November 4th, 2013, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Your 19th Committee Countdown

The joint budget conference committee charged with finding a resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 spending by December 13th met for the first time this week. As reported last week, members of the committee have backed away from predictions of a “grand bargain” and instead are focused on solving the most immediate challenge–finalizing FY 2014 appropriations and seeking an alternative to the sequester cuts which are supposed to hit again on January 15th. While replacing sequestration appears to be a top priority for both parties, reports from this initial meeting echo what we’ve been hearing for years–that the two parties remain far apart with regards to defense and non-defense discretionary spending levels, taxes, and entitlements.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairs of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, urged the conference committee to make resolution of top-line spending number for FY 2014 their first order of business. They asked for this number to be provided by November 22nd, before the official December 13th deadline, to allow adequate time for conferencing the existing House and Senate appropriations bills. It is not clear at this time how many bills will actually make it to conference, but there is a strong possibility that some of the more controversial ones will remain in a year-long continuing resolution (CR).

A group of higher education associations, including the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) which represent most of the country’s major research universities, wrote a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to come up with a replacement for sequester and to protect investments in research and education. The letter states, “the strength of our country’s economy is linked directly to federal investments in science, technology and human capital. Innovation drives the American economy, and higher education and research and development drive innovation.”

Also of Note

Appointments/Honors.  President Obama nominated Joseph Hezir to serve as the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Energy (DOE). Hezir has served as a Research Engineer and Executive Director of The Future of Solar Energy Study at the MIT Energy Initiative  since 2009.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins named George Koob the next director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Koob, who will replace Kenneth Warren, currently serves as the Chairman of the Committee On The Neurobiology Of Addictive Disorders at Scripps Research Institute.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, submitted a statement for the record tribute in honor of Chuck Vest, who served for 14 years as President of MIT and recently retired as chair of the National Academy of Engineering.

Climate. The President signed an Executive Order directing several federal actions related to the Climate Action Plan released earlier this year. These actions aim “to strengthen the Nation’s preparedness for and resilience to the impacts of climate change.”

Energy. Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz visited the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan last week and offered continued assistance from the DOE in cleanup efforts.

Health. The NIH announced that it will reduce the funding level for all non-competing research grants while under the current CR to 90%, and may reduce existing and newer grants if sequestration occurs in January.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on indirect cost rates at NIH. Indirect costs are those that NIH provides to universities to offset general and administrative expenses of conducting NIH-supported research. The report looks at what factors affect indirect cost rates and recommends that “NIH assess the impact of growth in indirect costs on its mission, including, as necessary, planning for how to deal with potential future increases in indirect costs that could limit the amount of funding available for total research.”

During recent remarks to the Boston Chamber of Commerce, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called for increased investments in scientific and biomedical research. “What drives the Massachusetts economy — and the American economy — is innovation. Innovation makes us soar. And government-supported research is a critical first step in generating that innovation,” said Warren.  She also asked her colleagues to help “double our investment in scientific and biomedical research.”

Intellectual Property. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved, along party lines, the The Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act (H.R. 3316), which aims to provide transparency in the federal grant-making process.  Several higher ed associations representing major research universities have expressed concerns with the bill on the grounds that it could require sensitive intellectual property to be posted online and does not offer adequate protections for peer reviewers. In a recent ScienceInsider interview with the bill’s primary sponsor, however, Rep. Jim Lankford (R-OK) provides assurances that many of these concerns will be addressed for certain research agencies such as NIH and NSF.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced The Patent Litigation Integrity Act (S. 1612), a bill aimed at cracking down on so-called “patent trolls.” This bill is similar to The Innovation Act (H.R. 3309), introduced earlier this year by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA).

Research. Much anticipated legislative activity on reauthorization of The America COMPETES Act began in earnest this week. COMPETES, first authorized in 2007 and then again 2010, authorizes the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), the DOE Office of Science, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Majority (Republicans) have decided to split the bill in two, with The Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology and Energy in America (EINSTEIN) Act authorizing the DOE Office of Science, and The Frontier in Innovative Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act authorizing the remaining agencies except ARPA-E, which staff say may be included in a later authorization bill. A subcommittee hearing was held this week on The EINSTEIN Act and The FIRST Act is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Minority (Democrats) released a discussion draft of their bill, which reflects the 2007 and 2010 Acts in authorizing all the original COMPETES agencies. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Majority (Democrats) also announced they will hold their first hearing on COMPETES this week (see more  below).

The Science Coalition, a group of universities dedicated to robust support for federally supported basic research, issued a report this week entitled Sparking Economic Growth 2.0. The report highlights 100 companies that “trace their roots to federally funded university research and their role in bringing transformational innovations to market, creating new jobs and contributing to economic growth.”  This is the second version of this report, with the first issued in 2010.

In Print

Jerry Seib writes in a Wall Street Journal piece entitled Research Cuts Ought to Worry Business (subscription required) about the role federally funded research can play in helping business thrive.

Sam Stein writes in the Huffington Post about how Budget Negotiations Give Scientists Hit By Sequester Reason To Hope.

Wyatt Kash writes in Information Week about a recent meeting of federal agency Chief Information Officers where they discussed the challenges of managing the increased amount of data collected, including ground and satellite observations collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Economist Mariana Mazzucato tells CNN Money that people should Thank the Government for Your iPhone. Mazzucato’s new book, The Entrepreneurial State, argues that federal funding is responsible for much of our country’s technological innovation and that companies who benefit should give back.

What’s on Deck

The House is in recess this week; the Senate is in session.

Tuesday (11/5)

  • The American Chemical Society will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on Tooling the U.S. Bioeconomy:  Synthetic Biology.

Wednesday (11/6)

  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a full committee hearing on America COMPETES: Science and the U.S. Economy.

Thursday (11/7)

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a full committee hearing on the Impact of Sequestration on the National Defense.





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