Bills In Brief

Bridges vol. 39, May 2014 / Bills In Brief

This Bridges Bills in Brief is brought to you, in part, by the “Science and Technology in Congress” newsletter, a publication of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress, covering the latest science-related news on Capitol Hill.

 President Obama Releases FY 2015 Budget Request

On March 4, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the President's FY 2015 budget request to Congress. The budget proposes $3.9 trillion in total outlays. Of this total, roughly 63 percent is mandatory spending, and roughly 30 percent is discretionary spending (the rest is net interest). By comparison, in FY 2010, the split was 55 percent mandatory, 39 percent discretionary (where the majority of R&D funding is housed).

The expected deficit is pegged at $564 billion, an improvement from last year. The budget matches the $1.014 trillion discretionary spending cap agreed to by Congress in December, although the President has proposed an additional $56 billion in discretionary spending on top of this cap, via what is being called the "Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative."

R&D in the President's Budget: According to AAAS analysis, total R&D funding would amount to $136.5 billion, an increase of $734 million (0.5 percent) above FY 2014 levels. This also represents a $4.4 billion (3.4 percent) increase over FY 2013 sequester levels. The increase does not allow for inflation, expected to reach 1.7 percent this year, so total R&D funding would actually decline slightly in inflation-adjusted dollars. Defense R&D would be 0.3 percent above FY 2014 levels, while nondefense R&D would increase by 0.8 percent. Among the agencies, the largest increases would occur within the Department of Energy (DOE), particularly the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department’s low-carbon technology programs, and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The US Geological Survey, the Department of Commerce R&D agencies, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) would also receive relatively moderate boosts. Few agencies beyond these would keep pace with inflation.

As mentioned above, the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative would provide an additional $5.3 billion in R&D. This amount includes nearly $1 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than $500 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and nearly $900 million for the national Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The initiative would also fund a national network of 45 manufacturing innovation institutes in partnership with industry. However, all this additional funding would require Congress to raise the current discretionary spending cap, or make some attempt to secure the additional R&D funding through cuts elsewhere. To date, Congress has been unwilling to entertain this additional funding.

NSF Highlights: The FY 2015 budget request for the National Science Foundation is $7.25 billion, an increase of 1.2 percent over the FY 2014 estimate. Of that request, Research and Related Activities would receive $5.72 billion, which is $2 million less than the FY 2014 estimate. According the NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett, the Administration’s request, if funded by Congress, would help to support 11,000 research grant awards to 2,000 institutions and support 300,000 individual researchers.

NIH Highlights: The NIH budget request of $30.2 billion is an increase of $200 million above FY 2014. According to Dr. Kathy Hudson, NIH Deputy Director for Science, Outreach and Policy, the request would allow the agency to award 329 (4 percent) more grants than in 2014 and 1,092 (13 percent) more than in 2013. NIH is requesting $100 million (an increase of $60 million) for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative to support development of new tools for mapping brain circuitry and measuring brain activity. In addition, Hudson noted NIH’s request for $30 million within the Common Fund to launch a new research program modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

USDA Highlights: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) request for FY 2015 is $2.4 billion, an increase of $29 million (1.2 percent) above the FY 2014 estimate. According to Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics, the request includes $1.14 billion for the Agricultural Research Service; $1.5 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which includes $325 million for the competitive Agriculture Food Research Initiative; $83 million for the Economic Research Service; and $179 million for the National Agricultural Statistics Service. In  addition, Woteki announced that the USDA is proposing the creation of three “Innovation Institutes” to be funded at $25 million per institute each year to focus on research in three critical areas: Pollinator Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, and a National Network for Bioproducts Manufacturing Innovation.

DOE Highlights: The President requested $27.9 billion for the DOE, which represents 2.6 percent more than the level enacted in FY 2014. The Office of Science, which houses most of DOE’s fundamental science, would receive $5.1 billion, 0.9 percent more than levels enacted in FY 2014. Priorities outside the Office of Science include ARPA-E, which would receive a 16.1 percent increase to $325 million, and energy efficiency/renewables, which would receive a 21.9 percent increase to $2.3 billion. Meanwhile, research on reactors, on fossil fuels, and on grid cybersecurity would all experience moderate-funding decreases.

