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COSSA Washington Update, Volume 36 Issue 21

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Rand Paul Introduces Bill to “Reform” Federal Research Grant System

On October 18, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Chair of the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a hearing entitled “Broken Beakers: Federal Support for Research.” Following the hearing Sen. Paul introduced the BASIC Research Act (S. 1973) to “reform” the federal research grant system. The bill would alter how grant proposals at all federal research funding agencies are reviewed by adding non-expert members of the public to review panels and requiring all applications for federal research grants to be made public. The bill also proposes the elimination of the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create an Inspector General that would oversee the entire federal research enterprise.

The controversial legislation, which was summarized in Science magazine, has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee but currently has no cosponsors and an incredibly narrow path to passage. COSSA is watching the legislation and will report if or when action is needed.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

COSSA Joins Societies in Requesting Changes to NIH Clinical Trial Policy

In a letter sent to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins on October 27, COSSA and 21 other scientific societies and associations requested that NIH revisit a new policy that alters the definition of “clinical trials” funded by the agency and institutes new reporting requirements for such research (see COSSA’s coverage of this issue). While the letter is supportive of the goal of enhancing transparency of NIH-funded research, including introducing registration and reporting requirements, the signatories express concern that “basic science research is being redefined as a clinical trial at NIH and that “basic science investigators will be unnecessarily burdened with requirements relating to conducting clinical trials that have nothing to do with their own research.” The organizations hope to work with NIH leadership to find a solution that addresses the concerns of the basic science community while still improving transparency for true clinical trial research.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Indirect Costs of Research

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held a hearing on October 24 on the role of facilities and administrative costs (also known as indirect costs) in supporting NIH-funded research. The hearing included testimony from Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Vice President of Research at the University of Oklahoma; Dr. Gary Gilliland, President of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Dr. Bruce Liang, Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine; and Dr. Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Droegemeier’s written testimony included a history of the collaboration between universities and the federal government to support research, trends in facilities and administrative costs over time, and thorough explanation of the importance of federal support for these costs.

Committee leadership, including Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) and Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and witnesses agreed that facilities and administrative costs were key to supporting research and should not be arbitrarily restricted. Many committee members agreed with the witnesses that restricting facilities and administrative costs would have a strong negative impact on all research done at universities and that capping the rates at which universities can be reimbursed for these costs should not be used as a budget-cutting measure by Congress or the Administration.

Find more of COSSA’s coverage of facilities and administrative costs here.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

William Beach, Former Budget Committee Economist, Nominated as BLS Commissioner

The White House has nominated William Beach for a four-year term as Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), succeeding Erica Groshen, whose term expired in January, and William J. Wiatrowski, the Acting Commissioner since Groshen’s departure. Currently Vice President for Policy Research at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, Beach holds a Ph.D. in economics from the UK’s Buckingham University. Prior to joining the Mercatus Center, Beach served as the Chief Economist for the Senate Budget Committee’s Republican staff and the Lazof Family Fellow in Economics director of the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation. BLS Commissioners must be confirmed by the Senate, and no date for a confirmation hearing has been announced at this time.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

GAO to Study Potential Federal Interference in Science

According the Washington Post, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will undertake a study of federal agencies’ scientific integrity policies and potential federal interference in the scientific process at the request of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Nelson, the Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, made the request in a letter dated September 25, 2017. Citing concerns stemming from reports of possible interference in the scientific process at the Environmental Protection Agency, changes to agencies’ public information related to climate change, and the cancellation of a study that might be damaging to the fossil fuel industry, Nelson asked the GAO to assess whether “the administration has violated scientific integrity policies by suppressing federally funded science, interfering with research grant activities, interfering in typical scientific processes, or restricting the freedom of federal scientists to communicate findings with the public.” While GAO agreed to Nelson’s request, it does not expect to begin work on the study for about four months, due to limited resources. The American Institute of Physics has published a more in-depth look at some of the context surrounding Nelson’s request.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

NSF’s Statistical Division Seeks Director

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is accepting applications for the position of Division Director of the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), NSF’s principal statistical agency housed within the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE). The NCSES Division Director “assesses needs and trends involving the national surveys, implements overall strategic planning and policy setting for the Division, provides leadership and guidance to Division staff members, determines funding requirements, prepares and justifies budget estimates, balances program needs, allocates resources, oversees the evaluation of proposals and recommendations for awards and declinations, and represents NSF to relevant external groups.” More information is available in the posting on USAjobs. Applications must be submitted by December 4, 2017.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

