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More Questions than Answers Following Midterm Elections

Following last week’s midterm Congressional elections, Republicans have gained control of both chambers of Congress when the 114th Congress is seated in January. Congress returned last week for the start of a month and a half-long lame duck session. On their plate includes must-pass legislation such as the fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations bills and defense authorization bill. However, with the party calculus significantly changed starting next year, action on spending bills and other legislative issues in the lame duck will be all but easy. See the articles that follow for more information. (more…)

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Posted in Issue 21 (November 17), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

Outcome of Midterm Elections May Not Offer Clarity over FY 2015 Endgame

The remaining weeks of 2014 could see an effort to pass a sweeping omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2015, should the Republicans gain control of the Senate after the midterm Congressional elections tomorrow. Even though the Democrats would still control the Senate until January, Republican leaders have stated that under such a scenario they would work during the lame duck session to pass an omnibus, allowing the 114th Congress to start in January with a clean slate. However, such a feat has proven impossible in recent history. For example, the FY 2014 appropriations process was not completed until January of this year, and the stalemate over the FY 2013 appropriations bills led to the 16-day federal government shutdown; the FY 2013 appropriations process finally concluded six months into the fiscal year.

The federal government in currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR) until December 11 (see the September 22, 2014 COSSA Washington Update). Though the midterm elections will take place tomorrow, given the closeness of a handful of key Senate races that could result in runoffs, it may not be immediately clear which party will control the Senate in 2015. It also leaves the outlook for completion of the FY 2015 appropriations bills unclear.

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Posted in Issue 20 (November 3), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

NSF: RAPID Proposals Sought to Address Ebola Crisis

The National Science Foundation has issued a Dear Colleague Letter requesting research proposals “to conduct non-medical, non-clinical care research that can be used immediately to better understand how to model and understand the spread of Ebola, educate about prophylactic behaviors, and encourage the development of products, processes, and learning that can address this global challenge.” NSF’s Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism will be used to fund the proposals.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 20), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

Congresswoman Johnson Defends NSF’s Merit Review Process

Last week, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, released a letter penned to Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) expressing concern over the chairman’s ongoing “investigation” into the merit review process at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and criticism of individual grants funded by NSF. Her letter comes as Chairman Smith has issued a third request in 18 months for NSF to provide the Committee with confidential, pre-decisional merit review documents for 30 additional grants; Smith has previously asked for documentation on a group of five grants and a second group of 20 grants earlier this year.

In her letter to the Chairman, Johnson states, “The plain truth is that there are no credible allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse associated with these [awards]. The only issue with them appears to be that you, personally, think that the grants sound wasteful based on your understanding of their titles and purpose.”

Also last week, Johnson posted online for public consumption all of the correspondence between Chairman Smith and NSF regarding the grants in question.

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Posted in Issue 18 (October 6), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

AAA&S Restoring the Foundation Report Calls for Increased Federal Investment in Research

On September 16, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a COSSA member, released a new report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. The report makes the case that America’s economic successes in the twentieth century have largely been due to our investments in scientific research and that failure to maintain sustainable funding for research “could threaten the very principles—opportunity, social mobility, innovation—that have inspired our nation for the past century.” (more…)

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 22), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

DOD: 2015 Minerva Funding Opportunity Released

The Office of the Secretary of Defense within the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has issued the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the 2015 Minerva Research Initiative. Established in 2008, Minerva is DOD’s signature social science research program that seeks to “improve DOD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.” It awards grants to university investigators and teams and funding is derived from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Army Research Office (ARO) and Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).

Proposals are sought across four topics (with 11 corresponding subtopics): (1) Identity, Influence, and Mobilization; (2) Contributors to Societal Resilience and Change; (3) Power and Deterrence; and (4) Innovations in National Security, Conflict, and Cooperation.

White papers are due October 31 with full proposals due January 30, 2015.

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 22), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

Congress Returns this Week for Short, Packed Work Period

The House and Senate return to Washington this week from their month-long August recess. They have only a couple of weeks to address a number of major policy issues, such as immigration, the child migrant crisis on the border, and ongoing foreign conflicts, before both chambers adjourn again until after the November midterm elections. Among the to-dos in the coming weeks is consideration of a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government operating into fiscal year (FY) 2015, which begins on October 1. The outcome of the elections weighs heavily on potential end-game strategies for the FY 2015 appropriations bills, with much hinging on whether the Democrats maintain control of the Senate or lose the majority to the Republicans.

For a recap on the current status of the FY 2015 appropriations bills important to the COSSA community, please see the August 11, 2014 COSSA Washington Update.

