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Presidential Administration: Structure and Status (12/5/12)

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The executive branch consists of the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, and the independent federal agencies. The power of the executive branch lies with the President of the United States. As stated in Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress, diplomacy with other nations, and negotiating treaties. The President has the power to sign into law or veto legislation passed by Congress. The President also appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet members.

The Cabinet consists of the head of each of the fifteen executive departments, such as Department of the Interior. These departments are responsible for the daily activities of the federal government along with the independent federal agencies. The independent agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, are part of the executive branch but their head is not a member of the Cabinet. For more information about the federal agencies, visit the background section of the federal agencies policy page.

The Executive Office of the President provides the President with the support and assistance in day-to-day activities. The Executive Office consists of many individual offices, which are managed by the White House Chief of Staff. Key actions by the White House of importance to the geoscience community are covered by this policy page.

Recent Action

President Obama on Outlook for Climate Change Action
In his first press conference since his re-election, President Obama responded to a question about the outlook on climate change action in his second term in light of Superstorm Sandy. President Obama reiterated his commitment to addressing climate change while admitting “we haven’t done as much as we need to,” and “some tough political choices” are necessary to “take on climate change in a serious way.”

Obama said that that while “we can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change,” global temperature is “increasing faster than was predicted,” in addition “the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted,” and “there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America” as well as “around the globe.” In his first term, Obama said he doubled fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, doubled clean energy production and invested in “in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.” 

“But, we haven't done as much as we need to,” Obama acknowledged. Obama said early in his second term he would converse “with scientists, engineers, and elected officials” on what more can be done to combat climate change on the short-term. Then, he will begin “a discussion...across the country about what realistically can we do long-term to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations that's going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.”

More from President Obama’s press conference can be found here.

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Previous Action

Changes Coming in Cabinet Leadership (11/12)
While the re-election of President Obama generally means no major upheavals of policy for federal agencies, it is unknown who among the President's cabinet will continue to serve for a second term to implement these policies.

Those who may step down include Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It is unclear who would fill any vacancies at this point.

Presidential Candidates Respond to Major Science Questions (09/12)
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney responded to 14 major science questions formulated by the American Geosciences Institute and other top scientific societies. The effort was led by and Scientific American magazine served as the media partner for the endeavor.

In his responses, Obama stated that, “We can work together to create an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, and skills for American workers.” Obama said he would ensure America’s position as a world leader in innovation by increasing funding to research agencies and training more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers. He said his “all-of the above” energy strategy coupled with greenhouse gas emission and energy efficiency standards would reduce dependence on foreign oil while addressing climate change. Obama pointed to the awarding of grants to water conservation projects, establishment of the National Ocean Policy and setting the goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 during his Administration as evidence of his support for clean water, ocean health and space exploration. In response to a question on how the candidates would ensure the best available science would be used to inform policy and regulatory decisions, Obama pointed to his transparency initiatives enacted during his first term and reiterated that scientific data should not be distorted, concealed, or completed without public input. Obama explained that by using natural resources more efficiently and developing alternatives, the U.S. can be less reliant on other countries such as China for rare earth materials.

In a slight reversal from comments made in August, 2011, Romney answered a question about climate change by saying the “world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences.” However, Romney stated that there is “a lack of scientific consensus” on the extent of the human contribution and the severity of the risk. Instead of implementing a carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme, Romney said he would support a “No Regrets” policy that would reduce emissions while benefitting America “regardless of whether the risks of global warming materialize.” He cites “robust” government funding on low emissions technology research and development and energy efficiency as steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions while benefitting the American economy.  Romney described how by reducing regulations and reforming K-12 education he would promote innovation and stimulate the economy. Romney expressed his support for federal research and stated that the government should ensure “that major breakthroughs are able to make the leap from the laboratory to the marketplace.” In regards to water and critical natural resources, Romney discussed how laws protecting air and water are important but need to be reformed so they do not “delay progress.” On the role of science in public policy, Romney explained that he “will ensure that the best available scientific and technical information guides decision-making in my Administration, and avoid the manipulation of science for political gain.”  

General Services Administration Freezes Travel Rates for Federal Agencies (08/12)
On August 14, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced that 2013 federal travel per diem rates would stay at current fiscal year (FY) 2012 levels. GSA sets travel allowances for federal employees who travel for work, known as per diem rates, which vary depending on location. GSA anticipates this policy will save an estimated $20 million in taxpayer money.

