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July Public Policy News

31 July 2011: FY2012 appropriations negotiations continue: Prior to going on a five week recess, the House Appropriations Committee had passed 9 appropriations measures (out of 12), which will now have to be passed by the full House and then reconciled with the new budget agreement when Congress returns after Labor Day. A recap of key actions taken by House Appropriators to date follows.:

  • National Science Foundation (NSF): NSF emerged from the House appropriations process with essentially flat funding. The House Appropriations Committee majority did not adopt significant cuts proposed by outside groups and instead passed a $6.9 billion budget for NSF that keeps its funding nearly equal to FY 2011, but is $650 million short of the Administration's request. NSF actually received an increase of $43 million for funding Research & Related Activities, but minor cuts occur in other accounts.
  • STEM Education: The $50.2 billion Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which includes the NSF, also includes more than $1 billion to fund science, technology, engineering, and math education programs across the NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other science-funding agencies.
  • National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST): Under the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill that was passed by the House on July 13, funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology would be reduced 6.6 percent from the current year. House appropriators provide policy and budget recommendations for NIST in their committee report starting on page 20. NIST would see a budget of $700.8 million for 2012 under the House Republican appropriation measure. This is a $49 million reduction from 2011 and $300.3 million less than the White House's budget request. The MEP Program survives at a minimal funding level. The House majority is hostile to many of the so-called industrial technology programs, including the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship currently housed under the Economic Development Administration within Commerce. As well, the House has severerly cut many of the Industrial Programs of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST). The Technology Innovation Program (TIP), the evolutionary successor to the Advanced Technology Program, is not funded, nor is the Baldrige Quality Award Program.
  • DOE Office of Science: Many large cuts have come from within the Department of Energy, which was funded at FY 2005 levels. As compared to FY 2011, DOE was slashed by 3.3 percent, or more than $1 billion, and about 19 % less than the Administration requested in February. Extensive language in the committee report accompanying this bill relates to the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The bill recommends the following changes in program budgets from this year:
    • Fusion Energy Sciences: Up 8.1 percent
    • Nuclear Physics: Up 2.2 percent
    • Advanced Scientific Computing: Up 1.2 percent
    • Basic Energy Sciences: Up 0.6 percent
    • High Energy Physics: Up 0.2 percent
    • Biological and Environmental Research: Down 10.6 percent
  • DOE Office of Science: The FY 2011 appropriation was $4,842.7 million. The FY 2012 Administration request was 5,416.1 million. The House Appropriations Committee recommends $4,800.0 million for FY 2012, a decrease of 0.9 percent or $42.7 million as compared to the current budget
  • NASA: Nearly $1.6 billion has been taken out of the FY 2012 NASA budget, including cancellation of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by House appropriators. NASA is funded at roughly the same levels it had during FY 2005.

23 July 2011: Trial postponed for SPIE student member being held in Iran: The trial of Omid Kokabee, an Iranian national who has been studying for a PhD in experimental physics at the University of Texas, has been unexpectedly postponed. Kokabee was arrested in February of this year by the Iranian security service after visiting his family and has been held in a prison in Tehran since. He is accused of "communicating with a hostile government," though he claims he is innocent and a campaign is being waged by his colleagues and other scientists to secure his freedom. It is unknown when the trial will be rescheduled to begin, and if convicted, Kokabee could potentially face the death penalty.

20 July 2011: New framework for K-12 science education released this week: Yesterday, the National Acadamies Board on Science Education released its "Framework for K-12 Science Education," which will be used to develop future standards for science education in all 50 states. It identifies the key scientific concepts all U.S. students should have learned by the end of high school. The framework includes information for curricula developers, teacher training programs, information science education and testing. The last standards were released more than a decade ago. Read more here.

15 July 2011: FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill passes committee, moves to full floor vote: The full House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill, and sent it to the House floor. The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House before the start of the August recess. It provide $6.9-billion for the National Science Foundation. That amount is the same that was appropriated for FY2011 and would mean two straight years of no increases for the NSF, despite two earlier votes by Congress to double the NSF budget within seven years.

15 July 2011: U.S. Department of Commerce releases report lauding growth in STEM jobs: (via SPIE Newsroom) - The U.S. Department of Commerce's Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) released a new report on 14 July that profiles U.S. employment in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. "STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future" offers an inside look at workers who are driving the nation's innovation and competitiveness with new ideas, new companies and new industries.

In 2010, 7.6 million people or 5.5 percent of the labor force worked in STEM occupations. Key findings from the new report show that over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs, and STEM jobs are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs in the coming decade. Meanwhile, STEM workers are also less likely to experience joblessness.

"This report profiles the fast-growing, productive STEM workforce and illustrates how we can win the future by encouraging the pursuit of 21st century jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. "STEM jobs are essential to a competitive, innovative and technologically advanced U.S. economy."

Further findings show STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. STEM degree holders also enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations. Likewise, college graduates - no matter what their major - enjoy an earnings premium for having a STEM job. 

7 July 2011: SPIE signs letter urging for caution in cutting federal science programs: SPIE joined more than 140 scientific societies and universities in signing onto a letter to U.S. policymakers urging them to avoid cutting entire programs as part of the current budget negotiations. The letter, delivered today, is addressed to key leaders in Congress who are currently debating the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill and calls on them to oppose any attempts to eliminate or substantially reduce funding for specific research programs, including the NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sceinces. Clear-cutting of support for key fields of research "could have a chilling effect on scientists and young people considering a future in science," the group said in its 11 July letter. Read the full text of the letter here.

6 July 2011: House Appropriations Committee releases FY 2012 Commerce, Justice & Science Appropriations bill: The appropriations bill that funds the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Justice (among other agencies) was released today by the House Appropriations Committee. The FY 2012 version will be considered by the subcommittee tomorrow. In total, the legislation contains $50.2 billion in funding, $3.1 billion below last year's funding level and $7.4 billion below the President's request. Despite these overall cuts, the legislation funds the NSF at $6.9 billion, which is the same as last year and $907 million below the President's request. Notably, NSF's core research is increased by $43 million to enhance "basic research that is critical to innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness." Read more at the Committee's website.

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