APS News

Washington Dispatch


Once again, this session, Congress failed to meet its constitutional duty to pass the 12 appropriations bills needed to keep the government funded for an entire fiscal year. Instead, lawmakers put federal programs on autopilot with a short-term continuing resolution that kept agency doors open between the October 1, 2015 start of fiscal year 2016 and December 11, 2015. They had hoped the added time would allow them to resolve the fiscal and policy debates that held up the appropriations process. But the extra 10 weeks proved to be insufficient, and negotiators had to tack on another week. It turned out that was not enough, as well.

As this issue of APS News was going to press, negotiators were still haggling over “policy riders” on the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. Although Democrats are in the minority in both the House and Senate, legislative aides said they would have to provide the majority of the votes if the bill is to pass. Armed with that knowledge, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was driving a hard bargain to eliminate riders Democrats found particularly odious, among them restrictions on Planned Parenthood funding and Export-Import Bank reauthorization. In spite of the contentious policy issues, congressional leaders said they expect negotiations to wrap up before members of Congress leave town for the Christmas recess.

Although negotiators have been tight-lipped, insiders have indicated that science budgets would fare reasonably well, with NASA leading the way. Since the fiscal year 2016 spending plan is likely to provide the template for fiscal year 2017 — in accord with the two-year budget deal struck in October — scientists should scrutinize the final Omnibus numbers when they become available. The APS Washington Office will provide a complete budget analysis once final numbers are released.


Budget Deal Could Put Science Back on World Stage

The Hill, one of three main Capitol Hill newspapers, published an op-ed on November 15 by APS Director of Public Affairs Michael S. Lubell titled “Budget deal could put science back on world stage.” In the piece, Lubell points out that the agreement will boost both non-defense and defense spending by a total of $80 billion during the next two years. Read more


The Council of Representatives at its November meeting voted to approve the APS Statement on Civic Engagement, the APS Statement on Earth’s Changing Climate and the APS Statement on the Status of Women in Physics. Follow-on activities are being considered by the appropriate APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) subcommittees.

The Physics & the Public Subcommittee continues its work with the American Institute of Physics on a survey focused on overcoming the obstacles to recruiting teachers in the physical sciences. The American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Computing Research Association are collaborating in the effort. The subcommittee is also exploring a proposal in partnership with the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and will present it to POPA in 2016.

A workshop addressing the long-term challenges of helium supply and pricing took place in November. The workshop study committee will present its findings to POPA in 2016. ACS and the Materials Research Society are collaborating in the effort. The Energy and Environment Subcommittee, under whose rubric the workshop took place, is also overseeing the expansion of two pilot programs initiated in 2015: The Liquid Helium Purchasing Program and a science policy internship centered on advancing APS policy goals derived from the 2011 Energy Critical Elements report.

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

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Emily Conover
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Art Director and Special Publications Manager: Kerry G. Johnson
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik