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May 2013 Public Policy News

May 31 2013: OMB announces new guidelines on government conference travel: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued new guidance to all federal agencies that acknowledges the need for federal employees to attend mission-related conferences and provides some best practices for approving travel and conference expenses. The new guidance specifically refers to the importance of scientific conferences: "Bringing together Federal employees at a single location such as for program reviews or technical evaluations, presentation of scientific findings, oversight boards or advisory group meetings, international engagements, and standards-setting committees-may be the most efficient and cost-effective means for reviewing Government-sponsored efforts, issues, or challenges. Several agencies rely on meetings with industry and academic colleagues to drive innovation and ensure continued advancement in related fields." Read the full text of the letter here.

29 May 2013: Obama Administration identifies R&D as critical to U.S. economic growth: A three-page memorandum was sent to the heads of federal departments and agencies on May 29 from Sylvia Burwell, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, providing guidance for the development of the FY 2015 budget. The memo states: "The 2015 Budget should continue to build on the President's plan, by reducing spending on lower priority programs in order to create room for effective investments in areas critical to economic growth and job creation, including education, innovation, infrastructure, and research and development." Access the new memo

23 May 2013: U.S. National Photonics Initiative launched: Today, SPIE, along with The American Physical Society (APS), IEEE Photonics Society, Laser Institute of America (LIA) and the Optical Society (OSA) announced the launch of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), a collaborative alliance seeking to unite industry, academia and government experts to identify and advance areas of photonics critical to maintaining US competitiveness and national security. "The EU, Germany, Korea, Taiwan, and China all recognize the importance of photonics, and have taken action," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, has long supported photonics, but more photonics research is needed to maintain our national security in the face of non-traditional threats. The time is now for the U.S. to make the right investments in the crucial capabilities of the future."

In 2012, the National Research Council released "Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation" that called for a national photonics initiative to regain U.S. leadership in key photonic-driven fields. In response to that call, the NPI was established to raise awareness about photonics and the impact of photonics on our everyday lives; increase collaboration and coordination among US industry, government and academia to advance photonics-driven fields; and drive U.S. funding and investment in areas of photonics critical to maintaining U.S. competitiveness and national security. As part of the NPI effort, more than 100 experts from industry, academia and government collaborated to draft a white paper detailing recommendations to guide funding and investment in five key photonics-driven fields: advanced manufacturing, communications and information technology, defense and national security, health and medicine and energy. New opportunities in these fields such as 3D printing, more efficient solar power, improved nuclear threat identification, more accurate cancer detection and the growth of Internet speeds and capacity, offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades. Find more information

10 May 2013: NSF responds to inquiry from House Science Committee: Three former directors of the National Science Foundation, eighteen former Assistant Directors, and three former Chairmen of the National Science Board have written to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee asking them to "forego any further action on the process envisioned in this draft legislation and the request contained in the April 25 letter to the Foundation." The bill they refer to is the proposed High Quality Research Act; the letter was to the Acting Director of the National Science Foundation requesting detailed information on five grants awarded by the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. In the letter, they caution: "We believe that this draft bill and the request to the Foundation will have a chilling and detrimental impact on the merit-based review process and the participation of an estimated 60,000 of the world's most outstanding researchers and educators with relevant scientific and technical expertise who voluntarily assist the Nation by reviewing proposals submitted to the Foundation."

The National Science Foundation itself has also refused the request from the House Committee in a letter to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), defending the need to preserve the confidentiality of the peer-review process. Find more information

SPIE has also signed onto a letter to Rep. Smith with over a hundred other organizations, stressing the importance of the confidential peer-review process.