2012 Presidential Candidates Support Clean Energy R&D Initiatives (07/12)
During a debate on energy and environmental policy sponsored by Business Roundtable (BRT), representatives for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney expressed the candidates’ support of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) funding model for high-risk basic research. Since it first received funding in 2009, ARPA-E has spent more than $1 billion on new, clean energy technologies.

Bipartisan praise for ARPA-E research and development (R&D) efforts differed only in the extent to which the campaigns believe government should subsidize clean energy technology with public funds. Romney representative Linda Gillespie Stuntz accused the Obama Administration of investing in clean technologies that produce few jobs and argued that the federal government should not pick technology “winners and losers.” She cited the failure of Solyndra, a thin-film solar cell manufacturing company, as an example. Dan Reicher, campaign representative for the Obama Administration, argued that government assistance is needed to promote commercialization of clean energy technologies. Both administrations said they would use government-backed loan guarantees to encourage nuclear power plant development.

When the conversation turned to carbon dioxide emissions, the campaign representatives disagreed on the value of carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS). The Romney campaign doubts the cost-effectiveness of CCS technology; whereas, the Obama campaign defends its efforts to launch a CCS pilot project in Texas. In terms of climate change policy, the Romney campaign said they would be reluctant to mandate greenhouse gas emissions reductions unless nations such as China and India agreed to similar reductions.

Top American Science Questions of 2012 Posed to Presidential Candidates (07/12)
In collaboration with scientists, engineers, and concerned citizens, has requested Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s campaign teams to respond to a list of 14 critical science issues facing the nation. is a grassroots, nonprofit science advocacy organization dedicated to initiating a national dialogue on the top science and engineering policy problems. The organization first held an online discussion forum for potential questions and then partnered with science and engineering organizations, including the American Geosciences Institute and several member societies, to reach a consensus and finalize the list.

The top science questions for 2012 focus on issues including innovation and the economy, climate change, research investments, biosecurity, education, energy, food, fresh water resources, internet management, improving ocean health, improving scientific integrity, space exploration, critical natural resources, and vaccination requirements.

The Obama and Romney campaigns have been asked to respond to the questions by August 15. and its media partner Scientific American magazine welcome societies to cross-publicize, generate unique coverage of the issues, and discuss the questions in order to encourage productive debate.

OSTP Associate Director Carl Wieman Leaves Administration (06/12)
Carl Wieman has stepped down from the position as associate director for science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) where he focused on science education. After receiving the Nobel Prize in 2001 for the creation of the first Bose-Einstein condensate, Wieman began focusing his attention on the study of undergraduate education methods and led the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia (UBC) while holding a position at the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

OMB Scorecards Show Federal Agencies on Track to Meet Sustainability Goals (06/12)
On June 15, 2012, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Center for Environmental Quality (CEQ) released scorecards to evaluate federal agencies’ performance in achieving goals for improved sustainability, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction. The performance scorecards benchmark federal progress to meet the clean energy and sustainability goals outlined in President Obama’s Executive Order 13514. Agencies will update their Sustainability Plans to address the agency-specific levels of improvement, target opportunities for progress, and build on areas of success.   

Executive Order 13514 requests federal agencies to “lead by example” in environmental, energy, and economic performance. Each agency is required to develop an annual performance plan to illustrate how they will achieve a positive return on investment for American taxpayers, while meeting sustainability targets. The reduction targets required by 13514 include a 30 percent reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020, 26 percent improvement in water efficiency by 2020, 50 percent recycling and waste diversion by 2015, GHG reductions of 28 percent for direct emissions and 13 percent for indirect emissions, implementation of the 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement, and development plans for sustainably locating federal buildings. Investments in energy efficiency within the federal government are expected to save at least $18 billion in energy costs over the lifetime of the projects.

The OMB Sustainability/Energy Scorecards evaluate performance using seven metrics: scope one GHG emissions (direct sources) and scope 2 GHG emissions (from purchased electrical, heat, or steam generation), scope 3 GHG emissions (indirect emissions from employee commute or travel), energy intensity, renewable energy use, potable water intensity, fleet petroleum use, and sustainable building practices. Each category is classified as green, yellow, or red based on the extent to which an agency is on target with their 2011 Sustainability Plan. Additionally, scorecard results hold agencies accountable for their progress toward implementing Executive Order goals. 

Office of Management and Budget Releases FY 2014 Budget Guidelines (05/12)
On May 18, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released its budget guidelines for fiscal year (FY) 2014. To continue the budget reduction framework emplaced by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA, P.L. 112-25), OMB is requesting federal agencies’ budget submissions be five percent less than the net discretionary total provided to the agency in the FY 2013 budget.

In addition to the reductions in the budget submissions, OMB is requesting explanations of each agency’s general administrative plan, a description of each agency’s most cost-effective initiative, a discussion of how savings will be utilized, and at least three suggestions which would improve long-term savings. The guidance advises agencies to cut information technology costs by 10 percent from the 2010-2012 average for the agency.

OMB Orders Federal Agencies to Cut Travel Costs by 30 Percent (05/12)
In a May 11 guidance, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that federal agencies must reduce their fiscal year (FY) 2013 levels of spending on travel expenses at least 30 percent less than in FY 2010.

The money saved as a result of the reductions will be directed toward investments that “improve the transparency of and accountability for federal spending,” activities that provide tracking and reporting of federal spending, and internal audits and investigations to identify fraud and error. The guidance includes several new policies and practices for federal agencies planning and conducting conferences and encourages federal agencies to “aggressively” sell excess properties. 

CoSTEM Releases Report, Public Comments Due June 15 (05/12)
Public comments on “Design Principles for Federal STEM Education Investments” are due by June 15. The document describes a plan to implement a February 2012 report from the Federal Coordination in STEM Education Task Force and the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) titled “Coordinating Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Investments: Progress Report.” CoSTEM is required to complete a five year STEM education strategic plan as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358). 

National Ocean Council Unveils Ocean Data Portal (05/12)
The National Ocean Council released a prototype of the Ocean Data Portal  in May 2012. The web site is part of the implementation of the National Ocean Policy. The site focuses on ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes planning efforts. It is described as being the “one-stop” source for all types of information pertaining to these areas. Data includes spatial and non-spatial from various Federal resources. The site contains data and maps from the nine U.S. regional planning areas in order to foster collaborative coastal and marine spatial planning. A forum has been set up on the site to gather input and suggestions from users.

Obama Creates Hydraulic Fracturing Working Group (04/12)
On April 13, 2012 President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating a working group of more than twelve agencies to promote the safe domestic production of natural gas through unconventional techniques such as hydraulic fracturing. The working group, chaired by the director of the Domestic Policy Council, will coordinate policy efforts among agencies.

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique to extract natural gas and oil out of relatively impermeable shale formations by injecting fluids at high pressure to fracture the shale and allow the hydrocarbons to migrate to the borehole for efficient extraction.  Shale gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing is booming throughout the U.S. because natural gas provides a relatively clean and inexpensive alternative to coal. As shale gas production has ramped up, concerns have been raised about environmental problems, such as contamination of water wells and triggered seismicity. Although industry and the government have noted that any potential problems might be related to wastewater injection rather than hydraulic fracturing, the public does not appreciate the distinction and considers the problems associated with “fracking” in general.

In addition to the working group, the Obama Administration requested $45 million to study hydraulic fracturing in fiscal year 2013 at the United States Geological Survey, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.  Later this year the Bureau of Land Management is expected to release a set of rules regulating the practice of hydraulic fracturing on public lands.        

Administration Announces Big Data Initiative (04/12)
Six federal agencies including the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to announce the new Big Data Research and Development Initiative. There will be more than $200 million in commitments across the six departments and agencies to improve the cyberinfrastrucure and techniques to store, access, organize, and acquire information from large amounts of data.

In 2012, NSF will be awarding the first round of grants to support EarthCube, an initiative to support integrated data management structures in the geosciences. DOE will provide $25 million in funding to establish the Scalable Data Management, Analysis and Visualization (SDAV) Institute. Based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the SDAV Institute will develop tools to manage and visualize data on DOE’s supercomputers. USGS has announced its fiscal year 2012 working groups for the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. Working groups at the Powell center collaborate on Earth systems science projects with state-of-the-art computing and facilities.

