More Scientists Needed in Congress

 

Later this year, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, of New Jersey, will retire from Congress after nearly two decades as a champion of science.

His retirement will leave a big void and leave only one scientist in Congress, Rep. Bill Foster, of Illinois.

History has shown us that scientists bring their invaluable and much-needed technical expertise to the legislative process. The recently proposed FIRST bill, as noted in Michael S. Lubell’s Roll Call column, is the latest example of why more scientists are needed in Congress.

 

APS March Meeting Contact Congress

Q: What’s the best-spent minute at the March Meeting?
 
A: Stopping by the Contact Congress booth to sign your name to letters to your Congressional delegation on the importance of federal funding for basic research. It takes only a minute. By doing so, you are making your voice heard in Washington and helping to influence the funding levels for physics research and education. To amplify the impact, the APS Washington Office follows up each letter with a call or visit to congressional staff.
 
The strongest and most persuasive advocates on Capitol Hill come from a Senator or Representative’s constituents. That means you! If you live in the United States, you are qualified to write to your members of Congress.
Contact Congress is overseen by the APS Washington Office. If you have any questions about what is happening in D.C., just stop by the Contact Congress desk to ask the experts.
 
Contact Congress Hours:
Monday, March 3 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Tuesday, March 4 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Wednesday, March 5 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Thursday March 6 – 9:00am–5:00pm
Friday, March 7 – 9:00-12:00pm
 
Contact Congress Location:
Convention Center, F Lobby

Budget Deal Provides Stability

Let’s break out the inexpensive bottle of champagne and have a moderate celebration for the success of the “Ryan-Murray” budget agreement.  The deal undid much of the damage from the sequester, and there is a modest chance for stability with the return to “regular order.”

The Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) Omnibus spending bill was recently signed into law in a bipartisan fashion. The House passed the bill 359-67, and the Senate adopted it by 72-26.  While neither party got exactly what it wanted, each was happy to have achieved a result that could pave the way for a less chaotic budget process in the coming year. 

The question is, sifting among the details of the FY14 Omnibus bill, how did the scientific accounts fare?  The answer ranges from poor to exceedingly well depending on the account and how you interpret the numbers. 

For example, Fusion Energy Sciences at Department of Energy (DOE) got a significant boost of 26 percent over the FY12 appropriated levels, effectively reviving Alcator C-Mod and funding ITER at the same time, although not quite at the previously planned level of $225M.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH), on the other hand, did not manage to reverse the sequester cuts, falling about $800M below FY12 levels.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) did receive an increase over FY12 levels, but the increase in the FY14 budget was not as large compared to other areas in the budget.  

The big picture is that historically, federal investment in scientific research is 10 percent of non-defense discretionary funding.  Since 2010, overall discretionary spending has decreased about $165B.  Thanks to strong advocacy from the scientific community, overall spending for scientific research has not decreased as much relative to discretionary spending (overall spending has decreased 13.6 percent and scientific research spending has decreased 12.3 percent).  In other words, advocacy efforts have continued to keep science as a bipartisan investment that most in Congress recognize as important to future U.S. economic competitiveness. 

How does this budget affect the average researcher? 

Well, grant success rates won’t be drastically altered due to the new budget deal.  The FY14 numbers are far better than the feared continued effect of sequester, including the loss of grants. But, the budget number do not represent a substantive step forward either.  The scientific community needs to continue to push toward a new paradigm where federal funding of scientific research is increased to keep pace with our competitors.  

Of importance to DOE researchers is a new grant funding model being employed by DOE.  Grants of less than a million dollars will be fully funded up to three years.  This means that there will be a period of readjustment for the next two years where fewer new grants are funded in order to fully transition to the new model of funding.

The details in the new FY14 spending bill are as follows, with percent change from appropriated FY12 levels in parentheses:

NSF is funded at $7.20B in FY14 (+2.4%).  The Research & Related Activities account is being funded at $5.81B (+1.5%), a slight disappointment relative to increases seen in other parts of the budget.  The education portion of NSF, termed Education & Human Resources, is funded at $846M (+2.1%). 

Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science is funded at $5.07B (+3.9%).  The Advanced Scientific Computing Research initiative is funded at $478M (+8.1%), Basic Energy Sciences at $1.71B (+1.3%), Biological and Environmental Research is funded at $610M (-0.4%), Fusion Energy Science is funded at $505M (+25.7%) with $200M of that set aside for ITER, High Energy Physics is funded at $797M (+0.8%), and Nuclear Physics is funded at $569M (+3.6%).

The DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewables (EER-E) and Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) are funded at $1.91B (+5.1%) and $280M (+1.8%), respectively.  The National Nuclear Security agency is funded at $12.13B (+5.4%).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Science and Technical Research and Services is funded at $651M (+14.8%), Construction of Research Facilities is funded at $56M (+1.8%), and the Industrial Technology Services is funded at $143M (+11.7%).

National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) Science is funded at $5.15B (+1.1%).  Funding for the James Webb Space Telescope was included with strict instructions that the overall budget is not to exceed $8B.  Also, NASA is prohibited from engaging bilaterally with China, a continued restriction that has caused some confusion as to the extent of the ban.

