July 29th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Debating Many Deals

With just one more week to go before the August recess, both the House and Senate are moving forward on FY 2014 spending bills while simultaneously debating what the inevitable continuing resolution (CR) will look like. Because House and Senate appropriators are operating at a $91 billion top-line spending gap, it is all but assured that come September 30th, the end of FY 2013, a CR will be put in place to keep the government funded while Democrats and Republicans continue to seek an elusive budget deal. While CRs usually keep funding at the level of the prior fiscal year, the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which put in place the sequester, would require a FY 2014 level of about $21 billion less than current FY 2013 spending. So it is unclear if the FY 2013 spending level will remain in place, or if another set of across-the-board cuts will be made to comply with the BCA.

Debate also continues on how to reach a bigger budget deal that will include all the familiar players (e.g., the debt ceiling, discretionary spending, revenues, and entitlements). While Congress mulls over the CR and upcoming reaching of the debt limit, the President made a series of major economic speeches around the country staking out his position for the fall. CQ also reports that a group of eight Republican senators have been meeting with the White House to discuss a budget deal. With August recess right around the corner, we likely won’t hear of any definitive progress until Congress returns to DC in September.

Meanwhile, the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report entitled How Eliminating the Automatic Spending Reductions Specified by the Budget Control Act Would Affect the U.S. Economy in 2014. The report finds that cancelling the sequester on August 1, 2022 would increase outlays (government spending) by $14 billion for FY 2013 and create 900,000 more jobs in FY 2014. The report includes an important caveat, however, that cancelling sequestration would increase output and employment in the near term, but would increase the federal debt in the long term which would eventually increase the risk of a fiscal crisis.

Also of Note

Appointments.  After a lengthy confirmation fight, the Senate voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). McCarthy was sworn in on July 20th.

President Obama has nominated former Senate staffer Bob Simon to serve as the new heard of the Energy and Environment Division at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Simon currently serves as senior advisor at the DOE Office of Science, and before that served as Democratic Staff Director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee from 1999 to 2012.

The President has also nominated NASA Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson to be the U.S. Department of Energy’s undersecretary. Prior to serving at NASA, Robinson served for many years at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and as a staffer on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Appropriations. After considering more than 100 amendments–including several related to recently revelealed National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance techniques–the House approved the FY 2014 Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2397). According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) R&D Budget and Policy Program–a great source for R&D funding information–the bill would provide $69.3 billion for DoD R&D overall, slightly below the President’s request. The bill would, however, increase funding for both basic and applied research, with a funding level of $6.8 billion, 0.9% above the President’s request.

The House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee also approved its FY 2014 Interior/Environment spending bill, which would provide $5.5 billion for the EPA, 34% below FY 2013 enacted, and $967 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a 9% cut below FY 2013 enacted.

Health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it will fund up to $24 million per year to establish Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Centers of Excellence, the first of many funding opportunities under the agency’s new BD2K initiative. The centers will “improve the ability of the research community to use increasingly large and complex datasets through the development and distribution of innovative approaches, methods, software, and tools for data sharing, integration, analysis and management.”

The NIH also announced that it is encouraging research institutions to help their graduate students and post-docs supported by NIH funding to develop Individual Development Plans (IDPs). You can read more about this effort–part of NIH’s initiative to improve the biomedical workforce–on the Rock Talk blog.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced The Research First Act, which would restore $1.5 billion in cuts to NIH funding due to sequestration with funding taken from the Department of Defense (DoD).

United for Medical Research, a biomedical research advocacy group, released a report entitled Profiles of Prosperity: How NIH-Supported Research is Fueling Private Sector Growth and Innovation. The report profiles 10 companies borne out of NIH-funded research.

Manufacturing. In a speech at the Brookings Institution, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling affirmed the importance of advanced manufacturing to the White House economic agenda. During the speech, Sperling emphasized the role that R&D plays in manufacturing, stating that as a sector, it “punches above its weight” with percentages of R&D expenditures, exports, and patents attributable to manufacturing all exceeding its percentage of overall GDP.

Research. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds that many of the provisions included  in the 2007 America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act have not been implemented. COMPETES is an important piece of legislation for the research community as it authorizes the NSF, NIST, the DOE Office of Science, and federal STEM programs. COMPETES was reauthorized in 2010, and is scheduled to be considered again this year.

Senator Jay Rockfeller (D-WV) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced The Cybersecurity Act of 2013 (S.1353) which would provide additional authorities to NIST to “facilitate and support the development of voluntary, industry-led cyber standards and best practices for critical infrastructure.” The bill would also strengthen cybersecurity R&D programs across the federal government.

Space. SpacePolicyOnline has posted a great summary of just how far apart the House and the Senate are these days on NASA funding. The post includes a table outlining the stark differences in both the authorization and appropriations bills which dictate how NASA spends its money.

The Association of American Universities (AAU), which represents 60 research intensive universities, sent a letter to the House and Senate offering guiding principles for their consideration of the NASA Authorization bill. The principles include “establishing a sustained vision and the funding to support that vision; supporting a balanced NASA portfolio across programs and missions; and committing to building America’s next-generation scientific and engineering workforce”

Technology Transfer. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a subcommittee hearing to consider a draft piece of legislation which would dedicate a portion of the Small Business Technology Transfer  (STTR) program funding to offer grants to the research institutions to help facilitate and accelerate the transfer of technology resulting from federally funded research into the marketplace. You can watch the archived hearing here.

In Print

The scientific journal Cell’sLeading Edge Voices” highlights short columns from leading researchers–including NIH Director Francis Collins-discussing the impact of sequestration.

Bonnie Rochman writes in Scientific American about the proposal to consolidate federal STEM programs in her piece entitled Obama Budget Threatens Popular STEM Education Initiatives.

Mike Lubell responds to recent attacks on federal funding for the social sciences in his Roll Call piece entitled Why Social Science Research Matters.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (7/30)

  • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a full committee hearing to consider the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013.
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a subcommittee markup of the FY 2014 Department of Defense spending bill.
  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a markup of the NASA Authorization Bill.

Wednesday (7/31)

  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a subcommittee hearing on The Frontiers of Human Brain Research
  • The House Appropriations Committee will hold a full committee markup of the FY 2014 Interior and Environment spending bill.
  • The Senate Committee on Finance will hold a full committee hearing on Powering Our Future: Principles for Energy Tax Reform.

Thursday (8/1)

  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a subcommittee hearing on EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment – A Factual Review of a Hypothetical Scenario
  • The House Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold a subcommittee hearing on The Impact of U.S. Water Programs on Global Health.














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