The role of science investment in community and professional development
Aug19

The role of science investment in community and professional development

Amid all the partisan turmoil in Congress, it seems Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have actually reached a consensus on one issue – that the administration’s proposal to consolidate Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs needs to go back to the drawing board. The proposal, first introduced in the president’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, would reduce programs across all federal agencies from 226 to 112 and house them under the National Science Foundation (NSF) (undergraduate and graduate), the Department of Education (K-12) and the Smithsonian Institution (informal education programs). Agencies that have traditionally sponsored STEM programs and fellowships such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would see their initiatives consolidated under the aforementioned agencies. Key leaders in both the House and Senate concur that the administration has not sufficiently clarified its rationale for eliminating certain programs nor has it sufficiently collaborated or sought input from the science and education communities. This sentiment was most recently expressed by the Senate Commerce Justice and Science Subcommittee in its report that accompanied the subcommittee’s Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill: “While the Committee maintains its support of greater efficiencies and consolidation – as evident by adopting some of the STEM consolidation recommendations made by the administration’s budget request – the Committee has concerns that the proposal as a whole has not been thoroughly vetted with the education community or congressional authorizing committees, and lacks thorough guidance and input from Federal agencies affected by this proposal, from both those that stand to lose education and outreach programs and from those that stand to gain them.” The report notes that the administration’s STEM strategic plan was released in May, a month after the budget request and that the reorganization proposal, as laid out in the budget request, does not fully clarify how it will meet the goals mandated by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358). Consequently, the committee report language effectively defers implementation of the consolidation proposal “until such time that OSTP, in working with these and other Federal science agencies, finalizes the STEM program assessments as required by America COMPETES.” The House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee report also disparages the Administration’s proposal: “The ideas presented in the budget request lack any substantive implementation plan and have little support within the STEM education community. In addition, the request conflicts with several findings and activities of the National Science and Technology Council Committee on STEM Education, most notably on the question of whether agency mission-specific fellowship and scholarship programs are a viable target...

Read More

ESA Policy News: February 1

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES BILL TO SUSPEND DEBT CEILING TEMPORARILY On Jan. 23, the House passed H.R. 325, the No Budget, No Pay Act. The bill would temporarily eliminate the debt ceiling until May 19 while temporarily suspending pay for Members of Congress until the House and Senate each pass a budget. The measure prevents the nation from defaulting on its debt, potentially into August if the US Department of Treasury takes extraordinary measures. The bill gives additional breathing room to a series of fiscal debates set to occur in March concerning budget sequestration and continuing appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013. A trigger of automatic across-the-board spending cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs will occur on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the debt beforehand. Under H.R. 325, if either the House or Senate fails to pass a budget by the April 15 deadline, all income earned by the members of that chamber would be set aside. The members pay would be received in full once a budget is passed or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of calendar year 2014. The technical decision to withhold members pay as opposed to eliminating it indefinitely seeks to minimize conflicts with the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prevents Congress from changing its pay after it has already convened. The bill also does not require both the House and Senate to pass the same budget, unlikely to occur, given the current party division between the two chambers. Murray takes Senate Budget Committee reins A new key player in federal debt talks this year will be Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who assumes the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee. Even before the House legislation was finalized, Chairwoman Murray had pledged that the Senate would put forward and pass a budget this year, which would mark the first time the Senate has passed a budget since 2009. The Senate Budget Committee has posted a site that allows individuals to solicit their ideas on how to achieve fiscal reform as well as share stories of how federal investment has impacted them. To view the site and offer comments, click here. WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES NEED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE IN SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS After a year of relative silence on the issue of climate change, President Obama gave the topic center stage in his second inaugural address. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the...

Read More

ESA Policy News: January 4

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES LEGISLATION TO DELAY SEQUESTRATION, EXTEND TAX CUTS After an extended period of partisan gridlock, Congress on Jan. 1 passed legislation to address “the fiscal cliff.” The term applied largely to automatic cuts to federal agencies that were set to kick in this month as well as a number of tax cuts and credits that were to expire Dec. 31, 2012. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 punts action on the sequestration (the automatic cuts to military and non-defense discretionary spending) by two months into March. This is paid for with $24 billion in offsets, half by lowering caps on overall defense and non-defense discretionary spending by $12 billion for the next two years and the other half by revenue changes to Individual Retirement Accounts that raise $12 billion in revenue. The bill makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for individuals making under $400,000 and families making under $450,000. It also permanently fixes the Alternative Minimum Tax by indexing for inflation, delays Medicare physician payment cuts for a year and extends unemployment benefits for a year in addition to extending other tax provisions. A wind energy tax credit is also extended for a full year under the agreement. The new law also includes a nine-month extension of the farm bill for several key provisions, including one to prevent milk prices from rising substantially. However, the law lacks an extension of mandatory funding for energy programs, its conservation title or research into organic crops, according to Senate leaders. While the fiscal deal resolves much of the immediate economic uncertainty related to taxes, the federal spending aspects of the fiscal cliff have yet to be resolved. Important Upcoming deadlines: Sequestration – Across-the-board cuts of eight percent to all federal agencies have been delayed to now go into effect on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. Debt ceiling – A deal on budget sequestration may now have to include provisions to address the federal debt limit. The existing spending limit was reached Dec. 31, but the US Department of Treasury has enacted “extraordinary measures” that will extend the federal government’s borrowing authority until roughly late February or early March, basically around the same time that legislation to address sequestration would be needed. Congressional Republicans are vowing to ensure that any increase in the debt limit be tied to significant cuts in federal spending. FY 2013 appropriations – Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations must also be addressed. The Continuing...

