Public Affairs

House Approves Budget Increase for the NSF

In early May, the US House of Representatives approved the FY 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill, HR 5326, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill provides the NSF with $7.333 billion for FY 2013, a $299 million (4.3 percent) increase over FY 2012.

The approved bill includes two controversial amendments. The first, introduced by Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ), prohibits NSF from using funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program. The second, introduced by Representative Chip Cravaack (R-MN) bans the use of funds for activities of the NSF Climate Change Education Program.

In early June, the Biophysical Society joined with 120 other scientific organizations and sent a letter to the Senate discouraging Congress from micromanaging the merit review process at NSF and picking out certain programs to defund. The letter also asks the Senate to support the $7.33 billion funding level passed by the House. In a statement issued May 7, President Obama indicated that if presented with HR 5326 in its current form, he would veto the bill because it undermines the bipartisan agreement on discretionary spending caps established in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

To read the letter sent to the Senate, go to

NIH Tests Special Grant Review for Well-funded PIs

In response to feedback the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received from the scientific community in the fall of 2011 on how to operate effectively during fiscally austere times, the NIH is piloting a new Special Council Review process for research applications from investigators with more than $1.5 million total annual NIH support. The Advisory Councils of each NIH Institute and Center were instructed to pilot the new procedures for such review during their May council meetings.

While grants from these well-funded investigators are subjected to additional scrutiny, the NIH has not placed a cap on total NIH funding for any one investigator. In its notice announcing the new review, the NIH stated that it “recognizes that some of the most productive investigators are leading significant research teams and programs that may require over $1.5 million/year of NIH awards to be sustained. NIH also recognizes that some types of research, for example large complex clinical trials, may commonly trigger this review but may also be recommended for funding.”

The Special Council Review applies to new and re-newal applications for investigator-initiated research projects and does not include grant programs that support training and career development and center grants.

To conduct the review, Institute and Center Council members are provided with a list of all applications that meet the threshold for special review as well as the Institute or Center’s recommendation on whether to fund each proposal. In assessing these applications, Council members are asked “to recommend consideration of funding for applications that afford a unique opportunity to advance research which is both highly promising and distinct from the other funded projects from the PD/PI.” If the application is a renewal, the Council can take into consideration the value of continuing a productive project to the overall research program in that lab and his/her collaborators’ labs.

Additional details and a list of frequently asked questions related to these procedures will beprovided if NIH decides to fully implement the Special Council Review policy.

Federal Spending on Employee Travel Threatened

In response to excessive federal spending at a General Services Administration (GSA) last year, the House and Senate have approved amendments to severely limit federal spending on conferences and curtail travel by government employees. The Senate amendment (introduced by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), John McCain (R-AZ), and Ron Johnson (R-WI)) was added to the Postal Service Act (S 1789). The House amendment, which has identical language, was attached to the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act (HR 2146). It is unlikely the DATA Act will pass through the Senate, but the Postal Service Act could be passed by the House this year.

If the language in the amendment were to become law, government scientists would be limited in their participation in public meetings, scientific conferences, and professional society activities. It would also limit support for scientific conferences. If the “expend funds” language is interpreted strictly, it could possibly apply to extramural grantees as well.

The Biophysical Society, along with 51 other scientific organizations, expressed its concern over this language in a letter prepared by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and sent to Congress in May 2012. The letter urged Congress to allow greater flexibility for government employees to attend scientific and technical conferences organized or supported by professional societies and non-governmental organizations. Government scientists share information about their agency programs at these meetings and have the opportunity to hear from grantees about their government-funded research. Federally employed scientists also attend meetings to learn about what is going on in their field of research and stay current on new developments.

In addition to the legislative initiative to limit travel, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum on May 11 promoting efficient spending and including provisions targeting federal travel and conference spending. The memorandum requires agencies to decrease travel expenditures by 30 percent.

Agencies have 90 days to report to OMB on how they will implement the guidance.

July 2012 Table of Contents