Week in Review, or Micromanaging Research Budgets
Amidst the tragedies in Boston and Texas this last week, Congress debated gun safety, immigration, and whether the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) should have to certify all NSF research grants as “in the national interest.”
Regarding the FY 2014 budget, new information emerged this week about the President’s budget request, including the effort to consolidate federal STEM education programs. The dramatic consolidation plan would decrease the total number of federal STEM programs from 226 to 112 and focus funding for training, fellowships, and education at NSF, the Department of Education, and the Smithsonian. AIP’s FYI Blog offers further details.
Meanwhile, House and Senate appropriators continue to disagree over top line spending numbers for FY 2014. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Senator Mikulski (D-MD) announced this week her intention to write the FY 2014 appropriations bills at the pre-sequester level totaling $1.058 trillion. House Republicans announced they will use a $967 billion top line, which includes the sequester cuts, in writing their spending bills. It is unclear how the appropriations process, which includes 12 individual spending bills that fund the federal agencies, will fare again this year given this significant disagreement in budget levels between the House and Senate.
While still a ways off, the debt ceiling suspension (passed in January as part of the No Budget No Pay Act of 2013) will expire on May 19th , at which point the debt limit will supposedly be raised by the amount “necessary to fund commitment incurred by the Federal Government that required payment.” Back when the bill passed, the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated that number to be around $450 billion.
Chatter has started in anticipation of the May debt ceiling date with Democrats likely to push to increase the debt limit while continuing to look for opportunities to prioritize investment, cut costs, and raise revenue. Republicans, especially in the House, will likely leverage the opportunity to push for a pay down bill, rather than a debt ceiling increase, that would require the government to cut costs and immediately start paying down the principal without any new revenue.
Also of Note
Education. In an effort to guide discussion on the Hill regarding reauthorization of the America COMPETES legislation, a group of academic, business, and scientific society leaders worked with thought leaders who helped to draft the National Research Council report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm (RAGS), to develop a set of guiding principles for the legislation. The RAGS report resulted in the first authorization of COMPETES in 2007, which envisioned a doubling of the budgets for the DOE Office of Science, NIST, and the NSF, along with improved STEM education. A long list of organizations have already signed on to endorse the principles, which include “funding for basic science and engineering research across ALL disciplines, maintaining and promoting scientific literacy and strengthening the pipeline of scientists and engineers, and preserving research excellence and opportunity by sustaining the research funding system of peer review and reducing or eliminating unnecessary regulations.”
Environment. The Obama Administration’s National Science and Technology Council released a report, National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations, to help coordinate earth observations collected by the scientific community through satellites, ocean buoys, stream gauges, human surveys, and other platforms.
Health. President Obama signed a revision to the STOCK Act this week to eliminate a requirement that many high-level government employees’ financial holdings be posted online in a public database. The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act was intended to prevent insider trading by members of Congress, their staff members, and 28,000 executive branch officials. The ACLU sued to block the online disclosure provisions on behalf of a group of federal employees, including 45 NIH researchers.
Immigration. As momentum continues to build around immigration legislation, a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight” introduced a major immigration bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. While the bill has only just been introduced, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is making headlines for addressing long-standing issues facing foreign-born STEM graduate students, doctors, and scientists.
Information Technology. The President launched the National Big Data Research and Development Initiative last year with NSF issuing a request for information in late March. This week, the White House blog announced that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), NSF, and other partner agencies in the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) program will convene a Spring meeting to highlight high-impact collaborations and identify areas for expanded collaboration.
Space. Bill Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, went into significant detail on NASA’s newly announced plan to bring an asteroid into lunar orbit at two meetings this week, including the Space Transportation Association and a joint meeting of two NASA Advisory Council committees. Notably, while the President’s FY2014 budget request states that the program will cost $78 million in FY 2014, NASA projects a cost closer to $105 million, which will include research investment in relevant areas of the Science Mission Directorate, Space Technology Mission Directorate, and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
Research. NSF funding was brought into question in back-to-back hearings this week.
In the first hearing,House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX21), questioned Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House OSTP, during a House Science committee hearing on the Administration’s research priorities. Topics of discussion included taxpayer funding for social and political science studies at NSF, prioritizing R&D spending, and the scientific rationale for NASA’s asteroid initiative. Dr. Holdren defended federal R&D investment and expressed concern about Congress micromanaging the peer review process.
In the second hearing, which focused on NSF’s 2014 budget request, Chairman Smith and Republican members of the committee dug in beyond grants in the social sciences and questioned NSF Director Cora Marrett and Dan Arvizu, chair of the National Science Board that oversees NSF, about the larger NSF portfolio. Both witnesses reinforced the importance of the peer review process and urged the members to first request the science board to study the question of what it means for research to be “for the benefit of the U.S. population” before mandating the NSF Director certify that each NSF award meets this requirement prior to funding.
Patents. The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the Myriad case regarding the validity of patents on human genes, a case which has been working its way through the courts since 2009. A decision, which will impact the future of the the biomedical research enterprise, is expected in late June.
The New York Times ran an interview piece with NHGRI Director Eric Green discussing the human genome mapping effort completed 10 years ago this week in A Conversation With Eric D. Green: Human Genome, Then and Now
Chairman Smith argues that NASA needs greater continuity of vision for both mission focus and budget consistency in an Op-Ed for the Houston Chronicle in Smith: U.S. needs vision, plan to reignite space program.
Nature’s newsblog outlines discussions circulating throughout the neuroscience community concerning the BRAIN Initiative in Society for Neuroscience quashing dissent on BRAIN Initiative, critic complains.
What’s on Deck
- The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard will hold a hearing on oversight of the President’s FY 2014 budget requests the Coast Guard and NOAA.
- The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space will hold a hearing on Challenges and Opportunities for Human Space Exploration.
- The House Science Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing to review the National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget for FY 2014.
- The House Science Subcommittees on Technology and Research will hold a joint hearing on Next Generation Computing and Big Data Analytics.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS will hold a hearing on the President’s FY 2014 Budget Request for the Department of Health and Human Services.
- The Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) and the House Research and Development Caucus will hold a briefing on Social Science Research on Disasters: Communication, Resilience, and Consequences. Contact JMilton (at) cossa.org for more information.
- The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice and Science will hold a hearing on NASA’s FY2014 Budget Request.
- The House Science Subcommittee on Environment will hold a hearing on Policy Relevant Climate Issues in Context.
- The Senate Committee on Appropriations will hold a full committee markup on the Agriculture and Energy Appropriations bills.
- AAAS and the House Research & Development Caucus will hold a briefing to discuss federal investments in R&D in the FY 2014 budget.
- The House Science Subcommittees on Energy and Environment will hold a joint hearing on A Review of Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Research Activities.