The Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) in both the House and the Senate recently held hearings to discuss the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since both hearings were held prior to the full release of President Biden’s FY 2022 budget request, much of the discussion focused on the proposed increase to the top-line budget for NIH as well as the proposal for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) as referenced in the Biden Administration’s “skinny budget” released earlier this year.
The House LHHS hearing was held on May 25 featuring testimony from NIH Director Francis Collins; Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Anthony Fauci; Director of the Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Diana Bianchi; Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Gary Gibbons; Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Norman Sharpless; and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Nora Volkow. Appropriations Committee Chair and LHHS Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK), and many members of the Subcommittee expressed their steadfast support for NIH and for increases to the agency’s research budget. However, Members from both sides of the aisle voiced skepticism about the proposal for ARPA-H due to concerns of duplicating funds for existing NIH research. Other issues raised during the hearing included structural racism in research spaces, gun violence prevention research, NIH research on medicinal marijuana, and the recent work of the UNITE Initiative to promote diversity in biomedical career paths. A recording of the hearing is available on the House LHHS website.
The Senate LHHS hearing was held on May 26 featuring testimony from Dr. Collins; Dr. Fauci; Dr. Bianchi; Dr. Sharpless; Dr. Gibbons; Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) Eliseo Perez-Stable; and Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) Bruce Tromberg. Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO) both expressed support for the proposed increases to NIH but still echoed concerns about the non-specific mission of ARPA-H as proposed. Other issues raised during the hearing included foreign influence in research, the effect of COVID-19 on children, gun violence prevention research, animal testing in research, and the impact of climate change on health. A recording of the hearing is available on the Senate LHHS website.
On May 17, the House of Representatives approved a group of bills introduced in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee that aim to make the U.S. science enterprise more equitable, safe, and fair. Four bills, the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act (H.R. 144), the STEM Opportunities Act (H.R. 204), the MSI STEM Achievement Act (H.R. 2027), and the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 2695) were introduced by Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson and were endorsed by COSSA. The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act would authorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a two-year pilot program to award grants to highly qualified early-career investigators to carry out an independent research program. The STEM Opportunities Act would provide for guidance, data collection, and grants for groups historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at higher education institutions and at federal science agencies. The MSI STEM Achievement Act would require the NSF to award grants for building the capacity of minority-serving institutions (MSIs) to increase the number and success of their students in the STEM workforce. The Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act (see COSSA’s previous coverage) would expand research on the causes and consequences of sexual harassment in the STEM workforce as well as direct data to influence policy to reduce the negative impacts of sexual harassment. The House also passed the Rural STEM Education Act (H.R. 210), introduced by House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), which would direct NSF to support research regarding STEM education in rural schools. These and other STEM-related bills may be rolled in with other, sweeping NSF authorizing legislation in the future, such as the NSF for the Future Act (see previous coverage).
On April 29, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing to discuss the nomination of Dr. Eric Lander as President Biden’s pick to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), a role that the President has elevated to Cabinet-level. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) chaired the hearing and in her opening remarks, she acknowledged Lander’s scientific accomplishments, but also noted concerns about past actions related to women and minorities in STEM fields. The hearing provided an opportunity to clear the record on these and other issues and to explore Dr. Lander’s positions and goals if confirmed as OSTP director.
In his prepared remarks, Dr. Lander discussed the importance of inclusion in science and technology, highlighting the uneven opportunity provided across gender, race, and geography and the often unwelcoming nature of careers in science to women and people of color. In his role at OSTP, if confirmed, Dr. Lander promised that OSTP’s work will be rooted in equity, that he will hire an OSTP staff that “resembles the American population,” and that the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will be “the most diverse in history.”
Questions from the Committee tackled a variety of topics, including OSTP’s role and plans related to climate change, scientific integrity, and pandemic recovery, as well as technologies of the future, cybersecurity, scientific workforce needs, disparity of NSF support to smaller institutions and smaller states, and enhancing partnerships with industry.
A committee vote on Dr. Lander’s nomination has not yet been scheduled.
This month, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees held hearings to address the Biden Administration’s proposed budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year (FY) 2022. In addition to the budget, both hearings addressed the possibility of significant funding increases for the agency through a new technology directorate as proposed in the Endless Frontiers Act (S. 1260) (see related article). NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan was the sole witness at both hearings, voicing strong support for the Biden Administration’s proposed increases to the NSF budget.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) held its hearing overseen by Subcommittee Chair Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS) on April 13. Both Shaheen and Moran spoke highly of the mission of NSF and seemed open to budget increases for the agency as proposed in the Endless Frontiers Act. However, despite agreement that more funding for research was necessary, members of both parties expressed that they wanted more details before throwing full support behind the increase. Other topics discussed during the hearing were global scientific competitiveness, particularly with China, research security, NSF’s EPSCoR program, funding levels for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and increasing diversity in the scientific workforce. The hearing recording is available on the Senate CJS Subcommittee website.