GAO Report on Firearm Storage Highlights Lack of Federal Funding for Gun Research

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report entitled Personal Firearms: Programs that Promote Safe Storage and Research on Their Effectiveness that compiles information on public and non-profit programs promoting safe storage of personal firearms and the results of research on the effectiveness of such programs. The report was produced at the request of 19 Democratic senators, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). The report finds that “there is relatively little research on safe firearm storage,” and that “lack of funding and data” is often cited as a primary reason. According to the report, funding shortages and instability has limited the research on firearm safety and storage that could have been conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The report cites an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that compared available funding and publication volume for research on various leading causes of death and found that “research on firearms receives disproportionately low funding and has fewer publications compared to other top causes of death.” The lack of funding can lead to shortage of expertise in the field. One researcher interviewed told the GAO that “he discourages new students from firearm research exclusively because they will not be able to make a living in that research area alone.” Further, a shortage of high-quality data on firearms exacerbates the difficulty of conducting research in this area. The CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) has not included questions related to firearm safety since 2004. However, the CDC does plan to add a module on firearms in the 2017 survey, on the recommendation of the National Academy of Medicine.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

CNSTAT Issues Report on Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection

The Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently issued a consensus report entitled Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection: Next Steps. The report was produced by the Panel on Improving Federal Statistics for Policy and Social Science Research Using Multiple Data Sources and State-of-the-Art Estimation Methods, chaired by Robert Groves of Georgetown University. The Panel’s first report, Innovations in Federal Statistics: Combining Data Sources While Protecting Privacy, was published in January 2017, and described some of the challenges currently facing the federal statistical system’s current paradigm of heavy reliance on sample surveys and recommended a new approach of combining different kinds of federal and private data, as well as the creation of an entity to facilitate that. Federal Statistics, Multiple Data Sources, and Privacy Protection builds on the first report and examines statistical methods for combining diverse types of data, the implications relying on multiple data sources may have for IT systems, different statistical and computer science approaches to enhancing privacy protections, how to ensure the quality and utility of statistics produced using multiple data sources, and ways to implement the “new entity” that would facilitate combining data sources. The pre-publication version of the report is available on the National Academies’ website.

There is quite a bit of overlap in the areas addressed by the CNSTAT panel and those addressed by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, which released its report in September (see COSSA’s coverage the Commission)—in fact, Panel Chair Robert Groves served on the Commission as well. However, while the resulting reports from the two groups are hopefully complementary, their work was conducted independent of one another.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

NDD United Highlights Impacts of Budget Cuts in Faces of Austerity 2.0 Report

On October 25, NDD United, a broad coalition of stakeholders interested in protecting non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs from budget cuts (including COSSA), held a congressional briefing to celebrate the launch of its latest report, Faces of Austerity 2.0: How Budget Cuts Continue to Make Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure. The report explores how sequestration and the Budget Control Act put programs that millions of Americans rely on at risk. NDD United is calling upon Congress to stop NDD funding cuts by treating defense and nondefense programs equally, maintaining the precedent set in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. NDD United aims to demonstrate that these budget cuts are not just numbers on paper, but represent real and increasingly difficult challenges for many Americans.

At the congressional briefing, NDD United invited a panel of five speakers to share their personal experiences with cuts to NDD programs. Melissa Armas, a mother and volunteer with Parent Voices CA, shared her story first. This past year, Melissa accepted a bonus from her employer, and because of it, she was $100 over the low-income threshold to receive a government subsidy that would allow her four-year-old daughter to attend daycare. Michael Gritton, Executive Director of KentuckianaWorks, an organization that educates, trains, and connects local job seekers with employers, shared that his organization has had to close two training centers and cut training programs by 40 percent because of NDD budget cuts. Joseph Hill-Coles, Community Navigator at Youth Services, Inc. used his personal experience as a homeless eighteen-year-old to amplify the need to fund “age and culturally appropriate” programs for homeless teens. Jim Northup, former Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, spoke about the necessity of a sustained annual national budget that allows agencies and programs to plan their yearly spending effectively. The final speaker, Ashley Webb, Prevention Program Manager for the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, explained how reliant state and local programs and organizations are on federal funding, especially in a state like Illinois where state funding is often unreliable. She echoed the voices of the other speakers when affirming that these programs should be able to spend “less time fundraising and more time working.”

This article was contributed by COSSA’s fall intern, Erin Buechele of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

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