April 2010 Update

Legislation and Policy Report
April, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  The White House has been active this month on science and technology issues. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced plans to form a new interagency group on emerging technologies, including nanotechnology and synthetic biology. The group is intended to provide research funding agencies and regulatory agencies an opportunity to discuss emerging policy issues.   

OSTP also released an update on its Open Government Initiatives. The document outlines activities that OSTP is undertaking to support the Open Government goals of transparency, participation, and collaboration. In addition to the OSTP document, each federal agency is releasing its own Open Government Plan.

The National Science and Technology Council is creating a new subcommittee, the Interagency Subcommittee on Standards, designed to help "ensure that federal agencies work closely and effectively together to define their standards needs, define their approach to working with industry and standards organizations, and support their meaningful adoption by markets."

Appropriations and Budget – The House Budget Committee had hoped to report out their FY2011 budget resolution before the spring recess, which might have allowed for the House and Senate to approve their respective measures and reach agreement on a common resolution before the April 15 deadline. Debate on healthcare reform delayed Committee markups and floor consideration. The budget resolution establishes a non-binding spending ceiling for discretionary programs and establishes limits for total government revenue and mandatory spending. However, there is no penalty for missing the April 15 deadline, and in the absence of a completed budget resolution, Appropriations Committees can begin work on their spending bills on May 15.  

And, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced her intention to begin work on a budget resolution, Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) believes that House Democrats are evenly divided on whether to pass a budget. Vulnerable members do not want to risk criticism on funding decisions in an election year. However, not passing a budget could call into question Democrats' ability to govern. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that party leaders will consult members and determine soon whether to pursue a budget resolution.

On the Senate side, the Senate Budget Committee amended and approved its draft of the FY2011 Budget Resolution, which sets the spending cap at $1.122 trillion, which is $4 billion less than the president's budget request. The resolution freezes non-security discretionary spending for three years. For discretionary health programs (Function 550), the resolution assume $49.8 billion, a $1.5 billion increase over FY2010 and consistent with the president's FY2011 request. Additional information about the resolution is available on the Committee's website

NASA – President Barack Obama spoke at the Kennedy Space Center this month. His remarks were in response to criticism of his proposed budget and plans for NASA. In his comments the President countered some concerns with the new initiatives. Several key points:

  • NASA will develop a rescue vehicle for the International Space Station (ISS) using Orion crew capsule technology.
  • NASA will invest more than $3 billion in advanced heavy-lift rocket technology to send crew and cargo into orbit and deep-space and eventually, to asteroids and Mars.
  • Federal government will undertake a $40 million initiative to "develop a plan for regional economic growth and job creation" to minimize the impact of short-term job losses from retiring the Space Shuttle and canceling the Constellation program.

National Institutes of Health: Agency data reports-The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its only FY2009 NIH Data Book this month. In addition, many of the data tables and reports available on RePORT, NIH's web-based reporting database, have been updated with 2009 data. NIH's project database, RePORTER, also was updated, allowing detailed searches of publications and patents resulting from individual grants as well as by state and Congressional district.

Climate change/human health report- A report by a federal working group led by NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences highlights 11 key categories of diseases and other health consequences that are occurring or will occur due to climate change. The report, A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change, provides a starting point for coordination of federal research to better understand climate's impact on human health. The recommendations of the working group include research to identify who will be most vulnerable, and what efforts will be most beneficial. The report also examines a number of cross-cutting issues for federal research in this area, including susceptible, vulnerable and displaced populations; public health and health care infrastructure; capacities and skills needed; and communication and education efforts.

National Science Foundation: On April 14 the Research and Science Education Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee approved a reauthorization bill for the National Science Foundation (NSF) that would authorize $47.5 billion for the agency over five years. The measure is expected to be marked up by the full Committee by the end of the month and to be folded into its reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which expires at the end of 2010.

The NSF reauthorization bill includes several overarching themes:

  • Increasing the Foundation's support for high-risk, high-reward research.
  • Fostering research partnerships between academia and industry.
  • Broadening opportunities for women and underrepresented groups in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Other notable provisions include:

  • Sense-of-Congress language that encourages NSF to devote 24-27 percent of its budget to research infrastructure.
  • Provision that directs the National Science Board to conduct a study and report back to Congress on mid-scale research instrumentation.
  • Creation of a pilot program to award cash prizes for innovative research.
  • Reduction from 50 percent to 30 percent in the institutional cost-sharing requirement in the Robert Noyce Fellowship Program.

