February 4th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Super Bowl Surprise

Fans and players enjoying the Super Bowl last night were caught by surprise early in the third quarter when half of the electricity in the New Orleans Superdome went out. While waiting for the power to come power back on, I had my eye on Twitter, which was flooded almost immediately with tweets about improving our nation’s electric grid, something I’m sure Washington will be buzzing about today. That, and oh yeah, the Baltimore Ravens win!

Perhaps this will provide a distraction from the oh-so-familiar feeling in Washington of a looming fiscal crisis. Last week, the Senate passed the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 (H.R. 325), which extends the debt limit for about three months. This legislation, which passed the House the week prior, in effect pushes off the debt limit debate until May, allowing negotiations surrounding sequestration and the FY 2013 continuing resolution to move to the forefront later this month.

As reported last week, things have been pretty quiet on Capitol Hill and in the White House regarding sequestration. Although the “fiscal cliff” deal reduced the impact of sequestration (now a 5-7% cut to discretionary spending, versus an 8-10% cut), this still represents millions of dollars for organizations who depend on federal funding for research grants. To remind decision makers of this fact, the Presidents of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), which together represent most of the country’s major research universities, sent a letter to Congress and the White House urging them to stop sequestration and identify an alternative, balanced approach to deficit reduction. Attached to that letter was a previous letter with a similar message, signed by over 150 university presidents. With the House and Senate both back in session this week, and March 1st not too far away, we’re likely to hear more noise about stopping sequestration in the coming weeks.

With the FY 2013 budget still unresolved, it looks like the FY 2014 President’s Budget Request-which is normally submitted to Congress the first week of February-will be pushed back to at least March due to delays resulting from the New Year fiscal cliff debacle. The White House reportedly just conducted “passback,” the familiar term for when the White House Office of Management and Budget sends their initial feedback to the agencies on their draft budget requests. Now that this has occurred, there will be several more weeks of debate between agency leadership and the White House before the final budget is delivered to Congress. We’ll see a glimpse into what the budget will look like, however, in the President’s State of the Union address which is scheduled for February 12th.

Also of Note

Appointments and Retirements. Secretary of Energy Steve Chu announced his decision not to serve a second term. In an letter to DOE employees, Secretary Chu outlined a list of successes over the past four years, including the growth of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and efforts to break down the barriers between basic and applied research programs.

The Senate confirmed Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to serve as the next Secretary of State, and he was sworn in a few days later.

MIT professor Gerald Fink was elected to serve as President-Elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He will succeed another MIT professor, Dr. Phil Sharp, who begins his term as president of AAAS this month.

Education.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Open Book Project, “an initiative of the U.S. Department of State, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and leading education innovators to expand access to free, high-quality open educational resources in Arabic, with a focus on science and technology and online learning.” This project will feature MIT’s Open Courseware project, along with many other online resources.

Immigration. Following up on an announcement last week by a bipartisan group of Senators that they had agreed to a high level framework on comprehensive immigration reform, the President outlined his vision for immigration reform in a major speech in Las Vegas, NV. Topics of interest related to science and technology include visas for STEM degree holders, reforms to the high-skilled visa program, and visas for those foreigners working on national security-related research in the U.S.

Patents/IP. The Brookings Institution released a new report entitled Patenting Prosperity: Invention and Economic Performance in the United States and its Metropolitan Areas, for which they examined patenting levels and growth across the country. Among the report’s findings are that patents are increasing, that they are mostly produced in a few metropolitan clusters in the U.S. (including, for my CU readers, Boulder, CO), and that “research universities, a scientifically-educated workforce, and collaboration play an important role in driving metropolitan innovation.”

Research. The White House released a long-awaited draft of an administrative circular that governs management of grants. The Reform of Federal Policies Relating to Grants and Cooperative Agreements; Cost Principles and Administrative Requirements (Including Single Audit Act) is now officially opened up for public comment through the Federal Register. This revised circular is extremely important to all entities that receive federal research funds, as provides guidance on how grants are managed and how overhead is calculated for grants.

Science reports on a recent recommendation by a working group reporting to the DOE’s Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC) to shut down the “last U.S. grand atom smasher, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.” The recommendation is based in part on competing priorities and tight budgets within the DOE Office of Science, which is forcing many tough decisions surrounding its “big science” endeavours.

Science also reports on a decision by the NSF to invest in three new coastal research vessels, an effort that has been awarded to Oregon State University. According to the article, the project could cost up to $290 million and represents the most significant investment in coastal research vessels by the NSF since the 1970s.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced a bill called the Violent Content Research Act of 2013. This bill would “instruct the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of violent content, including video games and video programming, on children.”

Space. The NASA Aerospace Advisory Panel issued its annual report for 2012. Since the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, the panel has been required to submit an annual report to “examine NASA’s compliance with the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), as well as NASA’s management and culture related to safety.” AIP’s FYI blog posted a summary of the report, in which the committee warns of the impact of funding uncertainty on the agency’s safety programs.

SpacePolicyOnline, a great online resource for developments in space policy, introduced its new “legislative checklist” for major space-related legislative actions in the 113th Congress. They will keep this site updated with information on legislative packages as they are introduced and move through Congress.

In Print

Dean Garfield of the Information Technology Industry Council writes about preserving investments in research a recent piece in McClatchy entitled Don’t risk job creation to cut the deficit.

Bill Talman, of the University of Iowa, writes in the Huffington Post piece entitled A Big Hole Where a Cliff Used to Be about continuing concerns in the biomedical research community about sequestration.

A new APS Physics blog post covers the recent event to launch the new House Science and National Labs Caucus, which featured popular astrophysicists Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

What’s on Deck






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