NIH was funded at a rather disappointing $29.90B (-2.5%), which is ~$800M less than in FY12. 

Finally, the Office of Science and Technology of the President was funded at $5.5M (+23.4%).

 

APS President Malcolm R. Beasley Commends President Obama’s Support of Science

APS President Malcolm R. Beasley recently sent a letter to President Obama applauding his support of long-term, scientific research as outlined in the recent State of the Union Address.

Read the letter.

APS Supports Passage of FY 14 Appropriations Bill, Which Reverses Some Cuts Under Sequestration

APS is pleased the recently passed FY 14 omnibus appropriations bill reversed some cuts under sequestration and was passed in Congress by bipartisan majorities.

Read statement by Task Force on American Innovation.

Washington Post op-ed cites APS report, Renewing Licenses for the Nation’s Nuclear Power Plants

Four nuclear power plants, sources of low-emissions electricity, announced closings last year. If plants continue to shut down instead of extending operations, the nation risks losing 60 percent of its clean electricity starting in 2030, according to a new APS report, “Renewing Licenses for the Nation’s Nuclear Power Plants.”nuclearpowerpic

“Nuclear power plants provide the nation with a source of clean energy at a time when renewables such as solar and wind are not yet ready to fill the potential gap in the nation’s base power needs created by the loss of nuclear power,” said Roy Schwitters, chair of the APS report.

That sentiment was echoed in a recent Washington Post op-ed by Stephen Stromberg, an editorial writer at the Post.

New Budget Deal Reverses a Portion of Sequester Cuts

The budget deal struck by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) passed the House and the Senate by votes of 332-94 and 64-36, respectively.  In the Senate, nine Republican senators voted with 55 Democrats and two Independents in support of the joint resolution.  In the House, 169 Republicans voted for the resolution with 62 against; 163 Democrats voted in favor with 32 against. 

The budget resolution is a two year agreement that authorizes discretionary spending for fiscal years 2014 (FY14) and 2015 (FY15).  The deal increases both defense discretionary and non-defense discretionary spending by $22B each in FY14 and $9B each in FY15 above the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, effectively reversing a portion of sequester cuts.  Total spending for defense discretionary in FY14 is capped at $520B and in FY15 is $521B.  Total spending for non-defense discretionary is capped at $491B in FY14 and at $492B in FY15.  Overall spending is set at $1,012B in FY14, exactly splitting the difference between the original House and Senate budget plans.  The agreement uses a number of offsets for the spending increases, such as increased federal-employee contribution to retirement programs for new hires, rescinding available funds for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increasing aviation security service fees and limiting compensation for government contractors.

The reaction to the budget deal has been guarded among lawmakers and mixed outside the beltway.  Even before the budget deal was reached, conservative think tanks such as Heritage Action stated they were against the deal. And now that a deal has been struck, additional conservative groups are lamenting the outcome, with the Cato Institute calling the package a “huge Republican cave-in” and FreedomWorks calling it “a surrender.”  Rep. Paul Ryan downplayed the actions of conservative think tanks, stating “[g]roups are going to do what they want” and even calling such action “the new normal.”  House Speaker John Boehner called the outcry from conservative groups “ridiculous.” 

Speaker Boehner, ignoring outside pressure, brought the Ryan-Murray plan to a vote within days of its release. 

After passage in the House, action shifted to the Senate, where the Senate first voted 67-33 to end debate on the Ryan-Murray plan and then voted 64-36 to approve the plan.  Despite the opposition from conservative groups, 12 republicans voted to end debate on the measure and nine voted for final passage.  Notably, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – who will face a difficult re-election next year – voted against it. 

Now that both chambers adopted the Ryan-Murray plan, appropriators will have just under a month to implement the budget resolution by modifying the Continuing Resolution set to expire on Jan 15, 2014 or replacing it with one or more appropriations bills.  Congressional staff will be working around the clock during the holidays to complete the bills by the deadline, but it is uncertain how they will allocate the additional $45B. Now is the time to get in touch with your representative and senators and let them know why support of scientific research is important – to economic growth, national security and health. 

PISA Test Results Continue to Show No Change

Every three years since 2000, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has conducted a survey aimed at evaluating education systems. And every three years, education leaders from the United States bemoan the low ranking scored by U.S. students. 

This year is no different.

The PISA survey is a paper-based test taken by 15-year-old students.  The test is a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions in the areas of reading, mathematics and science.  To further analyze causative factors affecting test scores, students and school principals are given questionnaires to provide information about students’ backgrounds, schools, learning experiences, learning environments and the broader school system. 

According to the latest PISA, U.S. teenagers were average in reading and science when compared to their international peers.  Their scores in math, however, were below average compared to 64 other countries that participated in the 2012 PISA.  While the actual scores of U.S. teenagers have not changed significantly during the last decade, other students – particularly in Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian countries – have made significant progress. 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the scores a “brutal truth” that “must serve as a wake-up call” for the country.  The test scores have stoked the fires of controversy on how to best reform the American educational system.  Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, stated that “[w]hile the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind…has failed to improve the quality of American public education.” 

