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Plant Biology Policy Blog (PB2)
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This blog from ASPB's public affairs unit will provide updates on policy developments in Washington and other plant biology news impacting the ASPB community. Please send any news, comments, or suggestions to ASPB's public affairs director, Adam Fagen, at Policy Archives available under Group Pages.


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Top tags: Congress  appropriations  House  USDA  NSF  Senate  NIH  DOE  President Obama  Farm Bill  OSTP  biofuels  award  education  event  fellowship  international  White House  workforce  COMPETES Act  energy  GMO  grants  NSB  Alert  funding  HHMI  National Academies  New York Times  nomination 

DOE releases strategic plan

Posted By Adam Fagen, Monday, May 09, 2011
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued its 2011 Strategic Plan, which outlines the broad, cross-cutting and collaborative goals that stretch across our complex. It is to serve as a blueprint for DOE to help address the nation’s energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.

The plan outlines that DOE's mission is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.  The report identifies four overarching goals:
  1. Catalyze the timely, material, and efficient transformation of the nation’s energy system and secure U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies.
  2. Maintain a vibrant U.S. effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of our economic prosperity with clear leadership in strategic areas.
  3. Enhance nuclear security through defense, nonproliferation, and environmental efforts.
  4. Establish an operational and adaptable framework that combines the best wisdom of all Department stakeholders to maximize mission success.

Among the specific targeted outcomes is "Develop cellulosic ethanol technologies by 2012 that can facilitate mature production costs less than $2.00/gallon."

In the area of bioenergy, DOE will continue to develop biotechnology solutions for energy, the environment, and carbon sequestration, with particular emphasis on Basic science research translates into cost-effective technologies for next-generation production of biofuels.

The Department will support research in the discovery, design, and synthesis of biomimetic and bioinspired functional approaches and energy-conversion processes based on principles and biological concepts. The emphasis is the creation of robust, scalable, energy-relevant processes and systems that work with the extraordinary effectiveness of processes from the biological world.  Areas of particular focus include the following:
  • Understand, control, and build complex hierarchical structures by imitating nature’s self- and directed-assembly approaches.
  • Design and synthesize environmentally adaptive, self-healing multicomponent systems that demonstrate energy conversion and storage capabilities found in nature.
  • Create functional systems with collective properties not achievable by simply summing the individual components.
  • Create biomimetic and/or bioinspired routes for the synthesis of energy-relevant materials.
  • Develop science-driven tools and techniques for the characterization of biomolecular and soft materials.

Genomics-based systems biology research, agronomic strategies, and fundamental understanding of biological and chemical deconstruction of biomass are particularly important elements of these activities. Research supported in this area will have impacts beyond bioenergy, underpinning technologies such as batteries and fuel cells, catalysis, hydrogen generation and storage, and membranes for advanced separation.

The targeted outcome is to apply systems biology approaches by 2015 to create viable biofuels processes and greatly increase

Additional Information:

(Thanks to Toby Smith, Energy Sciences Coalition)

Tags:  DOE 

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On-line consultation on Feed the Future

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, May 06, 2011
From May 9-27, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) will be coordinating a major on-line consultation, focusing on the research strategy of the U.S. Government’s new Feed the Future (FTF) Initiative. It will be a chance for researchers and other stakeholders to consider and provide input to the US government on FTF’s research priorities, and to discuss how best to support and engage with this important new program. 

APLU is inviting interested individuals to participate in this consultation. You can register at

Feed the Future is an ambitious new initiative to reduce global hunger and alleviate poverty, using a country-driven approach. It seeks to be a "whole of government" effort, marshaling the significant resources of the United States government in the pursuit of progress on some of the most vexing of all human challenges. A framework research strategy guiding global agricultural research investments under the initiative was released on May 3. The strategy was undertaken to help focus research under the initiative in ways that most effectively advance the goals of reducing poverty and hunger. Research investments in the broad areas of productivity gains, production systems, and nutrition and food safety are emphasized. 

If FTF research investments are to achieve real success, they must draw on the creativity, insights, and energies of the various communities of researchers working on agricultural development and hunger alleviation. To that end, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are partnering with APLU and the Board on International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD) to convene a consultative process for engaging the U.S. and international research communities to respond to the strategy and to identify research opportunities that support FTF’s research goals. There will be an open Forum June 21-23 in Washington, DC to discuss and refine the e-consultation outcomes.

