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March Public Policy News


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D.C.'s BUDGET CHALLENGES: Three fiscal years are currently under discussion in Washington, D.C., FY 2010 (current funding levels revert to that year because of the current impasse over FY 2011 spending), FY 2011 which is unresolved, and The FY 2012 President's Budget Request which was recently sent to Congress. Because Congress has not enacted a FY 2011 budget, the federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution since December of last year. This impasse has been caused in part by the change in party control in the U.S. House, where the new GOP majority has proposed between $60 billion and $100 billion in spending cuts for FY 2011.

The House Appropriations Committee introduced a Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) to fund the federal government for the last seven months of the fiscal year while cutting spending by over $100 billion from the President's fiscal year 2011 request. This legislation represents the largest single discretionary spending reduction in the history of Congress.

It appears that proposed cuts for FY 2011 in the House will be dealt with by mid-March, assuming the Senate agrees with the House, which passed an extension of the continuing resolution on 1 March.


IMPACT UPON SCIENCE AGENCIES OF THE FY 2011 CONTINUING RESOLUTION: Significant changes in key science agency budgets are imminent for FY 2011. Proposed cuts under an initial version of bill, H.R.1, are listed below:

• The Department of Energy's Office of Science would be reduced by 18% or $882.3 million from the current level

• The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would be cut by 14.4% or $123.7 million - not mentioned, but meant, is the elimination of the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) supported by SPIE, as well as severe cuts to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program

• NASA's budget would remain essentially level, declining 0.6% or $103 million. Congress has yet to figure out where it will find an estimated $2 - 3 billion needed to conduct NASA's current activities

• The National Science Foundation's budget would increase 6% or $412.9 million.

ADMINSTRATION'S FY 2012 BUDGET: President Obama transmitted his FY 2012 Budget to Congress on 14 February, increasing the projected size of next year's federal deficit to over $1.2 trillion for FY 2012 alone. The President's Budget for FY 2012 tries to maintain the Administration's "R&D doubling" effort proposed in 2009.


GOVERNMENT OVERLAP AND WASTE: An interesting side conversation to the budget was  Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report released on 1 March that identified overlapping activities among federal agencies. The nearly 400-page document identifies billions of dollars in potential savings in 81 areas ranging from agriculture, economic development, energy, health care, homeland security and the Defense Department. The document is the first annual report to Congress required under a new law seeking to identify programs, agencies and initiatives that have duplicate goals or activities. GAO did not provide a total estimate of savings, although Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) - who pushed for the report - said the estimate is at least $100 billion.

RARE EARTH AND CRITICAL MATERIALS LEGISLATION: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) plans to reintroduce a bill from the last session of Congress, which addresses access to rare earth, in the first half of 2011. China currently supplies about 97% of the world's rare earth, used in many products manufactured by SPIE members. Another bill relating to rare earth and critical materials, H.R. 618, was introduced by Rep. Leonard Boswell (R-IA) on 10 February.

SBIR REAUTHORIZATION HEARINGS IN SENATE: The Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship (SBE) held hearings on reauthorization of the SBIR and STTR Programs on 17 February.  Current funding for SBIR has been extended through 31 May of this year and reauthorization has been in jeopardy for the past two years due to policy differences between Senate and House small business committees. Witnesses included Dr. Charles Wessner of the National Academies, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm, Dr. Matthew Silver, Cambrian Innovation, Mr. Joe Hernandez, Signal Genetics (on behalf of BIO), and Mr. Jere Glover, SBTC. A video of the hearings is available.

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