June 3rd, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Sliding into Summer

Summer officially arrived in DC last week, signaled by the Memorial Day Congressional recess and the first “uh-oh-I-forgot-about-humidity” days. Luckily it was quiet, allowing some time to adjust, but this won’t last for long as Members of Congress return to DC this week to take on the farm bill, try to keep student loan interest rates from doubling on July 1st, and continue with the FY 2014 appropriations process.

As described last week, the House and Senate continue to operate under very different assumptions as they proceed with consideration of FY 2014 spending bills. House Appropriations subcommittees approved their first two spending bills last week (Homeland Security and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs), each with just a slight increase over current levels. These slight increases, along with spending increases expected in the soon-to-be-considered Defense bill, won’t leave much for the remaining non-defense bills, which will have to take significant cuts to reach post-sequester levels as outlined by the 302(b) allocations approved in the House before recess.

The Senate hasn’t approved its 302(b) allocations nor released any spending bills, but I expect we’ll see some before the month is out. There continues to be much discussion in the Senate about ways to minimize the impact of the sequester. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will move forward with FY 2014 using a top line spending number that assumes the sequester has been replaced. Before recess, her Ranking Member Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) put forth a plan that would authorize federal agencies to move money around to manage the sequester, without requiring permission from Congress. This is an interesting development, as some would say it cedes power from appropriators to determine federal spending. Before the recess, Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) pushed a similar bill on the Senate floor (S. 465), but this one would require agencies to receive a stamp of approval from Congress before moving money around. The White House and many Democrats are rejecting these and other proposals that would allow for increased flexibility to manage the sequester, arguing that the best solution is to replace sequester all together.

Meanwhile, CQ reports that Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew told Congress again last week that the debt ceiling will likely not have to be raised before Labor Day. This confirms what he wrote in a letter to Congress on May 17th, accompanied with a warning that “Congress should act sooner rather than later to protect America’s good credit and avoid the potentially catastrophic consequences of failing to act until it is too late.” The need to raise the debt ceiling and wrap up FY 2014 appropriations in September will surely make for a dynamic month.

In Washington, there are usually three budget cycles ongoing at any given time. Right now, federal agencies are spending FY 2013 money, Congress is working to approve spending levels for FY 2014 which starts on October 1st, and federal agencies are beginning to build their FY 2015 budget requests. To guide this process, the White House released their annual guidance memo last week. This guidance memo, the first released by newly confirmed Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Sylvia Burwell, stresses the need for agencies to plan for reduced budgets, but also affirmed the President’s view of the importance of investments that support economic growth. The memo asks agencies to prepare for 5%-10% cuts to their operating budgets, with the caveat that “The 2015 budget should continue to build on the President’s plan, by reducing spending on lower priority programs in order to create room for effective investments in areas critical to economic growth and job creation including education, innovation, infrastructure, and research and development. ” Agency budget requests will be submitted to the White House later this fall and ultimately combine to form the President’s budget delivered to Congress (usually) in early February.

Also of Note

Education. I expect that later today the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Interagency Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (CoSTEM) will publicly release their final report. CoSTEM was created through a requirement in the America COMPETES Act of 2010 to identify a strategy to better coordinate STEM programs across the government.  The committee has already released an inventory of federal STEM programs (December 2011) and a progress report (February 2012). As previously reported, the President’s FY 2014 budget request recommended a total realignment of federal STEM programs, which many felt was premature given the lack of a final report from the CoSTEM.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the STEM reorganization proposal on Tuesday.

Space. SpacePolicyOnline provides a brief history of the LANDSAT satellite program, in honor of the transition last week of LANDSAT 8 from NASA to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The LANDSAT satellite program has been providing imagery of the Earth’s surface for 40 years, with the data publicly available and widely used. LANDSAT has found itself under the jurisdiction of many federal agencies over the years, including NASA, DoD, and the USGS. For now, NASA has ultimate responsibility for getting LANDSAT satellites up and running, with the USGS taking over operational control once in orbit.

Technology. As reported last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed a new version of the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act (H.R. 2061) which aims to increase transparency of federally funded grants, loans, and contracts. The Senate’s version of the bill (S. 994), introduced by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH), received support last week from a group of higher education associations representing research universities (the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), and the Council on Government Relations (COGR)) via letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Intellectual Property. The National Research Council (NRC) convened two meetings in May to gather information from the higher education and scientific community to help inform new White House rules related to public access of federally funded research publications and data. Three organizations–the AAU, APLU, and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL)–provided joint comments at these NRC meetings addressing the treatment of publications and data.

In Print

Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
 (AAAS), writes in the Toronto Star about how Cutbacks to Basic Science Threaten Future Innovation.

Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post about the White House’s recent “We the Geeks” event and other efforts to promote science and technology in a piece entitled White House Rallies Geeks with Google+ Hangouts on Science Topics.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (6/4)

Wednesday (6/5)

Thursday (6/6)

 

 

 

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