The House Appropriations CJS Subcommittee held its hearing overseen by Subcommittee Chair Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Ranking Member Robert Aderholt (R-AL) on April 14. Like the Senate hearing, members of both parties seemed generally supportive of NSF yet wanted more specifics, with some members of the minority expressing concern of the size of the budget increase. Other issues discussed during the hearing were cybersecurity and its role in research security, investments towards diversity in the scientific workforce, encouraging STEM education and training, and NSF’s role in addressing greater societal challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change. The hearing recording is available on the House CJS Subcommittee website.
On April 20, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (SST) reintroduced the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 2695), bipartisan legislation that would expand research on the causes and consequences of sexual harassment in the STEM workforce as well as direct data to influence policy to reduce the negative impacts of sexual harassment. COSSA has been an endorser of the legislation since 2018 when it was first introduced (see previous coverage for more details). More information is available in a press release available on the SST website.
The Senate has directed its attention towards competition with China as of late, resulting in activities focusing on research security as an extension of U.S.-China policy. On April 15, the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 (S. 1169) was introduced in the Senate by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), the Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The bipartisan bill includes a long list of measures related to competition with China, including issues related to the security of the U.S. research enterprise. One section of the bill controversially increases oversight at academic institutions on foreign gifts (which may include research grants) by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), effectively giving CFIUS the power to suspend or cancel foreign-granted activities at academic institutions if they are deemed harmful to national security concerns. As the bill is still a work in progress, COSSA will monitor the legislation for future updates.
In addition to this legislation, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on April 22 addressing research security in the biomedical research enterprise, especially related to global scientific competition with China. Witnesses included Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Michael Lauer, Acting Director of the Office of National Security at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Lisa Aguirre, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations at HHS Gary Cantrell, and Acting Director of Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Candice Wright. The Committee members, led by Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), all expressed deep concern with the potential threat of espionage and cyberattacks at research institutions and inquired how HHS and NIH are combatting espionage in the research enterprise, especially concerning foreign gift reporting and data transfer threats at U.S. universities. A recording of the hearing is available on the HELP Committee website.
Over the past several weeks, Congressional Committees have held several hearings to discuss mental and behavioral health care, including mental health parity and emergency response to mental health crises. On April 15, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on “Meeting the Moment: Improving Access to Behavioral and Mental Health Care.” The Subcommittee heard testimony from Chief of Psychology in the Public Interest at the American Psychological Association (APA) Brian Smedley, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Christine Moutier, Senior Vice President of Health Policy at The ERISA Industry Committee James Gelfand, and Founder of Psych-Appeal Meiram Bendat. Witnesses raised several issues with previous legislation such as the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) and argued for stronger federal enforcement, increased use of telehealth, and the encouragement of interstate mental health licensing. The Subcommittee also discussed the need for more mental health professionals across the country, briefly asking witnesses what Congress can do to encourage and aid students through their education and training. When discussing mental health and policing, Dr. Smedley mentioned the fact that state employee health plans can opt-out of MHPAEA protections for essential workers such as teachers, firefighters, and police. The House hearing can be viewed here on the Committee website.
On April 23, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism held a hearing on “Behavioral Health and Policing: Interactions and Solutions.” The Subcommittee heard testimony from the Commander of the Education & Training Section of the Baltimore Police Department Martin Bartness, Co-Director of The Mental Health Strategic Impact Initiative Keris Jän Myrick, Outreach Manager of Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) Ebony Morgan, Executive Director at the Technical Assistance Collaborative Kevin Martone, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute Rafael Mangual, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, and wife of a fallen officer, Terri O’Connor. The Subcommittee generally acknowledged the faults with the current mental health care system and addressed topics such as the implementation of national mental health crisis response teams and some successful examples such as the CAHOOTS program. The Senate hearing can be viewed here on the Committee website.
This article was contributed by COSSA’s spring intern, Nicholas Lynn.
Last month, the majority staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology released the report Scientific Brain Drain: Quantifying the Decline of the Federal Scientific Workforce, an analysis of federal employment levels of seven federal science agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology (DHS S&T), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The analysis looked across the past decade to understand how the federal government is investing in its increasing scientific responsibilities, alongside the context of racial, ethnic, and gender equity. The report identifies historical challenges facing U.S. researchers compared to other countries such as underinvestment in research, understaffing of STEM workers, lack of diversity in the scientific workforce, and lack of scientific integrity at federal agencies. The report calls on Congress and the executive branch to focus long-term attention and support to restore scientific integrity; increase funding for science agencies; embrace proactive recruitment, hiring, and retention policies; and deepen the commitment to diversity and equity. The full report is available on the Science Committee website.
This article was contributed by COSSA’s Spring intern, Nicholas Lynn.