OSTP Releases Interagency Public Access Coordination Report to Congress (04/12)
As required by Section 103 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has submitted to Congress a report detailing the progress made toward coordinating federal science agency policies related to open access of federally funded scientific research. The report includes summaries of two Requests for Information issued in 2009 on public access policies and 2011 on data sharing and public access for scholarly publications. The report also updates agencies’ progress in crafting open access policies.

White House Releases Women and Girls in Science Report (04/12)
The Office of Management and Budget and the Economics and Statistics Administration within the Department of Commerce worked together to create a new report entitled Women in America in cooperation with the Administration’s Council on Women and Girls. The report includes a section on education and details the status of women in obtaining degrees and training in science fields. More girls graduate from high school than boys and more women attend college and attain graduate school degrees than men. In college and beyond, fewer women pursue degrees in science than men.

Obama Announces Undergraduate STEM Education Plan (02/12)
On February 7, 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report to President Obama laying out a strategy to increase the number of college undergraduate majors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by one million graduates over the next decade. The report is titled “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”

PCAST, along with an assembled group of experts in post secondary education teaching, formulated five recommendations to increase STEM education pathways in the first two years of an undergraduate education.  The recommendations included implementing a system to validate teaching practices, shifting from traditional laboratory courses to more engaging research courses, solving the growing mathematics preparation gap, engaging stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers, and creating a presidential council with leaders from academics and business to help provide leadership for STEM education.  The United States only produces 300,000 STEM bachelor and associate degrees annually, and only 40 percent of students that enter college declared in a STEM field actually graduate in a STEM field.

On the same day at the White House Science Fair, President Obama proposed steps to increase STEM education funding in the United States.  This K-16 funding would be from a variety of sources:  $80 million in Department of Education funding, $100 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, $60 million in NSF and Department of Education co-funding, and $22 million in private funding.  President Obama’s request of $80 million and the $22 million in private funding will go towards organizing preparation programs for STEM teachers, which would allow undergraduate students receiving their teaching certification to simultaneously earn a STEM teaching certificate.  NSF will invest $100 million in undergraduate STEM programs like the Widening Implementation and Demonstration of Evidence-based Reforms (WIDER) program and the Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES) program.  A $60 million NSF and Department of Education co-sponsored education initiative is proposed to enhance K-16 mathematics education.

AAAS Launches Web Site on Presidential Candidates’ Views on Science (02/12)
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has launched a web site that collects statements made by 2012 Presidential candidates on science and technology. Each page includes statements made by the candidates on science and technology issues including energy, the environment, climate change, competitiveness, innovation, education, and homeland security.

OSTP Releases Federal STEM Education Portfolio (12/11)
When the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (P.L. 111-358) was signed into law in early 2011, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was called upon to compile a detailed catalogue of all federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. OSTP has released “The Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Portfolio,” which provides a list of all STEM education investments undertaken by federal agencies. The list was compiled by the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the National Science and Technology Council, and is the most detailed inventory of federal STEM education to date.

The portfolio, within which CoSTEM developed a precise definition of STEM education and a comprehensive survey instrument to collect data about programs, says the federal government draws upon a wide range of unique assets to support STEM education.

According to the portfolio, federal investment in STEM education for fiscal year 2010 was $3.4 billion, accounting for only 0.3 percent of total investment in education ($1.1 trillion). Because two thirds of the $3.4 billion was spent on broad STEM education investments, the America COMPETES Act requested CoSTEM to develop a five-year, cross-agency STEM education strategic plan to target a more specific portfolio of STEM education investments. Through this strategic plan, OSTP hopes to consolidate programs, create joint solicitations across agencies, and develop procedures for sharing program data and performance evaluations.

White House Extends Opportunity to Comment on Open Access Policy (12/11)
The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358) directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director to establish a working group within the National Science and Technology Council “to coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, supported wholly, or in part, by funding from the Federal science agencies.” The Interagency Working Group on Digital Data has extended the deadline for its Request for Information (RFI) that seeks individuals or organizations to provide recommendations and options for implementing the digital data policy and standards requirements of the reauthorization. Ultimately, OSTP will implement a clearinghouse with information on the contents of, and access to, federal scientific collections. Public comments are due on or before January 12, 2012.

OSTP Seeks Input on Public Access to Data (11/11)
In accordance with the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69) of 2010 reauthorized by Congress in December of 2010, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is charged with improving widespread digital public access to federally funded unclassified research. As part of their efforts, OSTP has created two interagency policy groups under the National Science and Technology Council—the Task Force on Public Access to Scholarly Publications and the Interagency Working Group on Digital Data—to identify the specific objectives and public interests that need to be addressed by any policies in these two areas.

OSTP released two Requests for Information (RFI) in November, soliciting comment from the public and stakeholders on ways to preserve long term access to federally funded research. Comments and answers to the RFIs are encouraged and should be sent by email to the Public Access and Digital Data policy groups.

Obama Administration Delays Decision on Keystone XL Pipeline (11/11)
After initially promising a decision by the end of 2011, the Obama Administration has announced that it will not issue a decision on whether to grant a cross-border permit to the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline until 2013. The administration was under pressure from supporters of the project who cite its potential for job creation and from environmental groups who oppose it because of potential environmental degradation. The 1,700 mile-long proposed pipeline would transport crude oil from oil sand deposits in northeastern Alberta, Canada to existing Keystone pipelines in Nebraska and Oklahoma and would cost about $7 billion to build. In response, TransCanada announced its intention to reroute the pipeline around the Sandhills, an ecologically sensitive area in Nebraska that the proposed pipeline was initially set to cross over.

Nebraska Governor David Heineman signed new pipeline construction standards into law on November 22 and approved a provision to direct the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, consulting with the U.S.  State Department, to conduct an environmental assessment for the alternate route. The law provides up to $2 million for the review and state officials hope to complete this study by as soon as May 2012.

Obama Administration Announces Plan to Expedite Grid Projects (10/11)
The Obama Administration revealed plans in October to improve the nation’s electric grid by expediting federal permitting for seven proposed electric transmission lines across the country. These projects will provide electricity transmission and new jobs in 12 states including Idaho, Oregon, Minnesota, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, according to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Ensuring the transmission grid is built will support the Department of the Interior’s approval of 22 major renewable energy projects on public lands in the western United States that will generate more than 10,000 construction jobs, Salazar said.

"The president has been committed to moving forward with an electrical grid system that is modernized and carries us forward into the 21st century," Salazar said during a call with reporters. "We know that solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, clean coal and natural gas all play a role, but it is absolutely critical that we have the infrastructure in place to deliver power to our homes, our businesses and our economy."

Nine federal agencies will expedite the approval of the pilot transmission projects; each agency will have specialized points of contact and project managers for each pilot project. Subject matter experts, established at each agency, will deal with transmission issues such as financing and siting.

First Lady Speaks on Importance of Women in STEM Fields (10/11)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a 10-year plan to increase work-family flexibility for men and women in fields of research. Called the “Career-Life Balance Initiative,” the plan includes a provision to allow researchers to delay or suspend grants for up to a year because of the birth of a child, adoption or other family obligations.

At a rollout for the new initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama stressed the importance of increasing the role of women in the fields of science and technology. “We need all hands on deck,” she stated. “And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.” She said too often women pursuing scientific careers have to compromise or give up on them entirely because of the demands of family.

White House Postpones New Ozone Standards (09/11)
On September 2, the Obama Administration sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Lisa Jackson requesting a withdrawal of draft ozone standards that would have set the strongest smog standards yet. Though the ozone standards are up again for review in 2013, many environmentalists and many Democrats had hoped to set the 60 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) limits before then. The White House reiterated that the move was not politically motivated but done due to concern over duplicative regulations. Some in industry and some Republicans praised the move as a major relief to businesses worried about the costs of meeting the stricter standards. If implemented, the measure would have cost the economy up to $90 billion a year by EPA’s own analysis.

In response, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) floated an amendment at an Environment and Public Works Committee markup to restrict the rules from being reevaluated through 2013 though he did not ask the committee to vote on it. Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has promised to hold an oversight hearing into the administration’s decision to pull the standards.

Obama Honors Early Career Geoscientists (09/11)
On September 26, President Barack Obama honored 94 early career scientists, including many geoscientists, in the federal government with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award was established by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and is coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Branch. The honorees were selected for their innovative research and their commitment to community service.

