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November Public Policy News

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A LAME DUCK IS ASSURED: Both the Senate and House went into hasty recesses (their earliest pre-election recess since 1960) on September 29 and 30 respectively. In leaving Washington early, they left many pressing issues for resolution. Among the "mega" issues left hanging were extending Bush-era tax cuts and the entire funding of the federal government for FY 2011. Both houses did pass a continuing resolution to fund ongoing government operations through December 3, when most elections will have been decided.

AMERICA COMPETES ACT REAUTHORIZATION UNLIKELY: The Senate is unlikely to bring the America COMPETES Act Reauthorization Act of 2010 to a floor vote this year. Supportive Senate Republicans had been trying to limit COMPETES reauthorization to only those programs covered by the original 2007 legislation, preventing new spending on any programs (like the Department of Energy's ARPA-E program) and limiting the reauthorization period to a three years, as opposed to the 5-year period in the House-passed version of the bill. Many now think that the House-passed reauthorization bill has little likelihood of being voted on in a Lame Duck session.

SPIE SUPPORTS RARE EARTH MATERIALS LEGISLATION: SPIE has communicated its strong support for H.R. 6160, The Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act of 2010. The bill is a reaction to restricted access to existing rare earth supplies from China which are critical to our economy and national security. Rare earth materials are used in many critical high technology products. H.R. 6160 directs the Administration and Department of Energy to accelerate a national response to the rare earth supply crisis. The bill is now pending before the Senate and has been referred to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. SPIE has also recommended that Congress deal with issues related to current rare earth suppliers, institute rare earth recycling programs, and identifying alternative sources of supply immediately. According to the October 19th China Daily, rare earth supplies from China could be reduced by as much as 30% over the next year.

WHAT WILL THE NEXT CONGRESS LOOK LIKE FOR SCIENCE & ENGINEERING ADVOCATES: The House Science and Technology Committee will have a new Chairman and many new faces. A wave of retirements will include Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), who has been on the panel since joining the House in 1985 and has been its top Democrat since 2004. Late last year, second-ranking Jerry Costello (D-IL) said he would seek the chairmanship, and he remains a likely heir to the top Democratic seat. Representatives Brian Baird (D-WA) and Vern Ehlers (R-MI) - ranking member on the subcommittee on Research and Science Education - also plan to leave.

HALL AS NEW HOUSE SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Ralph Hall (R-TX) is in line to lead the top science panel, the House Science & Technology Committee. In September, he indicated his interest in the position. Hall's flip from the Democratic to the Republican party in 2004, however, might keep him from a top post if the GOP leadership is in search of a younger and more partisan voice. If the GOP leadership wants a more partisan environment, it might tap Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), currently the science panel's second-ranking Republican. Sensenbrenner served a stint as the panel's Chairman in the 1990's. During a recent briefing on the topic at which SPIE was present, panelists speculated that, if Hall does win the Chairmanship, he would be inclined to prioritize research investments towards energy research and development, cutting out duplication among research facilities, science and technology education, small nuclear reactor development, and human space flight.

TIPS SEEKS COMMENT ON WHITE PAPERS AND ISSUES CALL FOR WHITE PAPERS : The NIST Technology Innovation Program (TIP) is seeking comments on White Papers prepared by TIP staff and has issued a new call for White Papers to help shape TIP's collaborative outreach and future competitions. Comments will assist in the refinement of areas of critical national need and the associated technical challenges that could be addressed in future TIP competitions. Details available at http://www.nist.gov/tip/wp/index.cfm.

UK SCIENCE FUNDING ESCAPES MAJOR CUTS: Funding of scientific research in the UK has escaped the dramatic cuts that were feared by many, following publication of the UK government's long-awaited Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). In addition, cash will be invested in a new network of technology centers, and to support technology commercialization.

Rather than face direct cuts, the science budget will be frozen in cash terms for the next four years. While that still represents a cut of some 10% over the period in real terms, spending on science has been largely protected from an overall cut of 25% over four years to the budget of the UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Science funding currently accounts for £4.6 billion of the annual £21.2 billion spent by BIS. See http://optics.org/news/1/5/17 for additional detail.

SEEING PHOTONS, NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (NRC) REPORT RELEASED: The National Research Council released Seeing Photons: Progress and Limits of Visible and Infrared Sensor Arrays, a report on key visible and infrared detector technologies with potential military utility that are likely to be developed in the next 10-15 years. This study is the eighth in a series sponsored by the Defense Warning Office (DWO) and executed under the auspices of the NRC TIGER (Technology Insight-Gauge, Evaluate, and Review) Standing Committee.

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