Summary of Hearings on Education, Research and Development, and Workforce Policy

(11/16/12)

  • November 15, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Hearing on “The U.S. Antarctic Program: Achieving Fiscal and Logistical Efficiency While Supporting Sound Science”
  • September 19, 2012: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on "Five Years of the America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenges and Next Steps"
  • August 1, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “The Relationship Between Business and Research Universities: Collaborations Fueling American Innovation and Job Creation”
  • July 12, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on Spurring Economic Growth and Development Through NASA-Derived Technologies
  • June 27, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “The Role of Research Universities in Securing America’s Future Prosperity: Challenges and Expectations”
  • June 20, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Hearing on Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation’s Science Policies
  • April 18, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on National Science Foundation Major Multi-User Research Facilities Management: Ensuring Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability
  • March 29, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Hearing on “Federally Funded Research: Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests”
  • March 8, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing to Review “National Science Foundation Major Research Equipment and Facilities Management: Ensuring Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability”
  • February 17, 2012: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing to Review the Administration’s Federal Research and Development Budget for Fiscal Year 2013
  • December 1, 2011: House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Hearing on "Protecting U.S. Sovereignty: Coast Guard Operations in the Arctic"
  • November 17, 2011: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing on “Fostering Quality Science in the EPA: The Need for Common Sense Reform”
  • November 8, 2011: Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Hearing on “Beyond NCLB: Views on the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act”
  • July 26, 2011: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “The Merit Review Process: Ensuring Limited Federal Resources are Invested in the Best Science”
  • June 16, 2011: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education
  • February 17, 2011: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on “An Overview of the Administration’s Federal Research and Development Budget for Fiscal Year 2012”
  • February 10, 2011: House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Hearing on “Oversight of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)”

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House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Hearing on "The U.S. Antarctic Program: Achieving Fiscal and Logistical Efficiency While Supporting Sound Science"
November 15, 2012

Witnesses:
Norm Augustine
Chair, U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel
Subra Suresh
Director, National Science Foundation
Duncan McNabb
General (Retired), U.S. Air Force
Member, U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel
Warren Zapol
Chair, Committee on Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, National Research Council

Committee Members Present:
Ralph Hall, Chairman (R-TX)
Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ranking Member (D-TX)
James Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)
Mo Brooks (R-AL)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Terri Sewell (D-AL)
Paul Tonko, (D-NY)
Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)   

On November 15, 2012, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing on the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) entitled “Achieving Fiscal and Logistical Efficiency While Supporting Sound Science.” This hearing was held to review the future options and logistical recommendations of the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel report, “More and Better Science in Antarctica through Increased Logistical Effectiveness,” which was released in July 2012, and to examine the work and goals of the U.S. Antarctic Program.  

In his opening statement, Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) stated that, “Our support of explorers and scientists on that continent (Antarctica) has yielded and continues to yield valuable research that not only affects our daily lives, but cannot be done in any other place on Earth.” Hall added that, “I also recognize the important geopolitical reasons to maintain a U.S. presence there and appreciate the cooperation that must take place not only between relevant U.S. agencies, but also between our international friends and partners.” On logistics and funding, Hall stated that, “Unfortunately, the magnitude of the logistics to support these activities is enormous and overwhelmingly dominates the budget for Antarctic activities. Therefore, the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report recommendations are welcome.”

In his concluding remarks, Hall summarized the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report by saying, “The Blue Ribbon Panel report provides ten broad overarching recommendations for logistical effectiveness, and also provides a number of specific implementing actions categorized.” Hall concluded that he looked forward to discussing the feasibility of implementing these recommendations with the witnesses.   

In her opening remarks, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) noted that, the presence of the U.S. in the Antarctica “is critically important both strategically and scientifically.”  However the ability to address the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead will “inevitably depend on what decisions we make about the larger federal budget in the coming months.” Johnson added that, “I hope that we will also keep Antarctica on our agenda in the next Congress as the budget picture comes into better focus.” Johnson praised the National Science Foundation (NSF) and their partner agencies for an “extraordinary job” in maintaining the USAP and for the “cutting edge science” that is going on in the Antarctic.  Johnson affirmed that, “The more efficient and safer we are in our logistical support of those activities, the more opportunity we will have to expand and strengthen the science we do.”

In his testimony, Norm Augustine, Chair of the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel, acknowledged the report released by the National Research Council (NRC) in September 2011, “Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean,” which provided the basis for the Blue Ribbon Panel report. Augustine stated that while the USAP has been “extremely well managed,” there are “a number of opportunities for enhanced efficiency.”  Augustine stated that the logistics of operating in the harsh Antarctic environment is the “dominant activity of the U.S. Antarctic program,” and “eighty cents of every dollar invested in the U.S. Antarctic program is devoted to logistics.” He pointed out that because of the intense logistical support needed to conduct science in the Antarctic, the science is particularly vulnerable to budget cuts. Augustine stated, “If logistics costs under a fixed overall budget were to rise by thirteen percent, the science program would have to be cut in half.” Augustine noted in addition to finding “opportunities to reduce logistical demands,” the panel observed a “few instances where current logistical activities were, in the judgment of the committee, unacceptable from the standpoint of the safety of both people and equipment,” in addition to “several single-point failure modes that warrant early attention.” Augustine acknowledged that NSF is already in the process of addressing these safety issues, but “further work is required.”

Augustine pointed the Committee to the ten recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon panel, including the need for a capital budget. Augustine noted that, “If one were to seek to identify a single root cause for the inefficiencies that we noted it would be that the Antarctic program does not have a capital budget.” Other recommendations include, continuing to use McMurdo, South Pole, and Palmer Stations as the main U.S. science and logistic centers, restoring the U.S. polar ocean fleet including icebreakers, implementing state-of-the-art logistics and transportation support, understanding science support costs, modernizing communications, increasing energy efficiency, pursing additional opportunities for international cooperation and reviewing and updating Antarctic policy. In order to implement these recommendations in a budget-constrained environment, Augustine recommended increasing the USAP’s appropriations by six percent for each of the next four years relative to fiscal year (FY) 2012 levels, and “diverting six percent of the planned science expenditures over the next four years to upgrades of the science support system.” Augustine stated that these investments  “would be repaid in approximately seven years.” However, this plan does not address icebreaker issue, Augustine said.

In his testimony, Subra Suresh, Director of NSF stated that, “The polar environment serves as an extraordinary laboratory and important bellwether for virtually all areas of science.” Suresh highlighted three major discoveries demonstrating this breadth including the discovery of the Ozone Hole, which led to the worldwide ban of chlorofluorocarbons, the discovery of antifreeze proteins in Antarctic fish, which has important implications for industry, and the recent discovery of the Phoenix Galaxy Cluster, which produces stars at “rates never before observed.” Suresh described the operations in and partnerships with sister agencies in Antarctica and pointed out that, “our commanding scientific presence ensures the U.S. a governing role in the Antarctic Treaty System.” Suresh referred to the Blue Ribbon Panel’s Report as “a detailed and realistic blueprint for securing and improving world-class research in Antarctica.”

As to NSF’s response to the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report, NSF “chartered a Tiger Team of senior NSF managers to respond to and guide development of a rolling five-year Long-Range Investment Plan and Integrated Master Schedule to implement recommendations contained in the report.” Suresh stated that, “NSF agrees with the majority of the recommendations, although not all of the recommendations can be implemented by NSF alone.” Suresh continued, “For example, recommendations concerning icebreaker capabilities for the United States necessarily require action on the part of the other components of the Federal government.” Suresh added that, “we fully expect Lockheed Martin, our current Antarctic Support Contractor, to implement some of the cost-saving ideas they included in their proposal.”

In his testimony, Duncan McNabb, a retired general of the U.S. Air Force and member of the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel referred to logistically supporting the USAP to be “one of our most demanding missions” in the U.S. Air force. McNabb said, “We take tremendous pride in the mission.” McNabb endorsed the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel and highlighted the importance of McMurdo as a major base, optimizing transportation through an enterprise approach, establishing a capital budget and the importance of “multiyear funding for long term logistics infrastructure support.”

Warren Zapol, Chair of the Committee on Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean of the National Research Council, began his testimony by explaining how his research as an anesthesiologist in the Antarctic benefits society. Zapol explained that out of an interest for medical applications, he studied Weddell seals, which can hold their breath for 90 minutes. As a result of his study, Zapol “developed a treatment for hypoxic human newborn babies by breathing nitric oxide.” As a result, “this technique is now used to save the lives of around 15,000 U.S. babies each year.” Zapol stated that his story illustrates an example of how “allowing scientists to explore in Antarctica can lead to unanticipated discoveries.” Zapol continued, “As a geologist colleague of mine likes to say, this is a place where you can pick up a rock and be confident that you are the first person to ever pick up that rock.”

Zapol discussed the themes of scientific research in the Antarctic, which include discovery-driven science as well as science for the sake of understanding global change. Zapol outlined the six recommendations made by the NRC report. In regards to the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report, Zapol offered his personal views saying, “The one area that I feel they could have paid more attention to was the need for more clearly defined and better communication channels and interaction between NSF leadership, the logistical support contractor, and working scientists in Antarctica.” Zapol continued, “I can also tell you that I have heard that many in the science community are worried about the potential impacts of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations on the conduct of science.” He explained that, “With limited resources, we need to assure a balance between improving our capability to support our future presence in Antarctica and the actual conduct of research today.” Zapol stated, “Despite the challenges of working in the harsh environment of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, this region offers great insights into our changing planet and is an invaluable platform for scientists to make new discoveries.” Zapol concluded, “What is more, Antarctica is an important part of our changing world, and we need to be watching it as it changes.”

Chairman Hall began the question and answer session by asking Suresh if there were any recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Panel’s report that NSF disagrees with. Suresh answered that the Tiger team is not finished addressing all the recommendations of the report and not all of the recommendations could be implemented within NSF’s prerogative, but require working with other agencies. For these reasons, Suresh stated that he cannot conclusively say yet that NSF agrees with all recommendations.

Ranking Member Johnson expressed her concern for the insufficient number of young scientists and engineers trained in the U.S. and asked how the short and long-term research can best be provided for. In response, Augustine agreed that the U.S. is not succeeding at attracting enough young people to science and engineering. Out of 93 nations, the U.S. ranks 79 for the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in science and engineering, Augustine said. Since advancements in science account for up to 85 percent of economic growth in the U.S., it is crucial to provide for both the short and long-term in a balanced way, Augustine said. In business, there are times you have to cut your overall budget, however, there are still some areas you increase the budget, he pointed out.  Augustine urged that science is one of those areas where the budget should increase.

Suresh said the short-term funding priority is safety. As to the long-term, he is concerned with America’s ability to compete with countries around the world. McNabb emphasized the importance of logistics in competing for young people, maintaining leadership in science, and increasing scientific productivity, saying if you provide scientists with world-class equipment and support, “they’ll give you world-class results.” McNabb urged that the Blue Ribbon panel is “trying to increase science and reduce costs” and that investing in infrastructure is vital to this goal. Zapol assured that the adventurous appeal of the Antarctic makes the region tremendously attractive to young people, so the Antarctic does not suffer from want of American scientists and engineers. Zapol cautioned that the science community is worried about logistics receiving a larger portion of the funding at the expense of the science during times of overall budget cuts.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked if the research conducted in the Antarctic could be done elsewhere for a reduced cost. Zapol answered that it is unlikely his research with the Weddell seals could have been done elsewhere because fast ice created a unique platform, which was vital to their study. Smith asked if the private sector would be funding the research that goes on in the Antarctic if the government did not. Augustine answered that the private sector would not fund basic research, such as Zapol’s study, because of the nature of this research. Augustine explained that the outcomes are more uncertain in basic research and often the research is more long-term, which is not appealing to the private sector. Suresh said that the three notable discoveries he mentioned in his testimony could not have happened anywhere else. Every branch of science and engineering that NSF supports benefits from research in the uniquely pristine Antarctic, Suresh emphasized.

Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked if the dilapidation of facilities and multiple single points of failure are risking lives in the Antarctic. Suresh responded, saying NSF has a “phenomenal record of safety” and these threats represent potential future issues and for “severe loss of investments for the future.” McNerney asked if logistics were improved, could more money be devoted to science? Augustine responded, yes—improving logistics offers a huge opportunity to devote more funding to science.

McNerney asked what the disadvantages would be of relinquishing U.S. leadership in the Antarctic. Augustine replied saying that the U.S. presence is key for maintaining a peaceful Antarctic in a time where increasing exploration interests increases the challenge of peacekeeping. Augustine pointed out that the U.S. has already ceded leadership in particle physics and it would be “a shame” to lose another area of scientific leadership. The U.S. is not leading in keeping an icebreaking fleet and relies on Russian icebreakers, Augustine said.

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) asked the panel if anything is being done to share the logistical burden with international partners. To which, Augustine replied that New Zealand has built wind power facilities at McMurdo, which supplies power to the base. Augustine pointed out that New Zealand and Australia are key international partners. Suresh said South Korea is building a new station near McMurdo and has built a new icebreaker, and NSF is working on increasing collaborating with them. McNabb said the U.S. Air Force has unrivaled transportation capabilities, but other countries provide smaller aircraft.

Brooks asked what the roles of Congress, the White House and NSF are to facilitate international cooperation. Augustine replied that it is the responsibility of NSF and the State Department to facilitate international cooperation with the support of Congress and the White House, to which Suresh agreed. Zapol said scientists are far ahead in collaborating internationally in their work.

Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) asked for comments on the impact of the sequester in light of the logistic-heavy budget for the Antarctic. Suresh said thousands of scientists would be affected, young people would be discouraged from going into science and engineering, and our future economic leadership would be in jeopardy. Augustine responded saying the cuts would disproportionately affect science in the Antarctic because the logistics that make the science possible cannot be cut.

Testimony from the witnesses and an archived webcast is available from the committee web site.

-KGK

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on "Five Years of the America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenge and Next Steps"
September 19, 2012

Witnesses:
Norm Augustine
Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation
Carl Wieman
Director of the Science Education Initiative, University of Colorado Boulder
Jeffrey Furman
Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research
Peter Lee
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Redmond
John Winn
Chief Program Officer, National Math and Science Initiative

Committee Members Present:
John Rockefeller, Chairman (D-WV)
Kay Bailey Hutchison, Ranking Member (R-TX)
Maria Cantwell(D-WA)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Mark Warner (D-VA)
John Thune (R-SD)
John Boozman, (R-AR)

On September 19, 2012, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing to examine the implementation of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272) and challenges to U.S. leadership in science and innovation.  The America COMPETES Act, meant to ensure America’s place as a world leader in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, passed in 2007 and was reauthorized in 2010 (H.R. 5116).

In his opening statement, Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) describes the three main goals of both acts to be “increasing science and research investments, strengthening STEM education, and developing an innovation infrastructure.” The chairman noted that these are all “inherently long-term investments and, even with five years under our belts, not enough time has passed to realize the full implications of these acts.” As an example of a valuable long-term investment, he pointed out that Google originated from a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in 1994 and “did not go public until 2004.” He emphasized that “success takes time.” As to the implementation of the acts, he mentioned the 2007 reauthorization authorized a doubling of funding to NSF, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science by 2014. However, Congress “did not follow its own directions with appropriations.” He explained that “the 2010 reauthorization attempted to find some middle ground with an 11-year doubling path, but, again, appropriations and the President’s request levels have not followed, pushing the doubling out to 18-years.” The chairman stated that by not implementing the doubling of funds we are “doing our youth a great disservice.” He pointed out that while unemployment rates are lower for college students majoring in STEM fields, “our 15-year-olds score lower than the international average in mathematics and just average in science.” He urged “we must do better.”