Read More

Budget sequestration – it’s not Congress’s first rodeo

  A ticking time bomb is set to go off in January that would cost millions of jobs, stifle discretionary spending investments in disaster response, conservation, education, research and innovation as well as increase taxes on millions and potentially  spur another recession – the fiscal cliff. Coinciding with the expiration of a series of tax cuts and unemployment benefits, the fiscal cliff also includes across-the-board cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary programs, enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). These programs were targeted in an effort to jeopardize funding that was important to both parties in a manner that (one would think) would encourage the expedient development of a bipartisan solution to addressing the federal debt. The effort (thus far) has proved to be not only futile but would likely do more harm than good. A report from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) concludes that allowing the discretionary spending cuts to be implemented would hurt a number of critical government services and cost over a million jobs. Further, BPC notes  that full implementation of the sequester will only delay by two years the date at which public debt surpasses 100 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product as increased mandatory spending programs coupled with decreasing revenue are the primary drivers of our burgeoning debt.  Another report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office adds that extending the tax cuts set to expire would save or create up to 1.8 million jobs. However, the sequestration’s basic concept of holding beloved investments hostage in favor of a long-term compromise is not exactly new. The sequestration method was initially implemented during the 99th Congress under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-177). The bill instituted a five year plan to lower the national debt, which had reached record levels at the time. The legislation was introduced by Sens. Phil Gramm (R-TX), Warren Rudman (R-NH) and Fritz Hollings (D-SC). If deficit goals were not met in any given year, automatic spending cuts (50 percent from defense and 50 percent from non-defense discretionary spending) would occur.  The bill passed the Democratic House by a vote of 271-154, the Republican Senate by a vote of 61-31 and was signed by President Reagan Dec. 12, 1985. Implementation of the sequester under P.L. 99-177 rested with the Comptroller General of the United States, who also serves as the Director of the General Accountability Office (GAO). Given that GAO is part of the legislative branch, the US Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in 1986 as a violation of the separation of powers. The court stated that the US Constitution commands that Congress play no role...

Read More

Is science policy partisan?

New America Foundation fellows say no. Terence says, not so fast— By Terence Houston, Policy Analyst, and Liza Lester, Communications Officer In the thick of Presidential debate season, with November 6th bearing down upon us, DC think tank the New America Foundation teamed up with Slate Magazine and Arizona State University to “Delve into ‘12” and ask a panel of wonks and journalists if partisan promises translate into real policy differences for science and technology. Does it matter whether Obama is reelected or Romney replaces him? What will change if the Democrats lose the Senate? “It’s Science and Tech Policy, Stupid,” a Future Tense event, promised answers. Liza went to the event and returned bewildered. Luckily, Terence (ESA’s policy analyst) was on hand to put the New America discussion into perspective. In this post, you get Liza’s introduction followed by Terence’s commentary.   Liza: so is science politically polarizing or not? I’m confused. Science and technology are not partisan, according to Konstantin Kakaes, a fellow at New America, former Knight Science Journalism fellow and Economist reporter. Or perhaps he meant that what politicians say they will do isn’t what they actually do, when campaign rhetoric meets legislative reality. He seemed to be arguing both, so the message got a bit muddled. Kakaes pointed to the demise of the Superconducting Super Collider 20 years ago, fallen to Senate vs. House bickering, not partisan disputes. The loss didn’t really matter to physics, though, not in the way that you would think based on the hype, or  at least not as far as politicians could tell, he added. All politicians exaggerate the benefits of the projects they champion, he said. “It’s a matter of being a politician rather than being a politician of one ideological stripe or another.” And neither party heeds sound scientific advice, whether crystal clear, as in the case of missile defense, or framed in more vague presentiments of foreboding and lack of knowledge, as with recent fracking recommendations. Military requisitions and energy policy are dominated by economic and political concerns, not scientific advice. Kakaes’ point of view is kind of reassuring, in spite of his attitude of futility. To have its fortunes tied to a political party is not good for science, or any entity. (See the history of Planned Parenthood for a case study in the damage such political alignments can do). We don’t want science to be partisan. But…calls to shutter the EPA emerged from the Republican-held House not long ago. Repudiations of climate science and evolution have left scientists feeling that there is a definite partisan divide yawning—or worse, that congressional confidence in science is...

Read More