Will Weather Forecasts Falter? Sequestration, School Lunch, Space Flight, MOOCs, and More.

The Presidential and Congressional elections remain just a day away, and the future of federal policy in key areas, including science, research, agriculture, intellectual property, energy, environment, and education hang in the balance.  When Members of Congress return on November 13, 2012, future policy approaches will begin to crystalize.

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Timely Topics: An Absence of Weather Satellites?

Capitol News:

  • Congress: Lame-duck Doubts; School Lunch; FDA Oversight
  • Administration & Independent Agencies: NIH Blog; NSF Webinar; ED Loan Program; NRC Reactor Review; NSF Radio.
  • Courts: Copyright.

Presidential Campaigns: Secretary of Business; Climate.

Noteworthy News: EmpowerU; Ocean Policy; College Readiness; NIH Sequestration; FL Tuition Plan; Solar Jobs, Space Flight; Immigrant Innovators; Scientists Mobility; Hybrid Fuels; MOOCs.

In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

Timely Topic:  An Absence of Weather Satellites?

In wake of severe weather calamities, including Hurricane Sandy, the potential loss of key weather satellites causes serious concern.  As reported in The New York Times, experts believe that the US will likely lose satellite coverage, hindering essential weather forecasts, as current satellites reach their end of life and the next satellite known as J.P.S.S.-1, will not be in service until 2017.

NOAA’s environmental satellite programs are part of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service. Several independent reviews of the satellite programs by the Inspector General at Commerce, General Accounting Office and independent experts have strongly criticized the management, questioning cost estimates and lack of urgency to prevent potential problems.  Despite commitments by NOAA and Commerce to address the significant and systemic problems with the Program, a gap seems certain.  Space Policy Online provides additional background information on the programs, including their history and inadequacies.

CAPITOL NEWS: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions

With Members primarily in their home districts for the election and the Administration waiting to learn its fate, federal policy changes are potentially imminent.  Meanwhile, the Supreme Court hears cases and federal official and Members continue to float policy proposals, all waiting for the outcome of Tuesday’s election.


  • Will the Lame-duck Session be Lame?  House leaders continue to doubt that Congress will succeed in passing a comprehensive bill to address looming fiscal issues.  As reported by National Journal, Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) expressed doubt that a grand bargain will be reached before the end of the calendar year, although she felt Congress might address sequestration.
  • School Lunch: Some recent reports indicate there are on-going challenges with USDA’s new school lunch requirements for healthier foods.  As reported in The New York Times blog, some kids are tossing out healthy fruits and vegetables and lunching from the vending machines. In response, to these reports, several Republican members of the House Education and Workforce Committee, including Chairman Kline (R-MN) asked the General Accounting Office to investigate the impact of the program on students, schools and taxpayers.  This follows an earlier letter by some Republican Members, including Kline, to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack on program implementation.
  • FDA Oversight Proposal.  Congressman Markey (D-MA) introduced legislation, Verifying Authority and Legality in Drug (VALID) Compounding Act, to increase FDA oversight of drug compounding pharmacies in response to the drug contamination actions that lead to hundreds of case of meningitis.  According to Congressman Markey’s press release, the Act will, among other things:

—Ensure that compounding pharmacies that are operating as drug manufacturers are regulated by the FDA as drug manufacturers;

—Allow the FDA to waive the requirement to compound drugs solely for individual patients with valid prescriptions in the event of a drug shortage or      to protect public health, and only if they are not copies of commercially-available drugs if doing so is necessary to protect public health or well- being.

Administration & Independent agencies

  • Collins’ Blog.  NIH Director Collins started a blog.  According to the first posting, Director Collins plans “to highlight new discoveries in biology and medicine that I think are game changers, noteworthy, or just plain cool. Depending on what’s going on in the world of biomedical research, I may tell you about an interesting study in a journal, or share my thoughts about a news item or public health issue.”
  • NSF Policy Webinar.  For those interested in recent revisions to the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedure Guide, you may wish to sign up for the upcoming webinar.  NSF issued the newest version of the Guide October 2, 2012 and those changes will apply to proposals submitted, or due, on or after January 14, 2013.
  • Loan Program Changes.  As mentioned in the posting Higher Education and Energy Hang in the Balance, ED proposed the income-based “Pay as You Earn” program linking educational loan repayments to your income.  ED published the final regulations, which according to The Chronicle for Higher Education, effectively reduce the cap for monthly payments to 10% and have loan forgiveness kick in after 20 years, five years earlier than current policy. This change essentially provides the lower rates now, instead of starting in 2014 for new buyers, as Congress intended.
  • Nuclear Reactor Review.  Despite failing to pass the traditional cost/benegit analysis employed by NRC, NRC staff will recommend that emergency vents with filters be installed on US reactors that have similar characteristics to the ones at Fukushima Daiichi, according to The New York Times. The requirement for filtered vents will impact 31 Mark I & Mark II reactors (some have vents without filters), at an estimated cost of $16 million each.  Adding vents would allow a release of gasses and radioactive materials, reducing the odds of an explosion during an accident.  The filters would prevent or reduce the release of radionuclides into the environment.  The nuclear industry plans to object to the recommendation for filters.
  • NSF Radio Program.  NSF announced a new web radio interview program called Prototype that will run on NSF’s Science360 Radio Channel.  According to the NSF press release “guests are entrepreneurs and researchers who carried their breakthroughs from the laboratory to the marketplace and elsewhere in the public sector… each episode highlights the work of researchers from across the agency’s portfolio.”