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) praised the America COMPETES act for being a strong “statement from Congress at a time when people said, ‘Congress can’t agree on anything’” and that Congress is not “looking at the future.” Hutchison stated that “in the last decade, growth in STEM jobs has been three times greater than in non-stem jobs, but today only 30 percent of U.S. high school graduates are ready for college work in science and 45 percent ready in math.” She continued, “That’s not going to produce the teachers we need for the future, or the scientists and engineers that we need to truly compete.” Hutchison praised the funding opportunities from NSF for STEM students who are interested in acquiring a teacher’s certificate. She praised the authorization of UTeach, a program based in the University of Texas, which allows students to earn a teacher’s certificate during the normal amount of time it takes to earn an undergraduate degree through their elective courses. Hutchison expressed her desire for this program to expand nation-wide. She concluded, however, that Congress must prioritize spending so that the spending cap is at a lower level.

Norm Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, began his testimony by saying that the America COMPETES Act is “the finest example of bipartisanship in recent years,” but “a new challenge has arisen, that frankly, we never thought of when we worked on the Gathering Storm Report.” Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future is a report that was requested by Congress, and written by the National Academy of Sciences to address the state of American competitiveness in the global economy. This report acted as a guide for the construction of the 2007 America COMPETES Act and the key recommendations of this report are to improve K-12 education and increase funding for basic research. This new challenge, Augustine continued, is that American universities are in “grave danger” of losing their status as the best in the world and “receiving the lowest fraction of their operating budgets from state funds in over a quarter of a century.” He continued, “In effect we have been privatizing our public universities.” Augustine stated that on average, tuition has been increasing across the country by 85 percent in the last decade even after financial aid has been considered. In addition, Augustine showed that while faculty are being laid off and “have on average seen their salaries decline by 1.2 percent during the past year, USA Today found that major college football coaches receive an average compensation of $1.46 million per year.” Augustine quoted USA today in saying this increase in coaches’ salaries is “a jump of nearly 55 percent in six seasons.”

Augustine highlighted that “40 percent of U.S. faculty members were born abroad,” and our ability to retain them is decreasing. He pointed out that globalization has incited a revolution in the employment market where “Americans no longer simply compete for jobs with their neighbors around the block, but rather with their neighbors around the globe.” Augustine illustrated what the state of the American education system means in the context of a globally competitive job market by quoting Intel’s Howard High, “We go where the smart people are. Now our business operations are two-thirds in the U.S. and one-third overseas. But, that ratio will flip over in the next 10 years.” Augustine urged Congress to continue investments in basic research and K-12 education and ensure that “every classroom has a teacher who possesses a core degree in the subject being taught.”

Carl Wieman, Director of the Science Education Initiative and professor at the University of Colorado Boulder began his testimony by saying that “there continues to be little discernible change in either student achievement or student interest in STEM.” Wieman stated that this can be answered with a change in teaching methodology. He explained that it is not about having “sufficiently talented brains,” which is the basis for traditional teaching methods, but “a development of the brain, an actual change in the structure in response to strenuous practice” and teaching is should be more like “coaching an athletic sport”. Wieman stated that STEM teachers are not provided the training for this method of teaching which has been shown to be more effective. Wieman states that if this was changed, the U.S. would go from being a “laggard” to “world leader” in STEM.  He insisted that all other efforts will accomplish little. He urged that in order to accomplish a change in teaching methodology, we need to change the current incentive systems which have resulted in insufficient teacher training in STEM and have preserved a “dismal status quo.” As an example, Wieman pointed out that many college professors are primarily researchers and not teachers. Wieman concluded that “easy fixes” have been tried and now it is time to “truly make a difference.”

Jeffrey Furman, Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Boston University and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, opened his testimony by defending federal investment in science and innovation by summarizing the Vannevar Bush’s argument that “science and early stage innovation are a public good.” Furman added that most economists are in agreement with this statement and government is needed to provide investments where firms do not have the incentives.  He pointed out that the main driver of science and innovation is the consistent increase of funding for science and innovation. Furman explained that many of the benefits of science and innovation leadership are local and pointed to the economies of San Francisco and San Diego as an example of this. Furman said that while much has been “unrealized” compared to the “hopes” of the Gathering Storm Report, “a great deal has been achieved simply by unifying around a bipartisan consensus on the idea that science and innovation assessments should receive federal attention.” He continued, saying that while the exact impact of the America COMPETES Act is difficult to determine, economists have concluded that the America COMPETES Act has “clear and notable achievements.”

Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Research at Redmond, began his testimony by saying that from his experience in leadership positions at Carnegie Mellon University, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Microsoft “have allowed me to see first hand the rich interplay between industry academia and government and how it creates an innovation ecosystem.”  Lee said that this “innovation ecosystem” did not come by “accident” but through “intentional partnerships.” Lee stressed the importance of funding basic research to multibillion dollar industries by pointing out that basic research in coding theory led to smart phones. Lee’s second point was “investing in the future of people.”  He stated that “Microsoft is strongly dependent on the talent of our employees,” and “in August 2012, Microsoft had more than 3,400 unfilled research and engineering positions in the United States.” Lee continued saying, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2010 and 2020, there will be on average 120,000 openings in computing professions that require at least a bachelors degree and yet, “in 2010, only about 60,000 bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees were awarded in computer science– far less than the predicted demand.”  Lee stressed that it is not only the people who have careers in information technology (IT) that should have education in computing, but everyone since the applications are so wide. He recommended that the federal government support computer literacy in the K-12 level as the ability to “think computationally” will be a “cornerstone for the future workforce.”

John Winn, Chief Program Officer at the National Math and Science Initiative testified in regards to the UTeach program. Unlike other programs, Winn explained, the UTeach program does not add an extra year of study to a four-year degree. Winn stated that “90 percent of UTeach graduates go directly into teaching” and 80 percent of UTeach graduates are still teaching in STEM related fields five years later. Winn said the UTeach program requires close partnerships between education departments and STEM departments. Winn asked the committee if they can “imagine” an engineering professor teaching UTeach classes alongside an education professor?” because this is now happening across 33 universities which have replicated the UTeach program. Winn says this expansion has provided more teachers who “bring research understanding and practice into the K-12 system,” and has started “a new wave of faculty driven research into STEM teaching and learning.” Winn used an anecdote from Florida to demonstrate the need for further expansion and support for UTeach. He said, “In Florida, we could never set our science and math certification exam passing scores at the level recommended by our best teacher.” He explained that “the reason is simple, there would be far fewer candidates passing the higher qualifying score.” Winn stated that this phenomenon is “pervasive” and is a “dark reminder” that “a new generation of highly trained STEM teachers” is needed.

Chairman Rockefeller began the question and answer session by asking Augustine to respond to his comment that “universities are not rapid in changing the direction of their battleship” and are subject to the strong influence of tradition. The chairman continued saying the argument could be made that “we are overproducing biologists and under-producing petroleum engineers.” Augustine responded with an example from MIT, when a new program was trying to be introduced and was being fought by the faculty. Augustine described how the provost took him aside and said, “It is very difficult to overcome 100 years of excellence and success.” Augustine argued that one of the dangers American universities face today is that they are accustomed to being the best and thus it is very difficult to change traditions and paradigms which have been associated with success in the past but may not be in the future. Augustine explained that when “one is looking at catastrophe, one becomes much more adaptable” and that is the direction we are heading towards. As to producing too many biologists and not enough petroleum engineers, Augustine said “Students seem vey quick to adapt to market opportunities—we saw that in the computer sciences.” However, “too few of our students are not qualified to study engineering or any other kind of science.” Lee added that universities have done well in balancing “agility” and “stability” and there could be a “huge transformation afoot.”

Ranking Member Hutchison asked what more should be done beyond the America COMPETES Act assuming there was more funding. Augustine replied that not only should the 20 recommendations of the Gathering Storm Report should be fully implemented but an interest in STEM should be cultivated in youth. Augustine remarked, “I find it ironic that young people look with disdain on science and engineering, consider scientists and engineers to be ‘geeks’, but they all carry iPhones.”  Augustine added that there is a need for Congress to address the impact the current economy is having on America’s universities through reduced state funding.

Hutchison asked how the cost for education could be brought down. She commented that some would say to fund teachers and not researchers, but she thinks “research is the spark which shows students how exciting science can be.” Hutchison asked how to bring down costs while supporting teaching and researching. Augustine replied that one of the “elements of success” in American universities is that the teachers are researchers and teachers. Augustine suggested implementing tax laws which support private investments in university research. Augustine brought up the “vastly increased” salaries for football coaches while faculty salaries have been reduced, and stated that “we need to rethink what it is exactly what we want our universities to do” in regards to what the role of American universities are. Wieman responded that when funding is awarded, college becomes less affordable in public schools because there are hidden costs associated with the funding which is then taken out of tuition.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) asked Wieman for his thoughts on how to attract women to STEM fields as well as retain them. Wieman answered that this is a difficult problem and extends to other groups besides women. However, a “deeper understanding of the learning process” has been shown to help. Udall then asked Furman what he thought the impact of budget cuts from the sequester, the across- the-board budget cuts mandated to go into effect in January 2013, would be on energy research and development programs like the Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) which was initiated by the America COMPETES Act. Furman responded that this would be a substantial long-term impact unless the private sector “steps in” in a way it has not before.

John Thune (R-SD) asked Wieman, in light of his comments that STEM education has not improved, if the funding spent is “wasted.”  Wieman responded that much of the funding is “well spent” but there are some areas where funding could be placed more wisely. As an example, Wieman discussed teacher training clinics. He suggested that teachers be trained during their initial education instead of after years of learning to then be asked to learn the STEM content. Augustine responded that many students still do not have a teacher with a core background in the course area of study.

Udall referred to a recent report from Bloomberg News which discussed the finding that graduates from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology are earning more than Harvard graduates. He asked the panel if it matters where the STEM degree was awarded, an ‘elite’ school versus a public school, or if simply having a STEM degree is enough to give a recent graduate an edge. Unfortunately, the panel did not directly answer this question. However, Augustine did remark that the “market is recognizing the importance of STEM” and those in STEM fields are paid well.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) noted that in Washington there multiple high schools that receive support from private sector industries that “care a lot about those programs” and asked if there will only be successful STEM education in areas where schools can partner with a successful and local private sector.   Lee responded that there is only so much a private sector can do. However, Lee said he has been “heartened” by some of the improvements at the college level as a result of the America COMPETES Act, but is worried “the pipeline will run dry” in the future because of the state of K-12 education. Lee stressed Congress should focus their efforts on providing teachers for K-12 education that are adequately trained in STEM. Winn added the role of the private sector is more that of a “catalyst” while the heart of the matter is in replicating programs like UTeach, then asking legislators to ensure the program’s expansion. Wieman emphasized that the scenario described by Cantwell is one in which the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Chairman Rockefeller remarked that “nobody is challenging America COMPETES” or the need for federal support but, there will most likely be funding cuts to this problem. The chairman expressed “We recognize that America COMPETES has not turned out to gratify on the short-term basis.” However, he noted that “The world has changed dramatically” and this change is in the same direction America COMPETES is intended to move the country. 

Augustine remarked, “We are becoming less and less competitive as everyday passes…People around the world are becoming more highly educated.”  Augustine noted that without the taxes from jobs which must inevitably come from more and more from STEM fields, our ability to provide health care, to defend our country and provide education will decline. The chairman responded by alluding to the America COMPETES Act as “the last stand” for the American dream.

The chairman stated that “you can’t tell me that people don’t want to tap in” to technology, but “for the life of me I cannot figure out why it is that more Americans cannot get turned on by it.” He said, “It defies my hope for America” that we cannot seem to get youth interested. However he concluded, “Not enough is not a reason to quit something.” Wieman responded that student interest, particularly at the college level has been shown to shift against science and view science as “less relevant to their lives” after taking an introductory course. Wieman concluded that this speaks to our teaching methods, and is likely more true for K-12. Lee shared a joke that illustrates how science is viewed in society as a strange choice for a college major saying, “A young person opting to go to a good college for science and engineering is the modern day equivalent of joining a monastery.” 

Lee continued saying that while the older generation sees the value of training in STEM, younger people tend to be more idealistic than practical by trying to be part of a “community” where they can “express themselves and their curiosities” and have this value of “trying to make a difference in the world.” Lee suggested that “we express ourselves in a way that touches that idealism…if we forget that, we’ll risk making all of the wonderful things we do in science and technology look really mundane.” Lee concluded that we need to find a way to “inspire.” The chairman responded that as an example of this, participation in the Peace Corps and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are higher than they have ever been and pointed to that as young people saying, “I want to be a part of the future, I want to be a part of the world, I want to make the world a better place.”  The chairman posed the question, how do we inspire the interest of young ideological people in the world of STEM? He concluded that, “We must leave this as unfinished business.”

Opening statements, witness testimonies and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the Committee’s web site.

-KGK

House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on "The Relationship Between Business and Research Universities: Collaborations Fueling American Innovation and Job Creation"
August 1, 2012

Witnesses:
William Green
Executive Chairman, Accenture
Ray Johnson
Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Lockheed Martin Corporation
John Hickman
Director, Global University Relations and Life Sciences, Deere and Company
Lou Graziano
Director, University Research and Development Strategy, Sustainable Technologies & Innovation Sourcing, The Dow Chemical Company
Jilda Diehl Garton
Vice President for Research and General Manager, Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Georgia Institute of Technology

Subcommittee Members Present:
Mo Brooks, Chair (R-AL)
Daniel Lipinski, Ranking Member (D-IL)
Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Dan Benishek (R-MI)
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)

On August 1, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to discuss the relationships between businesses and research universities, more specifically, their impact on innovation and job creation. The panel was staffed with individuals from industry and academia to provide diverse viewpoints and suggestions to the subcommittee members.

Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) began the hearing with his opening statement saying how the research conducted at U.S. universities is “essential to the future prosperity of our nation.” Collaborations between businesses and academia drives research for “American innovation” and workforce preparation for industry, which Brooks says is “critical […] to future economic prosperity and job growth.” He referenced the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security, which says businesses and industries have not “fully partnered” with research universities. The report makes various recommendations, some of which Brooks highlighted briefly. Among these included: strengthening businesses’ involvement in research partnerships, “[reforming] graduate education, and “[reducing] regulatory burden.” Brooks closed by saying he wanted to learn about policies that could “help rather than hinder” both industry and universities.

Ranking member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) began his statement by quoting former CEO of Lockheed Martin, Norm Augustine, who said that scientific research was like the “engine of a thought-based economy.” Lipinski highlighted what the federal government can do to promote collaboration. Those items discussed included tax incentives and support for university-based research centers. He mentioned the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, which helps the process of taking federally funded research from the lab to a company. Lipinski closed by briefly discussing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, asking the panel how their companies can work better with universities to produce graduates who are skill-ready for industry.

