September 16th, 2013, by Amanda Arnold  

Week in Review, or Running Against the Wind

Despite much needed discussion about the budget, Congress was mired last week in debate over the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Meanwhile, between the pending implementation of some of the more impactful provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the earlier-than-expected expiration of the debt ceiling, (the amount of national debt that can be issued by the Treasury), the question of government shutdown at the end of FY 2013 on September 30th became a real possibility.

The House appropriations committee, in which all spending bills must originate, did propose an FY 2014 Continuing Resolution (H J Res 59) that would fund the government from October 1st through December 15th at the FY 2013 post-sequester levels, (a total level of $986.3 billion). The House plan included a resolution to defund the ACA.

This CR plan was not enough to satisfy members bent on defunding ACA before the January 1st implementation date since the resolution would not make it through the Senate or past the President’s pen. Momentum for the plan further evaporated when conservative Republicans pushed for further spending cuts at the start of FY 2014.

Sequester still looms over FY 2014. According to the Budget Control Act (S.365), federal spending levels must decrease further, to about 2 percent lower than the already low FY 2013 levels, by January 1st. This translates to levels of $498.1 billion for Defense spending and $469.4 billion for non-defense spending. Even if the House FY 2014 CR gains support, any extension of that plan into January would require a sequester cut of about $20 billion on defense spending, though non-defense spending would be in line with the sequester cuts already applied.

This coming week we will likely hear more about how a CR will deal around tackling the debt limit in mid October. We also expect confirmation that the House will cancel the scheduled District Work Period the week of September 23rd to extend beyond the 5 working days it has left in FY 2013.

Also of Note

Appointments. President Obama named Jeffrey D. Zients to succeed Gene B. Sperling as the chief White House economic adviser.

President Obama announced several nominations, including Christopher Smith as assistant secretary for fossil energy at the Department of Energy (DOE); Bradley Crowell as assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs at DOE; and Victoria Wassmer as chief financial officer at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tara O’Toole, undersecretary of science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, will depart on September 23rd. Deputy Undersecretary for S&T Dan Gerstein will take over as interim undersecretary.

Acting Director Teresa “Terry” Rea announced that she will leave the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office after a new Director is selected.

Data. Northeastern University, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), and Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, co-hosted a September 10th Congressional Briefing outlining potential uses of big data as well as future directions for networked science.

Health. According to ScienceInsider, sequestration may have actually forced success rates at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) down further to 14 percent.

FASEB released new fact sheets related to the impact of sequestration at NIH.

Research. University researchers and high tech companies across the country continue to be concerned about the coming “helium cliff”. While the House passed the Helium Stewardship Act (H.R. 527), the Senate version was held up on its way to the floor over several policy riders. APS Physics is leading the effort to push this legislation across the finish line in the final days of FY 2013.

Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013 (H.R. 1891), a bipartisan bill that would allow a President to name three scientists as unpaid laureates to inspire school-age Americans to pursue degrees in science and engineering, was pulled from what was expected to be an easy vote this week in the House. Groups, including the American Conservative Union, urged for debate on the bill arguing that the laureates could be used to further propaganda in favor of climate change.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that nominations are open for the 2014 Alan T. Waterman Award for young researchers prized at $1 million.

STEM. The American Physical Society (APS) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) announced a jointly-sponsored STEM Education Policy Fellowship to fund scientists and educators for up to two years at the U.S. Department of Education to work on education policy and programs related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Space. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report outlining DOD and NASA planned expenditures ($44 billion total) on space launch activities over the next 5 years. At least $7 billion will be used for development of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).

For those of you who enjoy rocket launches, SpacePolicyOnline is tracking an upcoming blitz! And here’s a quick story from the New York Times on NASA’s Voyager 1, the first probe to exit the solar system.

In Print

Fred Grinnell argues that the current fiscal funding crisis is an opportunity for NIH to review its funding structure for Nature in It is time to update US biomedical funding.

Baylor College of Medicine’s Paul E. Klotman, M.D. and Adam Kuspa, Ph. D. write about the impact of sequestration on NIH for Huffington Post in Cutting Biomedical Research $$ Shortens Americans’ Lifespans.

As published in, Joseph Allen writes A Reply to the New England Journal of Medicine, (in response to Patents, Profits, and the American People – The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 by Howard Markel in a recent edition of The New England Journal of Medicine).

What’s on Deck

Monday (9/16)

  • The Advisory Committee to the NIH Director will hold a public teleconference to discuss the interim report of its working group on the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative.
  • The National Academies’ Division on Earth and Life Sciences Board on Life Science will hold a meeting on Key Challenge Areas for Convergence and Health.

Tuesday (9/17)

Wednesday (9/18)

  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing on Methamphetamine Addiction: Using Science to Explore Solutions.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold a hearing on The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policies and Activities.
  • The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies will hold a markup on H.R. 2952 CIRDA Act of 2013 and H.R. ____ the Homeland Security Cybersecurity Boots-on-the-Ground Act.
  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs and Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements will hold a joint hearing on Federal Implementation of Obamacare: Concerns of State Governments.

Thursday (9/19)

  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Subcommittee on Environment will hold a joint hearing on Dysfunction in Management of Weather and Climate Satellites.
  • The 2013 awardees will be honored in a ceremony at the Golden Goose Awards in Washington, D.C.

Friday (9/20)

  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Space will hold a hearing on NASA Infrastructure: Enabling Discovery and Ensuring Capability.


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