The following article is reprinted here with permission from FYI, The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News (Number 1 – 9 January 2014)
Congress and the Obama Administration started the year with a delay in mandatory FY 2014 budget cuts. Responding to budget uncertainty, federal agencies took precautionary measures to limit spending. The National Defense Authorization Act was enacted with important provisions relating to the National Nuclear Security Administration, domestic production of medical isotopes, the National Ignition Facility, STEM education and workforce, and critical materials. The Department of Energy released a strategic plan on nuclear waste. The NASA Safety Advisory Panel called the continuing issue of budget uncertainty ï¿½the elephant in the room for commercial space and longer term exploration. President Obama discussed immigration law reform with references to STEM workforce and visas.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh, US Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco announced their plans to leave their positions. No progress was made in preventing impending March 1 mandatory budget cuts. The first hearing of the House Science Committee focused on American competitiveness and the role of R&D. A new report by the Task Force on American Innovation concluded that the health of the US innovation system is faltering. The Senate Appropriations Committee requested federal agencies to predict impacts of mandatory budget cuts. The Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a directive to federal agencies on public access. A House subcommittee reviewed travel restrictions on federal scientists.
The President announced his intention to nominate Ernest Moniz to be the next secretary of energy. A House subcommittee reviewed access to research data. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on high skilled immigration. The President discussed sequestration and its impact on R&D at Argonne National Laboratory. Final FY 2013 appropriations legislation was enacted that generally maintained level funding, minus $85 billion in mandated spending cuts (sequestration.) Seventeen representatives sent a letter to the White House advocating strong support for the DOE High Energy Physics program in the FY 2014 budget request.
Physics, optics, nanoscience and imaging were highlighted by the White House in a description of the President’s BRAIN Initiative. A positive Senate confirmation hearing was held for Ernest Moniz to be the next secretary of energy. The FY 2014 budget request was sent to Congress; total federal R&D would decline slightly as compared to FY 2013. Four senators and representatives criticized budgetary reductions to NASA’s Planetary Science program. Key House and Senate appropriations hearings commenced on federal S&T agency budget requests. A House Science Committee Republican legislative discussion draft on changes to the NSF grant procedure provoked great controversy. The House passed a bill to reform the management of the federal helium reserve. House subcommittees held a hearing on next generation computing and big data analytics.
Four key senators asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the cost and schedule for the completion of ITER and the feasibility of delaying or adjusting the U.S. contributions to the fusion reactor. A Senate hearing examined challenges and opportunities in human space flight. Fifty representatives sent a letter to key appropriators requesting funding for domestic and international fusion research. The Senate confirmed Ernest Moniz to be the secretary of energy by a vote of 97-0. Opposition continued to mount to a House Science Republican legislative discussion draft on the NSF grant process. The OMB identified education, innovation, and R&D as effective investments in economic growth in a guidance memo on FY 2014 budget priorities.
The OMB recognized value of physical collocation in scientific collaboration in an update to a previous memorandum on acceptable travel expenses for federal employees. The National Science and Technology Council released a five-year STEM strategic plan. The House Science Committee reviewed the Administration’s proposed STEM program reorganization plan. A contentious House hearing was held on a NASA reauthorization bill, with much discussion about the adequacy of proposed funding levels. The House Science Committee held a hearing on DOE science and technology priorities. House and Senate Appropriations Committees completed work on the FY 2014 DOE funding bill.
NSF released a FY 2013 spending plan, finding that its total budget declined 3.l percent from the previous year. The House passed a FY 2014 DOE funding bill. A report was released on improving the management of the national laboratories. House and Senate Appropriations Committees completed work on the FY 2014 funding bill for NASA, NIST, NOAA, and NSF. Elementary and secondary education reauthorization bills moved in the House and Senate. A Senate committee passed an NASA reauthorization bill on a party-line vote. A Senate committee held a hearing on a bipartisan nuclear waste bill.
The White House announced that President Obama would nominate France Cordova to be the next director of the National Science Foundation. The House leadership withdrew an appropriations bill from the floor when it became apparent there were insufficient votes to pass it. The U.S. Court of Appeal ruled that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must resume its review of the Yucca Mountain waste repository.
NASA released its FY 2013 Operating Plan. The House Science Committee held a hearing to discuss aging NASA infrastructure. Congress and the Administration failed to reach an agreement to provide FY 2014 funding.
President Obama signed the Helium Stewardship Act into law. Full federal operations resumed after 16-day shutdown following the passage of a short-term funding bill. Several senators introduced critical minerals legislation.
Work continued on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act with hearings by House and Senate committees. The White House announced that President Obama would nominate Franklin Orr, Jr. as the DOE Undersecretary for Science and Engineering, Marc Kastner as the director of the Office of Science, and Ellen Williams as the Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency ï¿½ Energy. A House Energy subcommittee held a hearing on STEM education and manufacturing. The NRC resumed its review of the Yucca Mountain waste repository.
A short-term agreement cleared the way for negotiations on final FY 2014 appropriations legislation. An international survey was released comparing students in STEM fields. The House Science Committee held a hearing on astrobiology research. With bipartisan votes, the House Science Committee approved Weather Service legislation.