William Green began the witness testimonies by saying, “Global competitiveness is the key CEO issue, and having the talent to compete is what keeps CEOs up at night.” He said the research universities are the “secret weapons.” Green noted the lacking of talent, especially in the STEM education areas. He then revisited the NAS report, highlighting the three extensive goals and four of the recommendations made. Green closed by stating more needs to be done to “harvest the unique asset that we have” in America.

Ray Johnson gave his testimony by discussing Lockheed Martin’s involvement with universities. For 2012, he said that Lockheed Martin plans to make around $20 million research and development (R&D) contributions to universities. Johnson said there is concentration on fewer partnerships with universities, but these few are very large in size. Working with universities is done because “their inventions become the basis for [Lockheed Martin’s] innovation.” One issue of note with collaboration, Johnson stated, was intellectual property (IP) rights where hesitance from universities to grant IP rights to research sponsors has increased. He highlighted recommendations one, three, and nine from the NAS report, which he believes will provide the “most significant impacts.” Recommendation one suggests modifying research policies and practices that have become “inefficient” and investing more in research as the economy improves. Recommendation three suggests making the business role stronger in a research partnership to achieve goals. Recommendation nine suggests giving “full benefits of education” to all Americans in STEM education.  This includes women and minorities.

John Hickman began his testimony by saying research universities are not only good for innovation, but for “attracting employees” and understanding local customer needs. He discussed the Global University Relations Initiative, formed by Deere in 2011. Hickman noted the close proximities of industries to research universities, such as the John Deere Technology and Innovation Center located near University of Illinois. This locality “fosters an environment and workforce focused on innovation.” He closed by discussing organizations which assist in collaboration, including, the Government University Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) and the University Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP).

Lou Graziano started his testimony by listing Dow’s involvement with U.S. universities. Dow increased investments to $25 million per year for a 10 year commitment to 11 institutions. Dow says the successful way to have a partnership is to have only a few academic partners as it allows for a “deeper relationship.” Graziano concluded his remarks by discussing the NAS report, noting the recommendation to reduce barriers to those individuals who come from overseas to get training.

Jilda Diehl Garton began her testimony by giving figures of Georgia Institute of Technology’s (Georgia Tech) research money. In 2011, total research expenditures were over $655 million and in fiscal year (FY) 2012 new awards from industry were over $88 million. Of 407 invention disclosures Garton received in the Georgia Tech Research Corporation office in FY 2012, 103 were from industry-sponsored research. She said Georgia Tech will be a node for the NSF’s I-Corps program. Garton noted some challenges in Georgia Tech’s research efforts, referencing the NAS report list of challenges including limited resources, increasing regulation, and increasing reporting requirements.

Representative Dan Benishek (R-MI) began the round of questions. Benishek led off asking how the partnerships get started and how to determine which schools will be involved. Graziano acknowledged that larger research institutions are used more often than smaller ones. Benishek then asked Garton to elaborate on the barriers to research she discussed in her testimony. She replied by saying “duplicative regulation” or “multiple reporting” is a problem. Garton suggested streamlining to put things into a “logical sequence.” Benishek finished his questions by asking what would happen when government funding was over. Johnson said one of the main roles for federally funded research is investment in “high risk, high payoff research.” With collaboration, federally funded research will turn into “outcomes” or success through the partnership.

Lipinski wanted to know what defines a partnership. Graziano said there is an understanding of what universities are capable of and what the industry priorities are when trying to make a partnership.

Brooks began his questions by noting the NAS report recommendations for increased federal support. He said that expenditures at institutions have increased 83 percent over a nine year time frame. Businesses research and development increased by 39 percent from 2000 until 2008. Brooks mentioned the increase in federal debt, entitlements, and debt service. He asked the panel when it comes to federal funding, “who should prevail.” Green said “research capabilities are an untapped asset.” He said that research institutions should be more efficient, but that the return could be 1000 times. Johnson noted efficiency increase. Hickman said he agreed with previous answers. Garton said she agreed with the panel in increasing efficiency and conducting streamlining. She said the link between research and education will reduce the need for entitlement programs because of a growing workforce and using graduates for the new workforce.

Representative Hansen Clarke (D-MI) asked how can the problems with IP can be resolved with help from the subcommittee. Johnson said he cannot foresee the government’s role in resolving the IP issue. Clarke then asked what the best incentives would be to get businesses to work with universities on research. Green said that “success stories” need to be known. He noted the lack of large industrial research capabilities and the need to “replace” the ones that no longer exist. Hickman emphasized the importance of engagement at the university level.

Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) referenced the NAS report and how the large industrial research facilities have “dismantled” and have not attempted to partner with universities. He asked what can be done to alleviate the gap. Green said there is a need to “institutionalize and industrialize” and there is a lack of leadership in the pursuance of partnership. Hultgren wanted to know how partnerships can be applied to smaller and medium size companies. Graziano said that “throwing money” at companies will not help, but focusing in programs that will benefit the United States will. Hickman noted the importance of research parks at universities.

Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) focused her questions more on the importance of pre-kindergarten through secondary education and the need for “creative thinkers.” Bonamici cited the NAS article and the recommendation made to bridge gaps in the workforce. She wanted know how the panel identified gaps, filled the gaps, and how they match up universities for the specific skill sets needed. Graziano said that communication of science is a big issue and a lot of kids are lost at a young age due to this. He continued saying there needs to be a better job done at “exciting people” about the sciences. Green said there is a need to “not just educate” but to “energize and inspire.” Johnson mentioned the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival, where in October 2010 over one million people visited over 1500 hands-on exhibits on the National Mall. Garton added that engaging undergraduates in “problem-based learning” helps students understand the workforce needs.

Opening statements, full witness testimony, and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.

-KNR

House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing on Spurring Economic Growth and Development through NASA-Derived Technologies
July 12, 2012

Witnesses:
Mason Peck
Chief Technologist, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
George Beck
Chief Clinical and Technology Officer, Impact Instrumentation, Inc.
Brian Russell
CEO, Zephyr Technology
John Vilja
Vice President for Strategy, Innovation and Growth, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne
Richard Aubrecht
Vice President, Moog Inc.

Subcommittee Members Present:
Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Chair
Jerry Costello (D-IL), Ranking Member
Mo Brooks (R-AL)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)

Full Committee Members Present:
Ralph Hall (R-TX), Chair

The House Committee on Space Science and Technology Subcommittee on Science and Aeronautics held a hearing on July 12 to discuss the potential of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) research for technology marketable in the private sector. NASA was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 (P.L. 85-586) as the lead agency for space and aeronautics research. Since then, 1635 “spin-off” technologies, industry applications based on NASA research, have been registered by the Space Technology Program. Formed in 2010, the Space Technology Program’s mission is to oversee high-tech research and disseminate this technology to the private sector. Despite this, recent budget allocations to NASA have flat funded their research and development (R&D) programs while other agencies’ R&D programs have seen their budgets supported with increases. The NASA Inspector General (IG) released a report in March 2012 entitled Audit of NASA’s Process for Transferring Technology to the Government and Private Sector which concludes “NASA has missed opportunities to transfer technologies… maximize partnerships… and industry and the public have not fully benefited from NASA developed technologies.”

Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) began his opening statement by saying he hoped this hearing would inform the public that publically used technologies derived from NASA innovations extend beyond “tang and Teflon.” He echoed the IG report’s claim that NASA has had a recent decline in technology transfer and pointed to the lowered budget as a cause, especially the “insufficient” number of patent lawyers in the Space Technology Program. Palazzo was curious about the necessity of the Space Technology Program asking, “Does technology transfer happen in more informal ways?” The chairman closed by stating he hoped the hearing could shed light on partnerships between NASA and industry, and how Space Technology policies “disseminate technology to the private sector.”

Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-IL) submitted his opening statement to the record to allow more time from questioning. He hoped the witnesses could enlighten the subcommittee on how NASA’s technology transfer process could be improved. In defending NASA’s importance, Costello stated the agency’s history of inspiring young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Mason Peck, Chief Technology Officer at NASA, testified on behalf of the Space Technology Program. He said NASA-derived technology is used in manufacturing, medicine, transportation and renewable energy. Peck gave numerous examples of these spin-offs, such as a remote ultrasound which anyone can easily use to send images of an injury to a medical professional and hasten a diagnosis. NASA played a role in developing a phototropic cell to clean water. It is used in irrigation and even helped clean the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In response to the IG report, Peck said that in addition to a decrease in funding, NASA employees are uninformed about the details of the technology transfer process. He claimed innovators “lack awareness of beginning steps in technology transfer channels” and how broadly NASA technologies can be applied. He stated that NASA staff “lack awareness of the agency’s technology transfer policy requirements.”

George Beck, Chief Clinical and Technology Officer of Impact Instrumentation, stated in his testimony that his organization has more of a “spin-in” agreement with NASA. Impact Instrumentation develops life-support systems to “expand the level of care” for astronauts. This technology is used by the Department of Defense (DoD) in treating and transporting injured soldiers. Beck said Impact, NASA and DoD work together “to leverage critical technology for space.”

He testified that the greatest challenge of working with NASA is “overcoming the questions [from the government] as to why would we want to have a noncompensated space act agreement.” Thankfully, Beck said, others within the agencies saw “that working together would benefit both groups.” Industry gained government support in its research, and NASA gained cost-effective and quickly-developed solutions to problems.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced her constituent, Brian Russell, CEO of Zephyr Technology. Zephyr is based in Annapolis, MD.

Russell testified to the benefit of working with NASA in developing remote physiological monitoring technology (PSM). Zephyr Technology originally used NASA technology to monitor motion sickness in zero gravity for astronauts-in-training. Now, their PSM equipment is used by Olympic athletes, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and various other health and athletics groups to monitor heart rate, skin temperature and even electrocardiography during training or recovery from an injury.

Russell said their technology was even used to monitor the health of the Chilean miners trapped during the 2010 Copiapo mining accident. Other than the obvious benefit of monitoring the health of these miners, Russell stated the situation was a learning experience as well and “mimicked” a long-term space travel scenario. He stated the benefits to PSM and similar technologies from increased funding to NASA.

John Vilja, Vice President for Strategy, Innovation and Growth for Rocketdyne, spoke to the difficulty in communicating the “everyday” importance of NASA beyond “tang and Teflon” in his testimony. Rocketdyne develops high-energy density engines used for rockets. It assists in launching DoD satellites. Rocketdyne technology has been used for water pumping technology and even a solar powered generator that makes energy at night. It works by heating salt solution during the day and converting the heat to energy during the night.

Vilja explained that the level of technology in corporations like Rocketdyne and NASA “is staggering” and NASA is considered a leader among these high tech groups. He urged the subcommittee to “keep investing in development.”

Richard Aubrecht, Vice President of Moog, discussed Moog’s relationship with NASA which began with Project Mercury, the first manned space program of the United States. Moog develops and tests precision motion controls. “We do the steering” said Aubrecht. His testimony focused on the need for NASA to “focus on really hard problems.” According to Aubrecht, a rocket launch is “ubiquitous” and has been achieved by many nations but deep space and manned space missions are essential to developing innovative, useful technology.

He said that when NASA tackles difficult problems, technology is advanced in fuel development, motion control, life support and medical equipment. Aubrecht advised the subcommittee that the best way for NASA to retain its technical expertise was to set clear, concise mission statements with lofty technological targets and keep the programs funded consistently.

Full committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) opened the question and answer portion by criticizing the closure of the Constellation program by President Obama. Constellation was a NASA project formed under the Bush Administration to send astronauts back to the Moon. President Obama shut down the project in his 2011 budget, choosing instead to invest in a “space-taxi” program and pursue research to enable human exploration of the solar system.

Palazzo asked about the role of field centers throughout the country in disseminating NASA technology as opposed to NASA’s Space Technology Program. Peck answered that field centers like Goddard Space Flight Center work with individual companies, usually in the area and actually distribute the research while Space Technology formulates policy in technology transfer. Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL) asked how the field centers find corporations to utilize their technology. Peck replied that this occurs in various ways, the Space Technology Program can organize conferences like the automotive conference in Detroit where relevant research is presented to industry or companies contact NASA themselves. He discussed NASA web sites where companies can search for technology relevant to their mission.

Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-MI) asked the panel what improvements could be made to move technology to industry. Aubrecht answered that to “complete a project and demonstrate its capability in space” is the best way to reduce risk sufficiently for companies looking to gain licenses to NASA technology. Moog recently developed a “green propellant” and cannot find a commercial space flight to utilize it because of high risk. NASA can undertake that risk more easily with federal support, demonstrate its capability and ease the private sector into new technology.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked about the cost of the new green propellant. Aubrecht replied the propellant itself is more expensive, but the reduction of safety equipment lowers the overall cost significantly.

Clarke told the panel that “Detroit is ready and open to work with NASA,” citing its cheap land and high unemployment rate of technically experienced workers. Russell explained that Zephyr began a relationship with NASA simply by showing a value proposition to the agency. He stressed the need to be enthusiastic about a problem and said, “NASA will take care of the rest.” Peck said that the Space Technology Program estimates that 14,000 jobs have been created by NASA-derived technology.

Costello asked how NASA is working to improve the public’s understanding of how deeply NASA-derived technology affects everyday life. Peck discussed NASA’s Spinoff Publication which lists spinoff technologies from every year, as well as its Twitter and Facebook accounts to raise awareness. The ranking member asked if NASA works with universities to promote research on NASA technology. Peck explained that Space Technology Program offers a scholarship to undergraduates and is developing plans to being working with faculty. He said this “trickle down” affect will inspire more students to embrace STEM careers and strengthen industry.

Opening statements, witness testimonies, and a live web cast of this hearing can be found at the committee’s web site.

-SJG

House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “The Role of Research Universities in Securing America’s Future Prosperity: Challenges and Expectations”
June 27, 2012

Witnesses:
Charles Holliday
Chair, Committee on Research Universities, National Research Council
John Mason
Associate Provost and Vice President for Research, Auburn University
Jeffrey Seemann
Vice President for Research, Texas A&M University
Chief Research Officer, The Texas A&M University System
Leslie Tolbert
Senior Vice President for Research, The University of Arizona
James Siedow
Vice Provost for Research, Duke University

Subcommittee Members Present:
Mo Brooks (R-AL), Chair
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Ranking Member
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)

Full Committee Members Present:
Ralph Hall (R-TX), Full Committee Chair

On June 27 the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing on the state of research universities and their role in industry innovation. This hearing was prompted by a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report entitled “Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation's Prosperity and Security” or the “Prosperity Report.” The NAS report compared U.S. research universities to those in other countries, identified challenges and needs of research universities and provided broad recommendations to address these challenges and needs.

Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) opened the hearing by thanking those involved for their work on the Prosperity Report at the request of Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the full committee. Brooks acknowledged the “vital role” of public research universities in maintaining global economic competitiveness.

He explained that the Morrill Act (P.L. 37-108) allowed for the creation of publicly funded land-grant universities during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. It was passed in 1862 and is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year. Brooks gave credit to research done at public universities for the innovations which drive the U.S. economy today. According to Brooks, supporting this research will improve the faltering economy and create jobs. The chairman pointed out certain challenges identified by the report such as “unstable revenue streams,” outdated policies and competition from foreign research universities.

Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) agreed that research is paramount to job creation saying, “jobs… are going to come from innovation… [which] comes from our research universities.” In his testimony he explained, “A lot of people don’t understand the role of federal funding” in the support of public research universities. He relayed an anecdote about how federal government grants to Stanford University researchers led to the development of Silicon Valley. Lipinski discussed how U.S. patent laws “expedite innovation” by quickly turning research findings into technology ready for the marketplace.

Lipinski said he was disappointed in the support from state governments for public research schools. He said he hopes this can be rectified, but stressed that universities must “find new, innovative ways to operate” in light of a constrained budget.

The ranking member said he hoped to learn how Congress can help bring research to the marketplace by crafting patent policy to aid technology transfer. He said he wanted to know how universities work with industry to give their students the necessary skills to get a job and how universities facilitate networking between students and industry. Lipinski said he hoped a strong emphasis can be placed on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and diversity.

Charles Holliday, the chair of the committee which wrote the Prosperity Report, testified that universities, industry and the government must work together to protect the “commanding lead” U.S. universities enjoy over international schools. He said public universities are “on thin ice” because of decreasing funding from the federal and state governments and increasing efficiency of foreign research. A slip in the prowess of U.S. public universities would be detrimental to its economy, according to Holliday. The report found that 60 percent of all publically funded research in the U.S. is done at public universities and they provide 70 percent of Ph.D. degrees in the country.

Holliday said that the research which provides innovation for the U.S. economy starts at public universities with studies on broad topics. Industry focuses on that research which leads to innovative technology. He claimed that the partnership between universities and industry is “too much of a buyer and seller relationship.” He emphasized a more collaborative partnership where universities provide basic research and students while industry provides training, direction on what basic research should be done and funding. Holliday echoed the report’s recommendation that a research and development (R&D) tax credit can be provided for companies that form this type of partnership.

To bolster the performance of public universities, Holliday suggested state and federal funding regulations be “streamlined” and redundancies and inconsistencies be removed. He stressed the need to retain foreign students who come to the U.S. for an education. The report estimated that 25 percent of engineering Ph.D. students only have temporary visas and will return to their home countries after earning their degree. Keeping these students will strengthen U.S. research and innovation.

John Mason, Vice President for Research at Auburn University, said industry productivity “started with discovery of new knowledge” in his testimony. He echoed the report’s “insightful and forward-looking recommendation” to remove some of the “burdening” regulations placed on public universities. He said he appreciates the need for oversight and transparency but said the regulations currently “focus on process rather than results.” Consolidating redundant and sometimes conflicting regulations will simplify oversight and strengthen public research according to Mason.

Mason cited the “short-term shifting of national priorities” to debt reduction as a major reason for the decline in federal and state funding of research universities. This decline has affected the character of studies and has caused a “perverse incentive to chase funding rather than the next discovery” according to Mason. He suggested tuition waivers for students studying advanced science as “an inexpensive way to accomplish needed research on a national need.”

Hall introduced the testimony of his constituent Jeffrey Seemann, a major research official in the Texas A&M University System. Seemann attributed A&M’s rise to the top-tier of research universities to support from state and federal government.

He highlighted several areas which can be improved for “immediate gains” to the status of public research. Seemann agreed with the NAS report that the U.S. and universities must identify key research areas to national interests and financially support scientists in those fields, especially young researchers. He suggested universities distribute research dollars more effectively than in the past, noting this would be much simpler if federal and state regulations were streamlined. Seemann cautioned the U.S. to take steps to keep public research from “reaching a plateau.”

Leslie Tolbert, Vice President for Research at the University of Arizona (AU), testified that state funding for AU has “fallen very steeply”- $180 million over the last five years. This decrease resulted in the loss of 60 faculty members from the university. AU has had to divert funds from other programs to pay the overhead on research projects. She stressed industry partnerships formed with AU through the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources as a step to increasing university effectiveness.

James Siedow, Vice Provost for Research at Duke University, testified the need to “maintain primacy [of the U.S.] …in the face of steep competition.” He noted the void left by corporate research has not been filled by the “business relationship” between research universities and industry. Siedow felt the federal government is “best positioned to broker” a partnership which could fill that void.

Lipinski asked the witnesses representing public universities how much of their budget came from their state governments. Tolbert provided this number at about 20 percent in her testimony. Mason did not know the specific percentage but reported state funding had been reduced by $120 million since 2008 and Seemann said when he worked at the University of Rhode Island state funding accounted for less than 10 percent of the university’s budget. Brooks referenced the strategic investment program introduced by the NAS report, which calls for $7 billion from federal funds for initiatives to support research at public universities. When asked where this money would come from, Holliday stressed that Congress needs to “take time to fully fund” public research and that the money should be looked at as an investment rather than a cost.

Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-IL) said he was frustrated by Congress’s “very little vision as far as science policy.” He asked for the research community’s help to guide Congress when it is drafting policy related to scientific research. Hultgren asked what specific regulations the panel felt were redundant and hurtful to their work. Tolbert and Siedow agreed that effort reporting, conflict of interest and export control rules need to be reformed. Brooks asked that the witnesses send the committee the list of Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) numbers of regulation rules which impede public research. Siedow replied that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) made a similar request last year, so finding the regulations again would not be difficult.

Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) asked about entrepreneurship programs and technology transfer offices at universities. Holliday explained that the National Academies has sent industry consultants to technology transfer offices at universities to show them more efficient ways to turn research into innovation. He explained that multiple projects are required before most research can be marketed. The witnesses from research universities described entrepreneurship programs which link students, professors and industry.

Lipinski asked if universities encourage commercialization of their research. Seemann explained innovation is central to any university’s mission. He discussed how research and education are “inextricably linked” and if universities hope to educate their students they must form a cooperative partnership with industry.

Opening statements, witness testimony and a web-cast of this hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.

-SJG

House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Hearing on Examining Priorities and Effectiveness of the Nation's Science Policies
June 20, 2012

Witness:
John Holdren
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Committee Members Present:
Ralph Hall (R-TX), Chair
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Judy Biggert (R-IL)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Mo Brooks (R-AL)
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Brad Miller (D-NC)
Ben Quayle (R-AZ)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)
Andy Harris (R-MD)
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL)

On June 20, 2012, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held an oversight hearing on the priorities and effectiveness of the nation’s science policies. The oversight was conducted on the organization and current priorities of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). This office was formed under The National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-282). According to the OSTP web site, the office was established to “advise the President (…) on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs.” John Holdren, director of OSTP and assistant to the President for Science and Technology, testified to the committee.

Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) began the hearing with his opening statement by noting how there is “not a more important position on the Hill” than Holdren’s when it comes to the House Science Committee. Hall noted how this is the first time the committee has conducted an oversight hearing on the priorities and organization of OSTP. He discussed how the committee would look at responsibilities, operations, management, and functions in policies of the OSTP. Hall expressed his concern over various science and technology policy issues including clean energy, applied research, and human space flight. He said he would like to see OSTP action on data transparency, a position on the proposal to transfer the Joint Polar Satellite System’s (JPSS) operation and management from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The JPSS is a polar-orbiting environmental satellite system. He asked for the administration’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) education strategic plan as well.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) gave her opening statement saying the OSTP “has been asked to do a lot.” She mentioned the office’s involvement in “interagency coordination” to avoid duplication and “ensure that significant research gaps are addressed.”  She noted that even with his “limited authority,” Holdren’s accomplishments are due to his “leadership, persuasion, and persistence.”

John Holdren then gave his testimony, saying how “science, technology, and innovation have been at the core of the American success story” since the formation of the country. He then listed some activities of the OSTP. Holdren discussed the use of science and technology for “economic growth,” including the new program U.S. Ignite. He mentioned clean energy technology and the organizing of financial support for research related to clean energy. Holdren discussed the OSTP’s involvement in STEM education, including the “Educate to Innovate” partnership. He then discussed implementation of the Open Government Initiative as brought forth by the President. Holdren closed by saying the OSTP would “ensure the policies” are formed from up-to-date science and technology data.

Hall opened the questions asking Holdren how a “regulate at any cost approach to energy policy” would help the U.S. middle class. Holdren noted the “all-of-the-above” plan and the goal of a future with less imported energy. Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) began her questions by asking how the U.S. is doing in support for science in technology compared to the rest of the world. Holdren said the U.S. continues to “lead the world in science, engineering, and innovation” and is a leader in space. He said the U.S. is the “largest funder of research and development” with spending on research and development (R&D) over “$400 billion a year.” Contrary to all these successes, Holdren said work still needs to be done in STEM education, where the U.S. has “fallen to the middle of the pack.” Woolsey then asked about the challenges in federal agencies, academia, and industry in trying to moving forward. Holdren discussed each individually, mentioning the National Science and Technology Council, which has five committees and several subcommittees. As for private sector and academia, Holdren said they are stepping up and the private sector is focused on maintaining research and the importance on STEM education.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) focused his questions on nuclear asking about light water reactors (LWR). Rohrabacher cited the Department of Energy’s (DOE) reduction of funding by 10 percent to the fast spectrum reactors and high temperature cool reactors in the Office of Nuclear Energy. Research for LWR, which Rohrabacher referred to as “old technology,” is being increased in the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget. Rohrabacher asked Holdren if this was “a matter of policy coming out of the administration.” Holdren corrected him by saying investments in LWR are not “investments in old technology,” but rather advancements. Holdren said advanced LWR will be contributors to low-emission energy supply in the future. Rohrabacher asked if LWR would contribute to the nuclear waste problem. Holdren said “the problem would be the same if we didn’t take steps to solve it, but we are taking steps to solve it.”

Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) began her questions re-capping the recent wash up of a dock on Oregon’s shore that was tsunami debris from the March 2011 Tohoku magnitude 9.0 earthquake. She asked Holdren what part OSTP is playing in the response effort. Holdren said the OSTP is “advisory and analytical” but works with agencies that conduct the operations. In regards to the OSTP, they have been “overseeing” radioactivity levels assessments. Holdren emphasized that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is struggling to respond because of limited funding. Bonamici asked Holdren to discuss work being done to promote STEM education. Holdren noted $3 billion in the President’s 2013 budget proposal for programs. This includes investments in K-12 teacher effectiveness and post-secondary STEM education aspects of education. He mentioned the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and said two reasons for loss of students obtaining STEM degrees is due to a “math gap” and “teaching effectiveness gap.” Students do not receive sufficient math in high school to prepare them for college level courses, thus leading to a “math gap.” In regards to effective teaching, some introductory courses can be very “boring,” which makes students leave the field. 

Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) mentioned how recommended priorities by the National Academy’s decadal surveys do not match the budgets and priorities of the administration. She said the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA’s “ExoMars” mission was “terminated.” She asked how priorities are organized accounting for the surveys. Holdren said the Mars program still remains “robust” and that the mission was not “feasible.” In regards to the decadal surveys, he said they followed what the survey said to do if funds were not available. Edward closed by saying “it’s very frustrating (…) to do science on a hit or miss, year to year basis.”

Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) focused mainly on high energy particle physics. He asked if the U.S. should build “large scale” facilities for research, or if students should go abroad for physics. Holdren said they are “not giving up” on the venture, but there are budget constraints.  Hultgren referenced a Space News article which said that the U.S. has dropped to third place in space exploration.  Holdren disagreed, saying the U.S. is “still number one (…) and intends to stay that way.”

Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) focused his questions on rare earth elements (REE) and energy critical elements. He asked Holdren what government should do in regards to these elements and what are the “notable research gaps.” Holdren said the OSTP has hosted “round tables with industry.” DOE has been working on R&D for REEs and in the 2012 appropriations bill received $20 million for an energy innovation hub on critical materials. This hub has a continued funding request in the 2013 budget.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) cited a National Academy of Science’s report, titled Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering at the NNSA National Security Laboratories, highlighting “the broken relationship between the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) and the scientists at our (U.S.) research labs.” Lofgren asked Holdren if NNSA has done anything to fix what is outlined in the report. Holdren said the OSTP has a task force following the recommendations of the report. He said there is a need to “maintain the quality of the science and engineering at our national defense laboratories.”

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) focused his questions on the President’s request for a clean energy standard (CES). Brooks asked for Holdren’s judgment on what effect a CES would have on energy costs. Holdren said he had no judgment on the question. Brooks listed some “green jobs” as defined by the administration. Some of these included: “college professors teaching environmental courses, school bus drivers, employees at bicycle shops, antique dealers, and Salvation Army employees.” Brooks asked Holdren if the definition is flawed. Holdren said, as described, the definition is “overly broad.”

Representative Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked Holdren how STEM initiatives would be used in the districts. Holdren mentioned “Change the Equation” initiative and “Educate to Innovate” strategy and their design to work at the local level.

Representative Ben Quayle (R-AZ) asked what activities at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NASA, National Science Foundation (NSF), and DOE are going to be reduced to fund the President’s National Network of Manufacturing Innovation pilot program, introduced on March 9, 2012. Holdren said he “didn’t think any activities are going to be reduced.”

Johnson asked Holdren about the turnover rate of staffing in the OSTP and how many people carry over from administration to administration. Holdren said in his time over the past three years only 10 to 12 are remaining from the previous administration.

Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) began by asking about “transparency.” He wanted to know if the federal government, “as a matter of principal,” should make scientific data used for “regulatory actions” public. Holdren agreed and said data used “should be made public.” Harris then pointed out Holdren left natural gas off of his list of clean energies in his testimony. Holdren assured Harris there was no reason why he left it out. He said natural gas is “the cleanest of the fossil fuels” though there is no need for a “large federal R&D program.” However, he noted the need for federal R&D for studies on the safety of hydraulic fracturing, so the public has “confidence in it.”

Representative Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) finished the question segment by asking about “innovation induced in prizes at federal agencies” and referenced the success of prizes as detailed in the OSTP report, Implementation of Federal Prize Authority: Progress Report. This was conducted in response to the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358).  This act granted agencies the ability to award prizes in an effort to spark innovation, solve problems, and further missions. Lipinski wanted an update of the program. Holdren said the prizes are an “efficient” way to drive innovation and these competitions are taking place in around 40 different agencies. The awards are beneficial, as they only pay for successful projects.

Opening statements, full witness testimony, and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s web site.

-KNR

House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on National Science Foundation Major Multi-User Research Facilities Management: Ensuring Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability
April 18, 2012

Witnesses:
Ethan Schreir
President, Associated Univeristies, Inc.
William Smith
President, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy
David Divins
Vice President and Director of Ocean Drilling Programs, Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Inc.
Gregory Boebinger
Director, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and Professor, University of Florida and Florida State University
Sol Michael Gruner
Director, Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source and Professor, Cornell University

Subcommittee Members Present:
Mo Brooks (R-AL), Chair
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Ranking Member
Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)

On April 18, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to discuss the management, planning and stewardship of major multi-user research facilities funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The subcommittee examined standard operations of these facilities, stressing financial responsibility and the feasibility of a recompete of NSF contracts.

Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) began his opening statement stating that 15 percent of the NSF budget and $1.1 billion was requested for FY 2013 to fund major multi-user facilities. This money is to support research at these facilities and their construction and maintenance. Facilities of this nature include telescopes and marine research vessels. The chairman said he hoped to “ensure planning, operations, management and overall stewardship of … projects is being carried out responsibly” with this hearing. He emphasized the possibility of a recompete, the ability to renegotiate terms of a contract upon its completion.

Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) expressed gratitude for the series of hearings on NSF policies in his opening statement. He pointed out that the most recent review of NSF policies by the subcommittee was ten years prior. Lipinski said he hoped to gain understanding of the recompetition procedure of a contract when a facility has significant international partnerships and the allocation of funds when a facility is decommissioned. However, he noted that no NSF board members were present to fully investigate his questions.

Ethan Schrier, president of Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), a contract group which promotes scientific research by uniting university and government resources, oversees the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) which manages three major multi-user NSF facilities and is constructing a fourth. The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) is being built in Atacama, Peru. In his testimony, Schrier stated that despite the NRAO’s leadership in building the array, a recompete could cause a transfer of ALMA’s ownership to a Peruvian or other foreign agency. He lauded the benefits of international cooperation in building ALMA, but said he would regret the loss to American astronomers if they could not “reap the benefits of the large U.S. investment in ALMA.”

The testimony of William Smith focused on the effects of recompetition and international collaboration to Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) projects. He praised NSF’s management policy, stating that financial responsibility is a “prerequisite” to NSF projects and that AURA operations are constantly changing because of “dialogue with NSF.” Smith suggested decommission costs be outlined in the NSF budget similarly to how construction costs are presented.

David Divins, manager of the scientific programs of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) through the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, discussed the U.S. branch of the IODP, the United Stated Implementing Organization (IODP-USIO). Drilling operations for IODP are an international effort and IODP receives contributions from the U.S., Japan and the European Union. IODP-USIO operates the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep-Earth Sampling Resolution (JOIDES Resolution or JR), a drilling vessel which is used for paleoclimate, solid earth, plate tectonic and polar magnetic reversal research. The JR recently underwent a retrofit funded by NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account in 2009.

In his testimony, Divins explained that after the JR’s renovation the high price of oil and gas reduced its number of operational days from 12 to eight months per year. This jeopardizes the U.S. contribution to international ocean drilling studies, especially with the possibility of a recompete. The JR is not owned by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership or even the NSF, IODP leases it from Overseas Drilling Limited, a subsidiary of Siem Offshore AS. The IODP contract with NSF ends in 2013 and a recompete puts IODP’s contract for the JR in jeopardy if the cost becomes “prohibitive or out of reach for NSF.”

Gregory Boebinger testified that competitive review and a “winner-take-all” recompete is a basic part of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) fund allocation process. MagLab is run by the state of Florida with current research in superconductors, fuel cells, and petroleum in biofuel.

Michael Gruner runs the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), which is used by researchers in many fields including geology and environmental science. CHESS is a high intensity X-ray source using synchrotron radiation. His testimony stressed NSF’s difficulty in defining ownership to interdisciplinary research. Gruner said he fears NSF will push to terminate highly disciplinary facilities.

When questioned about the possible effects of a recompetition by Chairman Brooks, Divins reiterated the importance of oil prices to IODP’s ability to continue use of the JR. If oil prices are high and NSF chooses to further decrease its operational days, the vessel could be leased by another organization with a larger budget. If the JR is not in demand, regular competition could lower the leasing rate.

Ranking Member Lipinski asked Smith to elaborate on his statement that there are other, possibly more effective ways to build effective managing organizations other than recompetition.  Smith suggested consolidation, citing AURA and National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s involvement with the Gemini Observatory. Both organizations are similar and in similar locations, but the National Science Board opposed consolidation as it would impede recompetition, though Smith felt consolidation was a better choice.

Lipinski questioned the witnesses on the feasibility of having funds for decommission in the NSF budget. Divins explained that the JR’s refit was provided by the MREFC over decommission even after 20 years of use. He said he saw value in transitioning research to a new facility rather than shutting down an old one. Schrier supported his statement, saying “[renovation] is a cost-effective way to get new capabilities.” Divins added that a significant process to compare cost of decommissioning to cost of upgrading would likely influence a choice to renovate or decommission.

Senator Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) asked the witnesses about STEM education outreach being done by their facilities. Schrier discussed a program called the Pulsar Search Collaboratory with West Virginia University that gives high school students and teachers in West Virginia access to data from the NRAO telescope in their state. Students can search for pulsars with the data and have a chance for publication. Schrier, Smith, and Boebinger discussed Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) opportunities with their facilities.

Majority statements, witness testimony, and a web cast of the hearing can be found on the House Science Space and Technology web site.

-SJG

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Hearing on “Federally Funded Research: Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests”
March 29, 2012

Witnesses:
Frederick Dylla
Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, American Institute of Physics
Elliot Maxwell
Project Director for the Digital Connections Council, Committee on Economic Development
Crispin Taylor
Executive Director, American Society of Plant Biologists
Stuart Shieber
Director, Office of Scholarly Communications, Harvard University
Scott Plutchak
Director, Lister Hill Library at University of Alabama at Birmingham

Members Present:
Paul Broun (R-GA), Chair
Paul Tonko (D-NY), Ranking Member
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

On March 29, 2012 the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing to examine public access to federally funded research and how it may affect the scientific process.  Traditionally, access to federally funded research has come through a paid subscription to a publisher holding the rights to the journal article.  However, there has been a recent push to make access to these journal articles increasingly more open.  Advocates in favor of making federally funded research publically available blame high subscription prices from restricting access.  Scientific societies fear the loss in revenue that increased public access would bring. 

Chairman of the Subcommittee Paul Broun (R-GA) opened by calling structure of research communication “organic and ever changing.”  He said that “society’s expectations of transparency are clearly increasing” with the move into the “digital age.”  Broun warned that this situation must be approached cautiously to ensure that science and research are not harmed.  He asked the panel if a solution to this issue would be more agency-specific opposed to a “one-size-fits-all policy.”  Broun said he looked forward to hearing from the witnesses how public access programs currently in place have affected the quality of research. 

In his opening statement, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Paul Tonko (D-NY) began by reviewing the two competing public interests at play in the open access discussion.  He said taxpayers would like their funding of this research to be used to “deliver the maximum public benefit.”  Tonko said on the other hand, the public wants quality scientific research and consequently will not approve of increased public access if it is found to tarnish the quality of the scientific research.  Tonko highlighted the National Institute of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE) as examples of agencies moving towards increasing public access.  In 2009, NIH adopted a policy which requires all investigators funded by NIH to submit a copy of their final peer reviewed manuscripts to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central Database no later than 12 months after the official publication date.  Tonko said he believes it would be difficult for traditional publishers to survive “without significantly re-thinking their business model.”  Tonko expressed his preference against imminent legislative action when he said, “I believe we should take the time to hear from all interested parties…and refrain at this time from prejudging the best outcome through prescriptive legislation.”

In his testimony, the Executive Director of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Frederick Dylla communicated that he believes “The current system of scholarly communication is working.”  He cited the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L.111-358) as effectively mandating all stakeholders to work together to increase public access to scholarly articles.  Dylla believes the core of the debate pits the taxpayer’s right to access against the financial concern of agencies.

Elliot Maxwell the Project Director of the Committee on Economic Development’s (CED) Digital Connections Council began his testimony by discussing a report done by CED investigating the facts on both sides of the public access debate for NIH.  Maxwell stated that the report, entitled “The Future of Taxpayer-Funded Research: Who Will Control Access to the Results,” found that increased public access sped up scientific progress and broadened the scope of knowledge.  Additionally, it showed increased public access benefited authors by making access to their work more readily available.  He said the report found no evidence of any harm done to the publishers with the exception of a slight decrease in the rate of growth of profits of these publishers.  However, it was unclear if this decrease in growth was due to a change in the public access policy of NIH or the nationwide recession. 

In his testimony, Executive Director of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Crispin Taylor provided an overview of ASPB funding stating that half of the agency’s $6 million in annual revenues comes from publication membership fees.  He said that it has been increasingly more difficult for ASPB to maintain this revenue stream with the recent push towards free publicly accessible publications.  Taylor expressed his belief that more public access to journal articles would stifle innovation rather than promote it. 

Director of the Office of Scholarly Communications at Harvard University Stuart Shieber began his testimony by listing off some benefits of open access including access to scholarly articles by academia, business, and the general public.  He stated that economists have shown that open access would have a positive impact on the U.S. economy into the billions of dollars.  Shieber said that university libraries have been hurt by the “dramatic” price inflation of membership fees associated with access to scholarly articles.  He approved of the open access policy put forth by Harvard and NIH and encouraged more universities and agencies to adapt similar policies.      

In his testimony, Director of the Lister Hill Library at the University of Alabama Birmingham Scott Plutchak told the subcommittee how little collaboration occurs between libraries and publishers.  He said this lack of collaboration has resulted in unnecessarily contentious debates between the two sides and has ruined the opportunity to come to a decision based off facts and opportunities.  He stands in support of open publications but emphasizes that the policy “must be in a context that maximizes the value of those articles.”  Plutchak believes that public access to scholarly articles must be from a source that continually updates, corrects, and peer reviews the scholarly articles.  He said access simply to a final copy of the scholarly article is not enough.  He said the public needs access to a copy of the scholarly article that is updated as the real publication of the scholarly article is updated.

Broun asked if there is a “one-size-fits-all” policy that could be used for the entire federal government or if specific policies would have to be determined by agencies.  Dylla did not believe a “one-size-fits-all” policy would be effective or appropriate because of the wide array of activities conducted by the various agencies.  He said the model adapted by NIH works well for prominent agencies in the medicine and chemistry fields, but the model cannot be adapted with the same success to less prominent agencies in the mathematics and social sciences fields.  Taylor commented that he does not believe a mandate is necessarily needed at all he believes individual agencies should govern themselves.  Broun asked to what extent these open access forums need to be concerned about piracy from countries like China.  Taylor said it is difficult to know who is using the downloaded publications, so it is hard to know the extent and consequences of piracy. 

Tonko asked Dylla and Taylor to comment on the importance of peer review on the progress of science and how open access policies have affected this progress.  Taylor responded that peer review is important to assess the validity of the conclusions made in the scholarly article.  He called peer review “a stamp of validity” in ultimately accepting the conclusions in the scholarly article as valid.  Dylla emphasized that the peer review process is not cost-free stating that AIP pays hundreds of PhD scientists from around the world to review 15,000 annual publications.  He said however, that this is absolutely necessary because the other option is to put it out on the open market and let anyone review it.  He compared it to a blog’s review of a restaurant versus a professional review. 

Opening statements, witness testimony, and a webcast of the hearing can be found on the Committee web page

-APR

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing to Review "National Science Foundation Major Research Equipment and Facilities Management: Ensuring Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability"
March 8, 2012

Witnesses:
Cora Marrett
Deputy Director, National Science Foundation
Jose-Marie Griffiths
Chairman, Subcommittee on Facilities, National Science Board;
Vice President, Academic Affairs, Bryant University
James Yeck
IceCube Project Director, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Tony Beasley
Chief Operating Officer/Project Manager, National Ecological Observing Network
Tim Cowles
Vice President/Director, Ocean Observing, Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Members Present:
Mo Brooks (R-AL), Chairman
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Ranking Member

On March 8, 2012 the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to review the National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Equipment and Facilities Management (MREFC) oversight and operation.  NSF’s MREFC account supports large research infrastructure projects which build equipment and facilities where scientists, engineers, students, teachers, and researchers undertake basic research.  The MREFC program was created by NSF in 1995 to “separate the construction funding for a large facility - which can rise and fall dramatically over the course of a few years - from the more continuous funding of facility operation and individual-investigator research.”  To be considered for MREFC funding NSF requires the project to be “transformative in nature, with the potential to shift the paradigm in scientific understanding.”  Throughout the early 2000s several additions were made to the MREFC selection process including the involvement of the National Science Board (NSB).  The $196.17 million MREFC budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2013 highlights six MREFC projects including the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).  NEON is an ecological observation platform designed to detect ecological changes and enable the forecasting of its impacts.  Data will be collected from 62 sites spread throughout the U.S. over a 30 year period to help analyze the impacts of invasive species, climate change, and land use change on natural resources.  OOI is an interconnected network of sensor systems that will be deployed throughout the world’s oceans.  These sensors will collect climate, carbon, ecosystem, and geodynamic data in order to provide openly available data to educators, researchers, and average citizens. 

In his opening statement Chairman of the Subcommittee Mo Brooks (R-AL) provided an overview of the MREFC program.  He stated that the MREFC program funds projects that are “too expensive for a specific Directorate to take up on its own.”  He clarified that MREFC projects focus specifically on the construction of major equipment and facilities.  Upon completion of the construction of the facilities the funding is passed to separate NSF programs.  Brooks stated that over the last ten years there has been a push to refine the process of choosing MREFC projects, consequently leading to an increase in the involvement of NSB.  Brooks expressed support for the MREFC program but called for appropriate oversight to “guarantee the greatest return on taxpayer investments.”

Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) opened by describing the funding quandary that Congress faces when he said, “…the larger question [is] how we balance support for research infrastructure with support for research grants.”  He stated that a 2003 NSB report found that 22-27 percent of the NSF budget should be allocated to the MREFC program.  He is concerned that the FY 2013 budget request falls at the bottom end of this range.

Cora Marrett Deputy Director at NSF described the mission of the MREFC when she said, “[The MREFC is] designed to maintain and strengthen the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.”  She emphasized the important role of NSF in maintaining U.S. innovation in science and engineering research.  Marrett said each NSF facility helps to push science into a new frontier and works as a platform for scientists and researchers of the future.  She hailed NEON and OOI as a representation of a new transformational class of facilities.    
 
The Chief Operating Officer of NEON Tony Beasley, opened by communicating the scientific motivation behind NEON.  He said this scientific motivation is to create a national observatory to gather basic scientific knowledge to understand the effects of a changing climate on humanity.  Beasley said in 1998 NSB first identified NEON as a potential MREFC project and the project was eventually accepted for funding by NSF in 2011.  With regards to oversight of the MREFC, Beasley said, “It [the oversight process] examines whether the projects will meet the overall scientific objectives of the facility in a safe, cost effective, and low risk manner.”  He stated that from 2006-2010 MREFC oversight officials conducted 16 reviews of NEON, and NEON is now actively exchanged in dialogue with NSF on the progress of the facility.
               
In his testimony Timothy Cowles, Program Director of OOI, began by saying, “Observatories provide the opportunity to open new windows into the natural world.”  He said OOI will consist of a cyber network of ocean instrumentation spanning coastal regions and ocean floors throughout the world’s oceans.  He said the benefits of OOI will include addressing ocean circulation, climate variability, and coastal ecosystems.  These benefits will ultimately improve climate forecasting over a range of ocean processes.  Regarding OOI’s experience with the MREFC oversight process, Cowles said the oversight “forges a level of rigor in the project team that is essential for both the construction and transition into the operational phase.”  He called the interaction between NSF and the project team “critical” in the overall success of OOI.

Brooks utilized his allotted question and answer time to inquire about MREFC program contingency funds.  Contingency funds are a separate fund, included in the original funding request, set aside to cover the anticipated risks associated with the project in order to safeguard against overrunning project costs.  Brooks asked Beasley and Cowles to comment on their $76 million and $88 million project contingency funds.  Beasley described that the $76 million was included in their initial budget proposal representing money allocated for funding risks.  Cowles said OOI used a specific formula in calculating the funding risk involved with each step of the project to determine their contingency fund.  That total came out to be $88 million that OOI can withdraw if needed through an NSF approval process.

