Washington Updates

2012 Washington Updates

The OSA Public Policy staff is pleased to provide you with Washington Updates, where you will find up-to-date information on legislation, events, and other activities happening in Washington, D.C. that affect the optics and photonics community. We welcome your feedback on any of these issues and invite you to use the comment section included with each post. You can also contact the OSA government relations team directly if you'd like more information on a particular article.

House Passes Measure to Increase Visas for STEM Grads

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the STEM Jobs Act (H.R. 6429). The measure – introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) – would set aside 55,000 permanent residency visas annually for foreign-born graduates of American universities who’ve earned advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. It also would grant temporary visas for the families of those immigrants for use while their permanent visa applications are being processed. The bill passed the House by a vote of 245-139, but faces opposition in the Senate – where it now moves for approval – because the new visas are off-set by eliminating the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which provides green cards to persons from countries of traditionally lower rates of immigration. While opponents of the bill primarily agree with the premise, they disagree over the “zero sum” approach and view the measure as too narrowly targeted.  Supporters counter that the measure will allow US employers to retain talented science and technology leaders and maintain competitiveness, and that the Diversity program is outdated.

Posted: 4 December 2012


Party Leaders to Begin ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Negotiations

With the 2012 elections over, lawmakers in Washington shifted focus this week to the looming expiration of the Bush era tax cuts and automatic budget reductions set to take effect at year’s end – also known as the “fiscal cliff”. Party leaders from both Chambers of Congress, as well as the Administration, have made it clear that they strongly oppose the across the board budget cuts – which were designed to be a deterrent during the debt negotiations last year – and would like to see at least some of the tax cuts remain in place. The sticking point for negotiations, which are set to begin this week, appears to be over tax rates for those making over $250,000 annually.

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have both called for an agreement that freezes tax rates at current levels for lower and middle income earners, while allowing tax rates to increase for upper-income earners. Republican leaders meanwhile have repeatedly stated their opposition to allowing tax rates to increase for the wealthy. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) did appear open to some revenue increases however, coming in the form of closing tax loopholes and eliminating some deductions, so long as the overall rates remained the same.

Party leaders will head to the White House this week to attempt to reach an agreement that can pass both the Republican controlled House and Democrat controlled Senate. While Reid has stated a preference for reaching permanent solution, a temporary measure stop-gap measure that pushes the issue off until the New Year, as previously suggested by Boehner, is also a strong possibility.

Posted: 15 November 2012


OMB Releases Report on Sequestration

On September 14, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released their highly-anticipated report on the potential impacts of the automatic budget cuts – “the sequester” – slated to go into effect next year, barring an agreement in Congress on deficit reduction.

The OMB report, required by the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 (STA), provides Congress with a breakdown of exempt and non-exempt budget accounts, and estimate of the funding reductions that would be required, and additional information on their potential implementation – based on the budget assumptions outlined in the STA.

A breakdown of how OMB predicts how these cuts would affect science related funding is as follows:

  • National Institute of Standards in Technology (NIST): $62 million total reduction
    • $47 million cut to Scientific and Technical Research Services
    • $5 million cut to Construction of Research Facilities programs
    • $10 million cut to Industrial Technology Services
  • Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science: $400 million total reduction
  • DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency (APRA): $23 million total reduction
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): $2.53 billion total reduction
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Programs: $417 million total reduction
  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $586 million total reduction
    • $463 million cuts to Research and Related Activities programs
    • $14 million cuts to Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction programs
  • Department of Defense (DOD) Research, Development, Test and Evaluation programs: $7.47 billion total reductions
    • $2 billion cuts to defense-wide programs
    • $1.78 billion cuts to Navy programs
    • $954 million cuts to Army programs
    • $2.72 billion cuts to Air Force programs


Sequestration was mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), under which Congress must enact a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars. If they fail to do so by the end of 2012, the sequester is triggered and the across-the-board cuts take effect. In the report, the OMB reiterates that the Administration is opposed to enacting the sequester, saying it “would be deeply destructive to national security, domestic investments, and core government functions.” You can tell your representatives to stop sequestration by visiting our legislative action center.

