AAAS Policy Alert -- September 12, 2012



Congress to Consider Stopgap Funding Measure, Sequestration Legislation This Week. A key task for Congress following Members' return from the August recess will be to tackle a FY 2013 continuing resolution that would fund the government through March 2013, as previously reported (Policy Alert, 9/6/12). The resolution, if successfully passed and signed into law, would avoid a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Congressional leaders have already agreed to it in principle, and the House will take up the legislation first this week.

Additionally, the House will vote on legislation to "turn off" the across-the-board cuts on defense spending, provided that equal savings are found elsewhere. The bill would require the Administration to issue an alternative plan that meets these requirements by Oct. 15. The bill is not likely to have a positive reception in the Senate if it were to pass the House. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated a deficit of $1.17 trillion through the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, $68 billion less than the deficit at the same point last year.

OMB Delays Sequestration Report. The White House has missed its deadline for issuing a report on how sequestration would be implemented, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will instead issue the report by the end of this week, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. The report was mandated by the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, signed into law on Aug. 7. In the coming weeks, the AAAS R&D Budget Program will also issue estimates of the impacts of sequestration on federal R&D-specific funding for agencies and states through FY 2017.

For updates on the federal research and development budget for FY 2013, please visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy website.


Initial Golden Goose Awards to be Presented on Hill This Week. On Sept. 13 AAAS and several other university and business organizations will join policy makers to formally kick off the Golden Goose Awards, a new award program celebrating the value of basic scientific research. The topic and the Awards are the subject of an op-ed by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the award's creator, and AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, in the Sept. 9 issue of the Washington Post.

House Votes on Government Travel Bill. On September 11th, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2012 (H.R. 4631), which would set restrictions and cuts to travel budgets for federal employees attending conferences. The bill, introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), would prevent federal agencies from spending more than $500,000 on a single conference, and defines a conference as an event that an employee travels 25 miles or more to attend, whether for consulting, education, discussion, or training. In addition, it would reduce federal travel budgets 30% below FY 2010 levels, the same cuts laid out in the OMB Travel Guidance Memo (PDF). The Walsh bill was scheduled on the suspension calendar, which limited debate to 40 minutes and does not consider amendments for passage. AAAS has issued letters (PDF) to both chambers of Congress regarding similar bills.

Industry Urges Congress to Maintain Renewable Fuel Standards. Last week representatives from advanced biofuel companies and the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO) highlighted advancements in commercializing advanced biofuels and urged Congress to maintain the Renewable Fuel Standards Act (RFSA). Representatives stressed the importance of the RFSA in attracting investors and urged Congress to continue supporting biofuel production. Congress is considering two bills related to the RFSA: the Renewable Fuel Standard Flexibility Act (H.R. 3097, S. 3428), which would reduce the RFSA standards when corn inventories are low; and the Algae-Based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act (H.R. 1149, S. 748), which would expand the definition of cellulosic biofuels to include algae-based biofuels.


NIH to Implement Additional Screening for Grant Applicants With Over $1 Million in Awards. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a new policy, to be implemented starting in September, that will require additional review of grant applications from investigators who already receive $1 million or more per year in direct costs from NIH awards. This will not impose a cap on recipients' funding, but is an additional screening as part of NIH's efforts to reduce costs in the face of flat or decreasing budgets.

NSF Report: Business R&D Concentrated in Few Areas. The National Science Foundation's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics has released a report, "Businesses Concentrate Their R&D in a Small Number of Geographic Areas in the United States," based on data in its Business R&D and Innovation Survey. The report, focusing on large-scale business R&D performers, shows a strong concentration of business R&D within relatively few areas. It includes analysis of the concentration by industry and state, and discusses some trends over the past 20 years.

NSB Seeks Nominations for Two Prestigious Awards. The National Science Board is soliciting nominations, due Nov. 1, for the both the 2013 Vannevar Bush Award ("honoring lifelong leadership in science and technology and contributions to the nation through public service") and the NSB Public Service Award ("honoring service in public understanding of science and engineering").

