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May Public Policy News

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31 May 2011: APPROPRIATIONS UPDATE - HOW SCIENCE BUDGETS ARE FARING SO FAR FOR FY 2012: With the FY 2011 budget compromise finally in place, House Republicans are focusing on major cuts in federal spending that will include many science-focused agencies and programs (The Senate has yet to weigh in on these matters). When compared to FY 2011, there will be $46 billion less to spend on non-security related programs in FY 2012. Here is a quick recap of areas of concern to SPIE members as of June 1 by House Committee, as provided by the House Appropriations Committee, including a tentative schedule of hearings and action:

  • Energy and Water Development Subcommittee: The tentative allocation of $30.639 billion is $1.043 billion less than the current year, and is $5.901 billion less than that requested by the Obama Administration. This allocation provides funding for the Department of Energy, including the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration. The subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its bill on June 2; the full committee on June 15.
  • Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee: The tentative allocation of $50.237 billion is $3.090 billion less than the current year, and is $7.438 billion less than requested by the Obama Administration. This bill provides funding for the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The subcommittee is scheduled to make up its bill on July 7; the full committee on July 13.
  • Defense Subcommittee: The tentative allocation of $530.025 billion is $17 billion more than the current year, and is $8.913 billion less than that requested by the Obama Administration. The bill provides funding for the Department of Defense, including its 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 S&T programs. The subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its bill on June 1; the full committee on June 14.
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee: The tentative allocation of $139.218 billion is $18.218 billion less than the current year, and is $41.583 billion less than that requested by the Obama Administration. The bill provides funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education. The subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its bill on July 26; the full committee on August 2.

31 May 2011: SENATE HELP COMMITTEE WORING ON REAUTHORIZATION OF KEY STEM EDUCATION MEASURES: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected to advance a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) soon, possibly in the next several weeks. SPIE has signed on to a letter from the STEM Education Coalition to HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) outlining STEM policy recommendations for the upcoming reauthorization. Based on those discussions, STEM supporters are somewhat optimistic that the emerging ESEA legislation will present a number of significant opportunities to improve STEM education.

30 May 2011: HOUSE DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS BILL PASSES WITH TWO RARE EARTH ELEMENTS PROVISIONS: During consideration of the 2012 Defense Authorization bill, which passed the full House, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) was able to include two provisions of the SPIE-supported RESTART ACT (H.R. 1388) related to rare earth elements. According to Coffman's office, the measure includes:

  1. A provision requiring the Secretary of Defense to report back to Congress on the feasibility and desirability of recycling, recovering, and reprocessing rare earth elements including fluorescent lighting in Department of Defense facilities and neodymium iron boron magnets used in weapon systems and commercial off-the-shelf items such as computer hard drives. Text here.
  2. A requirement for the Defense Logistics Agency Strategic Materials (formerly the Defense National Stockpile Center) to develop a plan to establish an inventory of rare earth oxides, metals, alloys, and magnets for defense purposes. They must identify "the steps necessary to develop or maintain a competitive, multi-source supply chain to avoid reliance on a single source of supply". Such a plan would mitigate our nation's current overdependence on unreliable foreign sources for critical rare earth materials. It would also encourage U.S. manufacturing capabilities and thus reinvigorate a competitive, multi-source domestic rare earth industry. It will then be up to the Secretary of Defense to determine whether to execute the plan. Text here.

27 May 2011: PHOTONICS 21 RELEASES PHOTONICS VISION REPORT: The European Union Technology Platform, Photonics21, has just this month released the final edition of its Photonics Vision report, the most recent in a series of reports and strategy documents highlighting the impact of photonics on the economy of the European Union and its potential to address some of the most critical science and technology challenges of our times. Building on the popular notion that the 21st century will be the century of the photon; much as the 20th century was the century of the electron, the reports envisions advancements in photonics leading to many changes, including: dramatically bolstered internet infrastructure, better manufacturing processes, more efficient green technologies and increased disease prevention capacity. In September 2009, following the release of the first Strategic Research Agenda and Photonics in Europe Economic Impact report, the European Commission designated photonics as one of five key enabling technologies for the future prosperity of the European Union. Photonics21 has worked with European industry, government and other stakeholders to outline a photonics research strategy and identifying the measures needed to ensure that Europe's continued leadership in photonics.

27 May 2011: SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY REACTS TO NSF FUNDING THREAT: Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) this week released a 73 page report accusing the NSF of mishandling it's nearly $3 billion budget. Senator Coburn's report called The National Science Foundaton: Under the Microscope, calls for whole categories of NSF funding (including social studies and science education) to be consolidated with other federal programs or cut entirely and has been widely dismissed and criticized by the scientific community for erroneous analysis. It appears that the release of this report is the opening salvo in the FY12 budget process, expected to focus extensively on budget cuts to science programs. The House Science Committee will hold a hearing on 2 June to investigate NSF funding. Many scientific societies, including SPIE, have responded by contacting Congress and urging continued funding for the National Science Foundation.

26 May 2011: CONGRESS PASSES SBIR STOP-GAP MEASURE: S.1082 (the Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011) was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama late this evening, preventing the shutdown of two key federal small-business innovation programs. The SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) and STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) programs would have become unfunded on May 30 had Congress not acted. However, there are still several major disagreements between the House and Senate versions of the bill that continue to prevent a long-term solution from being reached. S.990 will only fund the programs though 30 September. Major sticking points hindering a full appropriations bill include the degree of involvement by venture capital firms and how long the programs should be appropriated.

25 May 2011: PRESIDENT OBAMA AND PRIME MINISTER CAMERON PLEDGE TO STRENGTHEN US/UK SCIENCE COLLABORATION: As part of President Obama's visit to the United Kingdom this week, he issued a joint statement with Prime Minister David Cameron in which both countries recognize their responsibility to remain global leaders in scientific fields and agree to increase and strengthen links between their higher education institutions and science programs. Specifically, the leaders pledged to work to increase the number of joint endeavors among individuals in labs, universities, scientific societies, think tanks and government agencies, with a particular emphasis on supporting fields that will create jobs and economic growth.

They agreed to work together in the following areas: Innovation, Jobs and Growth; Space Science and Exploration; Terrestrial and Space Weather; Health and Wellbeing; and Clean Energy and Climate Science. The statement noted that the US funds nearly "one-third of the world's scientific research that the UK is first among G-8 countries in scientific publications and citations as a fraction of GDP." Specific projects mentioned in the statement include:

  • US company Johnson & Johnson and its company Janssen are to invest £5 million in a partnership with six leading British universities to undertake cutting edge neuroscience research
  • Improved sharing of satellite data and modelling will improve space weather forecasting
  • Up to £1 million of UK funding for joint research with the US in health and wellbeing, supported by the UK Research Councils.
  • A meeting of the UK-US Higher Education Policy Forum will be held in Windsor this coming October Post-graduate student and researcher exchange programmes are to be further encouraged.

20 May 2011: 61 MEMBERS OF CONGRESS RESPOND TO SPIE-SPONSORED LETTER URGING FUNDING FOR DOE OFFICE OF SCIENCE IN FY12: A few weeks ago, SPIE joined with over fifty other organizations to request that Members of Congress demonstrate their support for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, whose budget is currently being considered under the FY12 budget negotiations. Over sixty Members of Congress responded to this request, signing onto a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. Their letter read:

"As you begin work on the Fiscal Year 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, we write to express our strong support for robust and sustained funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the critical research, unique scientific facilities, and expert personnel that it supports. "We recognize the fragile state of the nation's economy, and support efforts to reduce the deficit and create jobs. But to do so, we must set priorities and make smart, strategic decisions about federal funding. We believe that scientific research is the foundation for the innovative solutions that will enable us to overcome many of our greatest challenges - from economic stagnation and dependence on foreign energy to curing diseases and addressing threats to our national security. That is why we believe funding for the DOE Office of Science must be a priority in fiscal year 2012."

To see which Members of Congress signed onto this letter, click here.


12 May 2011: SPIE signs onto letter urging support for Department of Energy's Office of Science:  On May 10, Members of the House of Representatives received a letter from SPIE and over 50 other groups requesting that they demonstrate their support for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. By May 12 representatives were asked to sign a letter to Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Ed Pastor (D-AZ) to "express our strong support for robust and sustained funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, and the critical research, unique scientific facilities, and expert personnel that it supports." The letter requests: "we urge you to make strong and sustained funding for the DOE Office of Science one of your highest priorities in fiscal year 2012." The "Dear Colleague" letter, authored by Reps. Biggert, Holt and Hultgrent went onto say, "We believe that scientific research is the foundation for the innovative solutions that will enable us to overcome many of our greatest challenges -- from economic stagnation and dependence on foreign energy to curing diseases and addressing threats to our national security."

FY 2011 BUDGET BATTLE COMES TO AN END: With just hours remaining before the deadline to reach an agreement, Congressional Republicans and the Obama Administration were able to cut a deal on the FY 2011 budget and avoid a shutdown of the federal government. The 2011 budget, enacted on 15 April, 2011, included $38.5 billion in cuts from what had been budgeted in 2010, in addition to another $10 billion in cuts that had been imposed in continuing resolutions. The majority of R&D programs and agencies were saved from severe cuts for the remainder of FY 2011 (through 30 September), though applied research programs, particularly the Department of Energy's (DOE) energy innovation programs, did not fare so well. Notable items include:

  • The National Science Foundation's (NSF) budget was cut by about 1% ($67 million)
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) were funded at $30.7 billion, a 0.8% ($260 million) cut from FY 2010 spending levels.
  • The Department of Energy's Office of Science received $4.9 billion in funding, only a 1.4% cut ($20 million) from FY 2010 levels.
  • The more controversial and applied research-oriented Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) programs suffered an 18.4 % cut ($408 million) and they will now receive $1.8 billion for FY 2011.