Posted: 18 September 2012


OSA Member Honored by White House

Dr. Ian Coddington, an OSA Member working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has been named a recipient of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The awards, established in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Awardees are chosen for their innovative research in science and technology and their commitment to community service and leadership. Winners receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions.

Coddington is a physicist at NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory and received the award for developing rapid, low-cost, spectroscopic measurement tools based on optical fibers and frequency combs that enable accurate detection of airborne chemicals and measurement of absolute distance over kilometers with nanometer precision, and for contributions to early child development and science enrichment programs in his community.

Posted: 26 July 2012


STEM Ed Training Program Proposed by White House

President Obama on Wednesday announced plans to create a new national Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Master Teacher Corps. The participating educators would work in their local communities to promote STEM education initiatives and mentor math and science teachers to help improve teacher effectiveness and engage students.

The Corps will begin with 50 locations nationwide with 50 teachers each. Over the next four years it would expand to 10,000 teachers. The proposed Corps would be launched using $1 billion allocated in the President’s FY 2013 budget plan – which Congress has not yet completed action on. Additionally, the President has made $100 million available immediately using the existing Teacher Incentive Fund to help school districts establish well-defined career paths in STEM education for effective teachers. The application deadline for those funds is July 27, and already 30 school districts have expressed interest.

In 2011 Senator Al Franken (D-MN) – aided by former OSA/MRS Congressional Fellow Ashley White – introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate, which OSA endorsed, to create a similar corps and Timothy Bishop (D-NY) introduced corresponding legislation in the House of Representatives. Neither bill ever came to a vote.

Posted: 20 July 2012


House Takes Action on Critical Minerals

On July 12 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Protection Act (HR 4402). The measure, introduced by Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV), aims to streamline the permitting process for mineral development. If enacted it would require the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to more efficiently develop domestic sources of strategic and critical minerals and mineral materials – including rare earth elements. The bill would limit the permitting review process to 30 months and proposes a 60 day time limit for filing a legal challenge to a mining project. The bill passed the House by a vote of 256 to 160 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Posted: 12 July 2012


DARPA Names New Director

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced in early July that physicist Arati Prabhakar, Ph.D., was named the agency's new Director. Prabhakar started at DARPA as a program manager in 1986, where she served until 1993 when she was appointed as Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by President Clinton – making her the institute's first female head. Prabhakar also spent over a decade working in the private sector in Silicon Valley, and currently chairs the Efficiency and Renewables Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Energy. Prabhakar holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University and an M.S. in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology. Her term as director at DAPRA begins July 30.

Posted: 12 July 2012


Budget Update: House Passes FY 13 Energy and Water Funding Package

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its FY 2013 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R. 5325). Under this plan, many science and research and development (R&D) programs would see cuts from 2012 levels.

Key science and technology highlights include:

  • $11 billion for total Department of Energy (DOE) R&D funding (no change from 2012)
  • $4.8 billion for DOE Office of Science ($72 million decrease)
    • $442 million for Advanced Scientific Computing (no change)
    • $1.65 billion for Basic Energy Sciences ($36 million decrease)
    • $776 million for High Energy Physics ($15.2 million decrease)
  • $200 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) programs ($55 million decrease)
  • Blocks the implementation of energy efficient light bulb standards adopted in 2007

The funding bill passed the House by a vote of 255 to 165 (11 Members did not vote). However, it is not expected to pass the Senate – whose own version of the bill largely provides increases in science funding – and faces a veto threat from President Obama.

Posted: 15 June 2012


Congress Takes Steps to Manage Helium Supplies

United States Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation – S.2374, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012 – which lays out a resource management strategy for the Federal Helium Reserve.

The Federal Helium Reserve has maintained a vast supply of the nonrenewable gas since the 1960s and provides about one third of the world’s helium supply. However, in 1996, Congress passed a law requiring that the helium reserve must be sold off by 2014 in order pay a $1.3 billion debt to the U.S. Treasury. The result has been that helium is being sold at about half of its market value. At current rates not all of the helium will be sold by the target date and under existing law the Reserve could run out of operating money by 2013, leaving a large supply of helium still in the ground but no one with authority to access it.