Lipinski asked Marrett what the role of Congress should be in the MREFC program.  Marrett responded that Congress plays a huge role in ultimately deciding the fate of these projects through funding.  If Congress grants an MREFC approved project funding then the project will be on its way to construction, but if they deny funding of an MREFC approved project than the project is set on a path to fail.  Marrett assured Lipinski that NSF is open to congressional participation in any stage of the MREFC program selection process. 

Opening statements, witness testimony, and a web cast of the hearing can be found at the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology web site.

-APR

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on the Administration's Federal Research and Development Budget for Fiscal Year 2013
February 17, 2012

Witnesses:
John Holdren
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Members Present:
Ralph Hall (R-TX), Chairman
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL)
Judy Biggert (R-IL)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN)
Ben Lujan (D-NM)
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Andy Harris (R-MD)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Chip Cravaack (R-MN)
Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Mo Brooks (R-AL)

On February 17, 2012, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to receive an overview of the Administration’s federal research and development (R&D) budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013 from Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren. 

Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) opened by expressing his disapproval of the Obama Administration’s budget proposal, specifically its approach to the national debt.  Hall said that since President Obama took office the national debt has increased 108 percent to where it now stands near $15.4 trillion.  Hall expressed his concern over the U.S. spending rate by saying, “This level of spending is simply not sustainable, and to be perfectly blunt, it’s not creating jobs, growing the economy, or improving the lives of the American taxpayer.”  The chairman condoned the spending of money on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, but recommended a push for increased departmental efficiency.  This increase in efficiency would involve the elimination of programs that are duplicative and wasteful.  Hall cautioned the Obama Administration not to focus too much on basic research because he believes “blanket increases even for our federal science agencies are not the same as prudent investment and do not guarantee innovation.”  Hall closed by stating his disappointment in the decrease in funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) expressed praise for the efforts in the proposed budget to increase efficiency and achieve the most possible with modest increases.  She was pleased to see that funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would increase.  Johnson said she supports NIST because she believes the R&D they undertake works to “ensure that our buildings withstand these disasters and our citizens have the information they need to be safe is necessary to protect both lives and property.”  She said her support for disaster prevention stems from the devastation of Galveston, Texas, in the aftermath Hurricane Ike in 2008.  Johnson said she supports the budget request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R) and Joint Polar Systems Satellite (JPSS) satellites because of their vitality in providing forecasters with data to aide disaster prevention.  She concluded by expressing support for an overall STEM strategic plan.

Holdren opened by reiterating President Obama’s State of the Union address by saying the U.S. must “work towards an America that leads the world in educating its people, that attracts a new generation of high tech manufacturing and high paying jobs, and takes control of its own energy.”  He announced that the budget proposes $140.8 billion for federal R&D a 1.4 percent increase over FY 2012.  He said not all areas of science and research would receive budget increases but significant agencies that would receive increases are the National Science Foundation (NSF, + $7.4 billion), the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (+ $4.6 billion), and NIST (+ $708 million).  He stated that despite the overall funding cuts to NASA there was an increase in funding for the development of a heavy lift launch system and the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).  Holdren announced $4 billion in funding for overall STEM programs across the nation and announced that the administration’s STEM strategic plan should be available within a couple of weeks.

Hall began the question and answer period by focusing on NASA.  He questioned why the U.S. pulled out of a 2016 joint Mars mission with the European Space Agency.  Holdren said that the decision to withdrawal from the agreement was financial.  He made it clear that the administration has not abandoned the quest to go to Mars and has requested $1.88 billion for a heavy lifting launch system and an additional $1 billion on the MPCV. 

Johnson asked Holdren to explain how a 20 percent cut can be made to overall STEM education when a strategic plan has not been released.  Holdren commented that a strategic plan will be available within a couple of weeks, but that the budget proposal “focused very heavily on the information developed in that inventory and in the preparation of the plan in making our decisions across the STEM education domain.”  When evaluating STEM areas to cut or increase he said they “tried to look for the highest leverage where an additional dollar could make the biggest contribution.”  Johnson expressed worry over the growing concern that we will not be able to launch another JPSS satellite into orbit before the current one goes offline.  She asked Holdren on the status of getting the JPSS orbit.  Holdren confirmed that it is likely the existing NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite will expire before we can launch JPSS which would result in a gap in weather data.  He said the reason for this is because NOAA did not get the amount of money they requested for in FY 2012.  Holdren said they are attempting to make room for funding in this budget by compensating with a decrease in funds for NOAA R&D.

Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) questioned Holdren on the status of incorporating transformational fast neutron reactors into nuclear waste recycling.  Fast neutron reactors are a category of nuclear reactors that can recycle rich nuclear waste from nuclear power plants.  Holdren said that there is interest in this application but this application still produces waste, which does not help to solve the overall problem.

Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) emphasized the importance of NOAA but questioned why the National Weather Service portion of NOAA received a decrease in funding.  Holdren explained that the reason for the decrease was based on Administration’s priority in funding JPSS. 

Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) directed questions related to hydraulic fracturing at Holdren.  McNerney asked if the budget was allocating enough money to studying the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.  Holdren believed enough money was being allocated and stated that there would be a 150 percent increase in funding from FY 2012 to FY 2013.  He said he supports the coordinated effort between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), DOE, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the process of hydraulic fracturing and supports the harvesting of natural gas in a safe and responsible way.  Fudge asked Holdren which of these departments would be responsible for assessing the effects of hydraulic fracturing on public health.  Holdren replied that the EPA is drawing on experts from within their organization and collaborating with officials from the National Institutes of Health.

Opening statements, witness testimony, and a web cast of the hearing can be found at the House Science, Space, and Technology web site.  

-APR

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Hearing on "Protecting U.S. Sovereignty: Coast Guard Operations in the Arctic"
December 1, 2011

Witnesses
Panel I
Admiral Robert Papp
Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
Mead Treadwell
Lieutenant Governor, State of Alaska

Panel II
Kelly Falkner
Deputy Director, Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation
Stephen Caldwell
Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues, Government Accountability Office
Dave Whitcomb
Chief Operating Officer, Vigor Industrial
Jeffrey Garrett
U.S. Coast Guard, Retired

Subcommittee Members Present
Frank LoBiondo, Chairman (R-NJ)
Rick Larsen, Ranking Member (D-WA)
Don Young (R-AK)
Howard Coble (R-NC)
Chip Cravaack (R-MN)
Jeff Landry (R-LA)

On December 1, the House Committee on Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation met to discuss Coast Guard needs and capabilities in the Arctic. Most of the discussion centered on options for acquiring icebreakers to operate effectively in the United States’ territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Arctic. At the time of the hearing, the United States owns two heavy-duty icebreakers that need refurbishment, the Polar Star and Polar Sea, and one operational medium-duty icebreaker, the Healy. The fleet is owned and operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, though other agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), rely on their availability. The NSF leases two icebreakers, the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the Lawrence M. Gould, from Edison Chouest Offshore for its own research needs. On November 16, 2011, the House of Representatives passed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2838) which would decommission both the Polar Star and the Polar Sea though the Coast Guard has been given $62.8 million in appropriations to return the Polar Star to service for 7-10 years. A High Latitude Study, delivered to Congress in July 2011 and dated 2010 on the cover, recommended the United States acquire 4 heavy-duty icebreakers and 6 medium-duty icebreakers to maintain a presence in the Arctic and the Antarctic and fulfill the Coast Guard’s statutory missions.

Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) opened the hearing by acknowledging the loss of polar ice over the past few years and said the U.S. should focus on acquiring assets to protect our presence in the Arctic. He argued that the committee cannot move forward with legislation until the Obama Administration gives a clear direction for how to fund any new construction. Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-WA) told the committee, “I may not know the precise definition of the word irony but scheduling a hearing to discuss Coast Guard capabilities in the Arctic less than three weeks after the House passed legislation that would decommission the Coast Guard’s two heavy icebreakers seems ironic to me.” Larsen called for an immediate investment in heavy-duty icebreakers. Don Young (R-AK) told Admiral Robert Papp, “this is not your fault” and promised to help find any solution to provide the Coast Guard with icebreakers, including leasing.

Admiral Robert Papp testified about the Coast Guard’s statutory responsibilities in the Arctic “to assist scientific exploration, chart the waters, provide humanitarian assistance to native tribes, conduct search and rescue, and law enforcement.” He mentioned that as access to previously ice-covered waters begins to increase, so will the importance of having a strong Coast Guard presence in the Arctic. Offshore resource development, fish stock migration, dynamic changes in ice conditions, and persistent challenging environmental conditions are all trends and observations the Coast Guard anticipates they will see in the next decade. Though he did not advocate for a specific acquisition plan, he told the committee, “We must build toward a level of mission performance and preparedness commensurate with the relative risks posed by Arctic activity.” During his testimony, Papp reiterated to the committee that he supports “favorable action on the part of the U.S. Senate to accede to the [United Nations Convention on the] Law of the Sea Treaty.” Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell of the State of Alaska was more direct in his testimony about the need for icebreakers. He listed three “imminent needs” – the U.S. must commission new heavy icebreakers, the U.S. needs legal measures in addition to icebreakers to protect shores from potential dangers of unregulated foreign vessels carrying hazardous cargoes near U.S. coasts, and Congress and the Administration must fulfill the legal mandates already in place regarding icebreakers. He pointed out that Russia is moving fast to build nine new icebreakers in the next decade, discount tariffs on icebreaker escorts, and claim extended continental shelf resources under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. “Our Arctic neighbors are leaps and bounds ahead of our position,” he told the committee. Treadwell listed several legal mandates that relate to icebreakers including Executive Order 7521, issued by President Franklin Roosevelt, the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-373), and the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-281). In conclusion, Treadwell said, “We’re missing the boat,” and reiterated the need for the U.S. to build icebreakers.

Larsen began the question and answer period by asking Papp to discuss the Coast Guard’s preference between leasing and owning. Papp repeated throughout the hearing that he was “ambivalent” whether the Coast Guard leases or owns its icebreakers but did point out that there are currently no heavy-duty icebreakers available for leasing.  Representative Jeff Landry (R-LA) asked Papp if he would prefer five icebreakers the Coast Guard owned or having 10 the Coast Guard leased. Papp said he was unsure which option he would prefer and reminded the committee that the Coast Guard has been “owning ships forever” on a 20-25 year timeline. “We need icebreakers,” he said and told the committee that it must take into consideration all the needs and requirements of the various agencies with whatever decision they make. He said, “When we build an icebreaker it’s got to serve multiple communities and departments and responsibilities.”

Representative Young asked Papp and Mead Treadwell a series of questions about Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) and its plans for drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea next year. Papp said he had been briefed by Shell officials on their plans for an oil spill in the Arctic and was “impressed” and left the meeting “much more comfortable” with Shell’s plans for drilling there next summer. Shell is building a medium-duty icebreaker in Louisiana to serve as an oil spill response fleet and will help set anchors for oil rigs. Treadwell agreed that Shell was “well prepared” to start drilling next summer.

In the second panel, Kelly Falkner of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Office of Polar Programs discussed the research needs of the scientific community. Falkner spoke about the importance of icebreakers to U.S. research and pointed out that Presidential Memorandum 6646 calls for a year-round presence at three research stations in Antarctica and assigns the NSF responsibility of maintaining support for those stations and the U.S. Antarctic Program. Falkner finished by saying the NSF was opposed to H.R. 2838 as they were “hoping that the Polar Star would be available to provide U.S. sourced icebreaking services.” Stephen Caldwell of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) discussed the results of his report, “Observations on Arctic Requirements, Icebreakers, and Coordination with Stakeholders.” The report found that not only would it be a “significant challenge” for the Coast Guard “to acquire the assets that the High Latitude Study recommends,” but that “it is unlikely that the Coast Guard will be able to fund the acquisition of new icebreakers through its own budget, or through alternative financing options.” A funding approach similar to how Healy was funded - by the Department of Defense (DOD) in 1990 appropriations – is deemed “unlikely” by the report because the Coast Guard’s needs to acquire icebreakers are much more immediate than the DOD’s. In regards to leasing, the report states, “the lack of existing domestic commercial vessels capable of meeting the Coast Guard’s mission requirements reduces the availability of leasing options for the Coast Guard.” Furthermore, cost-benefit analyses have suggested that leasing may “ultimately be more costly to the Coast Guard” over the lifespan of the icebreaker. Caldwell noted that the Department of Homeland Security, which the Coast Guard is part of, and the DOD have formed a Capabilities Assessment Working Group to identify shared Arctic capability gaps and opportunities and approaches to remedy them. Dave Whitcomb of Vigor Industrial delivered an optimistic testimony about the state of the Polar Sea and Polar Star. Vigor has been “closely involved with the maintenance and repair” of the U.S. heavy-duty icebreakers and Whitcomb told the committee that it would take only $11 million and 2 years to refurbish the Polar Sea for an additional 10 years of service life.  Jeffrey Garrett, who spent much of his career serving as a member of the polar icebreaker fleet, told the committee that “our polar icebreaker capabilities are steadily drifting into obsolescence.” He suggested refurbishment of the Polar Sea and called for additional acquisition of heavy-duty icebreakers.

Many of the same questions Larsen and Young asked Treadwell and Papp about leasing were repeated to Garrett, who responded, “While a lease may look attractive, I think there are several things that indicate it may not be the right way to go.” He mentioned a 1980’s analysis undertaken by the Coast Guard when they were strategizing a way to acquire what would become the Healy, which found that leasing would cost more over the life of the vessel by about 12 percent. Young asked Whitcomb to further explain his claim that refurbishing the Polar Sea would only cost about $11 million. Whitcomb explained that Vigor has already done comparable work on the Polar Star and is “well aware of what is required” for the Polar Sea.  According to Whitcomb and Vigor Industrial, the Polar Sea needs to overhaul the diesel engines, replace obsolete cranes, and upgrade the pitch propeller hydraulic systems for all three propeller shafts. Representative Young was excited by this news and said, “I’m happy to hear about that…If all that takes is $11 million, that’s not even a spit drop…That’s something that could be done.”   

A full webcast of the hearing and witness testimonies can be found on the committee web site.

-WMB

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing on “Fostering Quality Science in the EPA: The Need for Common Sense Reform”
November 17, 2011

Witnesses
Paul Anastas
Assistant Administrator, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency
David Trimble
Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office
Arthur Elkins, Jr.
Inspector General, Environmental Protection Agency

Committee Members Present
Andy Harris, Chair (R-MD)
Brad Miller, Ranking Member (D-NC)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Ralph Hall (R-TX), Full Committee Chair

On November 17, 2011, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to discuss ways to foster quality scientific research in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC) requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine EPA’s internal scientific processes and make recommendations for improvement. GAO published their report in July 2011. This hearing called upon witnesses to testify on the reforms EPA has made since the report was released and the ways in which EPA can improve the quality of its scientific policies and processes.

Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD) opened the hearing with some background on the Environmental Research, Development and Demonstration Authorization Act (ERDA, P.L. 95-155), which is currently the only statute dedicated to maintaining quality science in the EPA. This act, which established the Office of Research and Development (ORD) within EPA, has not been reauthorized since 1981. Harris told the committee about a number of concerns he has with EPA’s data quality, peer review, and lack of transparency, all of which, in his opinion, undermine the credibility of the agency’s efforts.