  • Copyright.  The Supreme Court heard arguments in the copyright case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons.  In that case, a foreign national had friends and family in his home country purchase books, which he later sold for a profit in the US.  The Court’s decision, which will involve an interpretation of the “fair use doctrine,” will impact libraries and publishers. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education the Justices’ questioning did not make clear which way the Court would rule.

The Presidential Campaign

  • Secretary of Business?  President Obama has suggested he would like to consolidate some federal agencies.  The Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama plans to have a Secretary of Business in his second term to manage the consolidated agencies.  The WSJ also reports that the President expects a grand deal on taxes and entitlement reform.
  • Campaigns and Climate.  Despite extreme weather events, neither Presidential candidate has brought climate change to the forefront of their campaign.  As reported in The New York Times, the campaigns have focused more on their desire to promote natural gas and coal than plans to address climate change.  The article provides a history of each candidate’s stance and actions on the issue.


  • College Outcomes: EmpowerU.  Increasing college completion rates remain uniform goal of most federal policy makers although they differ on methods to achieve that goal.  The Texas A&M University System introduced EmpowerU, a plan to create “[a]n outcomes driven higher education system,” that focuses on metrics developed for each campus and system-wide that measure success, including learning outcomes (e.g. decision-making, critical thinking, communication, problem solving, etc.), while focusing on timely graduation. Further, EmpowerU reaches into the Texas K-12 system to include teacher education schools and programs involving teachers, principals, and superintendents to “promote the achievement of all students in the public school system.”
  • Ocean Policy.  In July 2010, President Obama signed an executive order creating the National Ocean Council to address the varied interests and coordinate federal approaches to ocean policy.  As reported in The Washington Post, political battles have ensued, pitting Democrats and environmentalists claiming to protect and reduce battles over ocean uses against Republicans who claim these actions merely reduce access to ocean resources. Congress has failed to create a coordinated ocean policy despite bipartisan commissions recommending almost 10 years ago.  Massachusetts, under former Governor Romney, established “ocean zoning.”  So, the next Administration may pursue some sort of comprehensive ocean policy regards of who becomes President.
  • College Readiness Plan.  The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) released a report, Serving America’s Future: Increasing College Readiness that recommends member institutions begin working with local communities immediately to prepare future students for college.  The Report recommends placing special emphasis on reaching out to children living in poverty since they are most at risk.  Overall, the report recommends a strategic approach “using the RISE model: Work should be Research-based, Intentional, Sustained and Evaluated.”
  • NIH Sequestration Impact.  The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology released an analysis of the impacts of sequestration on NIH funding.  It concludes that NIH will lose $2.8 billion, and provides a state-by-state breakdown of funding cuts.
  • Florida Higher Education Ideas.  The Florida Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education has released a draft proposal that will, according to a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, will raise tuition for students who are not majoring in STEM or other desirable fields.  The piece goes on to challenge the premise behind this action that students and Florida will benefit from charging lower tuition to students in specified fields.  It also challenges the notion the pushing up graduation rates without increasing rigor or cutting funding for universities benefits students
  • Solar Jobs.  As reported by National Journal, the Solar Industry jumped on the monthly jobs announcement to show that the solar industry has created a significant number of new jobs this year.  Specifically, the solar industry reports a 13.2% increase from last year for a total of 119,016 employees, beating the national employment growth rate of 2.3%. As National Journal reports, the industry is hoping this report will counter the negative image created by the Solyndra controversy.
  • Commercial Space Flight.  As the US moves toward commercial carriers to service the International Space Station, The New York Times editorial page reported that the first commercial mission was flawed, but completed.  That in reaching the ISS, the Space X Falcon 9 rocket, moved the US one step closer to relying on commercial carriers and ending reliance on the Russians for transport.
  • Immigrant Innovators.  An opinion piece by Thomas K. McCraw in The New York Times explores that impact immigrants have had on our society.  The piece argues that since our beginning of our Nation, immigrants have helped shape our financial institutions (e.g. Alexander Hamilton), fueled scientific discovery and manufacturing (e.g. Carnegie, Sarnoff), and publishing (Pulitzer).  McCraw attributes much of innovators success to lack of family ties and willingness to embrace mobility.
  • Scientist Global Mobility.  A recent report, Global mobility: Science on the Move in Nature shows how most top scientist travel to work in countries that provide the most financial support for research.  Although the US remains “open,” the report sites that “[p]roportionally, however, Switzerland, Canada and Australia all housed more foreign researchers than the United States, with Switzerland having the highest foreign share, at 57%.”  Further, the article states  that “opportunities to improve their career prospects and outstanding research teams. The excellence of the foreign institution was also important, with quality of life and other personal reasons coming further down the list. For those who had migrated abroad and subsequently returned to their country of origin, however, personal and family reasons scored highest.”
  • New Fuel Technologies and Military Research.  A new video highlights the work being conducted by the Office of Naval Research on hybrid fuels.  Specifically, the video shows the work of three researchers working on the development of solar/fuel hybridization technologies.  The military is looking toward these technologies as a means of reducing the amount of fuel used for Marine Corps tactical operations.
  • Online Education.  As many federal policy makers embrace aspects of online education, MOOCs (massive open online courses) continue to expand.  Major universities, including MIT, Harvard and Stanford, appear to have embraced the approach as a way of reaching many more students.  A recent The New York Times article explores the pros, cons, limitations, history, and future of MOOCs.  I recommend taking a look at this article.

IN THE KNOW: Upcoming Events & Previous Events.

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

 Events Last Week:


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