Week in Review, or Moving Forward with FY 2013
After what has been a very busy few weeks with members of Congress and the President daring each other to take the country to the brink of shutdown once again, cooler heads prevailed and we are left with a bill, the FY 2013 funding bill, which will pick up from the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expiring on March 27th and keep the government funded for the rest of the year through September 30, 2013.
The House and Senate came to agreement this week on this hybrid spending bill for FY 2013 that included both FY 2012 CR language as well as new appropriations bills. The hybrid replaces the CR bill, which has kept the government funding at the FY 2012 level since October 1, 2012. The bill maintains the CR, meaning offers no change to the budget level, from FY 2012 for some research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but puts into place new spending bills for the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The President is expected to sign the bill.
ScienceInsider offers a useful rundown for how agencies are impacted by the FY 2013 final bill passed by both the House and Senate. For those who prefer an overview on research funding, AAAS offers a comprehensive report on how R&D spending fared through the FY 2013 sequester shockwave. Based on that analysis, federal R&D investment will equal about $130.9 billion in FY 2013, down from FY 2012.
The big news throughout the FY 2013 funding debate was an amendment presented by Senator Coburn (R-OK) and Senator McCain (R-AZ) laser targeting political science funding at NSF as unequal to other basic research. The original Coburn-McCain amendment would have zeroed out political science research funding from NSF and reallocated the resulting funding to NIH for cancer research. However, the successful version of the amendment was modified to instead require the NSF director to certify political science awards as promoting national security or economic interests, via a statement on the NSF website with the reason for each decision. While the amendment was improved, this is a chilling moment for supporters of science funding since it represents a renewed willingness on the part of Congress to choose winners and losers among scientific disciplines rather than depending on the peer review process.
In addition to preparing and passing the final FY 2013 spending bill, the Senate and the House both passed individual, and very different, FY 2014 budget resolutions. This is the first time in four years that both houses of Congress have passed budget resolutions and likely in part due to the January bill, (H.R. 325 No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013), which required both houses to pass a budget resolution by April 15th or go with no pay until resolutions were passed. During the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Senate passed a $3.7 trillion budget blueprint while the House passed a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint on Thursday. These resolutions are not binding, and realistic levels for FY 2014 will likely start becoming more clear once the President releases his budget, late from February, and now expected on April 8th. In the meantime, at least we have sorted out FY 2013!
Also of Note
Education. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced this week a new grant of $22.5 million to the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) to expand a network of efforts for teacher preparation in STEM fields already underway at UTeach, the original center at University of Texas, Austin. 35 additional universities are already partnering to develop similar programs including the Columbus State University in Georgia and University of California, Berkeley.
Energy. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report on Thursday with six key components to be included in a strategy to address climate change. The six strategies included sustained research on next-generation clean-energy technologies.
Health. Several Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a document this week outlining medical-related life sciences priorities for the coming year. Priorities range from decreasing regulatory burden on patient access to new medicine tools, (such as smartphone software apps), to working with the FDA to increase predictability in the drug approval process.
A bipartisan group of freshman House members met with NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins over breakfast on Wednesday to discuss the importance of federally funded biomedical research as well as working together in a bipartisan manner.
Research. The Congressional Robotics Caucus held a briefing on the Hill on Wednesday to introduce a new report, A Roadmap for US Robotics: From Internet to Robotics. According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Blog, the report updates a 2009 report and includes the President’s National Robotics Initiative (NRI) as announced in June of 2011. Since that announcement, NSF, NIH, NASA, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have established the NRI research program. The agencies issued a solicitation in September of over $50 million to fund research with a goal of enabling robots to safely co-exist and operate in close proximity to humans.
Patents. The First-Inventor-to-File (FITF) provision of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) went into effect on Saturday, March 16, 2013. The US Patent Office is currently retraining examiners using this video as well as other tools. All training material will be made available for the public in April on the AIA microsite. Researchers, technology license officers, and university grant managers may find this information useful.
The Boston Globe ran a controversial article entitled, Harvard, MIT thwart effort to cap overhead payments: Research giants win on funding on Sunday regarding the overhead costs of university research.
New York Times also ran a much refuted article entitled, Seeking Profit for Taxpayers in Potential of New Drug, suggesting that pharmaceutical companies may be unfairly making a profit from taxpayer funded research via NIH.
SpacePolicyOnline gives an overview of a confrontational hearing last week over the arrest of a Chinese national who was working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA in Bolden Reassures Wolf on China, Talks Budget Realities.
What’s on Deck
Congress is on Easter recess for the next two weeks.