Week in Review, or Welcome Back Washington!
After another quiet and relatively cool August here in Washington, I find myself once again in denial that September is not only already here, but is also almost one-third over! If the back-to-school frenzy and significant uptick in traffic doesn’t force me to accept this reality, then the annual return of Congress from its five-week summer recess surely will.
Although full Congressional business will resume today, it has been a busy September on Capitol Hill already with several members returning to DC early consider President Obama’s request for authorization to take limited military action in Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by that country’s president. I anticipate that this issue will consume most of the air in DC for the next few weeks, but Congress can’t afford to put off dealing with an impending domestic crisis—the nearly simultaneous ending of of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 on October 1st (with no clear path on FY 2014 in sight) and a debt limit that Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew warned Congress in a mid-August letter could be reached by mid-October.
Several media outlets have reported that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) is hoping to pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) at the sequester-mandated spending level to keep the government running for a few months while Congress tends to a widely divergent sent of draft FY 2014 appropriations bills and the upcoming debt limit crisis. It has also been reported that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough continues behind the scene negotiations with Senate Republicans to see if some sort of “grand deal” to replace the sequester could be reached in order to avert drastic action. Whatever the chosen path, with only nine legislative days left before the end of the fiscal year, there won’t be much time for dawdling.
Also of Note
Appointments. The Department of Energy appointed several new members to the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (including two professors from MIT and one from CU-Boulder). The purpose of this distinguished board is to “provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Energy on the Department’s basic and applied research and development activities, economic and national security policy, educational issues, operational issues and any other activities and operations of the Department of Energy as the Secretary may direct.”
NASA Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver, announced last month that she would leave the agency to take a leadership position with the Air Lines Pilots Association. You can read NASA Administrator Bolden’t statement Garver’s departure here.
On August 1st, the Senate confirmed Dr. Mark E. Schaefer to be the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and Deputy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator.
SpacePolicyOnline reports that Richard DalBello will serve as Assistant Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for Aeronautics and Space beginning on September 23rd. DalBello currently serves as Vice President of Government Affairs for Intelsat General.
Budget/Appropriations. In preparation for continued movement on FY 2014 appropriations, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has compiled a very useful Appropriations Roundup featuring R&D agency-specific status updates and appropriations tables.
Last month, the Director of the White House Office of Management Budget (OMB) and OSTP issued their joint annual decree to federal agencies outlining priorities for the FY 2015 budget, which is currently being formulated within the executive branch. Similar to recent years, the guidance calls out particular focus areas of advanced manufacturing, clean energy, and STEM education, as well as neuroscience.
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) released a new report entitled Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity, which summarizes the results of a survey of U.S. scientists about the impact of cuts to federal research funding. The report finds many research jobs have been lost in recent years, and that scientists generally feel the U.S. has lost its position as the global leader in scientific research. Science expresses some doubt about usefulness of the report, however, in their piece entitled Dog Bites Man? Researchers Say U.S. Government Should Fund More Science.
Research. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has entered into a battle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the committee’s Ranking Member, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), on gaining access to research data used to inform the development of EPA clean air regulations. At the heart of the issue is the privacy of data gathered from research study participants many decades ago. The back-and-forth over the last month has been covered extensively by Science, and is yet another signal of the increasing discord between the majority and minority of this committee with jurisdiction over many of the federal research programs.
University researchers and high tech companies across the country who rely on a stable helium supply are watching Congress closely to see if they act on a bill that would allow the government to continue selling from the federal helium reserve, which it will not be able to do past Oct 7th according to current law. While the House has passed the Helium Stewardship Act (H.R. 527) and the Senate reported its version out of Committee before the August recess, it remains unclear if the Senate will pass the legislation before the deadline. Politico provides the latest on the issue here.
The NIH has reached an agreement with the family of Henrietta Lacks on how researchers can access data from her genome sequencing while maintaining the family’s privacy. The agreement, outlined in a RockTalk blog post, addresses just one set of cells (made famous beyond the biomedical community by the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), but it represents an issue that will surely increase in complexity as genome sequencing advances.
The NIH published an implementation plan for their policy on dual use research of concern (DURC) which was released in March of this year. This policy focuses on federally-funded research with certain high consequence pathogens and toxins that have the potential to be used in unintended, and potentially dangerous, ways.
STEM. Three members of Congress—Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY)—submitted a request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in late July to conduct a “study of the government’s effectiveness in combating gender bias in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.” The letter requests that the GAO update their 2004 report Gender Issues: Women’s Participation in the Sciences Has Increased, but Agencies Need to do More to Ensure Compliance with Title IX, and examine what actions federal agencies and universities are taking to address gender bias.
Tech/IP. A group of national experts submitted recommendations to the White House in early August on how to improve the technology transfer of federally funded research. Among the recommendations of the group, convened by the Office of Science and Technology Policy at a Lab-to-Market Summit on May 20th, is to create a new Office of Innovation and Federal Technology Partnerships and to strengthen capital investments, public-private partnerships, and cross-agency synergies.
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Association of American Universities (AAU), and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) announced a draft proposal called Shared Access Research Ecosystem (SHARE) which aims to create digital repositories at universities and research institutions across the country. This network offers a potential solution to a recent White House directive to increase access to the results of federally funded research.
Space. In August, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced a new strategic vision for the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. According to his statement, the new vision “greatly expands the relevancy of NASA’s research and is based on three themes: understanding emerging global trends, using those trends to drive research directions and then organizing NASA’s aeronautical research work in response to those drivers. ”
Annie Lowrey writes in the New York Times about how the Budget Battles Keep Agencies Guessing. NIH Director Francis Collins is featured in the article, and states that 2013 is “the darkest ever year for the agency, whose budget is at its lowest inflation-adjusted appropriations level in more than a decade.”
Continuing in the ‘dark’ theme, Sam Stein writes in a Huffington Post entitled Sequestration Ushers In A Dark Age For Science In America about the impact of declining federal budgets for R&D.
George Will writes in a Washington Post piece entitled The sequester’s a public health hazard about the impact of the across-the-board federal spending cuts to biomedical research. A counter piece in the New York Magazine entitled George Will Now Against Intentional Irrationality criticizes Will for previously supporting sequestration.
Mariana Mazzucato argues in a NewScientist op-ed entitled Busting the private-sector myth that the government—not entrepreneurs—should be credited for backing wealth-creating technology.
What’s on Deck
- The House Education and Workforce Committee will hold a full committee hearing on Education Research: Exploring Opportunities to Strengthen the Institute of Education Sciences.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Examining Federal Advanced Manufacturing Programs.
- The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a full committee hearing on The Department of Homeland Security at 10 Years: Examining Challenges and Achievements and Addressing Emerging Threats.