The National Strategy for Biosurveillance. In July President Obama released the National Strategy for Biosurveillance (NSB)(PDF). Biosurveillance refers to the prevention, detection, mitigation, and response to biological threats, including weapons of mass destruction (WMD), bioterrorism, disease epidemics, and natural disasters. Congress is reviewing three bills relating to biosurveillance: the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act (H.R. 2356) addresses threats from a WMD attack; the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (H.R. 2405 and S. 1855) addresses the national response to public health emergencies; and the Foodborne Illness Reduction Act (S. 1529) enhances the effectiveness of food recalls.

President Signs EO on Industrial Energy Efficiency. President Obama signed an executive order on August 30 to facilitate investments in industrial energy efficiency, intended to spur job creation and support American manufacturing. In a press release, the White House estimated that the energy efficiency efforts will save manufacturers as much as $100 billion over the next decade, increasing the competitiveness of American manufacturers. Industrial energy is currently 30% of all energy consumed in the U.S., and while manufacturing facilities are becoming more energy-efficient over time, this order will hasten this process by encouraging more efficient manufacturing processes and technologies. Specifically, the order will promote the expanded use of efficient, on-site heat and power generation, known as combined heat and power (CHP).


Science in the Democratic Party Platform. The 2012 Democratic Platform (PDF) was released at last week's Democratic national convention in Charlotte, NC. Given that the party's candidate is an incumbent, the discussion of science focuses on what President Obama has accomplished with respect to science and technology. For climate change, it states that the party's goal is "an effective, international effort in which all major economies commit to reduce their emissions." In the area of energy, it touts the Administration's new fuel efficiency standards for cars, investments in clean energy technologies, and continues to support a goal of generating 80% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. Given the push to reduce the deficit, it is not surprising that the platform only notes that the President has proposed doubling the funding for key S&T agencies and gives no indication of plans for the future, except to state that Democrats support a "world-class commitment to science and research." In other areas, the platform notes that the Administration supports federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and in the area of education, it reiterates the goal of training 100,000 STEM education teachers and increasing the proportion of college graduates. More details can be found on ScienceInsider and Inside Higher Ed.
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NRC Report on Climate Modeling Urges Coordination. The National Research Council released a new report, "A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling," saying that a more unified climate modeling community is necessary to produce more reliable climate models. Although the report committee does not recommend creating a single preeminent climate modeling agency, it does suggest that common data, data standards, tools, and software would facilitate cooperation among multiple research groups and prevent duplication of efforts.

NFL Donates $30 Million for Biomedical Research. The National Football League has committed $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to support research on serious medical conditions that affect athletes and are relevant to the general population. The donation is the largest philanthropic gift in NFL history and makes the NFL the founding donor to a new Sports and Health Research Program that will collaborate with NIH institutes and centers. Potential research topics include concussion, traumatic brain injuries, chronic degenerative joint disease, and sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.

Iran Bans Women from Education in STEM Fields. Last week Iranian officials announced restrictions on female undergraduate education, banning women from 77 different fields of study, including many in science and engineering, across 36 universities. This drastic measure surprised many observers, as Iran was once a leading example of closing the gender gap in education. The restrictions have been criticized by the U.S. Institute of Peace, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies, urging the Iranian government to reverse the decision.

South Korean Government Supports Evolution in Textbooks. The South Korean government has accepted a report from a panel it established, in response to a campaign by a creation science group, to review the use of two evolution examples in high school textbooks. The panel "reaffirmed that the theory of evolution is an essential part of modern science that all students must learn," endorsed one of the two examples, and suggested that the second example be replaced or revised (more details here). Updated versions of the textbooks are due out in 2013.

People in the News. • NIH has named Janine Clayton, MD, director for the Office of Research on Women's Health and Associate Director for Research on Women's Health. She previously served as acting director and deputy director of the office and is currently co-chair of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers.
Philip Diamond has been appointed the first permanent director-general of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - the world's biggest and most sensitive radio telescope. The SKA will consist of more than 3000 radio dishes spread out across thousands of kilometres in both Australia and southern Africa. Diamond had been director of the the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in England before joining the CSIRO in Australia in 2010.

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Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Laci Gerhart, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Gretchen Seiler, Sara Spizzirri, Ric Weibl, Katharine Zambon

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