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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 that 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: S. 493, the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011, is currently under consideration by the full Senate and may be voted upon as early as early May. If not reauthorized soon, SBIR authority will expire on 31 May. Congress has extended SBIR reauthorization on a temporary basis at least nine times in the past two years.
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