Budget Talks Resume With Deadlines Approaching Rapidly
Congress returned to Capitol Hill on January 8 facing the urgent task of negotiating fiscal year (FY) 2024 spending as a follow-on to the stopgap legislation currently funding the federal government.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reached a long-sought deal on top-line spending levels last week allowing lawmakers to begin the work of negotiating and passing full-year spending bills. The agreement aligns with the levels established in the debt ceiling agreement reached last spring between President Joe Biden and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). However, partisan differences remain, making it a challenging path forward. Overall, the $1.59 trillion agreement allows for $886 billion (+3 percent relative to FY 2023) in defense spending and $773 billion (essentially flat) in nondefense spending.
Lawmakers face a January 19 deadline to complete work on 4 out of 12 appropriations bills, or pass another short-term measure to avoid a partial government shutdown. The four spending bills include those for Agriculture-Rural Development, Energy-Water, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. For the remaining 8 bills, which include funding for science agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, the deadline is February 2.
The funding fight has been complicated by the Republicans' demand that spending measures be coupled with strict border security policies that Democrats are strongly opposed to. In addition, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have threatened to paralyze House proceedings in protest against the top-line spending deal.
On Friday, Speaker Johnson rejected the demands for a new spending deal, defying the most conservative members of his party. "Our top-line agreement remains, we are getting our next steps together, and we are working toward a robust appropriations process," he said.
In the midst of this turmoil, House and Senate appropriations leaders have continued negotiations to determine top-line allocations for each of the 12 spending bills. Failure to finalize spending legislation for all agencies by April 30 could activate a 1 percent across-the-board cut due to a provision in the debt legislation enacted last year.
With funding deadlines approaching rapidly and more time needed to resolve disagreements, House and Senate leaders reached a deal yesterday to extend stopgap government funding until early March. The January 19 deadline for the first 4 bills would be extended to March 1, while the February 2 deadline would be extended to March 8. The Senate plans to take the first procedural vote on Tuesday night, with a partial shutdown looming next Saturday.
White House Report Outlines Data Vision for the Bioeconomy
A new report from the Office of Science and Technology Policy provides a government-wide vision, needs assessment, and action plan to enable a national data-driven bioeconomy.
Prepared by the Interagency Working Group on Data for the Bioeconomy of the National Science and Technology Council, the report lays the groundwork for the Data for the Bioeconomy Initiative established by the September 2022 Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy. The goal of the Order was to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing towards innovative solutions in health, climate change, energy, food security, agriculture, supply chain resilience, and national and economic security.
In the report, the term bioeconomy is defined as "economic activity derived from the life sciences, particularly in the areas of biotechnology and biomanufacturing, and includes industries, products, services, and the workforce."
The report describes the existing federal data infrastructure, identifies gaps, and emphasizes the need for strategic investments in building and maintaining a robust data infrastructure that supports the bioeconomy across various sectors. It outlines seven core actions required for the bioeconomy data initiative:
- Dedicated long-term funding mechanisms for data and computational resources.
Standards to establish common best practices for a shared U.S. bioeconomy data ecosystem.
- Biodata Catalog to identify existing data and metadata.
- Security practices and policies supporting data landscape security and innovation.
- Workforce development for U.S. leadership in the bioeconomy.
- Strategically Targeted Areas for Rapid Transformation (STARTs) for impactful investments.
- Coordination of intergovernmental investments, efforts, and resources.
The success of the U.S. bioeconomy depends on data accessibility, the report argues. The proposed actions aim to address gaps, secure the U.S. position as a biotechnology leader, and achieve the 'Bold Goals for U.S. Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing' released last year. Notably, one of these 'Bold Goals' is leveraging biodiversity to create new products for the bioeconomy. To achieve this goal, the report calls for "enhanced specimen collection and data storage, sequencing capability, interoperability and standards, and cyberinfrastructure and computing resources," adding that, "[t]apping into this biodiversity could yield insights for all sectors of the bioeconomy."
GAO Releases Report on Federal Research Security
According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), strengthening interagency collaboration could help federal agencies safeguard federal funding from foreign threats.
The report found challenges in determining whether federal research and development (R&D) funds were provided to foreign entities of concern, including foreign terrorist organizations and specially designated nationals. Agencies are generally prohibited from doing business with these entities. The GAO found that government-wide databases reporting on these entities lack common identifying information (such as a unique identifier or personally identifiable information), making it difficult to match them with those receiving government-wide funding. For example, personally identifiable information such as physical address or date of birth is often unavailable, hindering the ability to identify and track funds provided to these entities.
GAO calls for a stronger coordination role for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and recommends that the OSTP facilitate information sharing among agencies on identifying foreign ownership, control, or influence. OSTP has expressed agreement with this recommendation.
AIBS Signs Letter Rejecting Cuts to FY 2024 Non-Defense Discretionary Funding
AIBS has joined more than 1000 organizations in a letter urging Congress to reject any full-year continuing resolution that would result in cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, the funding source for most scientific research programs.
