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ISSUE: FEDERAL BUDGET
President Obama’s budget request, released on February 9, 2016, adheres to the two-year discretionary spending caps the White House and Congress had negotiated last fall. To try to circumvent those caps, the president would establish “mandatory” accounts that require action by congressional authorizers and tax writers. His proposal is unlikely to generate much enthusiasm from lawmakers who are seeking ways to reduce the upward trajectory of mandatory accounts, which include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, House and Senate Republican leaders have refused to allow administration officials to testify on behalf of the White House budget. That denial is almost unprecedented, and it serves notice that Congress has little interest in the presidential request.
The accompanying tables illustrate the winners and losers under both presidential scenarios. The tables use the following acronyms and designations. Department of Defence (DOD) RDT&E: Defense Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation; DOD 6.1: Basic Research; 6.2; Applied Research; 6.3: Advanced Technology Development; DOE: Department of Energy; ARPA-E: Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy; EERE: Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; ASCR: Advanced Scientific Computing Research; BES: Basic Energy Sciences; BER: Biological and Environmental Research; FES: Fusion Energy Sciences; HEP: High Energy Physics.
Absent a “mandatory” spending workaround, most science spending would either decline or remain relatively flat. The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, the DOE EERE account, and the DOE “ARPA-E” program would be exceptions, as would the National Institute of Standards (NIST) Scientific and Technical Research and Services (STRS) and the DOD Applied Research (6.2) programs.
WASHINGTON OFFICE ACTIVITIES
CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY
On January 28, 2016, 40 physicists from across the country went to Capitol Hill on Congressional Visits Day to meet with the staff of 63 offices of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. This group of physicists, featuring APS unit leaders and APS president-elect Laura Greene, met with congressional staff to discuss American science leadership, funding of scientific research, and STEM education. Comments from participants after the meetings provided evidence of how important conversations with policy makers can be in motivating members of Congress to prioritize science issues.
In the February edition of Capitol Hill Quarterly, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) writes about the intersection of scientific research and public policy. The piece notes, “…as our economy’s growth increasingly relies on innovation, scientific research and discovery must drive our national policy agenda.” Read the entire op-ed.
PANEL ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Review of APS Statements: Annually, the APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) looks back (in five-year increments) at previously approved statements. The panel reviews statements for clarity, relevance, context, endurance, and whether each still provides outreach and advocacy opportunities for the Society. In 2016, the following seven APS Statements are up for review by POPA: 06.3 Career Options for Physicists; 06.2 Advocacy for Science Education; 01.2 Assessment and Science; 91.5 Reaffirmation of Statement on Scientific Review of Research Facilities Funding; 06.1 The Use of Nuclear Weapons; 01.1 Security and Science at the Weapons Laboratories; and 96.2 Energy: The Forgotten Crisis.
Physics & the Public Subcommittee: A survey, conducted by the American Institute of Physics at POPA's request, focused on overcoming the obstacles of recruiting teachers in the physical sciences. The POPA study committee has begun to examine the data and expects to report its findings and recommendations later this year.
Energy & Environment Subcommittee: A study committee, comprising members from POPA, the American Chemical Society, and the Materials Research Society, has been evaluating the long-term challenges of helium supply and pricing. The committee presented its initial findings at POPA's first meeting of 2016 and is due to deliver a final report on the issue mid-year. The Liquid Helium Purchasing Program has expanded and will support users at a total of 19 institutions in its second year of service. In its pilot year, the program saved users 15% on average and enabled increased reliability in helium delivery. State-based science policy initiatives have also expanded. An internship centered on advancing e-cycling legislation is in place at Northern Illinois University, based on last year's pilot program at the University of Michigan.
National Security Subcommittee: The Subcommittee is considering a proposal for a study on the issues and obstacles associated with the conversion of high-enrichment uranium research reactors to low-enrichment uranium reactors.
APS members can log in and obtain a template for study proposals, along with a suggestion box for future POPA studies.
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