June 10th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Starting Off Easy

The House passed its first two FY 2014 spending bills last week, the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs  and Homeland Security bills, each with a significant increase over FY 2013 post-sequestration funding levels. The House Appropriations Committee also released and passed out of subcommittee two additional FY 2014 spending bills for the Department of Defense (DoD) and Agriculture. Similar to Military Construction/VA and Homeland Security, the DoD bill includes an increase in spending levels from sequestration levels, while the Agriculture bill keeps funding essentially flat from current levels.

While you may be surprised to see significant increases in spending in three of these four bills, given the expected continuation of sequestration, these bills align with a House Republican strategy that emerged with the approval of 302(b) allocations before the Memorial Day recess. These allocations would increase spending on defense-related bills, while allowing deep cuts to non-defense related bills to offset the defense increases. Rumor about town has been that the House would pass the defense-related bills up front, leaving the later bills to be rolled up into a continuing resolution (CR) later in the year. This would allow members to avoiding politically difficult votes on bills that would see steep cuts to domestic programs, such as the proposed 18.6% cut to the bill that funds the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Labor. CQ reports, however, that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has said that House Republicans will move all 12 appropriations bills to the floor, which could make for some exciting floor time later in the year.

The White House is not a fan of this front-loading strategy, which they expressed in a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) last week on the Military Construction/VA bill. The SAP expresses support for the bill, but not the larger House Republican budget framework which would “hurt our economy and require draconian cuts to middle class priorities” including “thousands of scientists without medical grants, which would slow research that could lead to new treatments and cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, and hurt America’s economic competitiveness.” The SAP also includes a veto threat on any spending bill that implements the House Republican budget framework.

As previously reported, the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate are operating under completely different assumptions in FY 2014, with the Senate assuming sequester has been turned off in FY 2014. While the Senate hasn’t yet moved forward with any spending bills, last week the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing with Harvard Professor, former Secretary of the Treasury and head of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers, and MIT Professor and Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Simon Johnson, on the Fiscal and Economic Effects of Austerity. In her opening statement, Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) stated “ in order to maintain our edge in innovation, we also need to keep investing in our research and development. These types of investments have led to private sector growth - and they’ve led to new industries, new drugs, new inventions, and new jobs. If we fail to maintain these important investments, we could lose our position as a global leader in research and technology.” Both witnesses followed up with statements on importance of not undertaking short-term deficit reductions at the expense of investments in medium- and long-term economic growth.

Also of Note

Defense. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) released and subsequently passed out of committee the draft FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes spending levels for the DoD which then are considered during the appropriations process. This bill would provide funding for basic research at the level of the President’s Budget Request or above across the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Education. As reported last week, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) interagency Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (CoSTEM) publicly released their final report entitled the Federal STEM Education Five Year Strategic Plan. The report reinforces the reorganization of STEM programs proposed in the President’s Budget Request, and suggests a 5-year plan to enhance coordination between the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Education, and the Smithsonian institution, which would gain STEM programs under the new plan, and mission-based agencies (e.g. NASA, Department of Energy) which would lose programs. Both undergraduate programs and graduate fellowships and training are included in this final CoSTEM Report.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on the proposed reorganization of federal STEM programs, where several committee members expressed concerns about the implementation of the proposal.

Health. Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, writes in her blog–Rock Talk–about efforts internally at NIH to enhance the peer review process. And while not breaking news, a colleague recently shared this video which peeks behind the scenes of the NIH peer review process and I think is worth a watch!

NIH released a fact sheet entitled Impact of Sequestration on the National Institutes of Health, which outlines the impact of sequestration across the agency and funding strategies for each of the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers.

Research. The NSF released guidance on how it would implement a provision, put forth by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and included in the final FY 2013 appropriations bill, that would prohibit the agency from funding political science grants which  aren’t deemed beneficial to national security or economic interests.  NSF’s guidance essentially asks NSF reviewers to take into account these additional criteria when undergoing the standard grant review process. Science reports, however, that the NSF may create new advisory panels to explore these additional requirements in more detail.

The NSF announced last week that it would move its headquarters from its current location in Arlington, VA to Alexandria, VA. According to the announcement, this move will save taxpayers $65 million in lease payments.