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Posted in Issue 16 (September 8), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

COSSA Analysis of FY 2015 Senate Labor-HHS Bill

On July 24, the Senate Appropriations Committee released bill language and the accompanying Committee report for the fiscal year (FY) 2015 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Appropriations bill. The Labor-HHS Subcommittee approved the bill via voice vote in June (see Update, June 12, 2014). It is still unclear when or if the measure will be considered by the full Senate Appropriations Committee. Instead, it is all but certain that Congress will enact a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to allow time to complete the FY 2015 appropriations process after the November elections.

You can read COSSA’s full analysis of the bill here.

 

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NIGMS Issues Challenge / Seeks Input on Proposed New Grant Program

Two requests from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) give social and behavioral scientists the opportunity to provide input:

  1. To highlight discoveries and breakthroughs that have been enabled by funding from the Institute, and
  2. Respond to  its time-sensitive Request for Information (RFI) to assist the Institute in its planning for a potential new program tentatively called Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA).

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Draft COMPETES/NSF Bill Released in the Senate

Late last week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee released a draft of its America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014.  The Committee is seeking comment from interested organizations by this Friday, July 25, which can be sent to committee staff. COSSA intends to support the legislation.

The America COMPETES Act is bipartisan legislation originally enacted in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010 to revitalize the U.S. scientific enterprise by making critical investments in U.S. basic science agencies.  These investments were intended to ensure the U.S.’s continued standing as the global leader in science and technology innovation.  COMPETES serves as authorizing legislation for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and federal STEM education programs.

The draft Senate bill is a major improvement over its House counterpart, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act, or FIRST Act (H.R. 4186), which was reported out of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in May.  As previously reported, the FIRST Act is of major concern to the research community for several reasons; particularly its intent to cut the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate at NSF by more than 40 percent and, more generally, for its lack of vision for the U.S. scientific enterprise.

Increased NSF Funding

Unlike the FIRST Act, the Senate draft would maintain current practice when it comes to funding NSF, which is to not provide specific authorization levels for NSF’s individual research directorates.  Instead, the Senate bill provides an authorization only for NSF’s top-line budget and high level subaccounts.  For fiscal year (FY) 2015, the Senate bill would authorize an NSF budget of $7.65 billion, which if appropriated, would be an increase of more than 6.5 percent over the FY 2014 level.  It also represents a 5 percent increase over the amount authorized for NSF in the FIRST Act.  Further, while the FIRST Act would only authorize NSF for FY 2014 (the current fiscal year) and FY 2015, the Senate bill seeks a five-year authorization, with the NSF budget growing by more than 6.5 percent each year to a total of $9.9 billion by FY 2019.

Support for Social, Behavioral and Economic Science

In addition to the positive proposed funding levels, the draft Senate bill maintains the Committee’s support for all areas of science, placing specific emphasis on the social and behavioral sciences.  It includes a number of examples of social science investments that have addressed societal challenges, including in medicine, policing, national defense, and disaster preparedness, and states that it is the sense of Congress that, “if the United States is to remain innovative and globally competitive, [NSF] must continue to meet its legislative mandate through… robust support for basic research across a wide range of science and engineering fields, including the social, behavioral, and economic sciences.”

Senate Commerce Committee Hearing

Prior to the release of the draft COMPETES bill, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing titled, “The Federal Research Portfolio: Capitalizing on Investments in R&D,” to receive testimony on the value of investment in NSF and other federal science agencies.  Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) noted during the hearing that “Congress has no business deciding which projects are worth federal funding,” referring to recent Republican attacks on specific grants and adding that scientists and the peer review process should be trusted to make such decisions.

Witnesses included Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and member of the National Science Board; Ms. Mariette DiChristina, Editor in Chief and Senior Vice President for Scientific American; Dr. Neal F. Lane, Senior Fellow and professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University, and Co-Chair of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences Committee on New Models for U.S. Science and Technology Policy; and Dr. Stephen E. Fienberg, Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science at Carnegie Mellon University and member of the National Research Council Committee on Assessing the Value of Research in Advancing National Goals.  Witnesses spoke about the federal government’s unique role in supporting and sustaining R&D investments, particularly given that industry often shies away from funding basic science.  In addition, they spoke of the importance of failure in research, noting that understanding the reason for failure can often be more valuable than positive results.  Dr. Cerf explained that the Internet took 10 years of research, and failure, before becoming operational.

A webcast of the hearing and witness testimony can be found on the Committee’s website.

Looking Ahead

The outlook for further action on NSF reauthorization legislation this year remains unknown.  The FIRST Act has not yet received a vote by the full House, although a number of noncontroversial components of the bill were stripped out and passed as standalone bills last week (STEM Education Act [H.R. 5031], Research and Development Efficiency Act [H.R. 5056], and International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2014 [H.R. 5029]).  It is not yet clear if/when the Senate Commerce Committee will introduce its bill and mark it up.  In addition, the House and Senate are preparing to leave town for their month-long August recess in a couple of weeks, and the November elections leave few remaining legislative days.

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