APS News

Washington Dispatch

ISSUE: Budget and Authorization Environment

Appropriations Update

As of the deadline for APS News, Congress has made very little progress on the Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations bills. Neither the House Energy & Water (E&W) bill, which funds the operations of the Department of Energy (DOE), nor the House Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill, which contains the funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), have passed the full Appropriations Committee.

The House E&W subcommittee bill provides $4.9B for the DOE Office of Science, a $4M decrease from FY2010 enacted level and $221M less than the Administration request. However, with Congressionally Directed Projects (AKA: earmarks) taken into account, the Office of Science actually receives a $55M increase. The House CJS bill provides $7.4B for the NSF, equal to the President’s request and $497M above FY 2010, while the NIST Core Programs receive $674M, $35M below the Administration’s request of $709M and $59M above FY 2010 with earmarks taken into account.

The Senate is more advanced in the appropriations process, with the full Senate Appropriations Committee having voted on most of their individual bills. The Senate E&W bill provides $5.0B for the DOE Office of Science, $142M above FY 2010 with earmarks taken into account. The Senate CJS bill provides $7.35B for NSF and $688M for the NIST Core Programs, again minus earmarks.

However the chamber is not expected to make any additional progress before the end of the fiscal year. Given the highly partisan environment in the House and Senate and the expectation that the majority will lose seats in the November mid-term elections, it is likely that Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) until the end of the calendar year. If either or both chambers of Congress change party control, the CR could remain in effect for the entire Fiscal Year 2011.

America COMPETES Reauthorization
In the July issue of APS News, we reported on a complicated series of events that accompanied a contentious House passage of America COMPETES Reauthorization. We also noted that before APS News went to press, the Senate had not yet taken any action. On July 22nd, after several delays, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation finally held a mark-up of S. 3605, the Senate version of COMPETES Reauthorization.

In contrast to a five-year authorization provided in the House version, the Senate Commerce Committee’s bill provides only a three-year authorization. The reduction was meant to address Republican concerns that the House bill is too expensive. We have, since that time, heard that such concerns have not completely been satisfied. Limiting the authorization to three years reduces the amount provided for NSF and NIST by $18.9B. However, the cost of the three-year Senate bill is actually higher than cost of the first three years of the House bill. For example, at the end of three years, the House NSF authorization is $8.77B, while the Senate total is $9.94 billion. Therefore, the faster growth rate in the Senate bill compensates for the elimination of authorizations for FY14 and FY15.

The Senate Commerce Committee bill does not yet include authorizations for the DOE Office of Science or NSF science, technology engineering, and math education. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Health, Education, Labor, Pension (HELP) Committee will attach titles covering those activities prior to any floor action.

The Senate bill does contain language on scientific publishing, as does the House bill. Both direct the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to create an Interagency Public Access Committee. But the Senate bill provides more specific direction to the working group, requiring it to take into account the inherent variability among scientific disciplines, the distinction between scholarly publications and digital data and the role that scientific publishers play in the peer review process including the attendant costs and added value. The bill also stipulates that any new public access policies cannot supersede existing public laws applied to federal science agencies. The APS Washington Office–as it did in the case of the House bill–played a key role in having the Senate bill direct OSTP to recognize “the role that scientific publishers play in the peer review process in ensuring the integrity of the record of scientific research, including the investments and added value that they make.”

Commerce Committee staff have said that the full Senate will not take up S. 3605 before the November mid-term elections, leaving little time for consideration before the end of the session in December.

Be sure to check the APS Washington Office’s Blog, Physics Frontline, for the latest news on the FY11 Budget.
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ISSUE: POPA Reports

The Energy Critical Elements Study Group, which is examining the scarcity of critical elements for new energy technologies, held its second meeting in September at the APS Washington Office. The meeting focused on policy considerations and the development of the report recommendations.

The Electric Grid Study Group, which has examined the technical challenges and priorities for increasing the amount of renewable electricity on the grid, finalized its report over the summer. It received unanimous approval from POPA. The report will be released this fall and can be found on the APS website at that time.  

The Direct Air Capture Study Group’s report is currently going through the external review process.

If you have suggestions for a POPA study, send in your ideas.
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ISSUE: Media Update
APS members were busy during the past several months writing op-eds and letters to the editor in support of funding for science. 

In July, the Arizona Star and Lincoln Star newspapers published letters by Pierre Meystre, professor at the University of Arizona, and Timothy Gay, professor at the University of Nebraska. In their letters, they urged their senators to support the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.

That same month, the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper published an op-ed by William Evenson, a retired physics professor and university administrator at Brigham Young and Utah Valley universities. He also called upon his senators to support the COMPETES legislation.

In September, the Honolulu Star Advertiser featured an op-ed by Pui Lam, chair of the Physics Department of the University of Hawaii (Manoa-Honolulu), on the importance of funding key scientific agencies to meet the state’s 70 percent renewable energy goal by 2030.

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Editor: Alan Chodos