AAAS Policy Alert -- August 7, 2013

IN THIS ISSUE

BUDGET NEWS


Latest FY 2014 Appropriations Status as Congress Enters Five-Week Recess. Last week several FY 2014 spending bills were sidelined as Congress entered the August recess under a cloud of uncertainty. In the House, GOP leadership pulled the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill from the floor. According to the linked article, the bill apparently suffered from a lack of support due to the attempt to cut spending even below sequester levels – although GOP leadership claimed it was a scheduling problem and not a lack of votes. The bill would have levied cuts on aviation and railroad R&D at the Department of Transportation (PDF). Meanwhile in the Senate, the THUD bill was successfully blocked by Republicans. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) argued that the bill exceeded the post-sequester spending caps established in the Budget Control Act.

The House Appropriations Committee also failed during a markup last Wednesday to move the controversial FY 2014 Interior and Environment appropriations bill forward, which would make cuts below sequester levels to EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey, among other agencies. The Senate version of the bill, with higher funding levels, has been introduced but not yet acted upon.

Cracks Appearing in Congressional Support for Sequestration? The House THUD move drew the ire of House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY), who said the bill's failure was a sign that low transportation spending levels under sequestration were politically untenable, adding, "Sequestration -- and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts -- must be brought to an end." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), among others, also voiced criticism of sequestration last week, seemingly raising the possibility that there may be some flexibility in the Republican position as fiscal negotiations heat up before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. But House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reiterated his belief that replacing sequestration would require entitlement cuts, a non-starter for many Democrats. Thus, Congress enters the recess with four bills passed by the House, none yet passed by the Senate, deep, abiding philosophical differences on most major fiscal issues, and substantial work to do to avoid a government shutdown October 1.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, however, managed to pass one bill last week: the Defense appropriations bill, which would provide $65.9 billion for Department of Defense (DOD) R&D, 8.3% below FY 2012 spending, 1.9% above FY 2013 post-sequester estimates, and 2.3% below the request, according to AAAS estimates (PDF). The bill follows the contours of the House version by making little change to the President's request for basic and applied research, while enacting substantial cuts to downstream technology development and nearly doubling the President's request for medical research within the Defense Health Program.

Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program website for more details on FY 2014 appropriations and other up-to-date budget analysis.

OTHER CONGRESSIONAL NEWS


House Science Committee Subpoenas Agency for Research Data. A seminal study known as the Harvard Six-Cities Study has come under congressional scrutiny again, decades after publication. On Aug. 1 House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) signed a subpoena to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to relinquish the underlying data from two studies -- including the Harvard Six-Cities Study -- which the agency has used to inform regulations under the Clean Air Act. That study followed a cohort of over 8,000 participants for 17 years to assess the effects of air pollution. In the late 1990s that same study came under congressional scrutiny when it was used as the basis for strengthening air quality standards, and some Members of Congress called for access to the underlying data. The battle over the study's underlying data led to both an independent assessment conducted by the Health Effects Institute and a change to OMB Circular A-110 governing federal grants to allow for access to certain research data that is used in federal regulations (summary of A-110 found here) (PDF). This latest debate over access to research data now includes a set of heated letters between the committee's Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Chairman Smith (more background here).

House Votes to Curb EPA Authority. The House passed the Energy Consumers Relief Act (H.R. 1592) by a 232-181 vote. The Act would allow the Department of Energy (DOE) to block EPA regulations if DOE believes that those regulations may harm the U.S. economy. The legislation would also require EPA to submit information to Congress about pending regulations that would have an impact of $1 billion or more on the economy, and it would prohibit the agency from considering social costs and benefits when drafting new rules. H.R. 1592 could stop EPA's attempts to regulate carbon and sulfur emissions for power plants and oil refineries. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, although it is unlikely that it will be passed by the Senate.

EXECUTIVE BRANCH


White House Releases Executive Order Concerning Chemical Facility Safety and Security. On Aug. 1 President Obama released an Executive Order that establishes a Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group to identify additional regulatory measures that can be taken by the executive branch "to further improve chemical facility safety and security." The Working Group will include representatives from the Departments of Justice, Agriculture, and Transportation. It will look at potentially expanding the substances included on the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard's "Chemicals of Interest" list and work to increase operational coordination between the executive branch and state, local, and Tribal partners.

