Public Affairs

Public Affairs

Federal Agencies Operating with Temporary Budget

Avoiding a federal government shutdown, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through November 18 at a rate established in the Budget Control Act passed in August. Th e resolution was necessary since the FY 2012 Fiscal Year began on October 1 and Congress had not yet passed any of the annual spending bills that provide funding for federal agencies by that date.

Congress now has until November 18 to either complete its work on the appropriations bills or to pass another continuing resolution. Over the last decade, Congress has routinely relied on continuing resolutions to fund the government as it has become normal for the Senate and House to fail to fi nish the appropriations process prior to October 1. The temporary funding bills make it diffi cult for agencies to function since new programs cannot be started during the temporary funding period, and agency offi cials are not certain what the final budget will be. Thus, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and other federal agencies must be very conservative in funding researchers in the event that the next year appropriation is lower than what is expected.

NIH Appoints new Working Group on Diversity

On the heels of a report commissioned by NIH that demonstrated that African American researchers lag behind others in receiving NIH grant funding, NIH Director Francis Collins has created a new working group of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on the Diversity of Biomedical Research (DBRWG). The panel is co-chaired by Reed Tuckson, Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs, UnitedHealth Group; John Ruffin, Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; and Lawrence Tabak, Principal Deputy Director, NIH. The charge states, “The Committee will provide concrete recommendations to the NIH Director on ways to improve the retention of underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and persons from disadvantaged backgrounds...The DBRWG is charged with producing interim recommendations by December 2011 and final recommendations by June 2012.”

The full list of members is available at http://acd.od.nih.gov/dbrroster.asp.

Plaintiffs File Appeal in Stem Cell Case

Th e plaintiff s in Sherley v. Sebelius, the court case challenging NIH’s funding of embryonic stem cell research, filed an appeal in September to Judge Royce Lamberth’s recent summary judgment decision in favor of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The next step is for
the DC Circuit to establish a briefing and oral argument schedule. In the meantime, NIH can continue to fund embryonic stem cell research
and has actually added three new stem cell lines to the NIH Stem Cell Registry in September, bringing the total number of eligible lines to
135.

In response to the appeal, Lisa Hughes, President of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, of which the Biophysical Society is a member, said in a statement: “In what is clearly yet another attempt to play politics, both plaintiffs in Sherley v. Sebelius filed notice today
to appeal their case in the US Court of Appeals. This is a huge disservice not only to the scientific community whose research is advancing us
toward better treatments and cures, but completely ignorant of the needs of the patient community—the 100 million Americans who suffer
from cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and so many other debilitating diseases and disorders for which
stem cell research shows great promise.”

White House and NSF Announce new Workplace Flexibility Policies

In September, White House Council on Women and Girls Executive Director Tina Tchen, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John P. Holdren, and NSF Director Subra Suresh announced the “NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative,” a 10-year plan to provide greater work-related flexibility to women and men in research careers. Among the best practices that NSF will expand Foundation-wide are ones that will allow researchers to delay or suspend their grants for up to one year in order to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or fulfill other family
obligations.

“Too many young women scientists and engineers get sidetracked or drop their promising careers because they find it too difficult to balance the needs of those careers and the needs of their families,” said Suresh. “This new initiative aims to change that, so that the country can benefit from the full range and diversity of its talent.”

Women today currently earn 41% of PhDs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, but make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty in those fields. The new NSF initiative will offer a coherent and consistent set of family-friendly policies and practices to help eliminate some of the barriers to women’s advancement and retention in STEM careers.

NSF is also calling upon universities and research institutes to adopt similar policies for their employees and grantees.

The NSF policies and practices will:

  • Allow postponement of grants for child birth/adoption. Grant recipients can defer their awards for up to one year to care for their newborn or newly adopted children.
  • Allow grant suspension for parental leave. Grant recipients who wish to suspend their grants to take parental leave can extend those grants by a comparable duration at no cost.
  • Provide supplements to cover research technicians. Principal investigators can apply for stipends to pay research technicians or equivalent
    staff to maintain labs while PIs are on family leave.
  • Publicize the availability of family friendly opportunities. NSF will issue announcements and revise current program solicitations to expressly promote these opportunities to eligible awardees.
  • Promote family friendliness for panel reviewers. STEM researchers who review the grant proposals of their peers will have greater opportunities to conduct virtual reviews rather than travel to a central location, increasing flexibility and reducing dependent-care needs.
  • Support research and evaluation. NSF will continue to encourage the submission of proposals for research that would asses the eff ectiveness of policies aimed at keeping women in the STEM pipeline.
  • Leverage and expand partnerships. NSF will leverage existing relationships with academic institutions to encourage the extension of the tenure clock and allow for dual hiring opportunities.

November 2011 Table of Contents