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February 2012 Public Policy News

February 29, 2012: John Holdren meets with House appropriators: Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren meet with key House appropriators on Wednesday to discuss the Obama Administration's FY 2013 request for research and development programs. In his written testimony, Holdren described three "jewel-in-the-crown" agencies that "have been identified as especially important to this Nation's continued economic leadership" -- the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Regarding the Administration's FY 2013 request for the three agencies, he said:

"In recognition of the immense leverage these three agencies offer and their key role in maintaining America's preeminence in the global marketplace, Congress and this Administration have worked together to put total funding for these agencies on a doubling trajectory. New funding levels set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 mean delaying the original target completion date for doubling these budgets. But the 2013 Budget maintains the doubling commitment with a 4.3 percent increase between 2012 and 2013 for the three agencies' combined budgets, totaling $13.1 billion. I want to emphasize that the proposed increases for these agencies are part of a fiscally responsible budget focused on deficit reduction, meaning these increases are fully offset by cuts in other programs."

February 15, 2012: SPIE signs onto letter in opposition of the Grant Reform and Transparency Act: SPIE, along with 83 other organizations, signed onto a letter sent by the Coalition for National Science Funding regarding the Grant Act recently introduced in Congress. The Grant Act, which requires the disclosure of peer reviewers, was passed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last November. The letter can be found here.

February 13, 2012: President Obama releases 2013 federal budget request: The President's Budget Request (PBR) was released on February 13. Overall Science & Engineering R&D spending for key agencies is either reduced from FY 2012 levels or, in the case of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 agencies, "delayed." SPIE released a press release today, saying it was "pleased" with the budget's support for photonics R&D.

Office of Science & Technology Policy Director Dr. John Holdren told a briefing held February 14 "the President thinks that it (the PBR for Federal R&D spending) is absolutely key to the country's future to continue to make these investments in research and development and STEM education in order to have the sort of future that I think all Americans want and expect." Republicans issued their own response to the R&D proposals in the budget.

Holdren explained further: The FY 2013 request sent to Congress yesterday was formulated under a tight budget cap that required the administration to make difficult choices across the entire spectrum of government services and programs. Funding would remain roughly flat for the National Institutes of Health, and decline somewhat for NASA. Total funding for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the laboratory and research facilities construction programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would increase by 4.4 percent. The Administration's emphasis on these agencies continues the attention that have been given to them since President George W. Bush called for their funding to be doubled in his 2006 State of the Union address. The more than half-billion dollar increase President Obama requested for these three agencies is distributed as follows:

  • Department of Energy's Office of Science: Up $127 million or 2.6 percent
  • National Science Foundation: Up $340 million or 4.8 percent
  • NIST Scientific and Technical Research and Services, and Construction of Research Facilities accounts up $86 million or 13.8 percent

Holdren continued: "The original schedule for budget doubling called for it to be reached within ten years. That would require annual increases of 7 percent, a target that has proven to be quite elusive for most programs. While the time frame has been shifted, the administration's goal remains intact.

The PBR for 2013 would see total federal R&D increase by 1.4 percent. Other details:

  • Total federal R&D would increase 1.4 percent
  • Non-defense R&D would increase 5.0 percent,
  • Federal basic and applied research would increase 3.3 percent
  • Defense-related R&D would decline 1.5 percent
  • Total R&D facilities and equipment would increase 10.9 percent
  • The National Nanotechnology Initiative would increase 4.1 percent

February 7, 2012: President Obama hosts White House Science Fair: The President hosted over 100 student winners of science fairs from across the country to the second annual White House Science Fair. The students represented over 40 different STEM competitions and were also greeted by several science officials in the Administration. President Obama gave a speech at the event, saying, "This is important. This is what's going to make a difference in this country over the long haul. This is what inspires me and gets me up every day. This is what we should be focusing on in our public debates." He called for an "all-hands-on-deck approach to science, math, technology and engineering and said, "The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation - that's an idea as old as America itself."

February 3, 2012: 2012 Science and Engineering Indicators released: The National Science Board has released "Science and Engineering Indicators 2012," a report that highlights major developments in international and US science technology, with an emphasis on broad trends in areas such as science and technology education, R&D expenditures and public attitudes toward science. Some highlights from the report include:

  • U.S. R&D expenditures ($400 billion) in 2009 accounted for about 31% of the worldwide total ($1.3 trillion), down from 38% a decade earlier.
  • The business sector still accounts for most of the U.S. R&D performance and funding, performing an estimated $282 billion in R&D in 2009 (71% of the U.S. total),while funding an estimated $247 billion (some of the R&D was funded by other sources).
  • The academic sector is the second largest performer of U.S. R&D, accounting for an estimated $54 billion in 2009 (14% of the total).
  • The federal government is the second largest funder of U.S. R&D, providing $124 billion in 2009 (31% of the total).
  • Basic research accounted for approximately $76 billion of total U.S. R&D performance in 2009 (19% of total), while applied research accounted for $71 billion (18%) and development about $253 billion (63%).
  •  In the past two decades, U.S. students' mathematics scores on national assessments have improved; however, U.S. 15-year-olds tend to score lower than the international average in mathematics and about the same as the international average in science.
  • The U.S. S&E workforce has grown faster than the workforce overall and now represents about 4.3% of all U.S. jobs.
  • Recently, more than half of U.S. patents have gone to non-U.S. awardees (inventors in the EU and Japan produce most of these patents, but they have been joined by Asian inventors, chiefly in Taiwan and South Korea).