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June 2013 Public Policy News

28 June: US National Photonics Initiative In-District Visit Campaign: The multi-society supported National Photonics Initiative effort launched on 23 May with the release of a white paper detailing recommendations for national leadership in optics and photonics. Organizers are encouraging the community to reach out to their congressional representatives and to invite them to tour at photonics companies and universities during summer congressional recess (8/5-9/6) and showcase photonics and the impact that it has in your community. Download an informational brochure on hosting a successful congressional visit; additional information about the National Photonics Initiative is available at www.LightOurFuture.org/

28 June: House Science Committee Draft of New NASA Bill: A 90-minute hearing earlier this month by the House Subcommittee on Space demonstrated difficulties on enacting legislation providing budget and policy guidance to NASA for FY 2014 and FY 2015. NASA is currently operating under authorization legislation that expires this year. The discussion draft of the new bill that the Republican members and staff of the subcommittee wrote would establish authorization levels - or spending caps - on NASA's programs. The bill would not provide the actual money; that is the function of appropriations legislation. The new bill also seeks to establish or reaffirm previous policy guidance. There are stark differences of opinion among the subcommittee members about both spending limits and policy guidance. Read more

21 June: Science Committee Hearing on NASA and NSF Exoplanet Programs: A joint hearing last month by two subcommittees of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee - the Subcommittee on Space and Subcommittee on Research - provided ample evidence of enthusiastic bipartisan support for NASA and NSF programs to discover new planets orbiting stars other than our Sun.

The current NASA budget provides approximately $41 million for exoplanet research, which would increase to $55 million in the FY 2014 administration request. The agency supports exoplanet research through the Kepler Space Telescope, the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Telescope, and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. In addition to the 2018 launch of the Webb Space Telescope, NASA will be constructing the Explorer Mission Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and possibly the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. NSF support is provided through the Division of Astronomical Sciences, providing about $10 million annually for exoplanet research. Read more

21 June: Science Committee Discusses President's STEM Education Reorganization Proposal: A hearing held by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to review the Administration's earlier this month proposed consolidation and reorganization of federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs demonstrated bi-partisan hesitation about the plan. As the Committee looks into the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, Members on both sides of the aisle were interested in examining the proposed changes to STEM education particularly as they relate to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Read more

21 June: The National Science and Technology Council's Committee on STEM Education Releases 5-Year Strategic Plan: The President's FY 2014 budget request includes a 6.7 percent increase for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education while reducing the number of federal STEM education programs from 226 to 110. The FY 2014 proposal eliminates 78 federal STEM education programs and consolidates 38 programs. Fourteen federal agencies have STEM education programs and the President's proposal consolidates those education programs into three agencies, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution.

These changes are outlined in a 5-year Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, released May 31, that is aimed at defining the Administration's path forward for the restructuring of federal STEM education programs. The Strategic Plan was a requirement set by the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010 and was prepared by the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the National Science and Technology Council. Included in the Plan is a FY 2011 inventory of STEM education programs. Read more

The five priority investment areas for STEM education include:

  • Improve STEM Instruction: Prepare 100,000 excellent new K-12 STEM teachers by 2020, and support the existing STEM teacher workforce;
  • Increase and Sustain Youth and Public Engagement in STEM: Support a 50 percent increase in the number of U.S. youth who have an authentic STEM experience each year prior to completing high school;
  • Enhance STEM Experience of Undergraduate Students: Graduate one million additional students with degrees in STEM fields over the next 10 years;
  • Better Serve Groups Historically Under-represented in STEM Fields: Increase the number of students from groups that have been underrepresented in STEM fields that graduate with STEM degrees in the next 10 years and improve women's participation in areas of STEM where they are significantly underrepresented; and,
  • Design Graduate Education for Tomorrow's STEM Workforce: Provide graduate-trained STEM professionals with basic and applied research expertise, options to acquire specialized skills in areas of national importance, mission-critical workforce needs for the CoSTEM agencies, and ancillary skills needed for success in a broad range of careers.

4 June 2013: SPIE participates in launch of International Year of Light at United Nations: Optics and photonics leaders from around the world including President-Elect Philip Stahl of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, last month presented the widely supported "International Year of Light" (IYL) proposal to representatives from United Nations (UN) Member States and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the UN Headquarters in New York. The 16 May meeting was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN, which, along with Ghana, New Zealand, and the Russian Federation, submitted the original IYOL proposal to the UNESCO Executive Board in October 2012. Following that board's adoption of the proposed resolution, 30 more countries became cosignatories. With UNESCO endorsement for the IYOL and last month's meeting, the proposal will now move forward towards consideration for adoption by the UN General Assembly. Read more here.

3 June 2013: New survey to assess impact of sequester on science community: A new survey sponsored by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has been opened to gather input from the scientific community about the impacts of the sequester. This data will be converted into report with both statistics and anecdotal stories. If you are interested in participating, the survey can be found here. This survey was recently featured on SPIE's blog, Photonics for a Better World.