Research: Environmental Protection Agency - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched the Health and Environmental Research On-line database that provides access to more than 300,000 citations of scientific studies used by EPA in making key regulatory decisions. Review the database.

Stem cells- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has allowed its contract with the National Stem Cell Bank to expire. The bank, established in 2005, was designed to distribute Bush-approved stem lines to labs. The lines continue to be available through the Wisconsin International Stem Cell Bank, but a lack of government subsidies has doubled their price.

Legislation- public access to research - It has been reported that Committees in both the House and Senate are reviewing the Federal Research Public Access Act (H.R. 5037 and S. 1373). The bill would require agencies with research budgets of $100 million or more to provide online access to research manuscripts stemming from federal funding within six months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The bill gives federal agencies flexibility in choosing the location of the digital repository for this content, as long as the repositories meet conditions for interoperability and public accessibility and have provisions for long-term archiving.

NIH/NSF announce new grant programs- The NIH and NSF jointly have announced two new research grant programs to bridge the sciences - New Biomedical Frontiers at the Interface of the Life and Physical Sciences (R01) and Transforming Biomedicine at the Interface of the Life and Physical Sciences (R01). The former focuses on basic research and the latter on clinical and translational research.

The purpose of these programs is to provide support for cutting-edge, visionary research, only possible through cross-disciplinary research. Both programs will provide grants of varying sizes and lengths to accommodate a variety of research, encourage young investigators with novel ideas to apply, and will be reviewed by special review panels that include reviewers from the physical, mathematical and computational sciences selected by NSF. Applications will be accepted once a year in May through 2012. The first deadline is May 18, 2010. For additional information on "New Biomedical Frontiers" visit the website.

Odds and Ends: Patrick Gallagher, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has announced a consolidation of eight existing laboratories into four new Operating Units (OUs): Material Measurement Laboratory, Physical Measurement Laboratory, Engineering Laboratory, and the Information Technology Laboratory. NIST will retain two of its current labs: Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the Center for Neutron Research.

Political Contributions- On March 26, 2010 the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down federal limits on the amount of contributions that can be made to advocacy organizations that intend to operate exclusively through independent expenditures. These types of organizations are commonly known as 527s after the provision in the Internal Revenue Code under which they are organized. It is unknown whether the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) intends to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the ruling the court of appeals distinguished limits on contributions made directly to candidates from limits on contributions to political organizations engaged in independent advocacy. While the former remain constitutional, the latter are not. Experts in political fundraising view the decision as essentially unleashing 527 organizations to engage in political advocacy without restrictions on the flow of money into or out of these organizations.

American Competes Act- On April 28 the House Science and Technology Committee approved a comprehensive, five-year extension of the America COMPETES Act, HR 5116. The measure reauthorizes programs and funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST). The final Committee-approved measure reduces the authorization levels for the three agencies by 10 percent from the bill introduced by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). The modification, made as part of a manager's amendment, authorizes doubling the agencies' budgets over 10 years, rather than the seven years as authorized in 2007 by the original America COMPETES Act.

Comings and Goings: Kathie Olsen, former deputy director and chief operating officer of the National Science Foundation, will become vice president for international programs at the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities in May.



April was quiet in Columbus with the General Assembly taking a spring recess during the first week of the month and spending most of the final two weeks in their districts campaigning for the May 4 primary elections. Members are expected to return during the week of May 10 for an active legislative schedule through Memorial Day.

Legislation: Campaign finance - State Representatives Jay Goyal (D-Mansfield) and Dennis Murray (D-Sandusky) have announced that they will introduce legislation to prohibit campaign contributions from corporations that conduct business with the state of Ohio. The bill is expected to include new accountability and disclosure measures in response to the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling permits corporate spending in campaigns.

State Senator Jon Husted (R-Kettering) has proposed S.B. 240 in the Ohio Senate in response to the decision. The legislation would require reporting of all expenditures by unions and corporations to the Secretary of State's office, including the filing of weekly reports during a 90-day window before an election. The bill also includes a requirement that organizations that spend money would be required to reveal all their large donors; and, foreign corporations would be banned from spending.

Comings and Goings: John Magill, Chief Strategic Officer in the Office of Policy Research and Strategic Planning for Ohio Department of Development, has been named interim executive director of OhioLINK.

Franklin County Judge Eric Brown has been appointed by Governor ted Strickland to serve as chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, filling a position that became vacant upon the unexpected death of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who had announced he would retire at the end of 2010.