Week in Review, or Still Standing Still
With only three weeks left before the end of the year, no discernible progress has been made on how to avoid the “fiscal cliff” the country is expected to face on January 1st when individual tax breaks expire and massive spending cuts (a.k.a. sequestration) kick in. Democrats and Republicans traded proposals last week, but each was met with about the same amount of enthusiasm (i.e., none) by the other party. The Democratic proposal would raise over $1.5 trillion in taxes through select individual tax rate increases and tax reform, and cut spending by $400 billion. The Republican proposal would increase revenues by $800 billion from tax reform alone, provide $600 billion in savings from entitlement reform, and cut $300 billion in spending cuts. President Obama and Speaker Boehner reportedly met at the White House over the weekend to discuss the fiscal cliff, and their delegates will surely continue their negotiations this week.
While any final deal is likely to come down to a battle over individual tax rates vs. entitlement reform, it is important to note that both proposal include additional spending cuts beyond what was agreed to in the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. The good news is that the White House has consistently said they won’t support further cuts to research and education spending, a point the President reiterated last week in a tweet, “Open to more smart cuts but not in areas like R&D, edu that help growth & jobs, or hurt vulnerable (eg disabled) – bo.” That being said, if a final deal hinges on protecting spending vs. protecting benefits provided by entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, it is not at all clear that protecting spending would win out.
The research community remains active on the advocacy front. The American Association for the Advancement of Science sent a letter signed by 126 partner organizations to the White House and Congress last week urging “both branches of government to work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that avoids the fiscal cliff and moves the country on to sound fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology.” AAAS has also set up a website with several resources related to the impact of sequestration on R&D, as well as a website where they have urged their members to upload videos and other messages about the impact of sequestration.
The group United for Medical Research released an infographic titled: Medical Research in Jeopardy, which provides “a visual representation to the devastating impact an 8.2% cut to NIH from sequestration will have on the medical research ecosystem and U.S.’s global competitiveness.” The American Chemical Society also created a website that their members can use to contact members of Congress to express concerns about sequestration’s impact on science.
Students across the country are also making their voices heard. A letter organized by the American Physical Society and signed by 6,200 students, with a focus on the negative impacts of sequestration to innovation, was hand delivered to lawmakers across the country last week. Another student organization called Stand With Science, first created in 2011 by a group of MIT students, also launched round two of their grass-roots efforts to get students to sign onto a letter outlining the impact of sequestration. This campaign is a follow-up effort to a first letter that garnered 10,000 signatures back in November 2011.
Also on Deck
Agriculture. The President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report last week entitled Agricultural Preparedness & the United States Agricultural Research Enterprise. This report outlines the scientific challenges faced by the U.S. agriculture industry and recommends an increased investment in competitive agriculture-related research at the U.S. Department of agriculture and NSF.
Defense. The Senate passed their version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week. In addition to authorizing research programs at the DoD, a few amendments of note to the research community were considered on the floor. Senator Bennet (D-CO) offered an amendment in the form of his bill, the Safeguarding United States Leadership and Security Act of 2012, (S.3211). As I reported a few weeks ago, this bill would ease export controls on satellite related research and components. While this amendment ultimately ended up not being considered, there are reports of a compromise being worked out between House and Senate staff to include language addressing this issue in the final bill. An amendment offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), which was adopted, incorporated the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act (S. 3566) into the NDAA. As I reported earlier in the year, the House already passed their version of this bill, which would require the director of the National Cancer Institute to increase support for tough-to-treat cancers. Finally, the Senate removed a provision that is in the House version of the NDAA that would have blocked the military from purchasing alternative fuels. If it remains in the final bill, this provision will certainly have ramifications for the military’s interest in energy research. The House passed their version of the NDAA back in April, so staff now are conferencing the bill with the hopes of reaching agreement on a final package before the end of the year.
Education. The NSF released a report entitled Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2010. The report outlines the “changing characteristics of U.S. doctorate recipients over time, including the increased representation of women, minorities and foreign nationals; the emergence of new fields of study; the time it takes to complete doctoral study; the expansion of the postdoctoral pool; and employment opportunities after graduation.”
Health. Sally Rockey, Deputy Director of NIH for Extramural Research, blogged last week about several new initiatives at NIH designed to address three major areas of concern to the Director, “harnessing the power of biomedical data and informatics, achieving diversity in the biomedical research workforce, and developing a competitive and sustainable biomedical research workforce.” The initiatives, which include Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K), NIH InfrastructurePlus, and Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), are outlined in the post.
Research. A group of higher education associations wrote to Congressional leaders outlining their support for a recent Senate version of the The DATA Act (S.3600). This new version of the bill is of much less concerns to research universities than a previous Senate version, and a version passed by the House earlier this year, which would have created a new government-wide system for grant management without requiring research agencies to sunset their old systems. This latest version requires the government to explore improved grant management within the government, and to seek input from the research community while doing so.
The NSF celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Graduate Research Fellowship, the agency’s “flagship program for graduate students in the science and engineering fields within NSF’s mission.” Past recipients of he GRF include 40 Nobel Prize Winners, Secretary of Energy Chu (who attended the celebration), and the President’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren.
The DOE Office of Science issued a press release celebrating the 10th anniversary of science.gov, a website managed by the DOE which provides access to scientific research and other information across the U.S. government.
Space. The National Research Council released a new report on NASA’s Strategic Direction and the Need for a National Consensus. This report was commissioned by the NASA Inspector General in 2011 at the direction of Congress to conduct a “comprehensive independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management.” The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on this report on Wednesday (this hearing was postponed from last week, more info below).
NASA announced a new multi-year Mars program, which will include a new Mars rover to launch in 2020. As NASA notes in the press release, this new program will “advance the science priorities of the National Research Council’s 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey and responds to the findings of the Mars Program Planning Group established earlier this year to assist NASA in restructuring its Mars Exploration Program. “
The President of AAAS, Alan Leshner, and the Senior Vice Provost for Research at the University of Pennsylvania, Stephen Fluharty, write in a Chronicle of Higher Education piece Time and Money Are Being Wasted in the Lab about the increased burden on research entities to comply with U.S. rules and regulations.
Puneet Opal writes in the Atlantic piece, In Defense of Science: How the Fiscal Cliff Could Cripple Research Enterprise, about the negative impact sequestration would have on biomedical research which is already facing declining funding.
In a Forbes piece, Rebecca Bagley asks How Will the Fiscal Cliff Impact Our Innovation Economy? This article focuses on the impact of potential cuts to R&D to the country’s economic growth.
The Computer Research Association posted a summary of a recent House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee hearing on The Impact of International Technology Transfer on American Research and Development.
What’s on Deck
- Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, and the Nuclear Energy Institute will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on The Role of Research Universities in Nuclear Science, Energy, and Policy.
- The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a full committee hearing on HGH Testing in the NFL: Is the Science Ready?
- 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.