May 28th, 2013, by Amanda Arnold  

Week in Review, Selling Out Science

Despite the significant (about $90 billion) difference between the top line FY 2014 spending numbers that the House and the Senate are using for FY 2014, the House Appropriations Committee approved a plan this week on 302(b) allocations, or the funding levels for the 12 individual appropriations bills. Unfortunately, sequester is playing a significant role in funding decisions for FY 2014 with the House allocations clearly distributed to protect three appropriations bills — Defense, Homeland Security, and Military Construction-Veteran Affairs — and the remaining nine bills, including all of the R&D research accounts (except those within DoD), shouldering the full brunt of sequester cuts.

Under this allocation, defense funding would increase by 5.4 percent over FY 2013 with Homeland Security increasing by 3.3 percent and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs increasing by 3.4 percent. Meanwhile, Labor-HHS-Education (which includes NIH) would be cut 18.6 percent from FY 2013, while Energy and Water (which includes DOE) would be cut by 11 percent, and Commerce-Justice-Science (which includes NSF and NASA) would be see a smaller cut of 0.4 percent.

Some argue that the next fiscal cliff showdown, set for the fall when the debt ceiling is again reached, may be the best opportunity to turn off sequester. While other problems, including the continuing chasm between the top line House and Senate budget numbers, may eat up all potential for compromise, there are some indications that the public is beginning to respond negatively to these severe cuts. According to an ABC News/Washington Post Poll, the impacts of the sequester are being felt more widely with almost 40% of those polled in May feeling impacted by sequester – up from only 25% in March.

Also of Note

Appointments. Ernie Moniz was sworn in this week as Secretary of Energy.

Energy. Scientists from the DOE national laboratories testified (subscription) before Congress this week and requested at least $400 million in additional funding for supercomputing by 2020 in order to place America on a path to meet or beat China, Japan and others in developing advanced supercomputers by 2025.

An esteemed group of national security leaders–including two former Secretaries of Defense–wrote the President a letter imploring him to advance national nonproliferation goals by recognizing the importance of the commercial nuclear industry and the historically successful role of the Atoms for Peace formula.

Environment. Given the recent tornado devastation in Oklahoma, a key topic on the Hill this week included NOAA’s ability to forecast weather. Several Republican House members introduced a discussion draft bill entitled, To prioritize and redirect NOAA resources to a focused program of investment on near-term, affordable, and attainable advances in observational, computing, and modeling capabilities to deliver substantial improvement in weather forecasting and prediction of high impact weather events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and for other purposes, which would move $100 million from funds in the Office Of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) to focus on weather prediction. As reflected in this legislation, these members have an ongoing concern that NOAA spends more money on climate research than weather research.

Health. Dr. Janet Woodcock, head of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), spoke this week at a Personalized Medicine Coalition event about necessary changes to the FDA regulatory regime for the future of targeted therapies. Dr. Woodcock highlighted enhanced cooperation between researchers, companies, and the agency in clinical trials as well as agreement on clear drug labeling.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) released a factsheet Wednesday on the value of federally funded biomedical research at National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF).

Sally Rockey, NIH’s Deputy Director of Extramural Research, responded through her blog, Rock Talk, this week to challenges that NIH may be allowing grant funding to be used for lobbying activities. Dr. Rockey highlighted the many safeguards already in place to ensure that taxpayer funds are used appropriately.

The research we highlighted last week, which claimed that cloning was successfully used to create human embryonic stem cells and which re-ignited controversy over stem cell research concerns, is now under new scrutiny as mislabeled images have been identified in the research.

NASA. On Monday, NASA honored Astronaut Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and announced several posthumous honors for this trailblazing leader. Most notably, President Obama will posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, to Dr. Ride. In recognition of Dr. Ride’s passionate work through Sally Ride Science to engage more students, especially girls, in the pursuit of science, NASA is creating a the Sally Ride Internship program and will rename the EarthKAM aboard the International Space Station the Sally Ride EarthKAM. In recognition of Dr. Ride’s involvement in a similar effort to use a camera aboard the GRAIL (a mission led by MIT PI Maria Zuber) spacecraft called MoonKAM, the final impact site of the GRAIL spacecraft on the moon is also named in her honor. Dr. Ride passed away in July from pancreatic cancer at the age of 61.

During a May 21st hearing before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, witnesses debated the future of human spaceflight with a consensus that the new Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) will face many challenges and that the success of the Space Launch System – expected for first launch in 2017 – will be driven by the federal funding trajectory for the agency.

Following from changes included in the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to move commercial satellites from their strict designation on the State Department’s Munitions List and over to the dual-use Commerce Control List at the Department of Commerce, the State Department released a proposed rule on the Amendment to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: Revision of U.S. Munitions List Category XV and Definition of “Defense Service” and the Industry and Security Bureau released a proposed rule regarding Control of Spacecraft Systems and Related Items the President Determines No Longer Warrant Control Under the United States Munitions List (USML).

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) issued a statement about the potential elimination of the education and public outreach (EPO) activities at NASA as originally outlined in the President’s FY 2014 Budget Request. The group shares concerns of many that the President’s STEM consolidation approach, (as briefly outlined in the request and when combined with pressure on agencies from ongoing budget and sequester cuts), could lead to a net loss of promising STEM programs.

Research. In an ongoing response to House Science Committee draft legislation, the High Quality Research Act, 109 organizations and institutions penned a letter to House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith on May 20th. The letter underlined support of the NSF merit review process as a strong mechanism for awarding research grants and defended the process against politicization stating, “It is imperative that NSF’s system of support for basic research be based upon excellence, competitive scientific merit, and peer-review.”

Transparency. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed the newest version of the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act (H.R. 2061). The bill would amend the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) with the goal of enhancing public access to federal pending data on contracts, loans and grants. A group of higher education associations issued a letter in support of the bill.

In Print

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith comments on climate change policy for the Washington Post in Overheated rhetoric on climate change doesn’t make for good policies.

Dan Sarewitz of Arizona State University writes about the future of science in uncertain budget times for Nature in Pure hype of pure research helps no one.

Jocelyn Kaiser highlights the impacts of sequester on biomedical research slowly bubbling to the surface for ScienceInsider in Sequester’s 5% Cut Rolls Through Biomedical Labs.

Andrew Revkin highlights the response of the Union of Concerned Scientists to renewed attacks on climate change research on the New York Times Opinion Pages in Science Group Criticizes Politicians for Global Warming Distortions.

Rob Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, writes about manufacturing research policy for Industry Week in Where’s the Applause? Explaining the Lack of Industry Enthusiasm for NNMI.

What’s on Deck

Both chambers are in recess this week for Memorial Day.




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