What is perhaps most concerning is the statistical distribution of U.S. student scores.  In mathematics, only 2 percent of U.S. students were top performers, compared to 25 percent of U.S. students who tested at the lowest level of proficiency.  Interestingly, U.S. students, when asked about their own math skills, displayed higher levels of confidence than their international peers. 

The oft-blamed culprit for low scores is the high child poverty rate in the U.S. compared to other industrialized nations.  The survey contradicts the poverty assumption, since students in countries like Vietnam, where 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, outperformed U.S. students.  The report suggests that weak U.S. curriculum is the likely culprit behind lagging U.S. test scores. 

To read the report, go to: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results.htm

Tea Party Excess Threatens High-Tech Success

In my latest Roll Call column, I point out that the Tea Party’s political tactics are threatening our nation’s scientific enterprise:

The government shutdown and threatened financial default may seem so yesterday, given the Obamacare rollout mess. But the tea party’s October call to conservative arms is having a persisting, pernicious effect, even though the media and Wall Street seem to have moved on.

What I have in mind, particularly, is the sequester’s impact on science, the generator of America’s future economic growth.

In the Senate, where a modicum of bipartisanship and sanity still remain, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has assumed the mantle of GOP leadership on innovation. His recent gutsy call for increased federal investments in research comes as his former South Carolina colleague, Jim DeMint, has been pressuring Republicans from his perch atop The Heritage Foundation to focus on taming the federal deficit to the exclusion of almost everything else.

The Heritage drumbeat has considerable traction in the House, where DeMint’s acolytes are inhibiting even the smallest attempts by Republican authorizers on the Science, Space and Technology Committee to address America’s flagging research enterprise.

Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, should take a cue from the other Lamar and challenge the tea party to do battle over federal science spending. He might lose the initial skirmish, but he will come out the ultimate victor because the past is on his side.

Continue reading

U.S. Sen. Alexander to Congress: ‘Finish the job’ of doubling research budgets outlined in America COMPETES

At a time when Congress has failed to prioritize funding levels for long-term scientific research, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has rightly called upon his colleagues in Congress to “finish the job” of doubling research budgets set forth in the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which overwhelmingly passed Congress in a bipartisan manner.
Read Sen. Alexander’s remarks in the press release below:

Alexander: “Finish the Job” of Doubling Basic Research to Keep Americans’ “High Standard of Living”

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today urged members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to “finish the job” Congress started in “an overwhelming, remarkable, bipartisan way in 2007 to double the budgets of basic research at major research institutions in the federal government.”

Testifying at the committee’s hearing on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, Alexander said that “it’s hard to think of” a technological advance since World War II that hasn’t drawn some support from government-sponsored research – from the Internet to new technology that would make liquid fuel out of carbon from coal plants. He urged his fellow senators to advance three goals:
• Allow the Senate Appropriations Committee to double the federal government’s investment in basic research
• Reduce waste among duplicate programs
• Reauthorize necessary programs

“Governing is about setting priorities,” Alexander said. “There are a lot of other people in the world who have good brains. There are a lot of other people in the world who work hard. They see we’ve got 22 percent of all the money in the world each year for just 5 percent of the people, and they want a bigger share. So if we want to keep our high standard of living, I suggest that we finish the job.”

The America COMPETES Act was originally passed under President Bush, with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate serving as lead cosponsors, both before and after the Senate switched from Republican to Democratic control, Alexander said. Ultimately the legislation’s cosponsors included 38 Democrats, 30 Republicans and one Independent senator. Of the “overwhelming bipartisan support,” Alexander said: “We’d never seen anything like it.”

America COMPETES grew out of the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report on American competitiveness, written by a commission headed by former Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Norm Augustine. The legislation set out to double the federal government’s investment in basic research, including math, the physical sciences and engineering. That research is done at institutions including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Science and Technology and the Office of Science. America COMPETES also created ARPA-E, an agency that supports research in energy technology.

Currently about 4 percent of the U.S. government’s $3.6 trillion budget goes toward government-sponsored research, which Alexander said is small compared to China investing 4 percent of its entire gross domestic product as it competes with other countries. Alexander said increasing research is important to ensuring that America continues to produce 22 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, with a little less than 5 percent of the population.

Alexander said the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as well as the full Senate, should ultimately authorize the Appropriations Committee to complete the doubling of that research. While doing so, the Senate should reauthorize necessary programs, Alexander said, and eliminate any duplication of programs, at a time when “we don’t have any money to waste.”

The senator provided several examples of technological advances that have allowed “our free enterprise system” to create America’s high standard of living. One example outside of America COMPETES is DARPA, the military research agency that has funded research leading to the Internet, stealth technology, speech recognition technology and global positioning systems.

Alexander said a “cousin” of DARPA is ARPA-E, a research agency created under America COMPETES that has found a way to double the capacity of lithium-ion batteries for cars. It is also developing a method of creating liquid fuel from carbon dioxide, which would allow for the commercial use of waste from coal plants in the creation of new energy.

Alexander noted that it’s “hard to think of an important technological advance” that has not involved some government-sponsored research since World War II.

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