HIGHLIGHTS OF DEVELOPMENTS IN WASHINGTON IMPACTING THE PHYSICS COMMUNITY FROM FYI, THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS BULLETIN OF SCIENCE POLICY NEWS
Richard M. Jones, Audrey T. Leath
ENERGY POLICY BILLS: The House has passed a comprehensive energy policy bill (H.R. 6), while floor debate on an energy bill (S. 14) in the Senate is likely to last until September. Both the House bill and the bill currently under consideration in the Senate would authorize significant increases over the next several years to the budget of DOE's Office of Science. The Senate bill would also create an Under Secretary for Energy and Science position within DOE, and reconfigure the position of Director of the Office of Science to be the Assistant Secretary for Science. Many controversial amendments are expected to be offered during the Senate floor debate, including one to establish a market-driven system for trading greenhouse gas emission allowances.
DOD AUTHORIZATION BILLS: Both the House and Senate have completed their FY 2004 Defense Department authorization bills (H.R. 1588 and S. 1050). Under both bills, the total authorized funding level for basic and applied research and advanced technology development (6.1, 6.2 and 6.3) would remain about the same as current funding, representing approximately 2.7% of the entire DOD budget. However, within that total, the two bills authorize cuts for Basic and Applied Research, while significant increases are recommended for Advanced Technology Development. Attempts to require congressional notification before any resumption of nuclear testing failed, as did attempts to maintain a prohibition against any R&D on low-yield (five kilotons or less) nuclear weapons. Instead, a compromise was agreed to that would authorize research, but require congressional approval for advanced development or production, of low-yield weapons.
NEW SCIENCE EDUCATION REPORT: Science and math are often viewed by students as "too hard, too inaccessible, too elitist, too boring, or too unfashionable," according to a new report from the Committee for Economic Development. In its report, this organization of industry and education leaders calls on businesses to become more involved in K-12 education, and frames the improvement of science and math instruction as an issue of importance to the nation's labor market, economic growth, and national security. In contrast to many similar reports, the CED document targets the "demand" side - student interest - as well as the "supply" side of educational reform.
NANOTECHNOLOGY LEGISLATION: By an overwhelming vote of 405- 19, the House passed a bill (H.R. 766) that would expand upon the federal government's current efforts in nanotechnology. The bill authorizes $2.4 billion for nanotechnology R&D over the next three years. Both this legislation and a similar bill working its way through the Senate (S. 189) enjoy bipartisan support.
ADMINISTRATION VIEWS ON ITER: On May 5 an OSTP official described the Administration's position regarding U.S. participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. "If the U.S. joins ITER it would not be as a lead player," he said. He added that the U.S. has no interest in hosting the facility and remains neutral as to the site selection, and that until the expected commencement of construction in FY 2006, the U.S. decision to participate in the project "will be overall budget neutral."
"DIRTY BOMB" BILLS: Legislation has been introduced in both chambers to enhance the security of radioactive materials that could be used in a radiological dispersal device, or "dirty bomb." In an address at an International Atomic Energy Agency conference, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham also emphasized the importance of tracking and safeguarding such radioactive materials, which have many beneficial applications in medicine and other fields (FYI #67).