White House Hosts Budget Meeting for Science Programs (08/11)
On August 10, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hosted a meeting with leaders in the science and technology community to discuss the impact that the current fiscal environment will have on science programs in the U.S.  This issue is of particular concern in light of the recent debt ceiling agreement. John Holdren, Director of OSTP and science advisor to the President, noted that the nation’s science budget will be stringent and that states, philanthropies, and the private sector will need to contribute to promoting research and development.  Representatives from about thirty institutions and corporations were present at the meeting.

OMB Releases FY 2013 Budget Guidance (08/11)
On August 17, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew released the fiscal year (FY) 2013 Budget Guidance to the heads of departments and agencies. The guidance calls for FY 2013 budget submissions to be at least five percent less than the FY 2011 enacted levels. Lew clarified that the cuts “should not be achieved by proposing across-the-board reductions or reductions to mandatory spending in appropriations bills, reclassifications of existing discretionary spending to mandatory, or enactment of new user fees to offset existing spending.” As part of budget submissions, agencies should offer reductions that would bring the requests down to at least 10 percent below FY 2011 enacted levels.  Agencies should identify programs that could enhance economic growth.

The request comes soon after President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) on August 2. The law calls for $2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade and the administration is beginning the process of finding savings in discretionary spending by the federal government. The law creates a joint select committee (the “supercommittee”) to identify $1.5 trillion in savings over the next decade by late November.

President Declares September National Preparedness Month (08/11)
In a proclamation dated August 31, President Barack Obama declared September to be National Preparedness Month. The president pointed out how natural disasters had particularly “tested our response ability” in 2011 and that this month marks the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The proclamation calls for Americans to “recognize the importance of preparedness” and to work together to increase national security, resilience, and readiness.

On September 7, 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will hold a showcase of NSF-funded research on hazards on Capitol Hill. The event will take place from 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM in Hart Senate Office Building Room 902.

White House Creates Interagency Alaska Oil and Gas Working Group (07/11)
President Obama released an executive order on July 15, 2011 outlining the organization of an interagency working group to address oil and gas development in Alaska.  The group will be chaired by the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, with representatives from the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, Homeland Security and other government agencies.  The move is in response to growing criticism of the federal permitting process for oil and gas development in Alaska.  Oil industry representatives have complained that the process takes too long and that there are too many agencies with jurisdiction.

30 Million Barrels Released from Strategic Petroleum Reserve (07/11)
At the end of June, 2011 the Obama administration released 30 million of 727 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The release was in collaboration with the International Energy Agency (IEA) to reduce energy prices over the short-term as oil consumption increases during the summer months. As stated on the Department of Energy (DOE) web site, “the SPR provides the President with a powerful response option should a disruption in commercial oil supplies threaten the U.S. economy.” The SPR is the largest emergency reserve held by any government. In the past, supplies from SPR have been used in the aftermath of natural hazards such as Hurricane Katrina. This most recent release of crude has received little support from congressional Republicans. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was suspicious about the effectiveness of the administration’s decision. However, industry interest in purchasing the crude oil was high as indicated by 90 offers sent to DOE on June 22, 2011. Discussions on a possible carbon tax and analysis of domestic oil supply have followed the release. Critics of the recent release suggest a carbon tax would provide a more long term and effective method of curbing energy prices.

Obama Administration Announce Plans to Cut Billions in Regulations (05/11)
As part of a promise made in January to eliminate unnecessary or duplicative regulations from 30 federal agencies and departments, the Obama Administration released in May draft proposals from agencies. As an example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposes to eliminate the need for air pollution vapor recovery systems at local gas stations because many modern vehicles have air pollution control technologies. This would save $670 million over the next decade. The website is accepting public comments on the proposals until these plans are finalized later this year.

US, UK Issue a Joint Statement on Education, Science, and Innovation (05/11)
As part of his tour through Europe in May, President Obama met with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom (UK) and released a joint statement on education, science, and innovation collaboration. The statement points out that the United States and the UK are clear leaders in global scientific research and home to the world’s top ten universities. “Recognizing the great potential for productive cooperation in these domains, the Prime Minister and President reaffirmed during the State visit their mutual commitment to strong collaboration in science and higher education and agreed to work to increase the number of joint endeavors,” the statement reads.