NASA Highlights: The budget requests $11.6 billion for NASA R&D, 99 percent of the FY 2014 levels. Within NASA, the Science and the Aeronautics directorates would both be reduced from FY 2014 levels, as would development activities related to the Orion Crew Vehicle and the Space Launch System. The Science budget would decline to $5 billion (a decrease of 3.5 percent), with only the Heliophysics program receiving an increase. Aeronautics funding would decline to $551 million (a decrease of 2.7 percent). However, activities slated to receive boosts include Exploration Systems R&D and the Space Technology Directorate. All programs would benefit from the proposed Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.

STEM Education: The President’s FY 2015 budget also includes a requestof $2.9 billion for federal agency science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs, as well as a range of program consolidations and eliminations within nine federal departments and agencies. Overall, the budget request would consolidate or eliminate a total of 31 STEM programs for a total savings of $145 million. It was noted during the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) press conference that these consolidations were implemented within the federal agencies rather than transferring programs between agencies as was proposed last year. In addition, agencies are to continue to “coordinate to implement the Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan through the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM).” Additional details are found in the OMB budget section
on Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings, page 157.

Special Programs: The President’s budget funds three long-running interagency initiatives. The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) would receive $2.5 billion, a 0.5 percent increase over estimated FY 2014 levels. USGCRP is a multiagency program (NSF, DOE, Commerce, USDA, Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NIH, NASA, Smithsonian, and DOT) that coordinates federal research on climate change and the impacts of and vulnerabilities to global change. The Networking and IT R&D (NITRD) Program, which receives its largest contributions from the Departments of Defense and Energy and the National Science Foundation, would receive $3.8 billion, 2.9 percent below FY 2014 levels. Lastly, the National Nanotechnology Initiative would receive $1.5 billion, flat funding from FY 2014 levels.

The newest interagency project, the BRAIN Initiative, would double its total funding: from $100 million in FY 2014 to $200 million in FY 2015. The program coordinates research within DARPA, NIH, and NSF whose goal is to understand brain function and potentially develop more effective treatments or preventive measures for various brain diseases. In FY 2015, NIH will provide $100 million, DARPA $80 million, and NSF an additional $20 million.

FY 2014 Appropriations Finalized

On January 17, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (HR 3547), providing appropriations for the remainder of the 2014 fiscal year. The bill operates within the framework established by the December budget deal, with the overall discretionary spending limit of $1.012 trillion rolling back half of the scheduled spending reductions following sequestration.

AAAS estimates place FY 2014 R&D at 2.6 percent above FY 2013 estimates and 4.4 percent below FY 2012 levels. However, defense and nondefense R&D will move in opposite directions. Defense R&D will decline to 1.6 percent below FY 2013 post-sequester estimates and 10 percent below FY 2012 levels, while nondefense R&D will increase to 7.6 percent above FY 2013 post-sequester estimates and 2.5 percent above FY 2012 levels.

Under the omnibus spending bill, many R&D departments and agencies received at least a modest funding increase above sequester levels, and some fared better than expected. For instance, the DOE’s Office of Science, NASA’s science and technology programs, and research programs at the Department of Agriculture all ended up closer to the higher spending levels recommended by the Senate than to the lower House figures; and DOE’s low-carbon energy technology programs avoided the stringent cuts proposed by the House. However, NIH funding will remain roughly $700 million below FY 2012 levels, and the US Geological Survey and EPA also do not return to 2012 levels.

Even with some positive outcomes for certain agencies, overall federal R&D could drop to 0.80 percent of the GDP, an all-time low since World War II. Visit this analysis on the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program site for additional details and links to agency breakdowns.

The FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill also contains language regarding public access to research and government travel restrictions. Within the Labor-HHS portion of the bill (page 1020) is language that would require researchers who receive federal funding from agencies funded via Labor-
HHS to make their accepted research manuscripts publicly available within 12 months. This language mirrors the NIH policy that has existed for a number of years and would extend its reach to several other agencies funded within Labor-HHS (e.g., Education and the CDC).

Elsewhere within the omnibus bill is language that would place a cap of no more than 50 federal employees attending international conferences. In addition, it would lay out a series of reporting requirements to improve transparency regarding government travel, including information about total costs of government-sponsored conferences and contracting procedures.