Participants in the e-consultation will work to define a set of ten to twenty research challenges under the FTF research strategy. From there, participants will develop sets of actionable research questions and projects that collectively support each challenge and, overall, FTF’s goal In addition, the consultative process will identify opportunities for coordination of efforts through innovative partnerships across institutional and disciplinary boundaries and for enhancement of the impacts of research through human and institutional capacity development.

We seek participation and input from a wide cross-section of researchers concerned with agriculture, hunger alleviation, and human development, and all others interested in commenting on and engaging with FTF’s research strategy. Please also share this invitation with colleagues and networks that you think would like to be involved.

Additional Information:

Tags:  APLU  Feed the Future  USAID  USDA 

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Roger Beachy to step down as NIFA director

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, April 29, 2011
A memo to staff at USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) issued today by USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Catherine Woteki announced that founding NIFA director Roger Beachy (at right) would be stepping down effective May 20, 2011.

The memo said that "We understand that Dr. Beachy’s first priority must be to the needs of his family, and he will be returning to St. Louis, Missouri, to spend more time with his wife, his children and his grandchildren."

Dr. Beachy is a long-term member of ASPB.  He was the founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.  Earlier in his career, he headed the Division of Plant Biology at The Scripps Research Institute and was on the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis.  His work led to the development of the world's first genetically modified food crop, a variety of tomato that was modified for resistance to virus disease.  His technique to produce virus resistance in tomatoes has been replicated by researchers around the world to produce many types of plants with resistance to a number of different virus diseases.

Dr. Beachy is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and in 2001 received the Wolf Prize in Agriculture.  He is a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Microbiology, the National Academy of Science, India, and the Academy of Science of St. Louis.  He was honored with ASPB's Dennis R. Hoagland Award in 2000.

USDA is initiating an "aggressive search" to identify and recruit a distinguished scientist to serve as the next NIFA director.  Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young (at right), director of the Office of the Chief Scientist, has been named as acting director of NIFA.

Additional information:

Tags:  USDA 

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NIH makes cuts in research grants, increases stipends

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued a notice on implementing the final fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget, which cuts about 1% from NIH's budget.

Non-competing (i.e., continuing) research grants from NIH institutes and centers other than the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are reduced 1% below the FY 2010 award level.  NCI research grants will be reduced by 3%.  The cuts do not affect Career Awards, SBIR/STTRs, and Ruth L. Kirschstein-National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Fellowships & Institutional Training Grants.

It is estimated that NIH will support approximately 9,050 new and competing Research Project Grants (RPGs).

The news is not all down, however.  NRSA awards for undergraduate, predoctoral, and postdoctoral trainees will see a 2% increase in stipends.  Specifically, predoctoral stipends will increase to $21,180 and beginning postdoc stipends will increase to $37,740.

Additional information:

Tags:  funding  NIH 

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NIH names working group on the future biomedical workforce

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established a working group that will examine the future of the biomedical research workforce in the United States.  The working group will make recommendations to the Advisory Committee to the Director to ensure a diverse and sustainable biomedical and behavioral research workforce.

Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman was previously announced as a chair of the working group; the other members were announced today:
  • Shirley Tilghman (co-chair), President, Princeton University
  • Sally Rockey (co-chair), Deputy Director for Extramural Research, NIH
  • Sandra Degen, Vice President for Research, University of Cincinnati
  • Laura Forese, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Medical Officer, and Senior Vice President, New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center
  • Freeman Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • James Jackson, Professor of Psychology and Director, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan
  • Leemor Joshua-Tor, Professor and Dean, Watson School of Biological Sciences, and HHMI Investigator, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Richard Lifton, HHMI Investigator, Yale School of Medicine
  • Garry Neil, Corporate Vice President, Corporate Office of Science & Technology, Johnson & Johnson
  • Naomi Rosenberg, Dean, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Tufts University School of Medicine
  • Bruce A. Weinberg, Professor, John Glenn School of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
  • Keith Yamamoto, Executive Vice Dean, School of Medicine, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, and Vice Chancellor of Research, University of California, San Francisco

Previous posts:

Tags:  NIH  workforce 

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FY 2011 budget cuts largely spare science

Posted By Adam Fagen, Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Details about the budget deal worked out in the last hours before a planned federal government shutdown last Friday are beginning to emerge.

And although the deal for the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget cuts $38.5 billion from the FY 2010 spending levels that the government had been operating under, most of the science agencies are spared big cuts.  First, all non-defense discretionary spending would be reduced by 0.2% across the board.  Here's the rundown from the agencies of most interest to ASPB members:

Department of Agriculture

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would receive XXX, a reduction of $126 million below FY 2010 levels, with the cuts mostly in earmarked programs.  The competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would receive $265 million, which is actually a slightly increase (~1%) over FY 2010 levels.

The Agricultural Research Service would receive $1.135 billion, a reduction of $44 million from FY 2010 levels.

Department of Energy

The Department of Energy's Office of Science would receive $4.884 billion in the final FY 2011 appropriations bill, a reduction of $25 million below the FY 2010 enacted level.

This is $866 million above the level proposed earlier by the House.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would receive $180 million.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

NIH would receive $30.7 billion in the final FY 2011 appropriations bill.  This represents a cut of $260 million (0.8%) from FY 2010 levels.  $210 million would be cut from research funding and $50 million from buildings and facilities at NIH's Bethesda, MD, campus.

This is much less than the $1.6 billion cut originally passed by the House.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF would receive $6.874 billion, which is $53 million (0.8%) below the FY 2010 level.  The Research & Related Activities account would be funded at $5.575 billion, which is $43 million (0.8%) below FY 2010, and the Education & Human Resources account would be funded at $862.8 million, which is $10 million (1.2%) below FY 2010 levels.

Additional information:

Tags:  appropriations  Congress 

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Shutdown looms

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, April 08, 2011
It's Friday afternoon and there's no agreement yet on a Continuing Resolution or final fiscal year 2011 budget.  That means that all non-essential federal government services and offices are scheduled to shut down at midnight tonight.

Several federal agencies have issued guidance on operations during a funding hiatus:
The National Institutes of Health has not issued any formal guidance but ScienceInsider covered the 'secret plans.'

For other agencies, please see the links from the Office of Management and Budget.

Tags:  appropriations  Congress 

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First Farm Bill field hearing will be at Michigan State on April 9

Posted By Adam Fagen, Tuesday, April 05, 2011
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will hold its first field hearing on the next Farm Bill on April 9, 2011, on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing.  The hearing, "Opportunities for Growth: Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill," will focus on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill, examining agriculture as well as energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry and nutrition policies that affect Michigan.  The Farm Bill provides oversight for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will convene the hearing at MSU's Kellogg Center at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 9.  Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) is also expected to participate.

The general public may attend and watch the hearing (RSVP information below) and can also submit written testimony which will be included in the official record of the hearing. Three copies of your testimony can be submitted at the hearing or can be sent to the Committee no later than April 16, 2011. You may also submit questions for possible consideration by the panel members during a limited question and answer period before April 7, 2011. Send your testimony or questions to or to US Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, 328A Russell Senate Office Bldg, Washington, D.C. 20510.

For up-to-date information on the hearing and Farm Bill process, you can visit the Senate Agriculture Committee website at

To RSVP for the hearing, contact the Agriculture Committee Office at 202-224-2035 or email

If you go, please let us know what you think!

Additional information:

Tags:  Congress  Farm Bill  Michigan State  Senate 

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ASPB member Beth Hood testifies before House Appropriations subcommittee

Posted By Adam Fagen, Monday, March 14, 2011
ASPB Public Affairs Committee member Elizabeth Hood testified on behalf of ASPB before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies at a March 11 Outside Witness hearing.

Hood spoke in support of funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the $7.767 billion requested for fiscal year 2012.  While recognizing the difficult fiscal environment faced by the nation, Hood’s testimony emphasized that investments in scientific research will be a critical step toward economic recovery.

