May 13th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Top Line Tug-of-War

Members of Congress returned from recess to a rainy spring week in DC and immediately resumed bickering over how to move forward on funding the government in the next fiscal year. While both chambers have passed budget resolutions providing top-line spending numbers for FY 2014, the focus has now shifted to whether or not they will appoint a “conference” to resolve the $90+ billion difference between the two. With many roadblocks in placesome ideological and others proceduralits looking more and more likely that they won’t find a compromise at the beginning of the appropriations process, but rather will face another last minute spending showdown in September.

Despite the lack of agreement on budget resolutions, the House and Senate appear to be moving forward with the appropriations process. House leadership has indicated the first appropriations bill could hit the floor as early as June, and the Senate will likely move shortly thereafter.  The next step in the process will be for each chamber to assign their “302(b) allocations” which divide the big pot of money into 12 smaller pots for each appropriations subcommittee to allocate. If the 302(b) allocations in the House comply with the “Ryan budget,” this could mean a higher allocation for defense spending and much lower allocations for non-defense spending, including research and education. Hopefully we’ll see some actual numbers in the next few weeks.

There continues to be lots of talk in Washington about finding alternatives to sequesterthe White House is still publicly calling for a full repeal, while members of Congress have introduced several pieces of legislation that would either provide agency flexibility or exempt certain programsbut none of this has gone anywhere. CQ reports that Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asked the Pentagon to provide an alternative FY 2014 budget to the one offered by the President in April last month which essentially ignored the sequester, in the hopes that such an exercise would provide details of the pain expected to be inflicted by sequester. Aside from airport delays reported on a few weeks ago and fixed legislatively, the real impacts of sequestration are slow in coming into the public eye.

In the latest round of controversy in Congress over the High Quality Research Act and an April 25th inquiry to the National Science Foundation (NSF) about specific social science grants, three former directors of the agency wrote to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, stating “We believe that this draft bill and the request to the Foundation will have a chilling and detrimental impact on the merit based review process and the participation of an estimated 60,000 of the world’s most outstanding researchers and educators with relevant scientific and technical expertise who voluntarily assist the Nation by reviewing proposals submitted to the Foundation.”

In a separate letter, eighteen recent Assistant Directors of the NSF wrote to Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Johnson, asking them to “set the bill aside” and “rescind” the inquiry to the NSF Director. Their letter argues that “NSF’s merit-based criteria to determine support for investigator-driven, basic science has placed and kept our nation in the forefront of global science and the global economy. There is a reason why students from all over the world have flocked to our universities. Many of these students have stayed and contributed to our economic well-being. Many more have returned home and are now beginning to emulate our success. At the same time, our K-12 and undergraduate students – the future of our nation – are under-performing by world standards.”

Science reports on a recent interview with a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Republican staffer who describes the goal of the bill as providing an additional layer of “accountability” on NSF grants after the peer review process runs its course. When asked if the NSF isn’t already held accountable, the staffer replied “it is our concern that such a step of thoughtfulness and accountability for the American taxpayer was not being done. That’s why we’re asking for it. I’m not saying that it wasn’t being done. But we didn’t see it.” It is not clear if or when this legislation will move forward in the House.

Also of Note

Congress. A group of bipartisan lawmakersHouse Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) in the House and  Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Roger Wicker (R-MI) in the Senatehave introduced legislation (H.R. 1891) that would create a U.S. Science Laureate. According to a committee press release, the “Science Laureate would be a nationally-renowned expert in their field who would travel around the country to inspire future scientists. This new honorary position would be appointed by the President from nominees recommended by the National Academy of Sciences and serve for a term of 1-2 years. ”

Energy.  The American Institute of Physics (AIP) reports on a recent Congressional letter in support of  funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fusion Energy Sciences.  This bipartisan letter, signed by 50 member of Congress, urges House Appropriators to “protect U.S. capabilities in this area by including adequate funding for both the domestic fusion program and the international ITER fusion project in FY 2014.”

