From the Hill
“From the Hill” is adapted from the e-newsletter Policy Alert, published by the Office of Government Relations of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org) in Washington, DC.
House Appropriations smiles on NASA, trims NSF
In mid-May the House Appropriations Committee passed on a voice vote the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Commerce, which houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The overall bill would provide a small increase in research and development (R&D) funding from FY2015, but less than the administration requested, as House appropriators continue to abide by sequester-level spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act. Whereas NASA R&D picked up slightly more than the president’s request, NSF fared less well compared to FY2015 levels:
- • The total NSF budget would increase by 0.7%, which is 4.3% below the request.
- • The total NASA budget would increase by 2.9%, the same level as the request.
- • The total NIST budget would decrease by 1.0%, which is 23.6% below the request.
- • The total NOAA budget would decrease by 5.2%, which is 13.6% below the request.
NSF. The committee fell short of the president’s request for NSF by $329 million, with appropriations below the request for research activities, education programs, and agency operations. The associated committee report specifically “directs NSF to ensure that Mathematical and Physical Sciences; Computer and Information Science and Engineering; Engineering; and Biological Sciences comprise no less than 70% of the funding within Research and Related Activities.” These accounts comprise what committee chair John Culberson (R-TX) has termed “core science,” meaning that geological and social and behavioral research would be significantly cut.
Additionally, the committee provided $146 million for neuroscience and cognitive science activities at NSF, including the BRAIN Initiative; this represents a $46 million increase above FY2015 and includes $3 million for the establishment of a National Brain Observatory working group. The committee also provided $176.6 million for NSF’s advanced manufacturing investments, matching the request and providing a slight increase above FY2015, and kept flat the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), rather than granting the increase sought by the administration.
An amendment offered by Rep. David Price (D-NC) sought to increase NSF funding to match the administration request. Although Price’s amendment failed, Culberson suggested during the proceedings that extra funding could be provided to NSF should a broader deal on discretionary spending be reached.
NASA. The committee granted an overall $519 million increase to NASA, thereby matching the president’s request and allowing the agency budget to keep pace with inflation. It would also keep NASA’s budget ahead of the overall spending curve, as the discretionary budget is slated to increase by only 0.2% in FY2016. However, spending would be reallocated among various agency programs to achieve the “balanced portfolio” sought by Republicans.
The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) remains a source of enduring tension, given claims that SMD’s budget has received a disproportionate increase and that it is taking on climate science programs better left to NOAA and U.S. Geological Survey. Under the committee’s CJS bill, the Earth Sciences program would be cut and funding shifted to Planetary Science, building on previous Republican efforts to increase funding for a robotic mission to Europa. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) offered and subsequently withdrew for lack of support an amendment to increase funding for NASA Earth Science to equal the president’s request.
The committee would also eliminate an increase sought for NASA’s Space Technology program, which contains funding for the administration’s controversial proposal for an Asteroid Redirect Mission. The Aeronautics Research Directorate would be cut, but not by as much as requested.
NASA’s human exploration activities, which include the Orion crew vehicle and Space Launch System (SLS) program, would receive a substantial increase from the president’s request, continuing the long-standing dispute between Congress and the administration over the importance of building SLS. The House appropriations bill does provide an increase for Commercial Spaceflight in FY2016, but 19.6% less than what the president had hoped for.
NIST and NOAA. Appropriations for the two major R&D agencies in the Department of Commerce fell far short of what the administration requested for next fiscal year.
NIST funding would remain 23.6% below the president’s request, and any increases would be limited to NIST’s laboratory programs, including those for cybersecurity and disaster resiliency. Funding for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership would stay flat, and the committee declined a requested increase for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a multi-agency initiative to establish public-private manufacturing institutes across the country.
NOAA received considerably less than what the president requested. Where divergence occurs to a significant degree is within the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which carries out climate research. All other accounts would be funded well below the request, and only the National Weather Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service would see any gains. Additionally, the committee granted funding increases for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series Program (GOES-R) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).
An amendment introduced by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was accepted during markup, will add $7.2 million for the NOAA Bay Watershed and Training education program, offset by a cut to the NOAA administrative account. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) also offered and withdrew an amendment that would have boosted funding at NOAA.
Research replication. Included in the report language accompanying the appropriations bill is a requirement for NSF to develop guidelines to “ensure that research conducted by NSF grantees is replicable.” The FY2015 appropriations bill also included language regarding replication, but it required only that NSF report how it would “improve research methods, increase research transparency, and allow increased scientific replicability.” Under the new legislation, the agency must submit an implementation plan to Congress within 180 days of the bill’s enactment into law.
The full House approved the committee’s bill. On June 11 the Senate Appropriations Committee approved their FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which includes funding for NASA, NIST, NOAA, and NSF. The committee did not release full details, but it indicated that it differs from the House bill in a few small ways. The increase, for NASA is slightly smaller; NIST receives a small increase whereas the House cut its budget; NOAA also receives a slight increase in contrast to the significant cut in the House bill; and NSF funding is kept constant, whereas it received a slight increase from the House.
