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Washington Dispatch

Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriations

The House and Senate are proceeding with consideration of the Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) appropriations bills. The Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations have just been voted on by the full appropriations committees in the House and Senate. For NASA, the House appropriated $16.6B, a decrease of $943M, and the Senate appropriated $18.0B, an increase of $458M. For NIST, the House appropriated $784M, a decrease of $25M, and the Senate appropriated $948M, an increase of $140M. For NSF, the House appropriated $7.0B, a decrease of $259M, and the Senate appropriated $7.4B, an increase of $148M. Details of NASA, NIST, and NSF subaccounts are forthcoming. All comparisons are to FY13 pre-sequester appropriations.

The next step in appropriations is for the bills to come up for a full floor vote. After that, however, the most likely scenario is that drastically different spending numbers stemming from ideological divides between Democrats and Republicans will stall any attempt to pass full appropriations and that FY14 will operate under yet another Continuing Resolution (CR). 

Disagreement over the Budget Resolution, which by law Congress must pass, highlights the ideological divides. The Resolution is supposed to establish spending priorities by government function and provide a top-line overall budget number that dictates total appropriations for the coming year. Unable to agree on a common Resolution this year, the House and Senate have adopted dramatically different budget plans. The House Resolution provides a total of $966B for discretionary spending, consistent with the 2010 Budget Control Act (BCA), assuming continuation of across-the-board sequestrations for FY14. But the House Resolution provides more money for Defense ($552B) and less for Non-Defense ($414B) than the BCA stipulates. By contrast, the Senate Resolution does not assume continuation of sequestration and provides a total of $1,058B for discretionary spending, $552B for Defense and $506B for Non-Defense, both slightly above the BCA caps.

The debate over federal spending is about both top-line numbers and how those numbers are distributed. For example, President Obama requested and Senate appropriators have proposed $5,152M for the Department of Energy Office of Science. The full House has approved only $4,653M, a difference of almost $500M, which alone would make it difficult to conference the bills. But House spending for Fusion is $50M higher than the Senate plan, while the Senate plan includes $300M more for Basic Energy Sciences than the House has approved. Furthermore, the House would eviscerate ARPA-E, reducing it to only $50M as compared to the Senate which would fund ARPA-E at $379M. The House would also reduce funding significantly to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), paring it back to $982M whereas the Senate would fund EERE at $2,280M.

Congress pushes back against STEM-Ed realignment
The President's request included a massive realignment of STEM-Ed programs. Both chambers of Congress have included language in appropriations that severely limits the STEM-Ed realignment, and in some cases outright forbids parts of it. The Senate explained, "The President's budget was based on the administration's proposal to reauthorize the ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more recently known as The No Child Left Behind Act], but no such bill has passed the Senate. As a result, programs in this account are based generally on current law, as authorized under the ESEA."

The result is significant confusion. Many programs slated for cancellation or consolidation under the President's Budget request stopped taking grant proposals at the direction of the administration.  Congress is now directing those programs to continue as before, while giving some leeway to internal reorganization. An unfortunate result may be that at year's end, there will be a lot of unspent STEM-Ed money that will be returned to federal coffers and applied to deficit reduction.

The review processes for several POPA Reports are nearing conclusion. The final documents will be published in the upcoming months and will be posted on the POPA Reports website.

APS membership commentary regarding the proposed APS Statement on K-12 physics education is currently being reviewed and the statement will be considered by POPA at its October meeting.

Discussions are underway to host a joint international workshop on tactical nuclear weapons, with sister physics societies in Europe. The idea for an international workshop stemmed from a recent US workshop on the subject, held jointly by APS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That report is available on the POPA Reports website.

A Climate Change Statement Review Subcommittee has been formed. The Subcommittee will be reviewing the current APS Statement on Climate Change to determine if revisions are necessary, based in part on the report of Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) due for release this fall.

POPA considered and approved a proposal, suggested by the APS Committee on Education, for a Society-endorsed statement on undergraduate research. The proposed statement will now move to the APS Council for comment, and then on to the APS Executive Board for review.

A template for study proposals can be found online, along with a suggestion box for future POPA studies.

Media Update
The push for the passage of the Helium Stewardship Act was bolstered by two op-eds recently published in Politico and Roll Call, two leading Capitol Hill newspapers.

APS President Michael S. Turner and Moses Chan, physics professor at Penn State University, authored the Politico piece on June 18, stating the bill is necessary to support cutting-edge research for scientists and high-tech products developed by the nation's advanced manufacturing sectors. Chan also wrote a commentary in support of the bill on July 9 in Roll Call.

To read the op-eds, click on the following links:
Gray Arrow America's looming helium disaster
Gray Arrow Helium Bill Needed to Maintain U.S. Economic and Scientific Strength | Commentary

In other news, Michael S. Lubell, director of public affairs for APS, wrote an op-ed in Roll Call on July 25 titled "Why Social Science Matters." In the piece, Lubell states that social science has become a "punching bag for conservatives" even as they use the research for political purposes such as public polling.

For more information, log on to the APS Public Affairs website.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella