 13th.  Once signed by the President, presumably some time this week, the CR will allow the government to continue spending at a level just slightly above FY 2012, and in line with what was agreed to in the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, through the end of March. The BCA aimed to reduce the federal deficit by outlining spending caps for FY 2013 through 2021,  and called for sequestration to kick in if the parties couldn’t agree on even more spending cuts. No agreement has emerged, so sequestration is currently slated to begin in January 2013. Passing the CR now allows Congress to focus on sequestration and other immediate fiscal challenges during the lame duck session (after the election), and gives them some breathing room on resolving FY 2013 spending.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released a report on sequestration’s impacts on research and development (R&D) last week called Eroding Our Foundation: Sequestration, R&D, Innovation and U.S. Economic Growth. This report estimates the impact that sequestration could have on the nation’s GDP, as a result of cuts to R&D called for in sequestration which amount to 8-10% from current levels. The report finds that “because of the key role federal R&D plays in driving U.S. innovation, productivity, and economic growth; we estimate that the projected decline in R&D will reduce GDP by between $203 billion and $860 billion over the nine-year period, depending on the baseline used.” The report also predicts that cuts to R&D would result in a loss of 200,000 jobs in 2013 alone.

When Congress returns in November, they will have a lot on their plate to address during the lame duck session. Not only will they likely try to “fix” or put off the sequester, but they may also address expiring tax cuts, the debt ceiling, and some huge legislative packages such as the defense authorization and farm bills. The fate of all of these efforts will certainly be influenced by the election results in November.

Also of Note

Appointments. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announced that Dan Mote Jr., past President and Regents Professor of the University of Maryland, has been nominated as the sole candidate for the NAE presidency. If elected by the NAE membership in March 2013, Mote would succeed Chuck Vest, former President of MIT, beginning in July 2013.

Elections. The Association of American Universities (AAU), which represents 59 major research universities in the U.S. and Canada, released a white paper aimed at the Presidential campaigns entitled Partnering for a Prosperous & Secure Future: the Federal Government and Research Universities. This paper provides AAU’s recommendations on the higher education/innovation agenda that should be adopted by the next Presidential administration.

Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign outlined his vision of space policy in a white paper entitled Securing U.S. Leadership In Space. The white paper focuses on four areas: clarifying NASA’s priorities, partnering internationally, strengthening security, and revitalizing industry.

Immigration. Last week saw a flurry of activity on immigration legislation aimed at allowing foreign-born, U.S. educated students to stay in the U.S. after completing their education. Two bills were in play in the House, one initiated by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) (H.R. 6429) and another by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) (H.R. 6412) , and a third in the Senate introduced by Senator Schumer (D-NY). While all three bills aim to create about 50,000 additional visas each year for students in STEM fields who earned their degrees in the U.S., the bills differ in the details such as where the extra visas would come from, what schools students graduated from would be eligible, and which STEM fields would be eligible. Smith’s bill was defeated in the House on Thursday, but both parties appear to be hopeful that a compromise could be reached after the election.

Innovation. At midnight on September 17th, several significant provisions of the patent reform bill, the America Invents Act of 2011, went into effect. These provisions deal with inter partes review, post-grant review, business method patents, supplemental examination, inventors oath, and citation of prior art. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, this date marks  “The most significant reform to the U.S. patent system in more than a century.”

The National Research Council released a report entitled report, Rising to the Challenge:  U.S. Innovation Policy for the Global Economy. This report compares the U.S. innovation system with that of our competitors around the world and argues “that far more vigorous attention be paid to capturing the outputs of innovation - the commercial products, the industries, and particularly high-quality jobs to restore full employment. America’s economic and national security future depends on our succeeding in this endeavor.” This report could be viewed as a follow-up to the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, which focused on the inputs of the innovation system, including R&D and STEM education.

Space. Reps. John Culberson (R-TX), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and several co-sponsors introduced the Space Leadership Preservation Act. This bill “would create a 10-year term for the NASA Administrator to provide crucial stability of the leadership structure at NASA so that decisions are made based on science and are removed from the politics of changing administrations.” In addition, the legislation would create an appointed board to advise NASA, similar to the National Science Board which advises NSF, and would require this board to submit a budget for NASA concurrently to Congress and the White House.

SpacePolicyOnline reports on a recently released survey by an Independent Review Team of NOAA’s polar and geospatial satellite programs, which have faced significant budgetary and management challenges in recent years. The report was requested by the head of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), which oversees the satellite programs. Both the Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco issued decision memos in response to this report, which identifies several areas of concern and suggested corrective actions.

In Print

Bob Grant writes in The Scientist about how Sequestration Threatens Science. The article discusses efforts being made to voice concern over sequestration, with a particular focus on biomedical research.

The Hill reports on new survey, sponsored by United for Medical Research and Research!America, which finds “a majority of likely voters doubt the United States will lead the world in science and technology in eight years. ”

Brian Vastag reports in the Washington Post that the NIH will retire 110 research chimpanzees. The article reports that this decision is part of a recent trend at NIH to back away from using great apes for biomedical research.

The Computing Research Policy Blog and Science provide summaries of a recent Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Five Years of the America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps. The America Competes Act of 2010 (originally passed in 2007) authorizes funding for research at NSF, NIST, and DOE Office of Science, as well as STEM programs.

What’s on Deck

Congress is in recess for the next seven weeks, so no Congressional hearings will take place in Washington, DC.

Thursday (9/27)

  • The Battelle Memorial Institute will host a Capitol Hill brief on U.S. Leadership of the Emerging Undersea Market: What is Needed to Retain US Pre-eminence? Contact shinea (at) for more information.
  • The Weather Coalition and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on Toward a U.S. Weather Commission: Protecting Lives, Livelihoods and the American Economy. Contact ogaevent (at) for details.

Friday (9/28)

  • The Seismological Society of America (SSA) will host a Capitol Hill briefing on Earthquake Early Warning: Every Second Counts.

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