NSF Rescinds Political Science Grant Proposal Cycle. According to news reports, the National Science Foundation has cancelled acceptance of a round of political science grant proposals originally scheduled for mid-August. Although the agency has not commented on the factors that may have affected this last-minute decision, political scientists believe that the reason is primarily the fallout from an amendment included in NSF's FY 2013 appropriations bill that restricts the agency to funding political science research only if it contributes to national security or economic interests. That restriction, combined with a declining budget, is seen by researchers as a serious blow to the beleaguered field.
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NIH Suspends Clinical Trials in India. The National Institutes of Health has suspended some of its clinical trials in India after that country changed its policies governing clinical trials. Some biotech and pharmaceutical companies have done the same in recent months. The newly strengthened Indian laws involve the regulations and ethics of trials, compensation of trial subjects, and mandatory accreditation of all parties involved in the trials, such as research institutions, review boards, and funders. An NIH spokesperson said, "The recent clinical trial regulations in India have affected some NIH studies. Some trials have stopped enrollment and some others have been postponed. NIH has expressed its concerns about the new regulations, and looks forward to hearing clarifications from the Indian government on this important issue. The NIH hopes that future changes will enable studies to resume, and that we will be able to continue collaborations with colleagues in India for the mutual benefit of our citizens" (more details here and here).

NIST Seeks Industry Comments on IT Challenges. The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence at the National Institute of Standards and Technology seeks comment from industry by Aug. 12 on two information technology challenges facing the energy sector. One case involves controlling access to buildings, equipment, information technology and industrial control systems at energy facilities. The other involves providing analysts better real-time information to avoid security "blind spots" and to detect issues that could disrupt energy services.

ELSEWHERE


Survey Finds Poor Understanding of Health Care Act. With the 2010 Affordable Care Act now being phased in, a new study from Carnegie Mellon University (summarized here) questions whether Americans understand health insurance enough to make the best decisions under the Act, often referred to as Obamacare. Among other findings, the study, published in the Journal of Health Economics, found that only 14% of respondents fully understood four key concepts: deductible, copay, co-insurance, and out-of-pocket maximum.

StatsCan Estimates Slight Drop in Canadian S&T Funding. Statistics Canada has released the results of its annual survey of federal science and technology expenditures in Canada. The report predicts that spending for 2013/2014 will be $CAN 10.5 billion, 3.3% lower than 2012/2013 (details here).

Australian Chief Scientist Proposes S&T Strategic Plan. Australian Chief Scientist Ian Chubb has released a position paper titled "Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the National Interest: A Strategic Approach." The paper presents an approach for a national strategy to guide Australia's STEM enterprise by calling for alignment, focus, and scale to the nation's efforts in STEM education, knowledge production, innovation, and influence (news release and report here).

Italy's Parliament Approves Tougher Animal Testing Regulations. The Italian Parliament has approved a bill that would significantly limit animal testing, which critics say would severely hamper the country's basic research. Scientists around the country rallied against the bill, and some are still hopeful that it will not be finalized by the Italian government. They may also lodge a complaint with the European Union (details here).

People in the News. • President Obama announced his intention to nominate France Córdova to be Director of National Science Foundation. Córdova served as President of Purdue University from 2007 to 2012 and as Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside before that. She served as NASA's Chief Scientist from 1993 to 1996, and is a member of the National Science Board.
• President Obama nominated Kathryn Sullivan to be administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sullivan has been NOAA's acting director since Jane Lubchenco resigned in February, and previously served as NOAA chief scientist and deputy administrator. A former NASA astronaut, Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space. She also served on the AAAS Board of Directors from 2004 to 2008.
• President Obama will nominate Jo Handelsman to serve as Associate Director of Science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Handelsman is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and Frederick Phineas Rose Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University.
David Dickson, founding director of SciDev.net, died last week. He created the science news service in 2001 for the developing world. Before starting the news site, Dickson was known for his work in science policy and served on the staffs of Science, New Scientist, and Nature.

For breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy, check out Science's policy blog, ScienceInsider.

Archived issues of AAAS Policy Alert can be found at http://www.aaas.org/spp/policyalert.

Publisher: Alan I. Leshner
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Christine Burgess, Joanne Carney, Lisa Chong, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel, Erin Heath, Matt Hourihan, Earl Lane, Jennifer Roderick, Gretchen Seiler, Sara Spizzirri, Brad Wible

NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest. Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications. Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and private use of our members. Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome. Please write to alert@aaas.org.