Paul Tonko (D-NY) provided an opening statement in Ranking Member Brad Miller’s place, as Miller arrived late to the hearing due to a scheduling conflict. Tonko chided his Republican counterparts for regarding EPA as a “demonic” agency and disapproved of their assertion that these scientific integrity issues within the agency “appeared” during the current administration, as they have been present since before President Obama took office. Though the scientific reforms recommended by GAO will take time, he asserted, it will ultimately lead to better research within EPA. Tonko also requested that Chairman Harris submit to the record the letter and testimony of Dr. Marsha Morgan, a research scientist at EPA, who was not able to testify in person. The chairman submitted the documents as a letter and attachment to the record, since in his eyes a testimony “must be able to be questioned.”

Paul Anastas, from the ORD within EPA, told the committee that his agency works closely with its external advisory board and seeks input from the scientific community and the public “every step of the way.” He emphasized EPA’s collaborative research plans that bridge the gaps between the headquarters and EPA’s regional laboratories. “We take GAO’s recommendations very seriously,” he stated, as his organization is committed to strong science. Arthur Elkins, Inspector General of EPA, reminded the committee that EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) was reviewed in 2009 by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and they found NCEA’s peer-review panels to be “inadequate.” Additionally, OIG suggested that ORD should improve how it evaluates the “effectiveness of its policies and procedures for scientific integrity and research misconduct.” After taking a survey of the 1,300 employees within ORD, OIG discovered that two-thirds of the department were unaware of EPA’s federal policy on research misconduct, while one-third was unaware of the agency’s Principles of Scientific Integrity. David Trimble of GAO read his testimony that detailed the findings from the report released earlier . According to the GAO study, EPA independently runs its thirty-seven regional laboratories, yet the agency did not “collaborate between facilities” or across program boundaries.  Trimble added that EPA lacks a “top science official,” property management of its labs, and a comprehensive workload analysis, which he deemed “essential” given the agency’s tight resources. He concluded by saying that EPA has addressed some issues but “has not fully addressed the findings and recommendations of five independent evaluations over the past 20 years.”

During the question and answer period, Chairman Harris asked Anastas why EPA plans to collect data “retrospectively” for its hydraulic fracturing study. Anastas replied that the study incorporates both types of data; the retrospective data will be collected at sites that have already been contaminated. Harris questioned the usefulness of such data, believing it will not provide information on the source of contamination. After reminding the committee that there have been “no incidents of contamination from hydrofracking,” both Harris and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) asked Anastas why EPA has taken on the study, when it can be focusing its funds to other pertinent issues. Anastas responded, “You can’t find what you’re not looking for,” and told the congressmen it is EPA’s duty to perform a study if “real concerns are out there.”

Ranking Member Miller asked Elkins for the positives and negatives of EPA’s peer-review process. While the procedures in the EPA’s peer-review process handbook did not sufficiently address policy issues, Elkins said it is “adequate today” after OIG made their recommendations. When asked if there was any reason to question EPA’s scientific results after completing the GAO study, Trimble responded, “We did not go into that.” Dana Rohrabacher asked similar questions about the Inspector General’s recommendations for EPA’s peer-review process.

Tonko requested an explanation for how EPA’s six areas of research align with its regional offices. Anastas told the congressman that EPA does not” look at fragmented programs,” rather its offices work together “over cross-cutting areas.” He praised the agency’s many improvements since the OIG recommendations were submitted, and said he could think of no remaining impediments to quality scientific collection and collaboration left within the agency.

Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked Elkins if there are statutory impediments within EPA that are stopping changes from happening. “Generally speaking,” Elkins said, ORD has been responsive to the OIG recommendations, but he “has not dealt into” statutory limitations within the agency. Trimble agreed, but reiterated the need for a top science official and a “structured scientific coordinating body” within EPA. In his words, the lack of a top scientific official is a “formula for weak scientific data.” McNerney inquired about the parts of EPA that have “suffered” due to its “deficiencies.” Trimble mentioned that the lack of a workload estimation has caused human resources issues, and data quality and reliability have also been impacted.

Ralph Hall (R-TX) asked Anastas if the hydraulic fracturing study plans were reviewed before EPA began data collection. Anastas said they were reviewed beforehand. In response to Hall’s request, Anastas assured the congressman that the decision to release the report in 2012 was not politically driven.

The opening statement, witness testimonies, hearing charter, hearing webcast, and witness truth in testimonies can be found at the committee web site.

-ERC

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Hearing on “Beyond NCLB: Views on the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act”
November 8, 2011

Witnesses:
Katherine Beh Neas
Senior Vice President for Governmental Relations, Easter Seals
Amanda Danks
Lead Teacher, Wm. S. Baer School, Baltimore City Public Schools, Baltimore, Maryland
Pam Geisselhardt
Gifted and Talented Coordinator, Adair County Schools, Columbia, Kentucky
Terry Grier
Superintendent, Houston Independent School District, Houston, Texas
Wade Henderson
President and CEO, The Leadership Conference
Frederick Hess
Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy, American Enterprise Institute
Tom Luna
Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction
Charles Seaton
Teacher, Sherwood Middle School, Memphis City Schools, Memphis, Tennessee
Elmer Thomas
Principal, Madison Central High School, Richmond, Kentucky
Jon Schnur
Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, New Leaders

Members Present:
Tom Harkin, Chairman (D-IA)
Michael Enzi, Ranking Member (R-WY)
Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Rand Paul (R-KY)

On November 8, 2011 the Senate Committee on Heath, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a Round Table hearing to discuss the advantages and drawbacks of the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act (ESEA) recently passed through committee as an amendment to the 2008 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, P.L. 107-110). ESEA, originally passed in 1960, has been reauthorized every five years since its enactment to provide federal funding for elementary and secondary public schools in America. NCLB, passed during the Bush Administration in 2001, is a standards-based education reform that contains provisions to improve the quality of education in America and increase accountability within schools. The law puts greater emphasis on standardized student test scores and federal funding is based on test score results. Although many praise the law’s positive aspects, others find weaknesses within NLCB, including a lack of teacher evaluations and ineffective procedures for low-performing schools. This hearing invited principals, teachers, and education administrators to share their thoughts on the reauthorization of ESEA.

Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) opened the round table by presenting the reauthorization’s central goals: providing students with the tools needed for success and delicately balancing authority between federal, state, and local governments. Harkin noted that the “current law is not bringing about the significant improvement in student achievements that our country needs and our children deserve.” Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) emphasized the need for state flexibility for innovative approaches in schools. He recommended “shining the light on the children, rather than just the schools” and increasing transparency in schools for students and parents.

Chairman Harkin asked the panel of witnesses to discuss the strengths of and improvements needed in the current ESEA reauthorization. Jon Schnur of New Leaders felt that College-Career Ready standards, grant programs focused on talent, and the heightened flexibility for states are all strengths of NCLB He is concerned, however, that NCLB does not include much-needed teacher and principal evaluations and performance targets. Charles Seaton of Memphis City Schools and Terry Grier of Houston Independent School District agreed with Schnur, stating that evaluations of teachers and principals is necessary to create a national standard for improving schools. According to Grier, evaluation is so important “it has to be fixed;” he told the committee that 55 percent of low-performing teachers were replaced within one year using Houston’s teacher evaluation program. Grier told the committee that Houston’s methods can easily be developed into a national template for teacher and principal evaluations.

Rand Paul (R-KY) asked the panel to discuss federal versus local regulation. Tom Luna of Idaho Public Instruction felt that, while teacher evaluations are crucial to maintain teacher quality, putting them in the hands of the federal government “goes too far,” because states can do their own evaluation with approaches best suited for each state. He said there is a common misconception that schools will not make improvements without federal mandates: if there are federal mandates, schools are more likely to opt out of regulations. When the power is put in local governments, states have “historically shown” the ability to improve their standards and accountability using creative and unique solutions. Elmer Thomas, Principal of Madison Central High School in Kentucky, agreed, saying that federal oversight “makes people a number.” Due to the ineffectiveness of a one-measure evaluation of schools based solely on testing, Thomas supported a “holistic” view to grade a school’s success. 

Schnur argued for performance targets within all schools; however, he believed that the federal government should not micromanage them. Amanda Danks of Baltimore City Public Schools stressed the importance of state and local level autonomy, which she believes is a strength within the ESEA amendment. As an example, she referenced the successful specialized rubric for performance targets developed by her school, which she said could be done by any school . Pam Geisselhardt of Adair County Schools pointed out the drawbacks of creating teacher incentives for performance targets, as they create unhealthy competition between teachers. She told the committee that the new reauthorization needs to shy away from the “push to test and not to teach” model that NCLB utilizes. Katherine Neas of Easter Seals told the committee that the reauthorization will “hugely” benefit students with academic disabilities by preparing more educators to effectively teach to their needs.

Frederick Hess of American Enterprise Institute said the federal government is “horribly situated” to improve teaching from afar and should only maintain its role in basic research for education. Seaton added that schools need the federal government for funding assistance: “NCLB gave us the direction but not the resources.” Geisselhardt added that federal funding needs to be better channeled to increase flexibility for schools. In her opinion, each school has varying needs of improvement and should be able to allocate those funds appropriately. Al Franken (D-MN) brought up adaptive computer-based assessments as a fundamental direction for federal funding.

A web cast of the hearing can be found on the committee web site.

-ERC

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on "The Merit Review Process: Ensuring Limited Federal Resources are Invested in the Best Science"
July 26, 2011

Witnesses
Cora Marrett
Deputy Director, National Science Foundation
Keith R. Yamamoto
Vice Chancellor for Research, University of California San Francisco
Nancy B. Jackson
President, American Chemical Society
Jorge José
Vice President for Research, Indiana University

Subcommittee Members Present
Mo Brooks, Chair (R-AL)
Daniel Lipinski, Ranking Member (D-IL)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Larry Bucshon (R-IN)
Andy Harris (R-MD)
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)

On July 26, 2011 the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to discuss the merit review process for awarding federal grants at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) introduced the hearing stating it is the responsibility of this subcommittee to “ensure federal dollars are being spent on the best science.” Brooks acknowledged that the process is not flawless, as any process involving human decision-making is not perfect. He cited that only 23 percent of the proposals received were funded in fiscal year (FY) 2010. With such limited funds, Brooks stressed the importance of a transparent and effective merit review process.

Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) related a personal story about a NSF grant he was awarded in graduate school.  He spoke of his “strong belief in the NSF and its mission” in his opening statement. Lipinski referred to NSF’s merit review process as the “gold standard for the world,” but stated it is important to continually evaluate the process and look for innovative improvements. He suggested the committee revisit the topic once the National Science Board has finished the review underway with a report expected to be released in the fall of 2011. 

Cora Marrett gave an overview in her testimony of the merit review process and how it helps NSF achieve its mission of funding research across science and engineering fields. Ultimately its mission is to “maintain and strengthen the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.” She continued, “The NSF merit review process lies at the heart of the agency’s strategy for accomplishing its overall mission. As such, NSF is continuously striving to maintain and improve the quality and transparency of the process.” Proposals are evaluated by their “intellectual merit” and the “broader impacts” of the research. Marrett praised the success of the merit review process, but mentioned NSF is actively looking at new approaches. One of these innovative approaches is the use of virtual panels which would reduce travel costs and expand the pool of reviewers. She explained that 96 percent of the proposals undergo internal and external merit review. The others are waived from the external merit review due to the urgency or high-risk nature of the research, in which case they are handled internally through the Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) or the Early Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) process. RAPID funding is reserved for urgent proposals that may have limited access to data or are a post disaster “quick-response” research. EAGER funding is reserved for potentially “high risk-high payoff” exploratory research.

Keith Yamamoto spoke generally of how a merit review process must work and what his experiences have taught him about an effective process. In any merit review process, the challenge is to eliminate any conflict of interest on behalf of the reviewers. Yamamoto praised that “in general, these intrinsic conflicts have been addressed successfully by well-crafted regulations, and more importantly, by a universal ‘culture of respect’” on behalf of the reviewers. He stated dissatisfaction with how the broader impacts are evaluated by telling the subcommittee, “This criterion, as stated, would in my view adversely affect the merit review process because it departs from the singular focus on scientific merit that is essential to the process, and because it obligates peer reviewers to judge grant applications by metrics outside of their expertise.”

Nancy Jackson testified on the importance of government funded research. “Although much of the nation’s chemical research is carried out by scientists, engineers, and technicians employed in industry and academia, the federal government is an important source of support, particularly for the basic research conducted by our nation’s universities and government laboratories.” She spoke of the success of the NSF merit review process, attributing it in part to the involvement of the “collective wisdom of the scientific community.” Regarding the broader impacts criterion, Jackson believed it is a way to ensure the funds go to the “most pressing” research needs. She suggested that giving NSF research managers the freedom to remove those proposals at the “very bottom of the pile” would alleviate and balance the NSF workload.

In his testimony, Jorge José stated his support for merit reviews, calling it “the most effective process we have for ensuring that federal funds are used most effectively.” José testified, however, that the broader impacts criterion should only be used to distinguish between proposals of equal intellectual merit and should not “outweigh scientific considerations.” He spoke of the need for the U.S. to be wise with the scarce resources available to ensure that it remains the “envy of the world.”

During questioning, Brooks challenging Marrett on why, in FY 2010, 1,300 “excellent” proposals were denied, yet 98 “fair to good” and 2,643 “good to very good” proposals were funded. Marrett responded that those apparent discrepancies come because of the role of the Program Officers, who oversee the funding. NSF does not rely exclusively on the recommendations of the panel. Additionally, she said it was important to keep in mind that the amount of funding varies for all the proposals. The chairman requested Marrett submit the specific award amounts for each of the ratings. Chairman Brooks asked how to best ensure funding for transformative research is granted based on merit rather than the interest of the reviewer. José explained that from his experience at Indiana University scientists are usually conservative in that they are less willing to risk funds towards projects that are not likely to succeed. Representative Larry Bucshon (R-IN) questioned Marrett on how NSF keeps politics out of the review process and ensures it is a consistent and impartial process. She explained that all reviewers sign a conflicts form, program officers must go to ethics training, and that NSF has begun offering ethics courses and workshops for students at the undergraduate level and above. Additionally, if they see any evidence of problems or fraud, the issue is taken to the Inspector General. Marrett stated the process has its checks and balances to ensure the decisions do not rely on a single individual.

Representative Hansen Clarke (D-MI) asked witnesses to suggest any additional measures by which NSF can ensure taxpayers’ dollars are going towards broader impact goals. Marrett responded although they are constantly seeking to improve the process and diligently spend taxpayers’ dollars, challenges remain. NSF realizes that it is much easier to think in terms of short-term returns, yet they cannot dismiss the mid- and long-term returns. Jackson and Yamamoto agreed with Marrett, each stating the importance of long-term returns rather than immediate returns. José spoke of investigations trying to quantify the jobs and revenues created from individual research projects, which he stated is a difficult problem to solve.
 
Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) questioned whether reviewers are “privy” to what is occurring in Congress and are aware of the national goals and priorities if they are to review proposals based on broader impacts. José believed scientists are aware, but warned that restrictions based on these goals might create more harm in the long run. Yamamoto felt it is “inappropriate” for reviewers to address the broad impact criterion. He stated they should not be mandated to “come up” with a broader impact, often forcing the scientists outside their expertise. Marrett explained that NSF has always tried to evaluate research based on the societal impact it could have. The America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2011 (P.L. 111-358) simply forced NSF to make the objections clearer. 

