September 23rd, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Steering Clear of a Shutdown

With just over a week to go before the beginning of the next fiscal year, the House on Friday passed a short-term FY 2014 continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the government funded at FY 2013 levels (about $988 million) through mid-December. Also included in the bill, however, was a provision that would defund The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), which will be D.O.A. in the Democratic-controlled Senate and not surprisingly the White House, which already issued a veto threat on the bill.

The Senate is expected to take up the CR this week and strip it of the controversial Obamacare provision, before volleying it back over the House. The House was supposed to be in recess this week, but Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) announced that members would return to Capitol Hill on Wednesday and work through the weekend if necessary to avoid a government shutdown.

It’s not at all clear how this will play out, but hopefully Democrats and Republicans can reach a compromise before the October 1st deadline and move on to the next crisis – raising the debt ceiling which will hit its limit around mid-October (for the Congressional Budget Offices latest long-term estimate on the nation’s debt, issued last week, click here – it’s not pretty). President Obama has indicated that he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling, but that’s a story for next week!

Speaking of deficits, we reported a few weeks ago that 165 university presidents wrote an open letter in Politico about the importance of stemming the ‘innovation deficit’ by continuing investments in federal funding for research and development. This week, leaders of 14 high-tech associations signed a letter to President Obama and the Congress echoing these concerns, stating “federal dollars invested in long-term basic research yield extraordinary returns for society - providing the foundation for game changing ideas, new industries, and the 21st century workforce driving them.”

Also of Note

Appointments. The Senate Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing for three scientists - Dr. Jo Handelsman to be Associate Director for Science and Dr. Bob Simon to be Associate Director for Environment and Energy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan to be Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at the Department of Commerce and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These nominees still have to be considered by the whole Senate before being confirmed.

Six scientists were presented with Golden Goose Awards in the second such ceremony held on Capitol Hill on Thursday. The Golden Goose Awards celebrate “researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded basic research turned out to have significant benefits for society.” You can learn more about the 2013 recipients here.

Education. Several universities protested this week when the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it would unexpectedly terminate 41 partnerships between U.S. and foreign universities through the Higher Education for Development (HED) program. The agency later rescinded the decision, which you can read more about it from The Chronicle here.

Health. A subcommittee of the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released an interim report on the Administration’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative announced earlier this year. The report outlines nine research priorities for the NIH to focus on in FY 2014, which the subcommittee hopes could be combined into a “single, integrated science of cells, circuits, brain, and behavior.”

Research.  In response to recent attacks on federal funding for the social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences–including an amendment to the final FY 2013 appropriations bill prohibiting NSF funding for political science research–the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities (AAU) issued a statement expressing “unequivocal support for federal funding of the social and behavioral sciences.” The letter goes on to argue that “Even in the context of federal budget constraints, we believe that actions by Congress to defund or stigmatize entire disciplines of research would severely cripple, in principle and practice, the federal government’s historically productive commitment to the funding of basic research across all disciplines.”

Meanwhile, many SBE scientists and advocates were heartened by an opening statement made by House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) at a hearing this week on methamphetamines, in which he stated “The National Science Foundation (NSF) will play an integral role towards a more complete understanding of this problem. Hypothesis-based data-driven social science research can be used to understand behavioral science behind addiction.”

The National Academies held a high-level workshop in Washington on the topic of Key Challenges for Convergence and Health, following up on a concept first introduced in 2011 by MIT Professors Phil Sharp and Bob Langer. Among the participants in the workshop were former MIT President Susan Hockfield, Sharp, all three Academy Presidents (Ralph Cicerone  of the NAS, Harvey Fineberg  of the IOM, and Dan Mote of the NAE), and former director of the Advanced Research projects-Agency, Arun Majumdar.

The Senate passed The Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act on Thursday, which would keep the Federal Helium Reserve open beyond its current scheduled shutdown of October 7th.  This disruption in the flow of helium concerns many in the high tech industry and scientific labs who rely on the gas. The House is expected to vote on the bill next week, although as Science reports, some questions on the bill have yet to be resolved.

Space. SpacePolicyOnline posted summaries of two recent House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee hearings this week. The first summarized a recent hearing on NASA Infrastructure: Enabling Discovery and Ensuring Capability which highlighted the connection between fuzzy long-term goals for NASA and its infrastructure challenges. The second summarized a hearing entitled Dysfunction in Management of Weather and Climate Satellites, which highlighted disagreements between the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and NOAA and NASA on the state of the nation’s weather satellite programs.

In Print

Senators Patrick Leahy (R-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) wrote an op-ed in Politico entitled America’s Patent Problem, in which they discuss the threat of patent trolls to the country’s innovation system. In the op-ed, the Senators indicate they are working on drafting legislation to address the patent troll program, and increase transparency of patent ownership.

American Heart Association CEO  Nancy Brown writes in the Huffington Post about the importance of investments in Biomedical Research in Take It From Tony: Investing in NIH Research Saves Lives.

What’s on Deck

Tuesday (9/24)

  •  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on  Black Carbon – A Global Health Problem with Low-Cost Solutions.
  • The Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee will hold a full committee hearing on U.S. Efforts to Reduce Healthcare-Associated Infections.
  • The Senate Budget Committee will hold a full committee hearing on The Impact of Political Uncertainty on Jobs and the Economy.

Thursday (9/26)

  • The Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing on Newborn Screening Saves Lives: The Past, Present, and Future of the Newborn Screening System


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