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February 2013 Public Policy News

28 February, 2013: U.S. Congress holds hearing on government travel restrictions: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing yesterday on recent restrictions on federal spending on travel. Titled "The Road Less Traveled: Reducing Federal Travel & Conference Spending," the subject of the hearing was a May 2012 memo issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that instructed the heads of federal departments and agencies to spend at least 30 percent less on travel expenses in fiscal year 2013 than they did in fiscal year 2010. Representative Rush Holt, a witness at the hearing, had this to say: "As we work to ensure oversight on travel expenditures, we also should work to preserve the many benefits of appropriate travel, which can promote collaboration and innovation. As a scientist, I know firsthand how important scientific conferences and meetings are. The informal conversations, as well as the formal presentations and poster sessions that go into a conference among scientists from different institutions, lead to new collaborations that have the promise of new discoveries. These are not fancy junkets."

Last year, Congress attempted to pass a bill that would make permanent most of the OMB guidelines. Although the bill eventually failed, the legislation was re-introduced earlier this year by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) The bill - H.R. 313, the Government Spending Accountability Act - was assigned on Jan. 18 to  committee, which will consider sending it to the full House for a vote.

27 February, 2013: U.S. Office of Management and Budget releases memo on sequestration: OMB Controller Danny Werfel issued a memo to executive departments and agencies on "Agency Responsibilities for Implementation of Potential Joint Committee Sequestration." The memo builds upon the January 14 guidance from Acting OMB Director Jeff Zients, and encourages agencies to communicate with stakeholders, including contractors, of the expected impact of sequestration on their operations. With respect to acquisition, the memo states that sequestration will "require agencies to reduce contracting costs where appropriate" including "de-scoping or terminating for convenience...where no other options exists to reduce contracting costs." Agencies are directed to "appropriately inform and negotiate with contractors [and] take all appropriate steps to minimize the impact on small businesses." While the OMB memo provides general guidance, specific agency plans (with the exception of DoD) remain unclear. Update: Since sequestration has taken effect, the DOE Office of Science Director William Brinkman has testified to Congress on its effects. Read his remarks

22 February, 2013: SPIE releases on Photonics 21: Michael Mertin, recently elected president of European Technology Platform Photonics21, talked to SPIE Newsroom at SPIE Photonics West about the duties of his new post. Of course, Mertin already leads the successful laser company Jenoptik AG. Watch the video here: http://spie.org/x92402.xml

February 14, 2013: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office publishes final rule on transition to first-to-file: The USPTO published final rules and guidance in the Federal Register implementing the first-inventor-to-file provision. This provision becomes effective on March 16, 2013. It likewise concludes the agency's rulemaking for the America Invents Act. The rules and guidance can be found at these links. SPIE recently published an article specifically on this topic in the latest issue of SPIE Professional. It can be accessed here.

February 13, 2013: President Obama highlights federal R&D and STEM Education in both Inaugural Address and State of the Union: President Obama began his second term on January 20, 2013 and mentioned math and science education and federal R&D in his inaugural address. He said, "But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. . . . No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people." You can read the full text here.

On February 12, 2013, he delivered his State of the Union address and touched on these topics again. Regarding funding for research and development, he said, "Now, if we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy -- every dollar. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's. They're developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. We need to make those investments." He also spoke of the need for immigration reform: "And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy." You can read the full text here.

February 7, 2013: SPIE volunteers set to participate in Congressional Visits Day: The Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group Congressional Visits Day (SET CVD) is set to take place on March 12-13, 2013 in Washington, D.C. It's a free event in which more than 300 scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and their colleagues meet with their Members of Congress to raise support for science on Capitol Hill. You can read about SPIE's participation in 2012 here: http://spie.org/x87024.xml. If you are interested in participating, email policy@spie.org.

February 6, 2013: House Science Committee holds hearing on American competitiveness and the role of R&D: Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the new chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space, & Technology Committee held his first hearing today, focusing on the impacts of research and development and the outlook for American science and technology. He emphasized the need to focus on policies that will encourage American competitiveness, saying, "Some nations are creating environments so attractive to global manufacturers that companies have relocated much of their activities to foreign soil. Our global trade imbalance is growing as we export less and import more, and today, this imbalance includes many high tech products." Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) also discussed research and development in her opening statement: "Without dismissing the value of many other investments we make with our limited discretionary budget, there is probably no single investment we make, other than education, that has done more to ensure our nation's long term economic vitality than our investment in [research and development]. This holds true for the very long term investments that the federal government is uniquely suited to make in exploratory research - where we have no idea what, if any, applications will result. But it also holds true for the financial and intellectual partnerships we build with the private sector to address more mid-term [research and development] challenges." You can read all the statements here. In related news, a new report published by the Task Force on American Innovation provides updates on benchmarks of U.S. innovation and the knowledge economy.