July 1st, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Finishing up before the Fourth

The week of July 4th is one of my favorite in DC, as the city essentially clears out for the holiday. As is custom before such a break, all three branches of government rushed to accomplish/announce big things before everyone left town on Friday. The Senate, after weeks of debate, passed its comprehensive immigration bill after receiving a boost of support from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) who estimated that the bill would provide $197 billion in deficit reduction over the next nine years. The House passed two offshore energy bills, and spent much of the week mulling over how to move forward with the Farm Bill which unexpectedly failed the week before last. Across the street, the Supreme Court issued several long-awaited rulings, including three that received much media attention–one affecting the Voting Rights Act, one affecting affirmative action in higher education, and a landmark decision on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Down Pennsylvania Avenue, the President celebrated passage of the immigration reform bill in the Senate, and launched a much-awaited climate policy initiative, before heading out on a multi-day visit to Africa.

House and Senate Appropriators also continued their work last week on FY 2014 spending bills, with both the House and Senate Committees advancing their respective versions of the Energy and Water and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development (HUD) bills. As expected, the committees took widely different approaches on the bills, with the Senate Transportation-HUD bill providing $10 billion more than the House version, and the Senate Energy and Water bill providing about $4 billion more than the House version.  If you want to read more about this gap between the two spending plans, I recommend a recent blog post by the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities which analyzes both the House and Senate budget plans, and concludes that the Senate Appropriations Plan Wisely Says No to Sequestration. 

Speaking of sequester, it seems more and more that nobody is, in fact, speaking of sequester. CQ reported this week that several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle just aren’t hearing from their constituents about the impact of the across-the-board cuts that kicked in March 1st, and that Democrats in particular are trying to find ways to shed light on the issue. For example, the Chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), held a hearing last week on Investing in our Future: The Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Children, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) is awaiting a report from the Pentagon that he requested on how it will deal with the  budget cuts in FY 2014. I have no doubt, however, that lawmakers will hear about sequestration from federally-funded researchers during visits to their home states this week, many of whom are already feeling the impact of cuts to research grants from federal agencies.

Also of Note

Appointments. The Senate approved the nomination of Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who was sworn in last week, and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who will likely be sworn in this week. The Senate also confirmed the new head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Howard Shelanski, and re-confirmed Allison Macfarlane to continue as head of the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA).

Appropriations.  The Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Committee approved  its FY 2014 spending bill, which is much more generous than the House version of the bill approved by the Appropriations committee last week. The Senate bill would provide $5.15 billion for the Office of Science, $287 million above FY 2013, and $379 million for the Advanced Research projects Agency-Energy (ARPA), $114 more than FY 2013. The bill would also provide $2.28 million for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), $470 million more than FY 2013. By contrast, the House bill would provide $4.7 billion for Office of Science, $982 million for EERE, and only $50 million for ARPA-E.

Climate. The President this week laid out a comprehensive plan to “reduce greenhouse gas pollution in America, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it.” The plan proposes several Administration initiatives aimed at these three goals, he majority of which will not require Congressional action or approval. Given previous challenges in passing climate change legislation on Capitol Hill, however, many of these initiatives will face opposition by members of Congress as they move forward. You can ream more on the President’s Climate Action Plan on the Office of Science and Technology’s (OSTP) blog.

The Department of Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)  released its first-ever comprehensive national assessment of geologic carbon dioxide storage potential. The report finds that the United States “has the potential to store a mean of 3,000 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in geologic basins throughout the country.”

Education. The Association of American Universities (AAU) announced that it will fund projects at eight universities across the country aimed at improving undergraduate education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Each university (including, for my Colorado readers, CU-Boulder) will receive $500,000 over the course of three years to implement campus-defined programs.

Health. Science reports on a new report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) entitled The CTSA Program at NIH: Opportunities for Advancing Clinical and Translational Research which analyzes and makes recommendations on improvements to the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program. Sixty-one NIH-funded CTSAs are located across the country and aim to “improve the way clinical and translational research is conducted nationwide to enhance its efficiency and quality.” NIH Director Francis Collins also blogged about the report’s findings.

The NIH on Tuesday announced that it would greatly reduce the number of chimpanzees maintained by the agency and used for biomedical research. This announcements comes after several years of debate and study, including another report by the IOM, over the use of chimpanzees in research.

Immigration. After several weeks of debate, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill (S.744) in a vote of 68 to 32. This bill has been tracked closely by many research organizations particularly for provisions regarding high skilled immigration. The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), which represents most flagship public research universities, issued a statement in support of the bill, saying “Senate passage of immigration reform represents an important step forward for higher education institutions, which stand to benefit greatly from provisions that will allow a new generation of immigrants, international students, and professors to fill classrooms and laboratories.” Politico reports on the uphill battle that comprehensive immigration reform will now face in the House.

Patents.  Three California Democrats representing the Silicon Valley Area (Reps. Mike Honda, Anna Eshoo, and Zoe Lofgren) introduced the The Patents And Trademarks Encourage New Technology (PATENT) Jobs Act, which would exempt the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from cuts due to sequestration.  The bill argues that the USPTO is funded primarily by user fees, and therefore shouldn’t be subject to sequester cuts, which would only exacerbate significant backlogs already faced by the agency.

Research. In recognition of the two year anniversary of the Administration’s Materials Genome Initiative,  the White House announced a number of new initiatives led by the federal government, universities, and industry related to materials science. Included in the announcement is the formation of a new Center of Excellence on Advanced Materials to be housed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “review NIH’s indirect costs and its processes for overseeing the validity of its indirect cost reimbursements to grant recipients.” Indirect costs are costs received by federally-supported researchers that don’t apply directly to the project itself, but rather to fund general expenses such as salaries, infrastructure, and administration. Indirect cost reimbursement associated with research grants has received increased scrutiny lately, along with all federal spending.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a second hearing to review the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (H.R.2413), a bill that aims to prioritizes weather-related research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over climate research. Some  argue, including NOAA Acting Director Kathryn Sullivan who testified at the hearing, that climate and weather are so intertwined that one should not be prioritized over the other. You can read Ocean Leadership’s hearing summary here.

The National Science Board (NSB) announced that it is seeking nominations through the end of July.  The distinguished NSB works with the Director the National Science Foundation (NSF) “to pursue the goals and function of the NSF, including the duty to ‘recommend and encourage the pursuit of national policies for the promotion of research and education in science and engineering.'”

In Print

Jeff Mervis discusses U.S. universities’ increasing reliance on philanthropy, in part to buffer reductions in federal funding, in his Science piece entitled How Long Can the U.S. Stay on Top? (subscription).

Sam Stein Writes in Huffington Post about Harry Reid vs. Sequestration: The Majority Leader’s Campaign To Save The NIH.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, writes in an American Physical Society (APS) publication about NSF as The Gold Standard for Scientific Research Funding Throughout the World.

Virginia Gewin writes in her Nature piece entitled Funding: Flirting with Disaster, about how “Draconian US federal budget cuts due to ‘sequestration’ are already having dramatic effects.”

AIP’s FYI blog has posted summaries of a recent House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee hearings on Exoplanet Discoveries: Have We Found Other Earths?, the President’s STEM reorganization plan, and Exascale Computing Research and Development.

What’s on Deck

Both Chambers are in recess next week, so it will be quiet on Capitol Hill.

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