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Congress Appears Gridlocked for Remainder of Year

1 July 2010 1,068 views No Comment
This column is written to inform ASA members about what the ASA is doing to promote the inclusion of statistics in policymaking and the funding of statistics research. To suggest science policy topics for the ASA to address, contact ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson at pierson@amstat.org.

Pierson-color copySteve Pierson earned his PhD in physics from the University of Minnesota. He spent eight years in the physics department of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and later became head of government relations at the American Physical Society.

As election-year maneuvering ramps up, congressional progress is slowing to a near standstill. Little is expected to happen other than the Senate reviewing the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. The gridlock affects a number of science-related bills, including some of interest to the statistical community.

Hitting closest to home for the science and technology (S&T) community were the two failures this spring to reauthorize the America COMPETES bill. The original COMPETES acted on the recommendations of the National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm report to improve America’s competitiveness by increasing basic research funding and improving science and math education. Passing the House in 2007 by 367–57, the bill was a significant bipartisan success. While not expected to have such strong bipartisan support in the House this year, the reauthorization was expected to pass without trouble. The bill, however, was withdrawn by Democrats after a successful effort by Republicans to gut the S&T funding provisions; a subsequent scaled-back version of the bill also failed to pass. The bill finally passed 262–150 on the third attempt.

Few expect Congress to finish its appropriations bills before the start of fiscal year 2011 (FY11) on October 1. In fact, most people are speculating about how long into FY11 the continuing resolutions (CRs)—which will fund the government at FY10 levels—will go and what form the eventual FY11 budget will take.

The National Institutes of Health could be hit hard by an appropriations stalemate, as its budget effectively goes down by $5 billion—the amount provided as additional funding for both FY09 and FY10 in last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The hope in the community is that the FY11 budget will have an increase that will offset this drop. While still possible, any increase would not be realized until well into FY11, and Congress would have to find additional funding in a tight fiscal environment to go beyond the administration’s requested $1 billion increase (on the baseline budget.)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and federal statistical agencies would also be affected by a CR to start FY11, particularly agencies requesting significant increases. (Click here to see my April column.) If Congress approved the FY11 budgets by October 1 with the increases requested, the planning for and implementation of the increased funding would be most effective. Otherwise, agencies must operate tentatively through the start of FY11, not knowing when they will get their FY11 budgets or what they will be.

The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, renamed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now appears more likely to be taken up in the next congressional session. Chances of a Senate companion bill to the Waxman-Markey climate bill dimmed when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was negotiating a bill with senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), withdrew his support to protest Senate majority plans to prioritize immigration reform.

There are other initiatives of interest to the statistical community that may advance. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs marked up the Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act in April, advancing it without opposition (although Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said he would address budget issues raised by the Commerce Department once the bill goes to the floor).

Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee made public a draft outline for forensic science reform legislation in early May in response to the National Academies’ 2009 Strengthening Forensic Science report, which the ASA Board endorsed in April. The draft outline establishes an Office of Forensic Science (OFS) in the office of the Deputy Attorney General and a Forensic Science Commission staffed by OFS. This is in contrast to the Strengthening Forensic Science call for a National Institute for Forensic Science that “must not be in any way committed to the existing system” and “must not be part of a law enforcement agency.” The ASA has submitted comments on the outline.

Legislation is also expected for the reauthorization of the Department of Justice and Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Anticipating such legislation, 2009 ASA President Sally Morton wrote Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan last year urging greater autonomy for the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics in accordance with the National Academies’ Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency.

The administration has also been working on a “data synchronization” proposal to facilitate sharing IRS business tax data throughout the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Bureau of Labor Statistics. The proposal could be finalized and proposed to Congress this summer.

Finally, the ASA’s K–16 education manager, Rebecca Nichols, and I continue to work toward having a statistical literacy bill introduced as part of our ongoing effort to ensure statistical literacy is promoted in the ESEA reauthorization.

Stay tuned to see how far these initiatives—and the other bills discussed here—advance.

Science Policy Actions

The ASA signs a letter supporting a National Institutes of Health FY11 budget of $35 billion.

The ASA presidents sign letters to North Carolina senators, requesting help in promoting statistical literacy.

The ASA signs letters in support of the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.

The ASA president sends a letter to a Department of Transportation official about the lack of statisticians on the Advisory Council for Transportation Statistics.

ASA president sends letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy regarding his committee’s draft outline for forensic science reform.

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