Helium is used in a variety of scientific applications, ranging from medical devices, to welding, to optical fibers. S.2374 seeks to sell off the helium in the Reserve more judiciously, including selling the gas at market rates, in order to prevent shortages and encourage the private sector to develop additional helium sources and promote recycling.

OSA/SPIE’s Arthur S. Guenther Congressional Fellow, Marcius Extravour, was actively involved in the development of this bill during his tenure with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The legislation is currently being reviewed by that committee, who will decide when and if it should be presented to the full Senate for consideration.



Two Attempts to Cut Science Funding Defeated in House

This week the U.S. House of Representatives is considering the FY 2013 funding bill for the Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies. While funding levels in the bill (H.R. 5326) for science research and development were mostly increased over last year, two proposed amendments to the bill sought to cut funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Neither amendment passed.

The first amendment, introduced by Representative Ben Quayle (R – AZ), proposed to eliminate funding for NIST’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) program. AMTech is public-private partnership aimed at improving manufacturing R&D investments and reducing the time required to bring innovations to market. It was proposed in President Obama’s FY 2012 budget request but has not yet been initiated. Quayle’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 259 to 147.

The second amendment, introduced by Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ), proposed to reduce NSF’s budget to FY 2008 levels – $1.2 billion below the amount proposed in H.R. 5326. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 291 to 121.

H.R. 5326 is expected to pass the House this week, but is not expected to pass the Senate. The Senate’s CJS funding bill is still at the committee level; once it passes the full Senate it is most likely that a conference committee will be formed by members of both chambers to produce a compromise bill.


Budget Update: FY 2013 Commerce, Justice & Science Funding Debate Begins in House of Representatives

H.R. 5326, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013, is being considered by the full U.S. House of Representatives this week. In general, science research and development (R&D) funding under this plan would be increased over FY 2012 levels. A full summary of the bill is available on the Appropriations Committee website, and here are some science related highlights:

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.3 billion, a $299 million increase over FY 2012
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would receive $830 million, a $79 million increase over FY 2012
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5 billion, a $68 million increase over FY 2012.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would receive $17.6 billion, $226 million below FY 2012.
    • However, NASA’s Science Programs budget would receive $5.1 billion, an increase of $5 million over FY 2012.

The total funding levels in H.R. 5326 are based on the House Republican’s Budget Resolution, passed earlier this year, which sets a $1.028 trillion discretionary spending cap – lower than the $1.047 trillion cap agreed to in last year’s Budget Control Act. As such, the bill is facing opposition from Democrats and a veto threat from President Obama, who are concerned primarily about cuts to several non-science programs and with the total funding levels proposed. The bill is expected to pass the House, but is not likely to pass the Senate.

The Senate version of the CJS appropriations bill – which follows the Budget Control Act funding levels – was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in late April but has not yet been brought to the full Senate for consideration. Overall science R&D funding levels in the Senate bill are relatively close to those in the House bill.

As Congress continues to move forward with the FY 2013 appropriations process, be sure to contact your legislators and let them know you support sustained federal investments in R&D.


Job Announcement - NSF Assistant Director for Engineering

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently seeking an Assistant Director for Engineering (AD/ENG). Joseph J. Helble, Dean and Professor of Engineering at Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, will be leading the Search Advisory Committee.

The NSF is requesting recommendation for candidates. Such recommendations may come from any sector, including academic, industry, or government. Review criteria will include strategic vision; leadership, direction, representation; commitment; and credibility within research and education community.

There are five divisions managed by the AD/GEO, including: Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems; Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation; Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems; Engineering Education and Centers; Industrial Innovation and Partnerships. The AD/ENG will work with NSF's senior management and policy team, as well as the Engineering Directorate programs and initiatives. Employment may be on a temporary or permanent basis in the Federal Service or by temporary assignment under provisions of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act.