In a move intended to force a deal on sequester-level spending, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that Democrats plan to filibuster every spending bill in the Senate. The current spending caps, established by the Budget Control Act, remain unpopular with both parties, but Democrats are particularly eager to eliminate the caps before appropriations progress much further. The president has also issued a veto threat for every spending bill that abides by sequester-level spending so far.
Bipartisanship not dead
Despite the controversies surrounding much science legislation, in May the House of Representatives passed six science and technology bills that were reported out of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Bills included: H.R. 1561, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2015, introduced by Vice-Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR.); H.R. 1119, the Research and Development Efficiency Act, introduced by Research and Technology Subcommittee Chair Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and co-sponsored by ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX); H.R. 1156, the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2015, introduced by Research and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and co-sponsored by Research and Technology Subcommittee Vice-Chairman John Moolenaar (R-MI); H.R. 1162, the Science Prize Competitions Act, introduced by Oversight Subcommittee ranking member Don Beyer (D-VA) and co-sponsored by Oversight Subcommittee Vice-Chairman Bill Johnson (R-OH); H.R. 1158, the Department of Energy Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO); and H.R. 874, the American Super Computing Leadership Act, introduced by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and co-sponsored by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA).
Energy Title of the COMPETES bill introduced
A bipartisan group of seven senators introduced an authorization bill for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and its Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E). The bill (S. 1398) is a sharp contrast to the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act that passed the House of Representatives. The bipartisan proposal calls for 4% annual increases from current levels for the Office of Science and ARPA-E for FY2016–FY2020 and consolidates a small subset of programs from the original America COMPETES Acts that were never appropriated funds. The group of bipartisan co-sponsors, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), includes Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) , and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
House appropriations committee approves transportation funding
The House Appropriations Committee approved on a voice vote the FY2016 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development appropriations bill. According to current American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) estimates, the bill provides $858 million to the Department of Transportation for R&D activities in FY2016, which is 18.2% below the president’s request. Most individual science and technology programs received flat or reduced funding from FY2015 levels, though the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen program received $931 million, good for an 8.6% increase and only 2.6% short of the request. The bill now moves to the House floor.
House approves defense authorization bill
The House of Representatives voted to approve the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act by a 269 to 151 vote. According to current AAAS estimates, the bill would authorize $69.8 billion in base research, development, test, and evaluation funding for the Department of Defense in FY2016, virtually matching the administration request and providing an increase of 9.5% above FY2015 levels. Science and technology spending would vary little from FY2015 levels. The bill has been criticized for using war funding as a means to sidestep the current defense spending caps, as laid out in the congressional budget resolution, and the White House has threatened a veto the bill for this reason. The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, also voted to mark up and approve its own bill in a closed session.
21st Century Cures Act advances
The 21st Century Cures Act, launched with the aim of advancing the discovery, development, and delivery of new medical interventions, passed out of subcommittee last week and will now advance to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bipartisan bill covers a wide range of territory and includes several provisions relevant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including language seeking to boost the NIH budget.
Senate PATENT Act introduced
A bipartisan group of leaders on the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced the Protecting American Talent and Entrepreneurship Act (PATENT Act). Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), along with committee members John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), introduced the bill to address abusive patent litigation. The new version of the bill includes changes regarding fee structures that elicited a moderately favorable response from the university community, but the higher education groups have not formally endorsed the measure.
OSTP releases draft National Space Weather Strategy
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has released a National Space Weather Strategy, which aims to set strategic goals for enhancing U.S. preparedness for space weather events. Space weather refers to the interactions between the sun and earth via the solar wind, and more dramatic flares and eruptions that occur intermittently. The intense radiation, particularly from the most violent events, has the capacity to disrupt essential infrastructure such as the telecommunications system and electrical grid.
NIH reaffirms stance on gene-editing of human embryos
NIH Director Francis Collins has released a statement reaffirming that “NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos.” This statement is in response to a recently published study in which Chinese scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to genetically modify a nonviable human embryo.
NIH releases Alzheimer’s agenda
NIH released recommendations for a research agenda related to Alzheimer’s disease, a top priority for the administration. Overarching themes include the expansion of integrative, data-driven research approaches; the development of computational tools and infrastructure to enable large-scale analysis of patient data; and the use of wearable sensors and other mobile health technologies. The agenda also calls for engaging patients, caregivers, and citizens as equal partners in Alzheimer’s disease research.
Toxic substance bills moving forward
The House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up its version of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576). The bipartisan bill unanimously passed the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy in May and has support from the American Chemistry Council, among others. The House majority leader has already announced that he expects H.R. 2576 to reach the House floor before the Independence Day recess begins in the last week of June. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, meanwhile, passed its own bipartisan version at the end of April, though with some vocal dissent from Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA).