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Public Affairs

Public Affairs

Congress Approves Two-Year Budget Agreement

Without the fanfare and public attention that accompanied the September 30 deadline for Congress to pass a budget for 2014, both the House and Senate approved a budget deal, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which establishes spending caps for discretionary programs for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The legislation, announced December 10 by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (DWA.), sets discretionary spending for FY 2014 at $1.012 trillion and eliminates $63 billion in sequestration cuts in FYs 2014 and 2015. The House approved the deal with a vote of 332-94, and the Senate followed suit with a vote of 64-36. The smooth passage of the bill should prevent another government shutdown in the next year.

With a top line number in place, House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) were reportedly working on establishing allocations for each appropriations subcommittee, so that those committees can approve spending for the federal programs they oversee before the current continuing resolution funding the government expires on January 15, 2014. With the elimination of some of the sequestration cuts, advocates for programs such as science funding are optimistic that the short-term outlook for funding will be a little less bleak.

NSF to Increase Transparency

Under attack from the Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Lamar Smith (R-TX) for the grants that it funds, the National Science Foundation announced its own plans to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and accountability in how it spends public funds. On December 13, NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett issued a notice to Presidents of Colleges and Universities stating that the National Science Board and NSF senior leadership have identified opportunities for improvement in two areas: accountability and communication. NSF plans to look at its processes to ensure its investments are in the national interest, as defined by NSF’s mission “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure the national defense...” NSF also will be examining its communications to ensure that investment decisions are clearly articulated to the public. “We believe we can enhance our public communications of what we are funding and why it is important,” stated Marrett. The review may result in new policies and procedures at the agency.

One way that NSF plans to improve its communication is by having project officers, with the assistance of researchers, write abstracts explaining the significance and justification of funded projects within the broader portfolio of awards. While many directorates already do this, this memo states that all directorates will be required to provide these abstracts.

Bourne Named First NIH Associate Director for Data Science

In December, NIH Director Francis Collins announced the selection of Philip E. Bourne as the first permanent Associate Director for Data Science (ADDS). Bourne was expected to join the NIH in early 2014. “Phil will lead an NIH-wide priority initiative to take better advantage of the exponential growth of biomedical research datasets, which is an area of critical importance to biomedical research. The era of ‘Big Data’ has arrived, and it is vital that the NIH play a major role in coordinating access to and analysis of many different data types that make up this revolution in biological information,” said Collins in a press release announcing the appointment.

Prior to coming to the NIH, Bourne was Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Industry Alliances and a Professor in professor of pharmacology at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. He also is the Associate Director of the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics (RCSB) Protein Data Bank and has published over 300 papers and five books. Bourne received his PhD from The Flinders University in South Australia.

Congressman Wolf Announces Retirement

Congressman Frank Wolf announced that he will not seek re-election and will retire at the end of his term in January 2015. As Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Wolf oversees the committee responsible for providing annual appropriations for the NSF, NASA, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In this position, he has been a supporter of federal funding for science.