Please send your recommendations, including any supporting information which you might be able to provide, to AD/ENG Screening Committee by June 1, 2012 via email geosrch@listserv.nsf.gov or at the following address: National Science Foundation, Office of the Director, Suite 1205, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230.


President Obama’s FY 2013 Budget Proposal Supports Science and Innovation

This week President Obama unveiled his FY 2013 Budget request, which has a strong focus on research and development (R&D), education and innovation. The proposed budget includes increased funding for R&D programs, training programs for high-tech manufacturing jobs, and investments aimed at improving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. However, funding levels for some Department of Defense science and technology programs would be decreased under this plan.

The budget requests $140.8 billion total for R&D funding, and $70 billion overall for the Department of Education. Some science related highlights included in those amounts are:

  • $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation - $340 million more than FY 2012
  • $4.992 billion for the Department of Energy Office of Science - $118 million more than FY 2012
  • $708 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology - $86 million more than FY 2012
  • $2.2 billion for advanced manufacturing R&D programs across multiple agencies, including NSF, NIST, and DOE.
  • $260 million total for STEM Ed programs, including initiatives to recruit and train 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next 10 years.
  • $2.12 billion for DOD Basic Research (6.1) programs - $2 million more than FY 2012.
  • $4.49 billion for DOD Applied Research (6.2) programs - $260 million less than FY 2012
  • $5.37 billion for DOD Advanced Technology Development (6.3) programs - $45 million less than FY 2012
  • $2.817 billion for DAPRA – a marginal increase of FY 2012 ($2.816 billion)

Later this year, Congress will take the President’s budget request into consideration while drafting the FY 2013 appropriations bills, which have a completion deadline of September 30.

Posted: February 15, 2012


White House Hosts Science Fair

On February 7, President Obama hosted the second annual White House Science Fair. Over 100 student winners of science fairs across the country were invited to participate and exhibit their projects for the President. More than twice as many teams than last year participated in the fair, hailing from 45 states. Videos of the President touring the projects and speaking to the attendees are available on the White House website, as is a list of participants.

During his remarks at the event, President Obama outlined his plans to increase and improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the US. Part of those plans is a $22 million private sector initiative to train 100,000 new science and math teachers. The initiative, led by the Carnegie Corporation, the initiative is a coalition of more than 100 CEOs that are aiming to improve math and science programs at 130 sites across the country. You can read more about the program on Carnegie Corporation’s website.

The President also indicated that his FY 2013 budget proposal – which will be given to Congress next week – includes programs to help train science and math teachers and meet a goal of increasing US STEM graduates by one million over the next 10 years. More details will be available after the budget is released.

Posted: February 9, 2012


2012 Defense Strategic Plan Includes Support for R&D

Recently, President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey released the 2012 strategic guidance plan for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The strategy is designed to contend with the significant budget cuts and refocus national security priorities after the close of the Iraq war and the start of the draw down in Afghanistan. In the plan, the authors reiterate the need to continue to invest in research and development and innovation programs, saying “the Department will make every effort to maintain an adequate industrial base and our investment in science and technology.”

Posted: January 20, 2012


OSA Member Named Chair of President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science

Recently, President Obama announced several nominations to Administration positions. Among them was OSA Fellow Member Dr. Margaret Murnane, who has been tapped to serve as the Chair of the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science. She first began serving on the committee in 2010.

Murnane, an OSA Member since 1987, is a Distinguished Professor in the Physics Department at the University of Colorado. In addition to being named an OSA Fellow in 1998, she is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), JILA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science and the National Academy of Sciences, and has won numerous awards in recognition of her work including the 2011 Royal Dublin Society Irish Times Boyle Medal for Science Excellence, OSA’s 2010 R.W. Wood Prize, APS’ 2010 Schawlow Prize and the 2009 Ahmed Zewail Award of the American Chemical Society.

The National Medal of Science was established in 1959 and is given annually to individuals in recognition of their contributions to the sciences. The Committee, comprised of 12 scientists and engineers, is appointed by the President to evaluate nominees for the Award. Since its inception the Medal has been awarded to 468 recipients, including laser pioneers Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes.

Posted: January 10, 2012