The America COMPETES Act

On March 10, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) introduced the Republicans’ version of the America COMPETES Act, entitled the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and
Technology Act (FIRST Act, H.R. 4186). The legislation authorizes funding for two years (FY 2014-2015) and would increase funding for NSF by 1.5 percent per year and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by 1.0 percent per year. The Committee will introduce a second bill at a later date to focus on DOE’s Office of Science. The subcommittee marked up FIRST on March 13. The previous week, Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced a Democrat-sponsored bill to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The legislation (H.R. 4159) authorizes annual increases of 5 percent for five years for NSF, the DOE’s Office of Science, and NIST. A more detailed analysis of these bills will appear in the next issue of STC.

American Cures Act

On March 12, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) gave a speech on “Innovation and Discovery” at the Center for National Policy. At the event, he presented plans to introduce legislation that would provide alternative funding for biomedical research outside the traditional appropriations process. The American Cures Act (S. 2115) would create a trust fund generated via a tobacco tax with the goal of producing a total of $150 billion in funding over 10 years.

The Electricity Security and Affordability Act

In a largely partisan 229-183 vote, the House passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act (H.R. 3826). The bill would prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon emissions from new coal-fired electricity plants. It would also require the agency to set an effective date for new rules that apply to existing power plants.

Forensic Science and Standards Act

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) has reintroduced the Forensic Science and Standards Act. The bill has been updated in response to the government's launch of a National Commission on Forensic Science and other federal initiatives. It would require development and implementation of science-based standards for forensic science as well as a forensic-science research strategy.

Secret Science Reform Act

As a continuation of an ongoing battle (including a subpoena of the agency) between the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the EPA over access to scientific data utilized to develop policies and regulations, the committee has introduced the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4012). The legislation would prohibit the EPA from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations and other policy actions unless “all scientific and technical information” is “publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” The legislation was the subject of a hearing on February 11.

Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act

On February 4, the US House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the use of federal grants for improving medical responses to a chemical or biological strike. The Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act (H.R. 1791) amends the 2002 Homeland Security Act to authorize use of the Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program funding for enhancing medical preparedness, medical surge capacity, and mass prophylaxis capabilities. This incorporates "the development and maintenance of an initial pharmaceutical stockpile" and includes "medical kits and diagnostics sufficient to protect first responders, their families, immediate victims, and vulnerable populations from a chemical or biological event." The Act awaits consideration in the Senate.

Farm Bill

On January 27, House and Senate conferees released a final agreement on the Farm Bill (H.R. 2642). The bill authorizes funding for competitive agriculture research grants and other research programs in fields such as biomass. In related news, the final conference agreement omits a controversial section, known as the “Sound Science Act,” that was included in the House version of the Farm Bill. AAAS had previously issued a letter to the House and Senate conferees expressing concern that the overly prescriptive language would hamstring agencies, preventing the use of a range of science to set policies and regulations, and could only encourage more legal challenges.

Agency Updates

As part of a review of ways in which big data can affect society – including implications for privacy, the economy, and public policy – the White House OSTP has issued a request for information (RFI) related to big data. The request poses certain questions about the public policy implications, the use of big data to support government functions, and appropriate policy frameworks. Comments are due March 31.

On February 28, the National Science and Technology Council released the 2014 National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan, which is the framework that underpins the nanotechnology work of the National Nanotechnology Initiative agencies. The Plan aims to ensure that advances in and applications of nanotechnology continue, while addressing potential concerns about future and existing applications.

On February 20, the White House announced a series of Executive Actions “to encourage innovation and further strengthen the quality and accessibility of the patent system.” The first initiative involves a US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) crowdsourcing effort to facilitate ways for the general public to contribute to “prior art” and authorize patent examiners to determine whether an invention is novel. A second executive action creates a new training program that will enable experts from industry and academia to provide patent examiners with a better understanding of S&T innovations.
Finally, the USPTO will expand pro bono services.

The National Science Board last month released the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators publication. The report indicates that a group of Asian economies – including India, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and others – have surpassed the United States in total share of global R&D expenditures. However, the United States remains by far the largest single global funder of R&D.

The NIH, 10 biopharmaceutical companies, and several nonprofits have launched the Accelerating Medicines Partnership. The aim of the partnership is to “distinguish the biological targets of disease most likely to respond to new therapies and characterize biological indicators of disease.” The partnership will invest $230 million over five years on projects in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. All data and analyses resulting from the partnership will be available to the public.

The Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station (ISS) programs until at least 2024. The extension will “allow NASA to complete necessary research activities aboard the ISS in support of planned long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit” and will also provide more time for the commercial space industry to take over low-Earth-
orbit crew and cargo transportation from NASA.

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