During the second round of questioning, the chairman asked the witnesses if they had other suggestions to improve the review process. Marrett stated that NSF’s commitment must be to the merit of the proposal and that any changes to the process must be marginal and should not change the core of the merit. She said she would welcome the opportunity to return to the committee once NSF has finished its current investigations on the merit review process. Jackson suggested a greater emphasis on workshops in writing proposals, especially for younger scientists. This would save time in the review process. Lastly, all witnesses expressed an interest in exploring virtual meetings for the review process as a way to reduce costs. The chairman stated the importance of informing the public on what kind of research is being funded by NSF, referring to the “shrimp on a treadmill” misconception that some Americans have about NSF.   

Opening statements from the chair, witness testimonies, and an archived webcast can be found here.

-EMD

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education
June 16, 2011

Witnesses
Dr. Karen Lozano
 Professor at University of Texas Pan American, Parent to Pablo Vidal
Master Pablo Vidal
Third Grade Student at Discovery Montessori School
Mrs. Brenda Conwell-Dudley
Parent to Jack Dudley and Mentor to the HEADS UP! Team
Master Jack Dudley
Sixth Grade Student at Virginia Virtual Academy
Ms. Amy Attard
Science Teacher and Coach to the I-TBS: Intra-Trachea Team
Miss Claudia Cooper
Seventh Grade Student at West Hills Middle School
Ms. Anne Manwell
Science Teacher and Mentor to the 3Drenal: Kidney Bio-Printer Stuyvesant Team
Miss Alison Reed
Tenth Grade Student at the Stuyvesant High School

Full committee members present
Ralph Hall-Chairman (R-TX)
Eddie Bernice Johnson-Ranking Member (D-TX)
Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Mo Brooks (R-AL)
Chip Cravaack (R-MN)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Larry Bucshon (R-IN)
F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX)
Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
Terri Sewell (D-AL)
Dan Benishek (R-MI)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Ben Quayle (R-AZ)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

Non-committee members present
Gary Peters (D-MI)

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology met on June 16, 2011 to discuss current Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education activities.

Chairman Hall in his opening remarks and other members of the committee highlighted the importance of STEM education and gave a warm welcome to the student witnesses. Ranking Member Johnson (D-TX) reported that “less than half of our nation’s students are demonstrating solid academic performance and proficiency in science,” according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) study.  Therefore, she stated STEM education is an issue she takes seriously and hoped the hearing would bring to light current STEM education activities.

The hearing focused on the ExploraVision Awards National Competition.  Four of the eight winning teams received an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC and participated as witnesses in the hearing. Those at the hearing represented the top scientific research projects, ranging from helmets for military troops to medical respiratory devices.

In her testimony, Dr. Lozano, spoke of the importance of getting young kids involved in innovation. She compared the creativity of those involved in the ExploraVision program to her senior level college engineering students and how the spark of creativity is more prevalent in the younger students. She stated the program keeps the students engaged and leaves a good impression as they begin to think about their possible career tracks. The second witness, Brenda Conwell, explained in her testimony the various resources the students used such as interviews, the internet, and libraries to learn about their subject matter (brain function and traumatic brain injuries). Additionally, she stated students learn about deadlines, communication, and collaboration, all of which are important tools for any scientific research project. She was sure that the students “at the very least, developed a better understanding of the world around them.” In the third testimony, Amy Attard spoke of the impact the ExploraVision project has had on her students. Her students’ projects were amazing, she said, “but more importantly, through this project students developed the skills of being an inquirer, a problem-solver, and a communicator.” Additionally, she said programs such as ExploraVision allow the community to see what is going on in the classroom. The fourth witness, Anne Manwell reiterated in her testimony what Attard saw in her students. “We at Stuyvesant have found that engaging our students in competitions allows them to be creative, think broadly and critically, work in teams, develop time-management skills.” 

The questioning allowed the students to give their input and speak of their first-hand experiences. Claudia Cooper explained that her project started simply as a class requirement, but as it progressed she came to realize the potential of her generation to innovate and conduct research that would help others. Furthermore, she said the inspiration for their research project, a respiratory device, came from her grandmother who was suffering from respiratory problems.

Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) expressed that he would like to see a realignment of incentives for those in the STEM industry.  For example, he said he would like to see higher wages for engineering and science educators. Additionally, he expressed concerns that American public can begrudge the royalties and inventor might receive, yet widely accept that movie stars and athletes make large sums of money. His hope is for America’s incentives to be properly aligned with what can give the country a competitive edge globally.

Marcia Fudge (D-OH) raised concern over the issue of accessibility for programs such as the ExploraVision program or any specialized science program. Though there was diversity in the types of schools represented, Montessori (private), charter, home school, and public schools, Fudge reiterated that the playing field was certainly not an even one. Students qualifying for free or reduced lunches comprise well below ten percent of the student body at West Hills Middle School in West Bloomfield, MI. Fudge compared that to her district where 85 percent of the total student population is low income. In Stuyvesant High School in New York, Hispanics represent only three percent of the student body. However, Hispanics represent 40 percent of the total student population for her district in NY. Stuyvesant High School requires an admission test and many opt for test preparatory services at a significant fee.

Johnson raised concerns with budget cuts and administration costs and being able to increase STEM education. Conwell has used virtual distant learning technologies for Jack, her son. Johnson questioned whether such technology could be successful in STEM education. Conwell stated her experience with the “Illuminate Live” technology was very successful and thinks other students would also find it beneficial. Other concerns raised included how the nation can increase its efforts to make STEM education appealing for young students.

In the concluding remarks, Donna Edwards (D-MD) assured the audience that while many people have a “gloom and doom” outlook, she looks at those students and knows “we will be just fine.” Johnson expressed her enthusiasm for the projects the students had done and the hope they bring for the future of STEM.

Opening remarks, testimonies, and an archived webcast can be found on the committee’s web site.

-EMD

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Hearing on "An Overview of the Administration's Federal Research and Development Budget for Fiscal Year 2012"
February 17, 2011

Witnesses
Dr. John P. Holdren
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Committee Members Present
Ralph Hall, Chair (R-TX)
Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ranking Member (D-TX)
Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Judy Biggert (R-IL)
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)
Paul Broun (R-GA)
Sandy Adams (R-FL)
Benjamin Quayle (R-AZ)
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN)
Scott Rigell (R-VA)
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Andy Harris (R-MD)
Randy Hultgren (R-IL)
Chip Cravaack (R-MN)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
David Wu (D-OR)
Brad Miller (D-NC)
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Ben Lujan (D-NM)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
John Sarbanes (D-MD)
Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
Hansen Clarke (D-MI)

To gather information on the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request for federal research and development, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on February 17, 2011.

Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) opened by saying that, considering the country’s tremendous national debt, the level of spending proposed in President Obama’s budget request is “simply not sustainable.” While he acknowledged that investments in science and technology would likely yield economic gains, Hall argued that the government must choose to make prudent investments rather than blanket increases. Hall expressed concern over the amount and effectiveness of money that has been used and is proposed to be spent on climate change research. From 2006 to now, we have spent $36 billion on climate change and what do we have to show for it? A lot of programs and pamphlets. We need to change that,” he said.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said that the FY 2012 budget request reflects the imperative to invest in research and development and at the same time demonstrates fiscal restraint. Johnson warned, however, that the House proposed continuing resolution for FY 2011 might be “heading in the wrong direction.”

Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), outlined the highlights of the President’s budget request for education, innovation and infrastructure. The budget reflects the administration’s commitment to basic science and research by proposing increased funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories, said Holdren. The request keeps NASA on track according to the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (S.3729; Public Law 111-267) and would increase funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for climate science research and Earth observations.  

Ranking Member Johnson expressed dismay that the budget did not propose more funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs that encourage female and minority student involvement. The budget dedicates $3.4 billion to STEM education programs across the government, which is a decrease from 2010 enacted levels, said Holdren, but the savings could be due to increased efficiency and agency coordination.

Johnson asked Holdren what kind of impact the proposed cuts in the House continuing resolution for FY 2011 would have on science. While the analysis of the possible cuts has only recently begun, it is clear “they would be devastating,” according to Holdren. One impact to NSF would be granting 500 fewer research awards, resulting in 5,500 fewer personnel being supported. Citing increases in productivity attributed to innovation; jobs supported by federally funded research and development; and education investments to secure a future workforce, Holdren said “it would be imprudent” to cut off the sources of federal research.

A divide existed within the committee on the validity of the science supporting evidence of climate change and its causes. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) cited a report that found that 97% of active climate scientists have reached the certain conclusion that climate change is occurring and that human activities are largely to blame. Holdren noted that virtually every major scientific society and agency in the U.S. and worldwide has acknowledged the existence of man-made climate change. On the other hand, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) submitted a letter signed by 100 skeptics doubting that global warming is caused by humans. Chairman Hall questioned whether climate change predictions have been based on “bad science” and said the committee will hold hearings to investigate both sides of the argument. “There are always skeptics,” Holdren admitted. However, he argued, with the support of Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), that public policy should be based on the majority view held within the scientific community and that lawmakers should not “bet the welfare of the public” on the minority opinion.

Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) asked what the proposed research on climate change would aim to accomplish. Holdren said there is a “tremendous amount of detail” still to be learned including the rate and patterns of climate change and the effects it would have on precipitation and severe weather events. Miller asked about the best way to handle policy related to the production and supply of rare earth elements (REEs) and noted that the issue does not fall neatly under the jurisdiction of one agency or one congressional committee. Ninety seven percent of REE production is in China, said Holdren, even though there are significant resources in the U.S. and Australia. Holdren said there are efforts to restore mining in the U.S. and that the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) plans to form a subcommittee to investigate critical materials within the U.S., including REEs.

A primary concern of several members was how to keep manufacturing in the U.S. once the invention and innovation has been achieved. The NSTC will form a subcommittee within the NSTC Committee on Technology to study the best strategies to link innovation and manufacturing, Holdren announced.  

Holdren discussed the broad energy policy the administration is supporting based on a clean energy standard (CES), as opposed to a renewable energy standard (RES). CES would include clean coal, natural gas and nuclear energy. Though the budget would decrease funding for nuclear energy overall, Rohrabacher said he was pleased that the budget would increase funding for research on small, modular nuclear reactors.

An archived webcast of the hearing and testimony from the witness and Chairman can be found here.

-DLT

House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Hearing on “Oversight of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)”
February 10, 2011

Witnesses
Allison C. Lerner
Inspector General, National Science Foundation
Paul K. Martin
Inspector General, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Committee Members Present
Frank Wolf, Chair (R-VA)
Chaka Fattah, Ranking Member (D-PA)
Steve Austria (R-OH)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
John Culberson (R-TX)
Jo Bonner (R-AL)
José Serrano (D-NY)

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies held a hearing on “Oversight of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)” to learn more about budgetary issues concerning the two agencies on February 10, 2011.

Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) began by saying that the appropriate handlings of NSF’s and NASA’s budgets are some of the “biggest management challenges” that face the subcommittee.

Allison Lerner, NSF Inspector General, outlined a few areas within NSF that could benefit from strengthened financial responsibility. “They can do more,” she said, to improve grant administration and strengthen contract management.

Wolf asked Lerner for suggestions on how to save money without affecting funding for the sciences. She mentioned that NSF spent nearly $500,000 on food-related payments in 2008 and 2009 to provide refreshments for visiting scientists and panelists. Though none of these costs had associated fraud, she thought there could be room for savings. Ranking Member Chaka Fattah (D-PA) responded that “in defense of coffee and donuts,” it is probably appropriate to offer refreshments to invited scientists.

Strengthening oversight of funding allocation to grantees may be one of the most promising ways to improve efficiency, said Lerner. This would include more monitoring and data analysis to make sure payments are going to where they are needed. Wolf asked about whether there is adequate justification for cost reimbursement contracts. While the preferred method is fixed-priced funding, sometimes cost reimbursement makes more sense, Lerner answered. “There is a risk of improper payments. We just don’t know,” she acknowledged.

Lerner said that 25 percent of application requests for funding are granted, in response to Representative John Culberson’s (R-TX) question. Several members of the subcommittee favor support for science and innovation, with Chairman Wolf hoping that the percentage could increase to 28, 29, or even 30 percent of projects funded. “I am with you,” he said.

Paul Martin, NASA Inspector General, discussed the “continuing lack of clarity” in budget and funding that is facing NASA. The language in the continuing resolution (CR) that currently funds NASA is in direct conflict with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, (S.3729; Public Law 111-267), he said. The CR requires NASA to continue funding current projects, including the Constellation program, which is set to be cancelled under the Authorization Act. This means NASA could spend up to $215 million on Constellation projects unless Congress takes immediate action. In addition, it is still unclear whether NASA will receive appropriate amounts of funding to achieve goals of completing remaining shuttle flights while also developing a new space launch system, said Martin. “It’s really that Congress has been the one to provide the lack of clarity,” acknowledged Fattah.

NASA has room for improvement in predicting reasonable project budgets and schedules and staying within them, according to Martin. “The agency must do a better job to manage cost and schedules,” he elaborated. However, “for some projects, it really is rocket science,” he clarified.

Wolf asked what savings are possible within NASA. Martin outlined three areas, including the mentioned conundrum created by CR language and improving project management. The third area is in NASA’s infrastructure and maintenance. More than 80 percent of NASA facilities are at least 40 years old, he noted, and more than $2.5 billion was spent in 2009 on “fixing the roof and plugging the holes” on these aging facilities.

Other issues of concern to NASA include balancing and managing contract jobs. 85% of funds go to contractors, said Martin. As NASA transitions according to the President’s vision to using private company rockets and related contracts, it is important to remember that the agency has always operated on a public-private system, said Fattah. Furthermore, Martin described fraud and waste within the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), an eleven agency cooperative that provides grants, that needs to be eliminated. Culberson, Wolf and José Serrano (D-NY) suggested that NASA could coordinate with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to find projects and missions that overlap and make appropriate consolidation to cut costs.

In all, the most important issue to clear up is that there are two conflicting statutes because of current law; the authorizing act sets NASA’s direction, but the appropriations act sets the funding, said Martin.

Wolf wanted to see cybersecurity improved within both agencies. NASA is one of the top three or four targets of cyber attacks, according to Martin, and attacks by countries including China, Russia, Estonia and some in Africa are frequent and detrimental. Information from NSF appeared on a server in a former Soviet Union country around Christmas time, said Lerner.

A sense of urgency regarding America’s race to be the premier science nation in the world permeated the subcommittee, and several members expressed their desire to protect NSF and NASA from expected large budget cuts. Improvement in science, innovation and space exploration “is what’s going to save this nation,” said Culberson. “America is falling behind in science,” noted Wolf, and he said that if the country is going to have a modern-day Renaissance in science education and innovation, Congress will have to provide continued support.

Information on the hearing can be found here.

For more information on NASA budgetary issues, see AGI’s January Monthly Review.

-DLT

Sources: Hearing testimony.

Contributed by Wilson Bonner, Geoscience Policy Staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Erica Dalman, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; Aaron Rodriguez, AAPG/AGI Spring 2012 Intern; Stephen Ginley, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; Krista Rybacki, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; and Kathryn Kynett AAPG/AGI Fall 2012 Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

Last updated on November 16, 2012