Congress wrapped up the 2nd session of the 109th Congress last week, staying late over the weekend to finish work on select pending legislation. The Senate confirmed nominations for Secretary of Defense and Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The House approved the Tax Relief and Health Care Act (H.R. 6111) which passed the Senate on 7 December. Aside from these, however, Congress left town having failed to resolve the various fiscal year 2007 spending bills. The only two appropriations measures actually signed into law this year are the measures providing funding for the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.
Importantly, Congress did approve another continuing resolution to extend funding for federal agencies through 15 February 2007. Rumors around Washington are circulating as to whether the 110th Congress will simply extend the resolution to September 2007 when they return next year, or whether they are likely to pass a 'mini-omnibus' appropriations bill. Many beltway insiders believe the latter will likely be the case, as it would permit Congress to provide federal agencies with greater flexibility to operate. Some speculate that senior congressional Democrats are inclined to maintain the overall spending levels set by the Republican-controlled 109th Congress. Thus, funding for new programs is likely to be limited. Moreover, many believe that Congress will seek to restrain federal spending by providing agencies with the lower of their FY 2006 funding level, the House-passed FY 2007 number, or the Senate-passed FY 2007 number.
Earlier this year, the Smithsonian Institution was widely criticized when it announced that it was entering into a contract with Showtime Networks. The agreement, which provides Showtime with primary access to research originating from SI materials, also provides a revenue stream for the financially-pressed Smithsonian. Following various inquiries, including from members of Congress, the General Accountability Office launched a review of the SI-Showtime partnership. On 15 December, the GAO released a 55-page report on its investigation, "Smithsonian Institution: Additional Information Should Be Developed and Provided to Filmmakers on the Impact of the Showtime Contract.GAO-07-275."
According to the GAO, "The Smithsonian followed its internal contacting guidelines regarding competition, oversight, and conflicts of interest. When it began exploring a television venture in 2002, it approached 18 major media companies and negotiated with two before reaching a deal with Showtime. The process was overseen by Smithsonian Business Ventures' (SBV) Board of Directors and the Smithsonian's Board of Regents, who approved the contract in November 2005. When SBV's Chief Executive Office disclosed a potential conflict of interest, the Smithsonian's Ethics Officer reviewed the disclosure in accordance with Smithsonian policies and concluded that no conflict existed. GAO's Ethics Officer concurred with the Smithsonian's decision."
According to Smithsonian projections, the new channel formed by the partnership could reach more than 31 million households by 2010 with a total value of more than $150 million after 10 years. The 30 year contract provides the new partnership with semi-exclusive rights to produce and commercially distribute audiovisual programs using Smithsonian trademarks and/or content in exchange for national television exposure and new revenue.
The GAO report warns about the paucity of information provided by SI and Showtime: "The Smithsonian has been working to implement policies and procedures necessary under the contract since it became effective in January 2006, but the information that it has provided to interested parties has been insufficient. The Smithsonian and Showtime waited until March 2006 to publicly announce the new venture and did not implement internal processes to review filming requests for compliance with the contract until after the public announcement. The Smithsonian has created a committee to review filming requests, but does not document in detail its rationale for key decisions or attempt to synthesize these decisions over time. Also, the 'Frequently Asked Questions' on the Smithsonian's Web site provides little information for filmmakers about the new contract."
The full Democratic Caucus unanimously approved Representative Bart Gordon's (D-TN) nomination for the chairmanship of the House Committee on Science for the 110th Congress. The chairman-designate said, "Under my leadership, the Science Committee will be the committee of 'good ideas.' We will be reaching out to individuals and groups on the Hill and off to participate at every opportunity, share their ideas and work with our Committee to assure America's competitiveness in the world." Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) will serve as the senior Republican member on the committee. Representative David Obey (D-WI) will chair the Appropriations Committee under the new Democrat leadership in the House.
Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV.) will chair the House Committee on Resources in the 110th Congress and Representative John Dingell (D-MI) will take over the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Representative Rahall stated, "...as Chairman of the Resources Committee, I will oversee sound conservation that will ensure that families can enjoy the grandeur of our National Parks, while also safeguarding opportunities for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation."
As first reported in the 11 September Public Policy Report, the National Governors Association has launched a new initiative: Innovation America. The effort is intended to sustain the nation's competitive edge in science and technology. On 6 December, the NGA named members of its newly established Innovation America Task Force. NGA Chairwoman, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D), and NGA Vice Chairman, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R), will lead the Task Force. The governors of Kansas; Missouri; Pennsylvania; and Utah will also serve on the task force. Various representatives from business and higher education will also serve the task force.
On 6 December 2006, prior to adjourning, the Senate confirmed Robert M. Gates, Ph.D., as Secretary of Defense by a vote of 95-2. Dr. Gates served 26 years with the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and served as Director of the CIA under President George H.W. Bush. After leaving the CIA, Dr. Gates became President of Texas A&M University.
The December 2006 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers the implications of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the ability of the federal government to regulate wetlands. This and previous Washington Watch articles may be read for free online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.
The following is a brief excerpt from the December article.
In early 2006, more than 50 briefs were submitted to the Supreme Court in connection with two cases challenging the federal government's authority to regulate streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act (CWA). At issue in Rapanos v. United States and Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers was whether the CWA prohibition on unpermitted discharges into navigable waters extended to nonnavigable wetlands. In both cases, the petitioners had sought to deposit fill material in wetlands in preparation for development projects.
On 19 June 2006, the Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated ruling (www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/05pdf/04-1034.pdf). Justice Scalia announced the Court's decision to remand the cases to lower courts and wrote an opinion in which Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito joined; Justice Kennedy filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer dissented. The 4-1-4 plurality decision might better be described as an "indecision," however: The Court failed to achieve a majority position on the broader question of whether the United States has the authority to regulate streams and wetlands under the CWA.
The ruling initially appeared to be a defeat for supporters of the CWA.
Continue reading at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2006_12.html.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that applications for the 2007 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award are now available. The EPPLA was established by AIBS in 2003 as a way to recognize and further the science policy interests of graduate students in the biological sciences and science education.
More information about prior EPPLA recipients is available online at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/policy_training.html.
Application information is below and available online at /061106_graduate_student_policy_training.html.
Applications Due by 5 p.m. Friday, 16 February 2007
As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to offer the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award (EPPLA). The EPPLA is an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS pays travel costs and expenses for 1-2 EPPLA recipients to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on April 17-18, 2007 (dates subject to change). This is an annual event that brings scientists and science educators to Washington, D.C. to raise visibility and support for the biological sciences. The EPPLA recipient(s) will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a reception honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of biology. Participants will also meet with members of Congress and their staff to explain the importance of federal support for scientific research.
AIBS is now accepting applications for the 2007 Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to publ...@aibs.orgNO LATER than 5 p.m. on Friday, 16 February 2006.
Cover letter. Applicants should describe their interest in science policy issues and how participation in this CVD event would further their career goals. Applicants should also confirm their availability to attend the April 17-18 event.
Statement on the importance of biological research (max. 500 words). The objective of CVD is to communicate to decision makers the long-term importance of the biological sciences to the nation. How would you convince your congressional delegation of the importance of biological research? Prepare a statement that emphasizes the benefits of biological research, drawing on your own experience and/or research area, and referencing local issues that may be of interest to your congressional delegation as appropriate.
Resume (1 page). Your resume should emphasize leadership and communication experience - this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. Please include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, and memberships. Please do not list conference presentations, abstracts or scientific manuscripts.
Letter of reference. Ask an individual who can attest to your leadership, interpersonal and communication skills to send a letter on your behalf to publ...@aibs.org by the stated deadline. This individual should also be familiar with your interest in or experience with science or education policy issues.