FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

FYI This Month: October 2013

Richard M. Jones
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Highlights of developments in Washington impacting the physics community from FYI, the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News

Federal Government Shutdown: Science and Technology Agency Information

When Fiscal Year 2014 started on October 1 no appropriations bills had been passed providing funding for the continued operations of the federal government. Many agencies posted information on how the shutdown would affect their operations.

President Signs Helium Bill into Law

The White House announced that President Obama signed the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 into law.  The law allows the Secretary of the Interior to continue sales from the Federal Helium Reserve, with the goal of ending federal involvement in helium sales by September 2021. 

House Space Subcommittee Discusses Aging NASA Infrastructure

A hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology’s Space Subcommittee reviewed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s efforts to manage its facilities and infrastructure.  Subcommittee members shared a concern about the agency's ability to manage its facilities in tight fiscal conditions and uncertain budgets.

Provisions of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013

Almost seventeen months after Congress held its first hearing on the impending closure of the Federal Helium Reserve, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 was signed into law.  Public Law 113-40 allows continued operation of the Reserve while moving toward the goal of ending federal involvement in helium operations. The law establishes an auction system for the sale of helium in the Reserve, and mandates that all property, equipment, and interests held by the United States in this Reserve be disposed of by September 2021.  Importantly, P.L. 113-40 contains provisions assuring continued access to helium for federal agencies and the holders of federal research grants.  The law also authorizes programs on an assessment of the helium gas resource, low-BTU gas separation, helium conservation, and helium-3 separation.

House Subcommittees Discuss Weather Forecasting Gaps

A hearing of the Subcommittees on Oversight and Environment of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee provided Members with an update on potential national weather satellite coverage gaps.  A Government Accountability Office report identified a high probability in gaps in satellite coverage and addressed mitigation of those gaps in weather satellite data.   During the hearing, Members discussed the Administration’s priorities in research and funding for weather and climate-monitoring satellites.

Federal Operations Resume

Federal operations resumed in mid-October after a 16 day shutdown following the enactment of a short-term funding bill.  Under this legislation, the House and Senate will be required to meet  to decide on an overall discretionary spending level (that includes S&T program funding) for the current fiscal year that started on October 1.  While both chambers approved separate spending plans in March, a formal conference was never convened.  The House and Senate levels differ by $91 billion, and negotiations to arrive at a compromise level will be difficult. 

Physics Organizations Endorse Letter on COMPETES Act

The American Institute of Physics and three of its Member Societies - the American Astronomical Society, American Physical Society, and the Optical Society - endorsed a letter addressing the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.

Contentious House Hearing on Yucca Mountain

A House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy hearing followed a U.S. Court of Appeals decision regarding a series of NRC actions in 2010 resulting in the suspension of its review of a Department of Energy license application for the construction of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  The court ordered that “the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must promptly continue with the legally mandated licensing process for the proposed repository.”

APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics

The American Physical Society will host eight Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics in mid-January 2014.  The conferences are aimed at providing women undergraduate students with information and resources to support them as they pursue a career in physics.  The American Physical Society is a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics.

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics