February 19th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Sizing up the State of the Union

The President kicked off this Valentine’s Day week by delivering his first State of the Union (SOTU) speech of his second term. While the SOTU would normally be delivered to Congress in tandem with the President’s FY 2014 budget request, as previously reported that submission won’t take place until at least March due to delays stemming from the fiscal cliff negotiations. Even without an accompanying budget, however, the SOTU provides a glimmer into what the President’s priorities will be for his second term, including sustaining investments in funding for research and development (R&D) and using sound science to inform policy making.

With regards to deficit reduction, the President emphasized that reducing the federal deficit cannot take place on the backs of spending cuts alone. He emphasized the need to look at revenues and entitlement reforms, and to invest in programs that would grow the economy such as “advanced manufacturing hubs,” which would bring together government, industry, and academia to conduct R&D in support advanced manufacturing. The President also called for an increased investment in innovation, saying “if we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas.  Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar.  Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s.  They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful.  Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.  Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.  We need to make those investments.”

The President also expressed support for addressing climate change, creating an “energy security trust” to support energy-related research, passing comprehensive immigration reform–including high-skilled immigration–and providing more support for STEM education at all levels (for more on that, the White House held a STEM State of The Union event the day after the speech, featuring among special guests NASA’s “mohawk” guy). The American Institutes of Physics’ FYI blog post provides a nice summary of these and more science-related SOTU highlights. You can also watch Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) Republican response to the SOTU here, although his speech did not address research or innovation more broadly.

With the SOTU delivered and only two weeks to go before the March 1st sequestration trigger, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a high-profile full committee hearing with a number of Obama’s cabinet members testifying on what sequestration would mean for their agencies. In addition to the live testimony, the Committee requested letters from federal departments and agencies outlining details on how sequestration would impact their operations. Included in these letters are estimates of the impact of cuts to research programs at the NSF, NIH, DOE Office of Science, NOAA, and NASA. Although the stated impacts are quite general in nature, they provide more detail than seen before on the impact sequestration could have at the program level.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee Democratic members released their own report outlining the impact that sequestration would have on the country, citing a recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that sequestration would cut economic growth in 2013 by half. The report also claims that a $1.6 billion cut to medical research would result in  “fewer and smaller research projects aimed at finding treatments for cures like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s” and that a $375 million cut to NSF would “result in nearly 1,000 fewer research grants and termination of $35 million in facilities contracts and agreements, increasing future year costs.”

On Tuesday, a group of leaders from defense, healthcare, and education organizations held a joint press conference urging Congress and the White House to stop the sequester. Included in this group were the presidents of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) which together represent most major research universities in the U.S. The group claimed that sequestration could help draw the nation back into a recession and result in the loss of millions of jobs. The Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), an alliance of business, academia, and scientific societies which helped organize the press conference, released also released a letter to Congress and the White House urging them to stop sequestration.

The group Ad Hoc for Medical Research also sent a letter to all members of Congress outlining their concerns that “the impact of the proposed cut on NIH-funded research will be immediate and devastating” and that it would “come at the end of a decade that has seen the NIH budget fall by nearly 20 percent after inflation, and on top of an estimated $900 billion in spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act over the next ten years.” The letter was signed by over 270 associations and research organizations.

Despite all the recent noise surrounding sequestration, not much will happen in Congress this week as both chambers are enjoying their President’s Day recess.

Also of Note

Appointments/Resignations. The head of the Small Business Administration (SBA), Karen Mills, announced this week that she would step down from that post. During Mills’ tenure the post was elevated to a cabinet position and, according to President Obama’s statement, Mills “played a leading role in my administration’s efforts to support start-ups and entrepreneurs.”

The NSF announced today that University of Florida Professor and Deputy Director for Technology at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Pramod Khargonekar, will serve as the next head of its Engineering Directorate.

Patent/IP. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued their Final Rules and Guidelines Governing the First-Inventor-to-File provision of the America Invents Act. These final guidelines represent a major step in the implementation of this patent reform bill that was enacted in September 2011.

A group of four Senators (Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Roy Blunt (R-MO)) introduced version 3.0 of The Startup Act. This bill includes provisions that would create “entrepreneur and STEM Visas for highly-educated and entrepreneurial immigrants to stay in the United States where their talent and new ideas can fuel economic growth and create American jobs” and would “use existing federal R&D funding to support university initiatives designed to bring cutting-edge research to the marketplace more quickly where it can propel economic growth.” You may recall that an earlier version of this bill (Startup Act 2.0) drew concern from some universities related to the latter provision, which they say could negatively impact the current university technology transfer framework supported by the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980.

Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Kevin Yoder (R-KS)  introduced the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), which would “require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.” On the Senate side, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) also introduced a similar version of the bill. Similar to the Startup Act outlined above, this is not the first time Congress has tried to move this piece of legislation. Nature reports on how this bill differs from the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), a bill with the same intent that has been introduced in Congress three times over the last seven years without ever being voted on.

In related news, NIH’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research writes in her blog about the latest developments in how they will measure compliance with that agency’s public access policies.

Research. Science reports on a recent effort in the House of Representatives to move the The Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 527), a bill that aims to avert an anticipated shortage of helium due in part to changes in the government’s management of a helium reserve. This bill is of interest to many organizations who rely on helium to conduct scientific research, including universities, national labs, and industry. Efforts to move the bill during the last Congress were unsuccessful, and it is not clear that it will have better luck in this Congress.

Space. NASA has released a new Strategic Space Technology Investment plan. This document is the culmination of a multi-year process whereby NASA’s relatively new Space Technology program created a series of space technology roadmaps which were then reviewed by the National Research Council and distributed for public comment. NASA took into account all of these comments to create this document, which “provides guidance for NASA’s space technology investments during the next four years, within the context of a 20-year horizon. The plan will be updated approximately every two years, as appropriate, to meet agency and national needs.”

It would be hard not to mention this week’s asteroid fly-by and the wild meteor strike in Russia! More from NASA on these events here.

In Print

In a recent Huffington Post piece, So You Want Green Energy, New Medicines and Flying Cars? You Need the Federal Government, Robert Atkinson discusses the role that federal R&D funding plays into the country’s innovation system.

David Brooks suggests in his New York Times piece Carpe Diem Nation that President Obama would serve the nation well in proposing, among his future agenda items, a doubling of the NIH budget.

Meredith Wadman writes in Nature piece entitled Science agencies prepare for cuts about how U.S. scientists are preparing for the impact of sequestration.

Continuing on that theme, Robert McCartney writes in the Washington Post about how Dumb budget cuts would slow promising research on flu, cancer, other diseases and Darrell Kirch writes in The Hill about How sequestration will hurt patients through cuts to medical schools and teaching hospitals.

The Computing Research Policy Blog summarizes a recent House Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on Applications for Information Technology Research and Development.

What’s on Deck

Both chambers are in recess this week for President’s Day.

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