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November Public Policy News

November 26, 2011: Funding approved for key science agencies: Congress has passed a so-called Budget Minibus that includes funding for several key science agencies, including the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, and NOAA.  Proponents of passing a series of “minibuses” failed however, to get other agencies funded in like manner.  As of this writing, an Omnibus appropriations bill (containing nine agencies) is now stalled as part of Congressional negotiations over the extension of the payroll tax.  Things are expected to be resolved prior to the December 17 deadline (achieved through yet another extension of FY 2012 spending authority in mid-November).  Of most concern to science advocates is the fate of the Department of Energy (DOE) budget.  While DOE’s Office of Science component appears to be headed toward a modest increase of (3.9% Senate versus 3% House), severe cuts are anticipated in other parts of the agency’s portfolio, including the “green” energy area plagued by problems and a recent funding scandal.  And the Department of Defense (DOD) funding bill shows about a 1.7% decrease from FY 2011 for 6.1 – 6.3 R&D activities.

November 25, 2011: Congressional Super Committee fails to reach agreement: The much-anticipated budget cutting efforts of the Congressional Super Committee — appointed as a stopgap compromise during last summer’s impasse over raising the federal debt ceiling — ended in failure on November 21.  By failing to agree upon how the federal government can enact a series of spending cuts and/or tax increases to address the budget deficit, the Super Committee’s inaction will result in mandatory “sequestration” of federal funds beginning in January 2013.  At that time, significant across-the-board cuts will be required  for most federal agencies and programs.  However, with the 2012 elections occurring before this deadline, it is possible that an agreement could be reached before this time.

November 20, 2011: Congress passes short-term SBIR extension: As part of H.R. 2112, the appropriations bill that was passed by Congress this week, SBIR and STTR programs have been extended for another 29 days. The bill provides an additional temporary extension of SBIR, STTR, and Commercialization Pilot Programs until December 16, 2011. This marks the 14th extension of the programs since 2008. SPIE recently issued a press release calling on Congress to pass legislation that would extend the programs for the long-term, ending confusion and uncertainty for small businesses. Read the full release here. 

November 18, 2011: NASA/NSF/NIST funding bill signed into law: Yesterday the House and Senate passed H.R. 2112, providing funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  The President signed this appropriations bill into law today. Under this legislation funding for the three agencies would change as follows (as compared to the current level):

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: Down 3.5 percent
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology: Up 0.1 percent
  • National Science Foundation: Up 2.5 percent

As was mentioned a few days ago, the final agreement includes $529.6 million in funding for the James Webb Space Telescope. Additionally, total funding for all the departments and agencies funded through the three appropriations bills (Agriculture; Commerce-Justice-Science; Transportation-HUD) in H.R. 2112 is higher than that originally proposed in two House bills.  In almost all instances, final funding is significantly less than that requested by the Obama Administration.  Total funding in the Commerce-Justice-Science portion of the bill (in which NASA, NIST, and NSF are funded) is 7 percent less than the Administration requested, and about 1 percent less than current levels.

November 16, 2011: SPIE urges support of Senate SBIR proposals as expiration deadline nears: SPIE is urging support for the Senate version of a bill that would extend the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program for an additional eight years. The deadline for the program to expire is November 18, 2011. If Congress takes no action, the program to aid small businesses and start-ups will end, eliminating a vital stream of new jobs and economic growth. Read the full press release here.

November 15, 2011: Congress votes to save James Webb Space Telescope: Members of the House and Senate reached a compromise on a 2012 spending bill for NASA that will preserve funding for the highly-debated James Webb Space Telescope. Under the new agreement, the telescope will receive $529.6 million for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012. The appropriations legislation passed the House by a vote of 298-121 and the Senate by a vote of 70-30. SPIE had previously weighed in, urging Congress to restore the funding that had been cut in the original House budget proposal.

November 2, 2011: SPIE signs onto letter urging Congress to prioritize STEM Ed in budget negotiations: SPIE signed onto a letter highlighting the case for sustaining STEM education investments at the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation as a national priority for U.S. competitiveness. In what has been a very chaotic year for the federal budget, there have been numerous threats to STEM Ed funding and the letter, which can be viewed in its entirety here, calls on the House and Senate leadership to prioritize funding for STEM Ed programs in the remaining FY2012 negotiations.

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