July 22nd, 2013, by Amanda Arnold  

Week in Review, or Much Ado About Something

As reported last week, Senators were close to changing Senate rules to strip the minority party’s right to filibuster executive branch nominees, a practice which had stranded seven of President Obama’s nominees in a “nomination no-man’s land”. In part due to the significance of the filibuster for the minority party, Democrats and Republicans brokered a deal: instead of changing filibuster rules, the Senate moved forward with the nomination votes. It was a short-term fix, but a deal nonetheless that maintained the filibuster option for now.

Meanwhile, progress continued this week on appropriations bills. Both the House and Senate approved their version of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) bill for FY 2014. The CJS bill funds NASA, NIST, NSF, and NOAA. As noted below in the Appropriations section, the House and Senate versions fund CJS programs at significantly different levels.

For those tracking progress on the twelve spending bills that comprise funding for all government agencies and programs, both Houses seem to be making progress with the House and Senate both having finished, or significantly made progress on, 9 of the 12 bills.  Mostly due to the impact of sequestration on the discretionary budget, the truly sticky appropriation bills are Defense and Labor/HHS/Education. As it stands, the Senate has yet to pass the Defense bill out of full committee and the House has yet to pass a Labor/HHS/Education bill even in subcommittee.

As we approach the last two weeks before August recess, little has been done to address the significant funding difference (a total of $91 billion) between the House and Senate FY 2014 budget levels. In and amidst this ongoing appropriations hurdle, another fiscal crisis looms with the debt limit expiring [again] this fall. The new talking point, (posited on the Hill this week by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke in testimony to the House Financial Services Committee), is that federal spending cuts to address the deficit are actually reducing economic growth – by 1.5 percentage points so far this year according to Bernanke. At this point, many are speculating a Continuing Resolution for at least the first several months of FY 2014 until sequestration and the debt limit are addressed.

Also of Note

Appointments. The Senate voted to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Thomas Perez to lead the Department of Labor.

Appropriations. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) FY 2014 spending bill providing $18 billion for NASA; $7.4 billion for NSF; $5.6 billion for NOAA; and $948 million for NIST.  More details are available in the Committee Report.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) FY 2014 spending bill providing $16.6 billion for NASA; $7 billion for NSF; $4.9 billion for NOAA; and $784 million for NIST. More details will be available when the final Committee Report is released.  In the meantime, Space Policy Online provides additional details.

Authorizations. The House Science Committee approved their version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2013 (H.R. 2687) on a straight party-line vote with all Republican members voting in favor of the legislation. The bill authorizes $16.87 billion for NASA in both 2014 and 2015, a level consistent with the across-the-board sequestration cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Senators Nelson (D-FL) and Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced their version of the NASA Authorization Act of 2013 (S. 1317) Wednesday. The bill authorizes funding for three years starting with $18.1 billion and moving to $18.462 billion in FY 2015 and $18.831 billion in FY 2016. The out-year levels reflect inflationary increases and all levels significantly exceed sequestration guidelines for NASA as included in the House version.

Education. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees leveled a cool response in the FY14 CJS funding bills to the Administration’s proposal to consolidate federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs and activities.

Energy.  As reported last week, Energy Secretary Moniz sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology describing plans to create two new panels to advise him on necessary reforms to the $12-billion-a-year network of science, weapons, and environmental cleanup facilities.  This week, the Secretary hosted a Town Hall on Thursday to discuss additional reorganization efforts at DOE.

Health. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) launched a tumblr page for its campaign, Research Means Hope, to shares medical research advances and patient stories.

Research: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Friday, America Competes Acts: Overall Appropriations Have Increase and Have Mainly Funded Existing Federal Research Entities (GAO-13-612), which outlines how appropriations authorized under the COMPETES Act were spent. The COMPETES Act of 2010 mandated the report to evaluate spending on the authorized programs from 2008-2012.

The White House held another of its “We the Geeks” Hangouts live on White House.gov on Friday with a theme of “superheroes”.  Researchers from University of Minnesota, Stanford, University of Delaware, and Duke joined in to talk about their research areas, which included invisible cloaks, self healing synthetic skin, and liquid armor.

Patents. Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to NIH Director Francis Collins. The letter requests that Dr. Collins exercise NIH’s “march-in rights”, (a provision in the Bayh-Dole Act that gives the original funding agency the right to grant licenses to an invention to other parties if various criteria are met), in order to force access to Myriad’s BRCA1/2 tests following Myriad’s refusal based on the Supreme Court ruling to outlaw certain claims, but not all, especially regarding complementary DNA. The Washington Post offers another point of view on this issue in its WonkBlog.

