Week in Review, or Closing in on the Cliff
Despite an optimistic start to “fiscal cliff” talks at the beginning of the lame duck session, Democrats and Republicans appear to once again find themselves at an impasse. Democrats are digging in their heels on protecting lower tax rates for the middle class while raising taxes for the wealthy, while Republicans are pushing to keep tax rates low and instead consider broader tax and entitlement reform. President Obama upped the ante last week by sending Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner to Capitol Hill to deliver a proposed solution to House Republicans, which was reportedly rejected as just another version of Democratic proposals without any obvious compromise to support Republican priorities. Negotiations will continue this week, with only 19 business days left in the year to come up with a deal to avoid the tax increases and spending cuts that make up the so called cliff.
In a letter to the White House and Congressional leaders sent last week, the presidents of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), Hunter Rawlings and Peter McPherson, Norm Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Deborah Wince-Smith, President of the Council on Competitiveness, urged them to address the nation’s deficit while continuing to invest in the future. The letter cites recent calls from business leaders and university presidents to consider a balanced approach to avoiding the fiscal cliff, but warns against trying to solve the nation’s problems with discretionary spending cuts alone, stating “While we believe that every category of spending should be placed on the table for balanced consideration, we urge that a clear distinction be made between spending for consumption and spending for investment. It is the latter category, including such areas as education and research, that will assure America’s continued strength immediately and into the future.”
On the appropriations front, The Hill reports that staff continue to make progress on completing an FY 2013 omnibus bill (which would combine some or all of the 12 individual spending bills), but that it remains unclear if there will be an opportunity to bring it to the floor before the end of the year. If passed, this bill would supersede the continuing resolution (CR) which was put in place in September to fund the government at FY 2012 levels through the end of March 2013.
With only one race for Congress yet to be called, and that one between two Republicans, the final makeup of the 113th Congress is now known. The House of Representatives will consist of 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats, while the Senate will consist of 53 Democrats, 2 Independents (who will caucus with the Democrats) and 45 Republicans.
Also of Note
Appointments. House Republicans have elected Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) as the new chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee which has jurisdiction over NSF, NIST, NASA, DOE Office of Science, and STEM education programs. Smith, former chair of the House Judiciary Committee, was unable to continue in that role due to term-limit requirements. Rep Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) will take over as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
David Kappos, Director of the USPTO, announced that he will be stepping down from that position come January 2013. During his tenure at USPTO, Kappos guided major patent reform legislation (America Invents Act) through Congress and helped increase efficiency at the agency.
Zach Lemnios, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, announced that he will step down from his current post to join IBM Research as Vice President, Research Strategy. Prior to holding this position at the DoD, Lemnios was Chief Technology Officer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.
Health. In a recent blog post, Sally Rockey, Deputy Director of NIH for Extramural Research, confirmed that NIH would continue a policy that prevents researchers from re-submitting rejected grant proposals more than two times. Science reports on the controversy that surrounded this policy when it was first implemented back in 2009. Despite protests from researchers, NIH data finds that the policy has been successful in achieving its main goal of getting more proposals funded quickly.
The advocacy group Research!American issued an update to a previously issued report entitled “Health Research at the Breaking Point.” This report provides estimates of the impact sequestration would have on NIH and NSF grant rates, and public polling information demonstrating much Americans value scientific research.
Immigration. The House passed the STEM Jobs Act (H.R. 6429) last week, which would provide additional “high skilled” visas for foreigners who want to stay in the country after receiving their STEM degree from a U.S. institution. Despite passage in the House, the bill is likely not going to advance in the Senate before the end of the year but will certainly emerge again in the 113th Congress. You may recall that an earlier version of this bill failed to pass the House back in September.
Research. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report entitled “Transformation and Opportunity: The Future of the U.S. Research Enterprise.” This report recommends an increased and more stable federal investment in R&D, as well as policy recommendations to encourage industry investment in R&D, improve STEM education, and encourage foreign talent to contribute to the nation’s innovation system.
The NSF released a report showing that universities spent more money in FY 2011 on R&D than ever before. The report outlines the different sources of this spending, including the federal government, industry, and higher education institutions themselves.
NIST released its annual report on federal technology transfer. This report finds that in 2010, “11 federal laboratories included in the report had more than 18,000 active collaborative relationships with private entities and other government agencies, disclosed more than 4,700 inventions, submitted 1,830 patent applications and received 1,143 patents.”
Michael Lubell writes in the Roll Call op-ed, Reject Travel Rules That Stifle Science, about how new rules limiting government travel are affecting the U.S. scientific enterprise.
Colin Macilwain writes in a Nature op-ed that Science should be ready to jump off ‘the cliff’. In the piece, Macilwain argues that the fiscal cliff may represent the least of several evils faced by the U.S. economy.
Science Progress outlines What the Fiscal Showdown Means for Science, including specifics on the funding implications of sequestration on major research agencies.
The American Chemical Society released an animated video last week explaining the impact that the “fiscal cliff” would have on the U.S. R&D and economic growth.
Whats on Deck
- The Foundation for Nuclear Studies will hold a briefing on “Curiosity after the First 100 Days on Mars.” Contact carter (at) helenmilby.com for more information.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on The Impact of International Technology Transfer on American Research and Development.
- The American Mathematical Society will host a Capitol Hill briefing on “Chaos and Avalanches in Science and Socio-Political Systems.” Contact amsdc (at) ams.org for more information.
- The Joint Economic Committee will hold a hearing on Fiscal Cliff: How to Protect the Middle Class, Sustain Long-Term Economic Growth, and Reduce the Federal Deficit.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee hearing on The Future of NASA: Perspectives on Strategic Vision for America’s Space Program.