Hood mentioned that "the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences is a critical source of funding for scientific research, providing 68 percent of the federal support for non-medical basic life sciences research at U.S. academic institutions.”  "Despite the fact that basic plant biology research—the kind of research funded by the NSF—underpins so many vital practical considerations, the amount invested in understanding the basic function and mechanisms of plants is relatively small when compared with the impact plants have on our economy and in addressing some of the nation’s most urgent challenges such as food and energy security.”

Among the high impact programs supported by NSF is the Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP), which has laid a strong scientific research foundation for understanding plant genomics as it relates to energy (biofuels), health (nutrition and functional foods), agriculture (impact of changing climates on agronomic ecosystems), and the environment (plants’ roles as primary producers in ecosystems).  Hood asked that PGRP be restored as a separate line within the NSF budget, as in years past, and be funded at the highest possible level.

Hood also spoke in support of NSF’s career and workforce development programs—including graduate traineeships, fellowships, and career transition awards—as well NSF’s diversity programs and the research the agency supports on teaching and learning.

Hood is distinguished professor of agriculture at Arkansas State University.  ASPB’s complete written testimony may be found at

Additional information:

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  House 

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Continuing Resolution extends government operations for two more weeks

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, March 03, 2011
Yesterday, the Congress passed and the President signed a two-week extension to the Continuing Resolution (CR) funding government operations for fiscal year (FY) 2011.  This means that the federal government will not be forced to shutdown this weekend, when the previous CR was due to expire.

The vote on H.J.Res. 44 was 91 to 9 in the Senate, following a House vote of 335 to 91 on Tuesday.  President Obama signed the bill on March 2.

In addition to extending funding authority through March 18th, the bill reduces spending by $4 billion through a combination of reductions associated with funding made available in FY2010 that would have gone to earmarked projects and programs, including some in the science agencies ($2.7 billion) , and through program terminations proposed by the President in his FY2012 budget request ($1.24 billion).  None of the cuts affect programs relevant to plant biology.

It is now the intent of Senate Democrats to push for negotiations between the White House, Senate, and House Republicans on a bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of FY2011 rather than offer an alternative to the House-passed full-year CR, which would reduce overall federal discretionary spending by $61 billion below the FY 2010 enacted level.

The President has announced a high-level team to enter these negotiations, which includes Vice President Joseph Biden, White House Chief of Staff William Daley, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew.  Such negotiations could take well beyond the current CR, which would necessitate an additional extension (or extensions) of funding authority for federal agencies and programs.

Because the new CR only lasts through March 18, we may be in the same place in just a couple of weeks.

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  President Obama 

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March 2 Washington Report now available

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, March 03, 2011
The March 2, 2011, issue of the ASPB Washington Report has now been published.

Check it out for a variety of news information from the nation's capital.  Here's the Table of Contents for the current issue:

ASPB In Washington
  • ASPB Addresses the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
  • ASPB Signs on to Letters Supporting Funding for Research
  • ASPB Issues Statements about State of the Union and FY2012 Budget Request 
  • ASPB Participates in Meetings with Congressional Staff

Capitol Hill
  • Congressionally-Directed Spending: Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Announces a No Earmark Policy for FY2011 and FY2012
  • State of the Union: President Obama Highlights Research and Innovation
  • Congressional Hearing: House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Tackles Federal Research Budget in First Hearing

Federal Agency Update
  • President’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Released
  • President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Focuses on USDA and NSF
  • White House: Administration Launches Effort to Reduce Burden of Federal Regulatory Process

Funding Opportunities
  • USDA: NIFA releases FY 2011 AFRI Foundational Solicitation
  • NSF-JST: Metabolomics for a Low Carbon Society
  • NSF: Advancing Theory in Biology
  • NSF: Research Coordination Networks
  • NSF: Fostering Interdisciplinary Research on Education
  • Human Frontier Science Program: International Collaborative Grants
  • International Research: NSF Releases Dear Colleague Letter Detailing Next PIRE Competition’s Focus on SEES
  • International Science: USAID/NSF Preparing Joint Funding Opportunity to Catalyze International Scientific Collaboration

Click here to download the complete issue.

