DC Digest – March 17, 2014

In Today’s Issue

  • This Week in Washington
  • Senate Confirms France Cordova as NSF Director
    • Related: NSF Names Fay Lomax Cook of Northwestern to Head SBE Directorate
  • Senator Durbin Introduces American Cures Act
  • House Technology and Research Subcommittee Approves FIRST Act
  • NYT: Billionaires with Big Ideas are Privatizing American Science


Ukraine: The House and Senate are on a one-week recess, but when they return they will still face questions over what, if any, help to offer Ukraine. Following Crimea’s vote to break with Ukraine, some members of Congress are talking about the possibility of leveling economic sanctions on Russia.

Joblessness Benefits: Late last week, a bi-partisan group of Senators reached a deal on legislation that would extend jobless benefits for six months, while offering referral and re-training programs for the long-term unemployed. House Republicans expressed reservations about the package, but the Senate will likely take up the measure when they return next week.

White House: President Obama will meet with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and how to strengthen the authority’s institutions.

The President’s Use of “Pen and Phone”: During the State of the Union, President Obama said he would use his pen and his phone to create a year of action. Since then, the administration has released proposed rules regarding deportation procedures, for-profit colleges access to federal aid, and continued to push for its Climate Action Plan.

Read More:
Sanctions loom after Crimea vote (The Hill)
Senators Reach Deal Extending Jobless Benefits (NPR)
Obama to host Mahmoud Abbas Monday amid confrontation with Russia (Washington Examiner)
Obama calls on Homeland Security to ease deportation (LA Times)
Rules target for-profit colleges over student debt (AP)


The Senate on March 12 confirmed France Córdova as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Dr. Córdova is an astrophysicist and former president of Purdue University, and serves on both the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents and the National Science Board, which oversees NSF.

Dr. Córdova was nominated for the position last summer, after then-NSF Director Subra Suresh stepped down to become president of Carnegie Mellon University.  Dr. Cora Marrett, deputy director of the agency, has been serving as acting director.

Related: NSF Names Fay Lomax Cook of Northwestern to Head SBE Directorate
The National Science Foundation on March 12 named Fay Lomax Cook as the next assistant director for the Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences (SBE).  Dr. Cook is a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, where she is also a faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research.  She will begin her appointment in September 2014.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) on March 12 introduced the American Cures Act (S. 2115), legislation to augment appropriations for biomedical research through a mandatory trust fund.  The fund would support research conducted at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense Health Program, and the Veterans Medical & Prosthetics Research Program.  In unveiling the bill on March 11 during a press conference, Senator Durbin said, “We need to close our invention and innovation deficit now.”

The goal of the American Cures Act is to provide each agency or program a funding increase of gross-domestic-product-indexed inflation plus five percent.  Senator Durbin estimates the bill would provide $1.8 billion in the first year and $150 billion over 10 years.

Read More:
Durbin Introduces American Cures Act (Durbin.senate.gov)
Durbin Calls for Spending $150B More on Biomedical Research (Chicago Tribune)

With bipartisan support, subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee on March 13 approved the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, legislation to reauthorize portions of the America COMPETES Act. Specifically, the FIRST Act would reauthorize funding and programs for the National Science Foundation NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs.

AAU issued a statement opposing the bill because the legislation fails to meet the Guiding Principles for the America COMPETES Act Reauthorization that were endorsed last year by the business, scientific, and higher education communities. Among the most important of those principles is to set funding targets for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology that permit real growth for these agencies to stimulate long-term economic prosperity. The proposed legislation does not even keep pace with inflation for these agencies.

However, an amendment to increase funding for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate from about $150 million to $200 million, offered by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), was approved by the subcommittee.

The bill now moves from the Research & Technology Subcommittee to the full committee, which is expected to take up the bill in the next few weeks.

Read More:
Subcommittee Approves FIRST Act with Bipartisan Support (science.house.gov)
AAU statement on FIRST Act
First Step for FIRST Bill Exposes Party Differences (ScienceMag.org)

In Washington, budget cuts have left the nation’s research complex reeling. Labs are closing. Scientists are being laid off. Projects are being put on the shelf, especially in the risky, freewheeling realm of basic research. Yet from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, science philanthropy is hot, as many of the richest Americans seek to reinvent themselves as patrons of social progress through science research.

Read More:
Billionaires with Big Ideas are Privatizing American Science (NYTimes.com)
The Duke University Men’s Lacrosse team traveled to Washington, DC on Monday to attend a ceremony at the White House honoring the 2012-2013 NCAA champions in multiple sports.  The Blue Devils earned the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse title with a 16-10 victory over Syracuse in May.

President Barack Obama greeted the team on the South Lawn of the White House.

“A [national] title means not just performing your best when the spotlight’s on and the game is underway, but also pushing yourself even harder when nobody’s watching,” President Obama said. “That’s the championship spirit we’re celebrating today. Not just the trophies in the display case back home, but the drive and toughness and teamwork that put them there.”

Read More:
Duke Lacrosse Honored at White House (goduke.com)