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January 2013 Public Policy News

January 28, 2013: SPIE leaders urge optics and photonics community to assert need for full Horizon 2020 funding:  In response to potential budget cuts to the Horizon 2020 program, SPIE leaders are calling on optics and photonics researchers and industry representatives across the EU to let their European Parliament representatives know that the program is important not only to the sector, but to economic competitiveness and quality of life across Europe. A draft letter template can be found here. While EU member states are cutting national R&D budgets, net contributors to the overall EU budget are calling for a net reduction in the Multi-annual Financial Framework - even with recognition that R&D and innovation drive much economic growth. At stake are funding and access to at least some portion of the €80 billion for research and innovation approved in the Horizon 2020. Read SPIE's press release regarding the potential cuts here.

January 15, 2013: U.S. agencies issue high level memos in advance of potential budget cuts: Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has sent a memo outlining how the Depart of Defense (DoD) should handle the current budget uncertainties facing the U.S. Government. Congress has not passed an appropriations bill for the DoD for 2013, so it is still operating under the 2012 budget through at least March 27, 2013. The looming threat of sequestration and possible budgets cuts of up to $500 billion over 10 years from the DoD and other national security agencies is causing an atmosphere of extreme fiscal uncertainty. The memo outlines plans that must be submitted by February 1, 2013 for near term action, including: For Science and Technology accounts, provide the USD(AT&L) and the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Research & Engineering) with an assessment of the impact that budgetary uncertainty may have on meeting Departmental research priorities; Clear all R&D and production contracts and contract modifications that obligate more than $500 million with the USD(AT&L) prior to award; Curtail travel, training, and conferences (all with exceptions for mission-critical activities* including those required to maintain professional licensure or equivalent certifications). The full memo can be read here.

The Office of Management and Budget has also released a three-page memo providing guidance to the heads of departments and agencies on dealing with the expiring budget and potential sequestration. The document, sent by OMB Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients, addresses the two imminent deadlines: "In the coming months, executive departments and agencies (agencies) will confront significant uncertainty regarding the amount of budgetary resources available for the remainder of the fiscal year. In particular, unless Congress acts to amend current law the President is required to issue a sequestration order on March 1, 2013, cancelling approximately $85 billion in budgetary resources across the Federal Government. Further uncertainty is created by the expiration of the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013 (CR) on March 27, 2013. This memorandum directs agencies to take certain steps to plan and manage this budget uncertainty." SPIE has signed onto a letter with more than 3,000 other national, state and local organizations urging Congress to avoid sequestration through a balanced report to deficit reduction.

January 7, 2013: SPIE releases statement on STEM jobs/immigration: SPIE is urging Congress to pass new legislation fast-tracking and increasing the number of visas granted to high-skilled immigrants -- without undermining current programs that support immigration diversity. "Retaining highly skilled and well-educated workers is imperative to continued technology competitiveness and economic growth," said Robert Lieberman, chair of the SPIE committee on Engineering Science and Technology Policy. "The issue is of prime importance to maintaining a global leadership position, and needs to be solved independently of other immigration policies." Read the full statement here. The House of Representatives passed HR 6429, the STEM Jobs Act, on November 30, by a vote of 245-139. It is currently stalled in the Senate. HR 6429 would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make up to 55,000 visas available to immigrants who have a doctorate degree in a field of "computer and information sciences and support services, engineering, mathematics and statistics, and physical sciences" from a US university, agree to work five years for a US employer, and who have taken all their doctoral coursework while physically present in the US. It would also eliminate the Diversity Visa Immigration program.

Update: On January 29, 2013, President Obama delivered a speech on immigration, stating "the time has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform." He continued, ""Right now, there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities. They're earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, once they earn that diploma, there's a good chance they'll have to leave our country. Think about that.

"Intel was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Right now in one of those classrooms, there's a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea - their Intel or Instagram - into a big business. We're giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we're going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else? That's not how you grow new industries in America. That's how you give new industries to our competitors. That's why we need comprehensive immigration reform." The White House has released a fact sheet explaining the President's proposal.

January 1, 2013: President Obama and Congress reach agreement on fiscal cliff: As widely reported in the media, legislators reached a compromise on the fiscal cliff, and in the process managed to push the sequester off for two months. Non-defense discretionary spending cuts were not included in the deal and will be addressed in the next round of negotiations. You can read more about the agreement here.