As previously reported, the White House has been seeking comments on its proposed Reform of Federal Policies Relating to Grants and Cooperative Agreements; Cost Principles and Administrative Requirements (Including Single Audit Act) which governs many aspects of management for federal grants.  The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU)which combined represent most of the country’s large research universitiessubmitted joint comments on the proposal.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports on a recent “Controller Alert on Travel and Conferences” issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Recent limitations on federal travel to conferences has been of much concern to the scientific community, which relies on conferences to foster collaboration. Of note in the controller alert, the guidance states ” Given the unique travel and conference needs of each agency, there are circumstances in which physical collocation is necessary to complete these mission. These circumstances may include, but are not limited to, collaborations in the scientific community…”

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a new report entitled Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence. This report was drafted by the IOM as requested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in response to a Presidential Executive Order to identify the most pressing areas of research needed related to gun violence.

Space. The National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board’s Committee on Human Spaceflight is requesting input on the future of space exploration. Comments, requested to be no longer than four pages, are due by July 9, 2013.

In a follow up to a controversy last year about collaboration between the White House, NASA, and China, SpacePolicyOnline reports that the recently released House Armed Services Committee (HASC) draft FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes language requiring the DoD to explain why it leases communications services through a Chinese-owned communications satellite.

Science reports on a recent decision by NASA about how to use a spy telescope that was turned over to that agency from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) over two years ago. While NASA solicited and received many ideas for how to use the telescope, they have narrowed it down to a wide field infrared survey telescope (WFIRST) mission.

Intellectual Property. The White House issued five executive actions and seven legislative recommendations last week related to the U.S. patent system. One of these actions is a focus on cracking down on so-called “patent trolls.”  The President’s Council of Economic Advisers, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) also released a joint report entitle Patent Assertion and U.S. Innovation which Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council, blogs about here.

Science reports on a proposal put forth by a group of scientific journal publishers to respond to a recent White House directive that any agency with more than $100 million in research funding make available articles resulting from that research after a period of 12 months. This directive would essentially expand a program already in place through NIH’s PubMed, and has been of concern to publishers who feel it could disrupt their funding model. This new proposal, notionally entitled the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS), would allow the public to read full articles on the journals’ own websites after a pre-determined embargo period.

In Print

Nathaniel Morris writes in the Boston Globe about serendipitous science, in his piece entitled Congress can’t micromanage science.

Melissa Attias writes in a Roll Call piece entitled Cantor Balancing Research Priorities, Fiscal Concerns, about House Majority Leader Cantor’s call for more medical research,

Daniel Newhauser also writes in Roll Call about Cantor’s efforts to move a bill that would Increase Pediatric Research.

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) writes for the Washington Post opinion pages about How the sequester endangers America’s future.

Based on a radio interview with NIH Director Francis Collins at WBUR Boston, Bruce Gellerman reports on the impact of sequestration on university research in As NIH Funding Shrinks, Mass. Biomedical Researchers Compete For Fewer Grants.

The American Institutes of Physics (AIP) posted a summary of recent House and Senate Committee hearings on NASA Spaceflight Opportunities and Challenges and a recent Senate Hearing on the National Nuclear Security Administration.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (6/11)

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on the FY 2014 budget request for the Department of Defense (DoD).
  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Deep Sea Challenge: Innovative Partnerships in Ocean Observation.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Reducing Duplication and Improving Outcomes in Federal Information Technology.

Wednesday (6/12)

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a full committee hearing on cybersecurity.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Nomination of Howard A. Shelanski to be Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget.
  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a full committee markup of the FY 2014 Defense spending bill.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Achievability of New Ozone Standards.
  • The House Budget Committee will hold a full committee hearing on the FY 2014 budget request for the Department of Defense (DoD).
  • Battelle Memorial Institute and United for Medical Research (UMR) will release an update of their report “The Impact of Genomics on the U.S. Economy” in a Capitol Hill briefing. Contact ebonner (at) gpgdc.com for more information.

Thursday (6/13)

  • The Senate Budget Committee will hold a full committee hearing on The President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Defense Budget Request.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on the FY 2014 budget request for the Department of Energy.
  • The Federation of American Scientists; the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy; and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will hold a Capitol Hill luncheon briefing and discussion on medical radioisotope production without nuclear reactors or uranium enrichment.


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