Tags:  Washington Report 

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Amendment to House CR proposes to eliminate funds for DOE biological and environmental research

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, February 16, 2011
One of the 500+ House amendments offered on the Continuing Resolution (CR) that would cut $100B from the federal budget would eliminate funding for biological and environmental research (BER) within the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), reads as follows:

Amendment No. 304: At the end of the bill (before the short title) insert the following new section:

Sec. 4002. None of the funds provided by this Act under the heading ``Department of Energy, Science'' shall be available for biological and environmental research authorized under subtitle G of title IX of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. 16311 et seq.).

Rep. McClintock has offered a second amendment (no. 305) that removes the funding that would otherwise be appropriated to BER under the CR.  Rep. McClintock represents the 4th district of California, which includes the northeast corner of the state, including most of the state north and east of Sacramento.

We believe that Rep. McClintock has offered his amendment in order to eliminate climate change research.  But BER also supports a significant amount of research unrelated to climate change, including fundamental and applied research in support of DOE's energy, environment, and basic research missions, such as the development of biofuels.

Among the programs that could be shuttered if these cuts are enacted would be the three Bioenergy Research Centers: BioEnergy Science Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, and Joint BioEnergy Institute at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  It could also mothball a number of BER user facilities including the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, Atmospheric Radiation Measurement, and the Joint Genome Institute.

ASPB urges you to add threats to DOE's biological and environmental research portfolio to your talking points when you contact your Congressional representative.

Additional information:

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  DOE  House 

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House Continuing Resolution for FY2011 contains $100 billion in cuts

Posted By Adam Fagen, Monday, February 14, 2011
On Friday evening, the House Appropriations Committee released its bill to fund the government through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2011.  The bill would cut $100 billion from President Obama's proposed budget for FY2011, including catastrophic cuts for the science agencies that support research in plant biology.

See ASPB's Urgent Action Alert for more information about the proposed cuts.

ASPB members and others are encouraged to reach out to their Representatives and Senators to ask them to support research funding and oppose cuts to the budgets for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the DOE Office of Science, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  House members will be voting on these proposed cuts this week, and the final budget bill will have to be passed by the Senate as well.  You can find your Representative’s contact information on the House of Representatives website and your Senators’ contact information on the Senate website.

When calling the offices, ask to speak with the science or appropriations staffer or to leave a message.  Simply ask them to support funding for science agencies, explaining that basic research and science education are vital to maintaining America’s competitiveness and give examples of how cuts would impact your research activities.  Remind them of the critical role that science has in fostering innovation, which leads to jobs and a healthy economy—these cuts will not only have dire short-term consequences but will hurt our long-term success for years to come.  You could also point out that federal support for research leads to jobs in local communities, including the talented graduate students, postdocs, and other personnel in your own labs and institutions working to address vital priorities in areas like food and energy security.

The House is expected to debate the continuing resolution this week, so please call as soon as possible.

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  House 

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House Appropriations Committee begins to identify spending cuts

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Details are starting to be revealed on how the House Appropriations Committee will realize $74 billion in cuts from President Obama's proposed fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget.  Although the broad number was released last week, these are first details about where the cuts will be proposed.

A statement from committee chair Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), released today, provides a partial list of 70 spending cuts that will be included in the upcoming House Continuing Resolution (CR) bill.  A CR would carry federal spending through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.  The government is currently operating on a CR that is in effect through March 4, 2011.

Although more specific details will emerge over the next few days and weeks, here are the proposed cuts in programs of interest to the ASPB community:
  • Department of Energy Office of Science:  $1.1 billion
  • National Institutes of Health:  $1 billion
  • Agriculture research:  $246 million
  • National Science Foundation:  $139 million
In his statement, Chairman Rodgers acknowledged the pain these cuts would cause:

Make no mistake, these cuts are not low-hanging fruit.  These cuts are real and will impact every District across the country - including my own.  As I have often said, every dollar we cut has a constituency, an industry, an association, and individual citizens who will disagree with us.

It should be noted that these are cuts proposed by the House Appropriations Committee which must not only pass the full House but also pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama.  Therefore, it's unlikely that the final FY2011 budget will experience such deep cuts, but it is clear that this is a tough budget environment.

Additional information:

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  House 

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House Appropriations Committee sets spending cuts for FY11

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, February 04, 2011
House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) has outlined the spending cuts for each of the twelve appropriations subcommittees.