Teresa Stanek Rea, Acting Director of the USPTO, released an update through the USPTO blog, Director’s Forum, on the three new USPTO field offices announced in July of 2012 to be set in Dallas, Denver, and Silicon Valley. In a related note, Huffington Post interviewed Acting Director Rea this week about implementation of the America Invents Act.

Sequestration. Reps. Eschoo (D-CA) and Lance (R-NJ) introduced the FDA Safety Over Sequestration Act, (also known as the FDA SOS Act), which exempts Food and Drug Administration (FDA) user fees from sequestration.

One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) released in-depth fact sheets about the sequestration impact on cancer prevention and early detection, including the number of fewer cancer screenings per state as a result of the cuts.

NSF released a statement Friday updating the previous notice summarizing the impact of sequestration on the agency over the past year and indicating how the agency will proceed through the remainder of FY 2013.

Space. While Congress grappled with NASA funding for FY 2014, NASA’s FY 2013 operating plan submitted to Congress in May was rejected this week. While details are not available, the main issues seemed to be the reprogramming of planetary science funding away from the program for the remainder of the year (2 or so months).

The United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities met in New York and then released a Statement on Consensus Thursday regarding the future of international space travel including enhanced transparency of outer space activities and a multilateral code of conduct regarding the peaceful use of outer space.

In Print

Nicholas A. Christakis, a Yale physician, writes about the reimagining of the social sciences for the New York Times in Let’s Shake Up the Social Sciences.

Henry Miller writes an Opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal [subscription required] arguing that dwindling federal research dollars should be preserved for basic research in Time to Sequester Insipid Federal Research.

David Segal writes from the point of view of a “patent troll” for the New York Times in Has Patent, Will Sue: An Alert to Corporate America.

Jeffrey Mervis writes for ScienceInsider about the President’s proposed STEM reorganization plan beginning with “Fuhgettaboutit” in Congressional Panels Dump on STEM Reshuffling Plan.

What’s on Deck

Monday (7/22)

  • The House Science and National Labs Caucus will host a briefing on Delivering Advanced Biofuels to the Marketplace: A Progress Report from the Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Centers.  Contact lbalenovich (at) gmail.com for more information.
  • A congressional briefing: Reducing Cancer Health Disparities Through Research is being held.  Contact Serita.Henderson (at) aacr.org for more information.

Tuesday (7/23)

  • The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a full committee hearing on The 90/10 Rule: Improving Educational Outcomes for our Military and Veterans.
  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee markup of the FY 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill.

Wednesday (7/24)

  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology subcommittees on Environment and Energy will hold a join hearing on Lessons Learned: EPA’s Investigations of Hydraulic Fracturing.
  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a subcommittee hearing on Improving Technology Transfer at Universities, Research Institutes and National Laboratories.
  • The House Committee on Education and Workforce will hold a full committee markup on H.R. 2637, “Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act”.
  • The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a full committee hearing on Department of Energy Oversight: What is Necessary to Improve Project Management and Mission Performance?
  • The Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA) Coalition will host a briefing on VA Mental Health Research: Improving the Lives of America’s Veterans.  Contact golan (at) asn-online.org for more information.
  • The Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Business Higher Education Forum, and Research Corporation for Science Advancement will hold a joint luncheon briefing with the U.S. House STEM Education Caucus will hold a join briefing on The Landscape of Undergraduate STEM Education Reform: A Snapshot of Current National Initiatives. Contact rsvp (at) aau.edu for more information.

Thursday (7/25)

  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a subcommittee hearing on The Future of Coal: Utilizing America’s Abundant Energy Resources.
  • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a subcommittee hearing to address aging water resource infrastructure in the United States.

Friday (7/26)

  • The Office of Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii will hold a briefing on NOAA Sea Grant’s Role in Creating More Resilient Communities in the Wake of Natural Disasters.  Contact pbye (at) oldakergroup.com for more information.


  1. Week in Review, or Debating a Deal :: NEWScience Policy says:

    July 29th, 2013 at 7:14 am (#)

    […] Rochman writes in Scientific American about the proposal to consolidate federal STEM programs in her piece entitled Obama Budget Threatens Popular STEM […]