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June 2012 Public Policy News

June 20, 2012: Obama Administration issues guidance memos on creation of FY2014 budgets: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have issued two memorandums in the last month to department and agency heads providing guidance on formulating budget requests for the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2013. These FY 2014 requests will be sent to Congress next February. The memorandum requires a department or agency (unless otherwise advised) to submit a FY 2014 request that would reduce spending by 5 percent from the figure originally shown for that year when the last budget request was sent to Congress in February. "The 2014 Budget will need to make hard choices," the memorandum declares, warning that last year's budget agreement will "sharply constrain discretionary spending." Items of note in the memos include:

  • "Within research portfolios, agencies are encouraged to identify and pursue ‘Grand Challenges' -ambitious goals that require advances in science, technology and innovation to achieve."
  • "Agencies should also support the research tools and infrastructure needed to ensure that U.S, science remains at the leading edge of discovery, but in delineating priorities, any proposals for new major facilities must fit within Federal real property guidance and be fully justified and balanced against funding for research activities and operations of existing facilities."
  • "In a time of constrained resources, agencies should continue to direct resources to high-priority activities and identify potential eliminations or reductions in less-effective, lower-quality, or lower priority programs. Agencies engaged in complementary activities should consult with each other during the budget planning process so that resources are coordinated to maximize their impact and to avoid inappropriate duplication. They should also avoid duplicating research in areas that already receive funding from the private sector. Agencies should explain in their budget submissions how they are redirecting available resources from lower-priority areas to science and technology activities that address the priorities described below."

June 19, 2012: SPIE launches grassroots initiative in support of allowing STEM graduates to stay in U.S.: Following its recent action in support of the SMART Jobs Act of 2012, today SPIE launched a new initiative to encourage grassroots support for the legislation. The society is encouraging its members to write to their Senators in support of the bill, which would create a new visa category for students in STEM fields, allowing them to more easily stay and work in the country after graduation. The legislation has not made it ouf of committee in the Senate for a full vote.

June 13, 2012: SPIE signs onto letter in support of NSF programs in the 2013 budget: Following action by the House of Representatives to cut the National Science Foundation's budget for its political science and climate change education programs, SPIE joined with several other organizations in writing to the Senate and asking it to reject attempts to reduce funding for these programs. The letter states, "We recognize the challenge that our nation faces in addressing the deficit and revitalizing our national economy. However, eliminating support for specific disciplines, such as the House did with respect to political science, sets a dangerous precedent that, in the end, will inhibit scientific progress and restrain our international competitiveness economically and with regard to national security. Congress should exercise its oversight responsibilities, but second-guessing the scientific process could have a chilling effect on scientists and young people considering a future in science. The country cannot afford to lose the incredible talent, experience, and energies of its scientists, regardless of their discipline." Read the full text of the letter here.

 June 7, 2012: SPIE joins international science groups in appealing to Iran for release of SPIE member: Iran's sentencing of SPIE member Omid Kokabee to 10 years in prison has led to a second letter from a coalition of optics organizations on his behalf. Signing the 7 June letter were presidents of the European Optical Society, the Optical Society (OSA), and SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. The letter, addressed to Grand Ayatollah Khamene'i, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, states, "The international optics community is particularly concerned with the threat to scientific freedom and academic research that Mr. Kokabee's trial and imprisonment represent." Kokabee, 29, is a graduate of Sharif University of Technology in Tehran who later studied at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Spain where he obtained a master's degree in photonics. Currently he is a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Physics. He was arrested at the airport and held in Evin Prison in Tehran after a visit to his family in Iran last year.

June 6, 2012: Department of Energy's Office of Science sustains budget cuts in U.S. House of Representatives: The House of Representatives voted to cut the DOE Office of Science Budget by 1.5 percent, although the Obama Administration had requested a 2.4 percent increase in the FY 2013 budget for the Office of Science and the Senate appropriators approved a 0.7 percent increase. According to the OMB: "The Administration strongly opposes the level of funding in the bill for the Office of Science, which is $191 million below the FY 2013 Budget request and $73 million below the FY 2012 enacted level. The funding provided would hinder important research underpinning U.S. innovation in clean energy technologies and applications. The Office of Science also funds basic research across a broad spectrum of physical, biological, and environmental sciences. Reductions in support for these areas may lead to a loss of U.S. leadership in many areas of science."