January 28th, 2013, by Amanda Arnold  

Week in Review, or Setting the Stage for 2013

Last week, as Washington experienced freezing temperatures and an inaugural hangover, the House managed to pass legislation (H.R. 325) to suspend the debt ceiling until May 18th, which the Senate is expected to approve and the White House is expected to sign. While this action could postpone at least one pressing issue for Congress this year, various confrontational moments this spring remain, including the rescheduled implementation of the across-the-board sequestration spending cuts on March 1st and expiration of the FY 2013 continuing resolution (CR), currently functioning as the annual budget, on March 27th. While pushing the debt limit conflict off another three months will allow Congress to focus on stopping sequestration, general attitudes on Capitol Hill seem to have shifted from sequestration is just plain bad policy to sequestration is a fait accompli.

This attitude of resignation is concerning to those who care about research budgets, as not only would sequestration result in significant cuts immediately, it also would have lasting effects on the baseline budgets for several years out. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a blog post entitled Here’s How the March 1 Sequester Will Work projecting that the March 1st sequester percentage cut to non-defense discretionary programs will be 5.1%, after factoring in the Sandy supplemental funds, which are also subject to the sequester. Don’t forget, however, that the cuts will have to be taken halfway through the year, so in effect they will feel even steeper than 5% in FY 2013.

Given ongoing budget gridlock on Capital Hill, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, announced this week in a 12-page memorandum her intention to move an FY 2014 budget resolution, something the Senate has not done in years but is required to do by April 15th according to the debt limit bill just passed by the House. The memorandum calls for a balanced approach in FY 2014 with “responsible spending cuts and additional revenue from those who can afford it most” since, the memo notes, a majority of the $2.4 trillion in cuts over the last two years came mostly from discretionary spending.

Also of Note

Energy. Following the President’s unexpected promotion of climate change to key legislative priorities for his second term, Senator John Kerry addressed this issue during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State. Kerry’s comments were in response to Senator John Barrasso who expressed concern that action on climate change “could do significant harm to the U.S. economy.” Senator Kerry argued that the solution to climate change is energy policy and went on to outline this as a key area of global competitiveness in which the U.S. is being left behind, specifically siting global competitors like China, Germany, and South Korea. He also emphasized the importance of basing policy decisions related to climate change on science.

Health.  Big news this week from the NIH Council of Councils Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research (WG). The Council of Councils, created by legislation in 2007, is a group of NIH employees that advises the NIH Director on all policies and activities related to the agency’s program coordination, planning, and strategic initiatives.  The Working Group released a report recommending a reduction in the number of chimpanzees used in NIH-funded biomedical research studies. The report recommendations call for a major reduction in the number of studies involving chimpanzees, including shutting down nearly half of the 30 projects currently funded by NIH and downsizing the number of chimpanzees NIH owns or supports to a single colony of about 50 chimps.  NIH followed up on the report today by issuing a notice requesting public comments on the report’s recommendations. Comments will be accepted through March 23, 2013.

The National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) organized a coalition letter of more than 150 leading research organizations and institutions to CEOs of airlines urging them to continue transporting animals needed for research purposes. This is in response to a growing issue in which perceived pressure from animal rights extremists seeking to end the use of all animals in biomedical research is resulting in air carriers no longer being willing to accept shipments of animal for research.

Science reports on the decision by a group of leading avian flu researchers to end a moratorium on conducting certain types of research on the disease, which had been previously deemed a security risk.  This moratorium was put in place after a controversy regarding whether or not the results of this research should be published in scientific journals-for fear they could help terrorists create a pandemic-which, after extensive review, they ultimately were.

NIH launched a new blog this week, The Connector, which will be focused on demonstrating the importance of public health, behavioral and social science research. 

Immigration. Politico and several other media outlets report that a bipartisan group of Senators including Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), have reached agreement on a broad framework to support immigration reform. The framework would overhaul the system and provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. According to The Hill, the framework would also “expand visas for high-tech workers and grant green cards to immigrants pursuing advanced degrees in scientific and technical areas,” an area of much interest to the nation’s research universities.

NASA. NASA announced that it has joined the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Euclid mission, a space telescope designed to study the impact of dark energy and dark matter on the evolution of the universe. Euclid will launch in 2020 and spend six years mapping the locations and composition of 2 billion galaxies spread over more than one-third of the sky.

Research. The Task Force on American Innovation released a new report, American Exceptionalism, American Decline? Research, the Knowledge Economy, and the 21st Century Challenge. The report is the third installment in a series of reports benchmarking American competitiveness with key science and engineering indicators. The report provides data on federal support for overall R&D, with a special emphasis on support for energy technologies.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which among other things oversees research programs at NSF, NASA, NOAA, and NIST, released their committee rules and oversight plan for the 113th Congress. This document provides insight into the committee’s focus for each government program they oversee.

Retirements and Appointments Two long-time leaders in the Senate, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin and Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, announced they would not seek re-election in 2014.  As current Chairman of the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pension (HELP) Committee and the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations subcommittee, Senator Harkin currently exerts much influence over research budgets at NIH. Senator Chambliss currently sits on the Senate Intelligence, Armed Services, and Agriculture committees.

In Print

Varun Mehra writes in Science Progress about how ARPA-E is Here to Stay.  The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is a three-year-old program at the DOE designed to “invest, develop, and commercialize ‘transformational energy technologies’ that ‘disrupt the status quo.’”

John Nosta of Forbes writes about Health, Technology and the Forgotten Stepchild of Innovation. The article discusses the “quantified self” as the next step for innovation in health and wellness.

Michael Lubell writes in Roll Call piece entitled Lessons From the Cliffhanger about the continued threat of sequestration to science programs.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) President (and MIT alum) Shirley Jackson writes in the Washington Post about the need to Invest in What’s Next, including scientific discovery and technological innovation.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (1/29)

  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Primary Care Issues.

Wednesday (1/30)

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Gun Violence Issues.

Thursday (1/31)

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a nomination hearing for the Secretary of Defense.


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