Health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its FY 2013 Fiscal Policy for Grant Awards. This policy provides insight into how the NIH will fund existing and new grant awards in the face of a 5% spending cut due to sequestration. The NIH also issued budget details for FY 2013 that reflects the impact of sequestration on each Institute and Center. You can read Sally Rockey’s blog post on Funding Operations for FY2013 here. Finally, NIH Director Francis Collins tweeted his request for feedback on how sequester is impacting grantees saying, “I want to hear; tell me how the #sequester is affecting your biomedical research right now. Use #NIHSequesterImpact.”

Immigration. The Senate Judiciary Committee began its markup of the comprehensive immigration reform bill released by a “Gang of Eight” Senators in recent weeks. This bill would support high-skilled immigration and provide additional visas for those with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Just in time for the markup, a group of 13 higher education associationsincluding those which represent the country’s top research universitiessubmitted a letter to Congress outlining their support for and concerns with provisions of the mammoth bill.

Information Technology. During a visit to Austin, TX , the President announced a new Executive Order which would “make information generated and stored by the Federal Government more open and accessible to innovators and the public, to fuel entrepreneurship and economic growth while increasing government transparency and efficiency.” The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) blogged about the announcement, and provided more details on a new Open Data Policy which would support the E.O.

Manufacturing. The White House announced that it would fund three new Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI) at a level of $200 million supported by five federal agencies (the Departments of Defense (DoD), Energy (DOE), Commerce (DOC), NASA, and the NSF)). These three IMIs, which would focus on digital manufacturing and design innovation, lightweight and modern metals, and power electronics, join an existing pilot IMI on additive manufacturing that was funded last year in Ohio. These IMIs are envisioned as part of a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), which the President requested funding for in his FY 2013 and FY 2014 budget requests, but hasn’t gained much traction in Congress given its steep price tag of $1 billion.

Patents. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Patent Quality Improvement Act, which aims to “crackdown on “patent trolls”companies that prey on innovators and technology companies. Patent trolls are companies that don’t produce or manufacture products, but instead acquire, often low-quality, patents solely for the purpose of suing legitimate businesses which use technologies similar to those in the patents.” This legislative would modify the America Invents Act, the major patent reform legislation passed in 2011.

Research. During an event at the National Press Club in DC, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a new report entitled ARISE II: Unleashing America’s Research & Innovation Enterprise. The report provides recommendations for the federal government, industry, and academia to strengthen the nation’s research enterprise, with a focus on crossing disciplinary and organizational boundaries.

The White House released a new Strategy for the Arctic, described in an OSTP blog as “articulat[ing] several key objectives for Federal activity in the Arctic over the next decade—including increased scientific understanding of the region.” NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett also released a statement on the strategy, saying it “builds upon existing governmental collaborations to identify and address priorities associated with environmental changes and implications for Arctic residents, the United States and the world.”

In Print

Three university presidentsRobert A. Brown of Boston University, Susan Desmond-Hellmann of the University of California San Fransisco, and Elson S. Floyd of Washington State Universitywrite in the Huffington Post about how Keeping America’s Research Engine Running Requires Strong Federal Investment.

Michael Lubell writes in Roll Call piece entitled Don’t Let American Science Suffer From Federal Spending Cutbacks about the impact cuts to federal funding of research could have on American competitiveness.

Sam Stein writes in a Huffington Post about how Science Cuts Due To Sequestration [are] Contributing To A Brain Drain From The Field.

For our MIT readers, Austin Hess writes in the The Tech about Grant funds threatened by sequester, and efforts the Institute is taking to backfill federal spending cuts.

AIP reports on a recent Senate Commerce, Science, and Technology Subcommittee hearing on the challenges of human space exploration and a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the fate of the nation’s helium reserve.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (5/14)

Wednesday (5/15)

Thursday (5/16)



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