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October 2012 Public Policy News

October 25, 2012: National Academies releases report on Department of Defense's STEM workforce: A new report from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council urges the Department of Defense to overhaul its recruitment practices and reassess its requirement for security clearances for some science, technology, engineering and math positions. According to the report: "The ability of the nation's military to prevail during future conflicts, and to fulfill its humanitarian and other missions, depends on continued advances in the nation's technology base. A workforce with robust Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) capabilities is critical to sustaining U.S. preeminence. Today, however, the STEM activities of the Department of Defense (DOD) are a small and diminishing part of the nation's overall science and engineering enterprise."

October 23, 2012: Concern increases over U.S. government restrictions on attending conferences: Recent government-wide restrictions on federal travel and meetings as part of an effort to curb wasteful spending are beginning to have serious ramifications for scientific societies and other coordinating groups. The Office of Management and Budget released a memo to federal agencies in May, directing them to spend at least 30 percent less on travel expenses, and an accompanying memo outlined new rules that require Deputy Secretaries to review any conference where the agency spending could exceed $100,000. The New York Times recently published an article outlining the concerns over whether these restrictions are negatively impacting the need of government employees to gain the training and information necessary to serve the public, and the ramifications for societies hosting conferences.

October 15, 2012: U.S. Air Force releases FY12 Air Force Defense Research and Development Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) solicitation: The U.S. Air Force has issued a broad agency announcement soliciting white papers, mostly from small businesses, to for the swift development of technology that addresses service needs. The due date for the required White Paper is November 27, 2012 by 3:00 p.m. If your White Paper is judged to be technically acceptable as evaluated against criteria published in this BAA, you will be allowed to submit a proposal, due February 8, 2013. Total program value is $50.0M; however, no individual award is anticipated to exceed $3M, and the AF expects to offer 16 or more awards. The Air Force's RIF was established by the Department of Defense as aprt of the Defense Authorization Act of 2011. See more information on the soliciation for proposals.

October 8, 2012: U.S. Office of Management and Budget responds to possible budget cuts: Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a bulletin to the heads of federal agencies, instructing them to "continue normal spending and operations" as the budget climate continues to be uncertain. Legislation passed by Congress last year, as part of the negotiations on raising the debt ceiling, will lead to automatic cuts in almost all of this year's discretionary spending. The budget cuts of 8.2% (non-defense) and 9.4% (defense) are set to take place on January 2, 2013. It is this looming threat which prompted the OMB to issue its bulletin, stating, "The Administration continues to urge Congress to pass a balanced package of deficit reduction that would replace the potential sequestration on January 2, 2013 . . . . If necessary, the Bulletin will be amended to address that sequestration. Unless and until the Bulletin is amended, however, agencies should continue normal spending and operations." The Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) has released his own report outlining what he anticipates the impact of the budget cuts to be. Items of note from the report include:

  • "Funding for the National Science Foundation would be cut by approximately $580 million compared to FY 2012, including a cut of $471 million from research grants and $68 million from STEM education programs. At this level, NSF would fund 1,600 fewer research and education grants, supporting approximately 19,300 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than in FY 2012."
  • "Sequestration would cut $423 million from Science and ARPA-E at the Department of Energy. Federally supported basic research has been a reliable source of new knowledge and new products. This cut would significantly curtail fundamental research in areas of science that are a key to our nation's prosperity and to preserving America's place as the world leader in science and technology. Given the long time horizons necessary to make significant progress in the area of science, Federal support of fundamental research is necessary and an investment that the private sector, with its required attention to short term earnings, cannot support."
  • "Funding cuts would cripple NASA's efforts to establish U.S. commercial capability to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station. These cuts would effectively extend the period of U.S. dependence on Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft for these flights, now that the space shuttle has been retired. Thus, the cut would not be a true savings, as the U.S. would need to pay Russia for additional Soyuz flights, at a cost of at least $63 million per seat."
  • "The National Institutes of Health would lose about $2.5 billion from sequestration. A large portion of NIH's budget provides research project grants. Under sequestration, about 2,400 fewer research project grants would be made to universities and institutes throughout the country for research into the causes and treatments of diseases like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and epilepsy."