U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho: U.S. Needs Strong R&D Portfolio to Remain Globally Competitive

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-3rd-FL) writes in support of science in APS’ Capitol Hill Newsletter. Read the piece:

 

 

Extending Nuclear Power Plant Licenses Would Help U.S. Reach Clean Energy Goals

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University of Texas (Austin) Physics Professor Roy Schwitters and Chairman Emeritus John W. Rowe, of Exelon Corp., make the case for extending the licenses of nuclear power plants in today’s Hill newspaper. Read the op-ed.

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

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