"Such cuts would be disastrous for the capacity of the federal government to serve the public, assist those in need, fuel innovation, and address national and global threats," the groups argued. "We strongly urge Congressional leadership to instead finish the [fiscal year 2024] appropriations process and adopt the bipartisan Senate funding framework as a starting point for final negotiations."
Read the letter.
Participate in the 2024 AIBS Congressional Visits Day
Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences on April 15-17, 2024 for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.
Meet with your members of Congress to help them understand the important role the federal government plays in supporting the biological sciences. Advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research supported by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.
Participants will complete a communications and advocacy training program provided by AIBS that prepares them to be effective advocates for their science. AIBS will provide participants with background information and materials, as well as arrange meetings with lawmakers on April 17.
Who should participate?
Scientists, graduate students, educators, or other science community members who are interested in advocating for scientific research and education are encouraged to participate in this important event.
The ideal participant will:
- Have an interest in science policy.
Work in a scientific profession or be enrolled in graduate school.
- Be able to speak about the importance of biological research funded by federal agencies (e.g. NSF, NIH, USDA).
- Provide compelling examples from their own experiences.
The event includes a free, half-day training session on how to be an effective advocate for science policy. This training session will be held on April 16, 2024 and is mandatory for everyone who will be participating in congressional meetings.
Additionally, participants have the option to attend the highly acclaimed AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This training course will be held in Washington, DC on April 15-16, 2024. This professional development program provides practical instruction and interactive exercises designed to help scientists (e.g. researchers, graduate students, administrators, educators) translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to effectively engage with decision-makers and the news media. All participants who complete this optional training will receive priority access to the Congressional Visits Day and a certificate of completion indicating that they have successfully completed 16 hours of communications training. Click here for more information, including cost, for this two-day training program.
Express your interest in participating in the event by registering. Registration closes on March 1, 2024. Space is limited and we encourage you to register early. If registrations exceed program capacity, AIBS may prioritize registrants based on participation in the boot camp training, geographic diversity, and other factors. Register now.
Deadline Approaching: 2024 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award
Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is now accepting applications for the 2024 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who are demonstrating an interest and aptitude for working at the intersection of science and policy.
Recipients of the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award receive:
A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the AIBS Congressional Visits Day, an annual event where scientists meet with lawmakers to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on April 15-17, 2024. Domestic travel and hotel expenses are paid for the winners.
Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process, trends in federal science funding, and how to engage with policymakers and the news media.
- Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investment in the biological sciences.
- A one-year online subscription to the journal BioScience.
The 2024 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior recipients are not eligible for the award.
Applications are due by 05:00 PM Eastern Time on January 17, 2024. Learn more about how to apply.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has appointed Tess deBlanc-Knowles as the special assistant to the director for artificial intelligence (AI). DeBlanc-Knowles will facilitate collaboration on AI initiatives across the agency and oversee the implementation of the recent Executive Order on AI. She recently concluded a more than two-year stint at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), where she was a senior policy advisor in the National AI Initiative Office. In that role, DeBlanc-Knowles led policy efforts to strengthen the nation's AI innovation ecosystem, co-chaired the National AI Research Resource Task Force, and played a key role in developing the National AI Research and Development Strategic Plan: 2023 Update.
Former House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson passed away on December 31, 2023. She served as Chairwoman of the science committee from 2019 until 2022, and as Ranking Member from 2011 until 2018. She was the first African American and the first woman to serve as either Ranking Member or Chair of the science panel. "Eddie, or 'EBJ' as she was widely known, led the Science Committee through some of the most productive years of its existence, including passage of the massive CHIPS and Science Act," stated current Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). "In a time of profound division and partisanship, EBJ's time as Chair was distinguished by the consistent bipartisan accomplishments the Committee produced." First elected to Congress in 1992, EBJ went on to serve 15 terms in the House.
NSF created Catalyzing Across Sectors to Advance the Bioeconomy (CASA-Bio) to work towards creating a unified, collaborative strategy to advance the U.S. bioeconomy. The agency is organizing a virtual office hour on January 18 from 1:00-2:00 PM ET, where the research community can learn about how to participate in CASA-Bio. Following this, there will be four virtual town halls where the community can provide ideas on research and development possibilities within the areas of synergy previously identified by representatives from government, industry, and non-profit organizations. Learn more at casa-bio.net.
According to a report by Science Insider, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scrapped a contentious proposal to completely eliminate the use of mammals in testing the safety of chemicals by 2035. The firm deadline was established in 2019 to hasten the transition to non-animal models like computer programs and "organs on a chip." However, the decision sparked debate among scientists, with some arguing that animals still serve as the gold standard for assessing the safety of chemicals that may pose risks to humans and wildlife.
From the Federal Register
The following items appeared in the Federal Register from January 2 to 12, 2024.
Environmental Protection Agency
Health and Human Services