The House Budget Committee had previously outlined an overall budget $74 billion below the President's request and $35 billion below fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriations.  Rep. Rogers allocated the cuts to each of the subcommittees that together set the House's budget levels for the federal government.

These cuts are for FY2011 budget, which will fund the government through September 30, 2011 (the government's fiscal year begins on October 1 of the previous year).

Rep. Rogers' statement says that cuts will not be across-the-board but target specific programs:

"To accomplish this goal [of cutting $74 billion], I am instructing each of the twelve Appropriations subcommittees to produce specific, substantive and comprehensive spending cuts. We are going go line by line to weed out and eliminate unnecessary, wasteful, or excess spending – and produce legislation that will represent the largest series of spending reductions in the history of Congress. These cuts will not be easy, they will be broad and deep, they will affect every Congressional district, but they are necessary and long overdue.
"With this CR, we will respond to the millions of Americans who have called on this Congress to rein in spending and help our economy grow and our businesses create jobs. It is my intention –and that of my Committee – to craft a responsible, judicious CR that will significantly reduce government spending, begin to get our nation’s finances in order so that the economy can thrive, and provide essential resources for our national security.”

Details of the proposed cuts have not been released yet, but here are the bottom line number for each subcommittee's area of responsibility:
  • The Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee would see a cut of $10.2 billion (16%) below FY2010.  This subcommittee includes jurisdiction for NSF.
  • The Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA subcommittee would see a cut of $3.2 billion (14%) below FY2010.  This subcommittee includes jurisdiction for USDA.
  • The Energy and Water Development subcommittee would see a cut of $3.5 billion (10%) blow FY2010.  This subcommittee includes jurisdiction for DOE.
  • The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittee would see a cut of $6.6 billion (4.4%) below FY2010.  This subcommittee includes jurisdiction for NIH.
It should be noted that these target cuts only apply to the House.  It is not expected that the Senate or White House will be willing to go along with such substantial budget reductions.

Additional information:

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  House 

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Senate to reject earmarks

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, (D-HI) announced yesterday that the Committee will implement a moratorium on earmarks for the session of Congress that just began, meaning that earmarks will not be an option for the next two years.  Sen. Inouye's statement puts the Senate in line with the House and the White House, as both Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and President Obama have said that they would not support spending bills that contain earmarks.

It's clear from his statement that Sen. Inouye is bending to political reality, even though he remains supportive of the value of earmarks, as long as the process is transparent and fair:

"I continue to support the Constitutional right of members of Congress to direct investments to their states and districts under the fiscally responsible and transparent earmarking process that we have established. 

"However, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. The President has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.

"The Appropriations Committee will thoroughly review its earmark policy to ensure that every member has a precise definition of what constitutes an earmark. To that end, we will send each member a letter with the interpretation of Rule XLIV (44) that will be used by the Committee. If any member submits a request that is an earmark as defined by that rule, we will respectfully return the request.

"Next year, when the consequences of this decision are fully understood by the members of this body, we will most certainly revisit this issue and explore ways to improve the earmarking process.  At the appropriate time, I will once again urge the Senate to consider a transparent and fair earmark process that protects our rights as legislators to answer the petitions of our constituents, regardless of what the President or some Federal bureaucrat thinks is right."

As Sen. Inouye said, he will provide a copy of Senate Rule XLIV to each member, which defines an earmark.  Specifically, the rule says:

the term 'congressionally directed spending item' means a provision or report language included primarily at the request of a Senator providing, authorizing, or recommending a specific amount of discretionary budget authority, credit authority, or other spending authority for a contract, loan, loan guarantee, grant, loan authority, or other expenditure with or to an entity, or targeted to a specific State, locality or Congressional district, other than through a statutory or administrative formula-driven or competitive award process; 

Additional information:

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  Senate 

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Are bomb-sniffing plants in our future?

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, January 27, 2011
It's no surprise to ASPB members, but plants have application in a lot of different areas. We talk a lot of applications in health, energy, food, and environment, but what about security?