As an example of the collaborations to come, the two leaders highlighted the recent memorandum of understanding on space weather between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UK Meteorological Office. The two agencies will set-up a 24/7 space weather warning center and develop an improved model of space weather.  Areas of stated collaboration include “Space Science and Exploration, Clean Energy and Climate Science, Food Security, Health and Wellbeing, Innovation and Growth”. An addendum to the statement mentions collaborations in clean energy and climate science that will include a National Science Foundation project on Sustainable Materials for Energy.

Administration's Response to the Tohoku Earthquake (03/11)
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit about 80 miles (129 kilometers [km]) from the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan at a depth of 19.9 miles (32 km). The earthquake resulted from thrust faulting on the subduction zone plate boundary between the Pacific and North American plates. Modeling indicates the fault moved upwards about 30 to 40 meters and slipped over an area of about 300 km by 150 km. The earthquake was preceded by magnitude 6s and 7s foreshocks and followed by dozens of large magnitude aftershocks. Large earthquakes and tsunamis have been recorded in the area in 869, 1611, 1896 and 1933. More information about the Tohoku earthquake is available from the U.S. Geological Survey, which is the lead federal agency for earthquakes in the United States. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) is monitoring the response of the built environment to the earthquake and tsunami. A PDF presentation of a March 20 initial assessment in Japan suggests the built environment did well in the earthquake.

The Tohoku earthquake generated a tsunami that hit the coast of Japan within minutes and moved across the Pacific Ocean to U.S. coastlines in Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska within hours. The waves that hit Sendai Japan and other coastal communities may have been as large as 37.9 meters (114 feet) in height. The tsunami led to the greatest devastation in northern Japan. The waves overcame a 207 foot breakwater and many 30 to 10 foot high seawalls along the coast. While these structures may have muted the impact, the tsunami waves are likely to be the main causes for the estimated 28,000 fatalities, 250,000 displaced, and $300 billion in damages in Japan. Damage in the U.S. from the tsunami was confined to harbors and coastal areas with $30 million in damage in Hawaii, $7 million in Oregon and one fatality and $50 million in damage in California. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detected the tsunami, modeled its path, sent out warnings and recorded its movement across the ocean. More information about the Honshu tsunami is available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is the lead federal agency for tsunamis in the United States.

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered massive failures at its six nuclear reactors. Initially the loss of power caused active reactors and spent fuel housed in cooling ponds to overheat, leading to over pressurization, hydrogen gas explosions, loss of cooling water, radiation leaks and extensive additional damage to power and cooling systems. As of April 5, reactors remain in a critical state, with responders forced to add more water to keep the fuel cooled at the same time as radiated water is leaking from identified and un-identified areas.

President Obama offered condolences and help to Japan immediately after the earthquake and tsunami. The U.S. military based in Okinawa, Japan started helping with rescue and response efforts while nuclear power plant experts from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Department of Energy and other agencies provided help, starting with 11 NRC experts dispatched on March 14. As the nuclear reactor crisis worsened, the President increased U.S. efforts, sending more experts and a significant amount of equipment to try to contain the nuclear reactor crisis.

The U.S. called for a 50 mile radius evacuation zone for U.S. citizens located around the Daiichi plant on March 16, which is far larger than the evacuation zone instituted by the Japanese. The President also requested that the NRC review safety and preparedness for disasters at all nuclear power plants in the United States. On March 21, the NRC established a task force that will review safety at U.S. nuclear power plants. NRC provided an update on its efforts in an April 4 press release.

Clean Energy, Science and Education Highlights of State of the Union (01/11)
President Barack Obama called for increased American innovation and investment in research and development, comparing the present age of innovation to the space race, in his State of the Union address on January 25, 2011. Obama said “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology…”

The President stressed the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; clean energy development; and infrastructure improvements, stating that investments in these arenas can spur job creation. He revealed that his budget request will include increased funding for research and development and urged Congress to avoid “cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education.”

Browner Leaves Climate and Energy Czar Position (01/11)
Carol Browner announced January 24 that she is leaving her position as the President’s climate change and energy advisor. Browner served an important role in the administration’s efforts to address the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but under her tenure the administration did not sign climate change legislation, which was intended to be a major focus of the position. Browner’s departure has been expected since late last year. The administration has not suggested a replacement for Browner, which is probably a sign that there will be less focus on climate change by the Obama White House.

