November 19th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Cautiously Optimistic

Negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff” began in earnest this week as President Obama hosted a series of meetings with labor unions, industry CEOs, and members of House and Senate leadership at the White House. The three main pots of money under debate continue to be revenues (including taxes), spending cuts, and entitlements, with Democrats generally pushing for tax increases for the wealthy, fewer spending cuts, and limited changes to entitlements and Republicans generally willing to cut spending and reform entitlements in order to avoid tax increases. While Democrats and Republicans still stand strong on each of their platforms, there seemed to be a more optimistic tone coming out of the White House meetings last week that some sort of agreement will be reached to avert the fiscal cliff in the short-term and lay the groundwork for a larger-scale solution in the next Congress.

As negotiations continue, research organizations continue to sound the horn on the potential impact of sequestration. A group of research universities organized through the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), and the Science Coalition have launched a new website called Science Works for Us which demonstrates the state-by-state impact of sequestration to academic research. The American Institute of Biological Sciences has also released a video explaining how sequestration could impact federally supported research. In addition, a number of op-eds and articles have popped up around the country warning of the impact of sequestration on academic research, including these from the Boston area, the Chicago area, Duke University, and Georgia universities.

As you may recall from earlier in the year, the Congress passed a continuing resolution  for FY 2013 in September to keep the government funded at the FY 2012 level through March of 2013. They did this early in order to keep FY 2013 appropriations out of the fray in the lame duck session when the fiscal cliff would be sucking all the air out of the session. Despite this safety net, there have been some rumblings over the past week that lawmakers might try to actually complete FY 2013 appropriations before the end of the year. There are many hurdles to accomplishing this, however, including the fact that the Senate hasn’t passed a single appropriations bill this Congress, and that a FY 2013 omnibus appropriations bill could be complicated by potential for a supplemental spending bill to fund recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy. Finally, it’s not clear at what overall level the final FY 2013 bill would be passed, since the House and Senate were operating under different top-line numbers during this year’s appropriations process. While getting this done in the lame duck session seems like a long shot, from a research perspective, a final appropriations bill would be desirable as it would allow federal agencies to resume normal spending and even start some new programs.

Also of Note

Appointments. The Principal Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Eric Toone, announced he would be leaving the DOE to return to Duke University to lead their new Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. This adds another leadership vacancy to a long list at the department, which will also likely see a changeover in Secretary in the President’s second term.

Defense. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released the latest in his reports on wasteful government spending. This report, Department of Everything, focuses on the DoD and highlights programs viewed as “non-defense” defense spending. Included in the list are several research programs–many funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)–that from their abstracts alone are not obviously related to defense interests.

Election. With a few House races still yet to be called, we now know that two science advocates have lost their bids for re-election.  Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), co-chair of the House R&D Caucus and member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee lost her seat to a physicist and former Congressman, Rep. Doug Foster. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), co-chair of the House Biomedical Research Caucus and recently designated “Champion of Science” from the Science Coalition, also lost his seat to Democrat Scott Peters.

Health. The NIH, which had been contemplating merging two of their 27 institutes–the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)–announced that they won’t make the merge. This proposed merge was controversial on both sides, as reported recently by Science. While the two institutes will not officially merge, a blog post by Sally Rockey, Deputy Director of Extramural Research at NIH,  points out that the two institutes will become more functionally integrated while retaining their institutional identities.

Rockey also announced last week that NIH would be stepping up enforcement on its public access policy. This is a policy that requires papers resulting from NIH-funded research to be posted online in NIH’s PubMed database no more than 12 months after acceptance for publication.  NIH has decided to that beginning in FY 2013 they will hold processing of non-competing continuation awards if publications arising from the awards are not in compliance.

International Development. OSTP and USAID announced the awarding of seven new major institutes at research universities–including MIT–as part of the Higher Education Solutions Network, a “groundbreaking partnership between USAID and seven top universities that is designed to harness the ingenuity and passion of university faculty and students  to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.”

Space. NASA’s Inspector General (the agency’s internal watchdog) released their 2012 Report on NASA’s Top Management and Performance Challenges. At the top of the list is the future of U.S. human space flight, followed by project management, infrastructure and facilities management, acquisition and contract management, information technology security, and governance.

In Print

A Nature piece entitled Obama Reasserts Research Focus explores the prospects for basic research funding and climate change in the next Presidential term. The New York Times also addressed this topic in a piece entitled Scientists Hope Obama Continues Support for Basic Research.

Scientific American shares Rep. Rush Holt’s Advice to His Fellow Scientists on Politics. Rep. Holt (D-NJ) is one of the few scientists in Congress.

In a Huffington post blog post entitled Need Cures? Who Ya Gonna Call?, Margaret Anderson, director of Faster Cures, offers a call to action for those interested in protecting funding for biomedical research.

Science and the American Physical Society (APS) have published pieces highlighting Rep. Randy Hultrgen (R-IL), a recently re-elected science advocate who represents the DOE’s FermiLab.

E&E Daily (subscription) reported on a recent House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on recommendations included in a recent Blue Ribbon Commission on the U.S. Antarctic Program.

AIP’s FYI blog writes about President Obama’s comments related to climate change in his first press conference since his re-election.

What’s on Deck

Congress is in recess once again for the Thanksgiving Holiday. I hope everyone’s holiday is full of good food and free of awesome family photos.

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