FY 2012 BUDGET DEBATE NOW UNDERWAY: Just as negotiations over the FY 2011 budget came to an end, the FY 2012 budget debates were getting underway. As previously reported, President Obama released his 2012 Federal Budget in mid-February, followed by the announcement of House Republican's competing plan, led by Representative Paul Ryan, at the beginning of April. Ryan's plan would reportedly cut $5.8 trillion in spending over ten years while reducing tax income by $4.2 trillion below current projections. It would make major changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (entitlement programs) while also cutting energy research and other applied research and development. The House budget plan would also reduce total funding for the National Science Foundation, general science programs at the Department of Energy, most NASA programs, and for the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. Linked to the budget debate is the extension of the federal debt ceiling, which must be raised by early July or the U.S. government would risk defaulting on its debt obligations.

DOD's NEW RAPID INNOVATION PROGRAM FUNDED: The SPIE-supported Department of Defense (DOD) Rapid Innovation Program was funded by the FY 2011 budget compromise and signed into law by President Obama on 15 April. Under the new Rapid Innovation Program, which is designed to accelerate the transition of innovative technologies to meet national security needs, about $502.4 million has been designated for special consideration for DOD SBIR Phase III projects.

According to published reports, $439.2 million of this amount would be set aside for research funding -- $105 million each for the Army, Navy and Air Force, $124.2 million for defense wide activities, $60 million for procurement funding, and $15 million each for Army, Navy, Air Force and defense wide activities. The remaining $3.2 million will be used for program administration. These amounts would be pro-rated for the rest of fiscal year 2011. Authority for the program had already been established by the FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed Congress in December and was signed into law by the President in January. However, funding for the program had been delayed due to the larger budget showdown between Democrats and Republicans described previously. The Defense Department has already begun developing guidance for this new program, under urging from Congress which wants to see the program up and running quickly.

SPIE VOLUNTEERS DELIVER SCIENCE R&D AND EDUCATION SUPPORT MESSAGE TO CONGRESS: SPIE volunteers traveled to Washington, D.C. on 6 and 7 April to express support for funding federal research and development programs and to discuss the important economic impacts of such programs.

The SPIE team members were among more than 270 scientists, engineers and business leaders who made visits to their Representatives' and Senators' offices on Capitol Hill as part of the sixteenth annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology (SET) Working Group. At the 34 congressional offices they visited, SPIE volunteers discussed the importance of the nation's broad portfolio of investments in science, engineering and technology to promoting U.S. prosperity and innovation. Specifically they spoke about the need for sustained, long-term funding for R&D programs, support for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, the need to address rare-earth shortages, and removing barriers to U.S. trade. SPIE's position papers on these topics can be viewed on our website.

SPIE SUPPORTS INTRODUCTION OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION (E2) FOR INNOVATION ACT: Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Olympia Snowe and Representative Paul Tonko are once again taking the lead in introducing the Engineering Education (E2) for Innovation Act to the 112th Congress. The act would competitively award grants for educational agencies to invest in programs and activities to integrate engineering education into K-12 classrooms. On 5 May, SPIE sent letters to the original sponsors, expressing support for the proposed legislation.

CEOS CALL ON US GOVERNORS TO RAISE STANDARDS IN SCIENCE & MATH EDUCATION: On 21 April, a group of prominent chief executives, members of the Change the Equation organization, sent letters to U.S. governors urging them to set a higher bar for their students in math and science in order to better prepare them to compete globally. The CEOs are concerned that states' standards are too low when it comes to student proficiency in STEM subjects, leading to an inflated and dangerous sense of progress. In conjunction with the letters, Change the Equation released new state-specific "Vital Signs" reports that assess the condition of STEM education in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

HOUSE RESTART BILL INTRODUCED BY REP. COFFMAN: The SPIE-supported Rare Earths Supply Chain Technology and Resources Transformation Act of 2011 (RESTART Act) was introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) on 6 April. The bill has been referred to three committees of jurisdiction. Just last week, the U.S. Department of Energy made $30 million available to fund research alternatives to rare earth-containing materials used in turbine generators and EV motors to help address the growing problem. According to the DOE: "Rising rare earth prices have already escalated costs for some energy technologies and may jeopardize the widespread adoption of many critical energy solutions by U.S. manufacturers."

SBIR REAUTHORIZATION ADVANCES IN SENATE, ACTION PENDING IN HOUSE: On 4 May, the U.S. Senate failed to invoke cloture (bring to a vote) S. 493, the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011. It is now unclear what the future of the legislation is, as it expires on 31 May and the impasse over legislative specifics with the House of Representatives has not been resolved. The cloture vote was along party lines, with Democrats voting yea and Republicans voting nay.

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