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June Public Policy News

30 June 2011: Negotiations continue on debt ceiling: Contentious debate around raising the US debt ceiling is continuing in Washington, DC, as Congress and the Administration disagree on how to address federal deficits. Senate Democrats - who control that body but do not have enough votes to invoke cloture should Republicans filibuster the debt ceiling measure - claim that there must be tax hikes along with spending cuts in order to restore long-term financial control over federal spending. However, Republican leaders in both Houses claim have the votes to prevent any increase in taxes. The deadline for reaching an agreement is just weeks away, and were the U.S. to default on its payments, many are unsure what would happen to world financial markets, the value of the dollar, and the overall U.S. economy. House Republicans have begun marking up nine appropriations bills they hope to pass by the 6 August recess in spite of the debt ceiling impasse.

30 June 2011: House Appropriators recognize importance of R&D funding but cut budgets: Notwithstanding the overall support for increased defense spending by the full House in its passage of the Defense Authorization bill in May, the House Appropriations Committee slashed spending for Defense R&D Programs in mid-June. The White House threatened a veto of the ultimate defense spending bill if current spending cuts are approved by the full House of Representatives and the Senate later this year… As reported earlier, the House approved the Defense Authorization Budget for 2012 on a 322-96 vote in May.

Of significance in the Report's language is a recognition of the impact defense R&D has on the overall health of the U.S. economy and innovation ecosystem. According to the Committee, it "continues to support the Department of Defense's research and development enterprise, including the key role played by the Department of Defense laboratories, product centers, and other engineering facilities. The committee believes that these facilities are critical to maintaining the military's technological superiority, as well as contributing to the economic health and scientific competitiveness of the United States."

"The committee also recognizes that the defense industrial base makes significant investments that complement and sometimes supplant government funding in order to promote technological development. These industrial research and development (IR&D) investments are important components to creating a sustainable foundation for economic growth and technological advancement. In an era of shrinking budgets and fiscal constraint, the committee encourages the Department and the defense industrial base to create additional information sharing mechanisms that will increase visibility into these IR&D investments and better leverage limited resources, reduce the potential for duplication and waste, and improve government to industry collaboration on research."

29 June 2011:UK's Technology Strategy Board solicits input on supporting photonics and sensor systems:The Technology Strategy Board, the UK's national innovation agency, has created two platforms for members of the scientific community to contribute to the debate around whether or not to establish photonics and sensor systems as Technology Innovation Centers. The Board is exploring whether or not establishing a TIC is the best strategy for supporting these areas, where the focus of any TIC should be, and if there are attractive opportunities that would justify their creation. If you are interested in joining this discussion, the forum on photonics can be found here, and the forum on sensor systems can be found here. Additionally, the Board is hosting two workshops in July, one on Photonics and the other on Sensor Systems. They anticipate heavy demand for these workshops.

24 June 2011: House passes Patent Reform legislation:H.R.1249, the America Invents Act, passed the House of Representatives after significant effort and lobbying by the Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader. The legislation makes significant changes to the nation's patent system, including a change from the current "first to invent" standard for granting patents to the "first inventor to file" standard that is more common in other countries. H.R. 1249 passed by a vote of 304 to 117 and was encouraged by the White House. The Senate passed a similiar version in the spring. H.R. 1249 now goes back to the Senate for floor consideration to consider the House changes. The Senate can decide to just accept the House version and send it to the President or the Senate could request a Conference Committee with the House to iron out the differences between H.R. 1249 and S. 23.One of the issues needing to be reconciled is who will control the budget for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

20 June 2011: House passes DoE appropriations bill: This week the full House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the FY2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. Included in this bill is funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. Recently, SPIE joined with more than fifty other organizations in calling for the prioritization of funding for the DoE Office of Science. Total funding in the bill is appoximately 19% less than that requested by the Obama Administration, but funding for the Office of Science would be reduced by only 0.9% under this bill.

  • 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, a decrease of 0.9 percent or $42.7 million as compared to the current budget

The bill recommends the following changes in program budgets for the Office of Science:

  • 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

You can read the full Committee report here.

15 June 2011: New Rare Earth legislation introduced: Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) today introduced legislation aimed at addressing the increasingly troublesome rare earth supply crisis that has been plaguing the optics and photonics industry. The Rare Earth Policy Task Force and Materials Act would establish a government-wide task force to review and report bck on all U.S. laws, regulations or policies that discourage the reestablishment of a domestic rare earth industry. It also calls for a comprehensive plan to ensure the long-term, secure, and sustainable supply of rare earth materials for the United States. In this vein, the legislation includes proposals on how to promote recyclying possibilities as well as researching alternative materials. To read SPIE's position on rare earth elements, read our position paper on the topic. Update, 24 June 2011: Prices of some rare earth materials have doubled in just the last few weeks and the House of Representatives held hearings on the issue.

14 June 2011: National Science Board invites comments on changes to NSF proposal review: The National Science Board task force is asking the science community to review proposed clarifications to the criteria that is used to evaluate proposals submitted to the National Science Foundation. Specifically, the task force is looking at revising criteria for the intellectual merit and potential impact of proposals. More information can be found here, and the deadline for comments is July 14th.

14 June 2011: President Obama seeks to add 10,000 new engineers every year to US job force: President Obama rolled out a proposal on Monday to train 10,000 new engineers annually, primarily through privately funded programs. "Today, with the leadership of the jobs council, we're announcing an all-hands-on-deck strategy to train 10,000 new American engineers every year," Obama said Monday. Companies in the private sector will promote STEM education initiatives, like rewarding students who finish their degrees and funding university programs. The U.S. ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering. Read more here.

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