The answer is a big yes. A team led by ASPB member June Medford (Colorado State University) has developed a plant that changes color in response to small levels of TNT in the environment. With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of Naval Research, and other agencies, Medford's team worked with colleagues to redesign receptors which specifically recognize pollutants or explosives to active internal signals in the plants, which causes the plants to turn white upon exposure.

In an article about the research, The New York Times asks:

Could airport security gardens be the wave of the future? ("Please have photo ID and boarding pass ready and walk past the rhododenrons.") How about a defensive line of bomb-sniffing tulips in Central Park in New York, or at the local shopping mall’s indoor waterfall, or lining the streets of Baghdad?

You can also learn more about Medford's research in a video produced by Colorado State:

and another from the Medford lab that provides a simple explanation of promise and mechanism of these plant sentinels:

Plant biologists are clearly contributing to the safety of our nation.

Additional information

Tags:  research  security 

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President Obama focuses on research and education in State of the Union

Posted By Adam Fagen, Wednesday, January 26, 2011
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 25, President Obama emphasized the importance of research, education, and innovation.


Devoting more time to these topics than is common in such a prominent speech, the President gave full-throated support of the need to invest in basic research. He also specifically called out the need for clean energy technology. Here's some of what he said:

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.

This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

He followed this up with a call for enhanced education, especially in preparing the next generation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and in recruiting the best and the brightest to teaching:

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America's success. But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you.

Even with all of the talk about the need to invest in the future, the President also acknowledged that budgetary realities means that federal spending must be brought under control by freezing domestic spending for the next five years and making "painful cuts." However the President seemed to warn against the potential to cut the investments needed for future success:

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without..... Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact. (Laughter.)

Tags:  biofuels  President Obama 

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White House issues Executive Order on improving regulation and regulatory review

Posted By Adam Fagen, Sunday, January 23, 2011
On January 18, President Obama issued an Executive Order on "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review."  In a blog posting, Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, described the basic tenets of the Executive Order as follows:

to consider costs and how best to reduce burdens for American businesses and consumers; to expand opportunities for public participation and stakeholder involvement; to seek the most flexible, least burdensome approaches; to ensure that regulations are scientifically-driven; and to review old regulations so that rules which are no longer needed can be modified or withdrawn.

A White House fact sheet further outlines the guiding principles government agencies are supposed to follow in crafting regulation:
  • Cost-effective and Cost-Justified: Consistent with law, Agencies must consider costs and benefits and choose the least burdensome path.
  • Transparent: The regulatory process must be transparent and include public participation, with an opportunity for the public to comment.
  • Coordinated and Simplified: Agencies must attempt to coordinate, simplify, and harmonize regulations to reduce costs and promote certainty for businesses and the public.
  • Flexible: Agencies must consider approaches that maintain freedom of choice and flexibility, including disclosure of relevant information to the public.
  • Science-driven: Regulations must be guided by objective scientific evidence.
  • Necessary and Up-to-Date: Existing regulations must be reviewed to determine that they are still necessary and crafted effectively to solve current problems. If they are outdated, they must be changed or repealed.
The Executive Order says that public comments periods on proposed regulation should generally be at least 60 days, and there should be timely access to the rulemaking docket on, including relevant scientific and technical findings.  And agencies are directed to seek the view of those who are likely to be affected by proposed regulations.

President Obama also wrote a related op-ed in The Wall Street Journal outlining the new approach to regulation and the need for balance between regulation and promoting economic growth.

Further reading:

Tags:  President Obama  regulation 

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Democratic members of House Appropriations subcommittees named

Posted By Adam Fagen, Saturday, January 22, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, we told you about the Republican chairs and members of the House Appropriations subcommittees.  Now the Democrats have made their subcommittee assignments:

Agriculture Subcommittee (jurisdiction for USDA, FDA, other agencies)
  • Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), Ranking Member
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
  • Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA)
  • Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)

Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee (jurisdiction for NSF, NASA, OSTP, Commerce, Justice, others)
  • Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Ranking Member
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA)
  • Rep. José Serrano (D-NY)

Energy and Water Subcommittee (jurisdiction for Energy, Interior, others)
  • Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), Ranking Member
  • Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ)
  • Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
  • Rep. John Olver (D-MA)

Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee (jurisdiction for NIH, Education, Labor, others)
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member
  • Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)
  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Tags:  Congress  House 

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