What we watched in 2014: a recap of the year ?>

What we watched in 2014: a recap of the year

In January, we published a series of five articles on science policy topics to watch in 2014. Let’s take a look at what happened with these issues.

Federal research funding. On Jan. 22, President Obama signed the fiscal 2014 omnibus appropriations bill into law. The National Science Foundation’s budget was increased by $300 million, and the National Institutes of Health received a $1 billion increase. However, these appropriations still fell short of FY13 funding prior to sequestration. Congress then turned to the FY15 appropriations process, which did not fare much better.

President Obama signed the CRomnibus funding package on Dec. 16, which will fund most of the government through FY15. The CRomnibus includes a $150 million increase over FY14 for the NIH and a $172 million increase for the NSF. The NIH’s increase does not keep pace with inflation, resulting in a net decrease in the agency’s purchasing power. Fortunately, no policy riders were included to restrict research funding at the NSF, although some riders were included for the NIH. The new 114th Congress will begin the FY16 appropriations process shortly after it is sworn in on Jan. 6, 2015.

Peer review legislation. At the beginning of the year, we were watching with trepidation for revisions to H.R. 4186, better known as the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act. While this bill passed the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, it was never brought up for a vote in the U.S. House and will die at the end of the 113th Congress. While the relationship between SST Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and the NSF was strained throughout the year, the NSF recently released new transparency and accountability policies. Smith said he was encouraged by the new policies and that, “Congress and taxpayers will be eager to see how the new NSF national interest criterion is implemented.” It is unclear if the FIRST Act will be reintroduced in 2015, although it does appear Smith’s relationship with the NSF might be thawing.

Immigration reform. While no legislation was passed to reform immigration policies or increase the number of visas available to those in STEM professions, President Obama’s executive order on immigration will affect many foreign-born scientists. More students will be able to work longer on their student visas; entrepreneurs will find it easier to immigrate and establish businesses; it will be less challenging for companies to transfer foreign workers to the U.S. and for skilled immigrants already in the U.S. to move to same or similar jobs; these workers will be able to seek permanent residency or green cards upon visa approval, and their spouses will find it easier to receive employment authorization. Immigration continues to be a topic of interest for both parties, so expect more discussion in 2015.

Big versus small science. To refresh you, big science refers to large, multi-lab, multi-institution programs like the Human Genome Project. The past year continued to see investment in large projects, and Congress recently appropriated an additional $25 million specifically for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. On the other hand, the NIH scrapped the National Children’s Study based on poor reviews. Funding for small science via investigator-initiated R01s did not change much, and things are not expected to be any different in 2015. However, look for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to release a request for applications for a new investigator-initiated funding program in early 2015. The Blotter will have more information on the program in the coming weeks.

Travel of federal employees. Legislation (H.R. 313 and S. 1347) to restrict the travel of federal employees, which included travel to scientific conferences, was not passed into law. Similar to 2014, however, the FY15 omnibus appropriations bill restricts travel of more than 50 employees to international conferences. This rider will prevent large numbers of scientists from the NIH, NSF and other federal agencies from attending and engaging with the scientific community at meetings. While congressional staff indicated there may be an exemption made for scientific conferences (conferences for law enforcement are exempted), this did not make it into the final bill. It is unclear if this will change in 2015.

We will be posting a list of science policy topics to watch in 2015 next month. Follow the blog to stay up to date on science policy news.

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