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There are several key executive offices that affect the geoscience community. Below is a list of those offices, followed by more detailed information about each office, geoscience programs and offices within the department, and links to the official websites.

Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
Nancy Sutley, Chair of the CEQ (About)

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) within the Executive Office of the President was established as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 to coordinate the efforts of federal environmental activities and to ensure that federal agencies consider the health of the public environment before making decisions. The Chair of the CEQ serves as the President’s top environmental policy advisor. The CEQ reports annually to the President on the state of the nation’s environment, oversees federal agencies actions regarding environmental impact assessments, and settles disputes between federal agencies related to these plans. More broadly, CEQ is responsible for ensuring federal agencies remain in compliance with NEPA.

About the Chair
Prior to her appointment, she was the Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment for the city of Los Angeles, California. As Deputy Mayor, she served on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as Chair for the Water Planning and Stewardship Committee and member of the Executive Committee, Special Committee on Bay-Delta, Communications and Legislation Committee, and the IRP Steering Committee. Sutley worked for California Governor Gray Davis as Energy Advisor, managing state and federal regulations, legislative affairs, finances and press relations. She served as Deputy Secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations in the California EPA from 1999-2003. She advised on water and air pollution policy, and established budget and legislative priorities. During the Clinton Administration, Sutley worked for the EPA as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Regional Administrator in San Francisco and special assistant to the Administrator in Washington, D.C. Sutley received her Bachelors degree from Cornell University and her Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University.

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Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
John Holdren, Director of OSTP (About)

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was established by Congress in 1976 to advise the President and others within the Executive Office of the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. OSTP works to lead interagency efforts to implement science and technology policies and budgets and with the private sector, the science and higher education communities, and state and local governments to achieve these goals.

About the Director
Prior to this appointment John Holdren served concurrently at Harvard as professor of Environmental Science and Policy in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy the Kennedy School of Government, and as director of the Woods Hole Research Center. Previously he was a professor of Energy and Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. With advanced degrees in aerospace engineering and theoretical plasma physics from MIT and Stanford, Dr. Holdren is highly regarded nationally and internationally for his work on energy technology and policy, global climate change, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
John Holdren, Eric Lander, and Harold Varmus, Co-Chairs of PCAST (About)

On April 27, 2009, President Obama announced the new President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The 35 member council within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) draws experts from industry, academia, research institutions, and nonprofit organizations. PCAST was originally established in 1990 to enable the President to receive advice from the private sector and academic community on technology, scientific research priorities, and math and science education.

About the Co-Chairs
Prior to this appointment as OSTP Director, John Holdren served concurrently at Harvard as professor of Environmental Science and Policy in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy the Kennedy School of Government, and as director of the Woods Hole Research Center. Previously he was a professor of Energy and Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. With advanced degrees in aerospace engineering and theoretical plasma physics from MIT and Stanford, Dr. Holdren is highly regarded nationally and internationally for his work on energy technology and policy, global climate change, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Eric Lander is the Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Professor of Biology at MIT, Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and former member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. He was one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship and is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine.

Harold Varmus is the President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Varmus served as the Director of the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 1999 and in 1989 was the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering studies of the genetic basis of cancer. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine and recipient of the National Medal of Science.

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National Science and Technology Council (NSTC)

The National Science and Technology Council was created by Executive Order No. 12881 in 1993 to be a Cabinet-level Council to coordinate on matters of science and technology policy in the executive branch. The NSTC is chaired by the President and made up of the Vice President, the Director of OSTP, Cabinet Secretaries and Agency Heads with significant science and technology responsibilities, and other White House officials. This council establishes the national priorities within science and technology that have jurisdiction under the executive branch. It develops research and development packages to be distributed among the relevant federal agencies with the goal of achieve several national targets. The NSTC is comprised of four committees: Science, Technology, Environment and Natural Resources, and Homeland and National Security as well as various subcommittees to achieve their mission.

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Contributed by Linda Rowan, Geoscience Policy staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; Krista Rybacki, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; and Kathryn Kynett, AAPG/AGI Fall 2012 Intern.

Background section includes material from the various Executive Office websites.

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

Last updated on December 5, 2012

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