Public Affairs

Suresh Tapped to Lead NSF

President Obama has selected Subra Suresh, Dean of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to be the  next director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Suresh, if confirmed by the Senate, will replace Arden Bement Jr., who stepped down June 1.

Suresh came to MIT in 1993 and chaired the department of materials science and engineering before becoming dean in 2007. Suresh is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering and leads a research group  in nanobiomechanics. His appointment is unique compared to past NSF appointments in that he has no government experience. His appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.

Varmus Tapped to Lead NCI

In May, President Obama announced his intent to appoint Harold Varmus to serve as Director of the National Cancer  Institute (NCI). Varmus served as director of NIH from 1993 to 1999, during which time current NIH Director Francis Collins was the Director of the Institute for Human Genomics. Now the roles will be reversed.

In an e-mail to the NCI staff , Collins said that Varmus “brings unmatched expertise at all levels — not only in cutting edge scientific research, but also as a leader in the development of strategies for improving patient care, in scientific  education and training, and in the design of novel public-private partnerships.”

Most recently, Varmus served as the  President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City since January 2000 and as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He received the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for studies of the genetic basis of cancer.

Biomedical Research Funding Outlook Bleak

While Congress has yet to pass a budget for the 2011 fiscal year that begins October 1, 2010, the Office of Management  and Budget (OMB) and the federal agencies are already working on the 2012 budget. In early June, agencies such as NIH and NSF received two memos offering guidance as they put together their 2012 budget proposals. The first memo from  OMB Director Peter Orszag, directs agencies to submit a budget request that is 5% below the discretionary total for the agency in the president’s FY11 budget. The memo instructs that agencies should “restructure their operations strategically,” as opposed to proposing an across-the-board cut.

The second memo, signed by both Orszag and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, directs agencies to identify  “programs and subprograms that have the lowest impact on your agency’s mission and constitute at least 5% of your  agency’s discretionary budget.” The list should be included with the agency’s budget submission for FY12, “but is a separate exercise from the budget reductions necessary to meet the target for your agency’s FY 2012 discretionary budget request.”

These memos suggest that it will be a very difficult climate for funding. In the coming year, it will be  more important than ever for scientists to make sure they let their Congressmen know how important funding is for their labs and research projects. The Biophysical Society will continue to advocate for biomedical research funding and  provide resources to members to do the same.

August 2010 Table of Contents