November 2010

Legislative Update

Before packing their bags and heading home for their October recess, members of Congress were busy debating federal budgets, discussing federal funding for stem cell research and naming officials to key posts within the Obama administration. What follows is a synopsis of their activities in the past few weeks.

Benjamin W. Corb is the new ASBMB director of public affairs. He replaces longtime ASBMB public affairs chief Peter Farnham who retires at the end of this year. Corb has spent the past two years as director of public affairs at the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, serving as the chief public face of the organization before institute partners, the White House and Congress. Before that, he served as a senior technical coordinator for the Next Generation Air Transportation System Institute, a government affairs representative for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a management analyst for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Congress Passes a Continuing Resolution

Before departing for the month of October in advance of the November elections, Congress passed a continuing resolution, which will keep federal agencies opened and operating at fiscal 2010 budget levels through Dec. 3. The CR accomplishes two important goals. Most importantly, it keeps the federal government operating and researchers researching. Also, with a December expiration date, the resolution allows the time necessary for the legislative wrangling to take place after the election, as a “lame-duck” Congress returns to establish a budget for fiscal 2011.

What does this mean for the biomedical research community? More business as usual, as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and all other agencies will be operating with the same budget they’ve spent most of the year with. There is, however, cause for concern. The biomedical research community (including the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) has spent much of the summer of 2010 negotiating with appropriators for a 3 percent increase in funding at the NIH, raising the funding level to nearly $32 billion for fiscal 2011. This increase was accepted widely by lawmakers, and the community was beginning to feel optimistic in its passage for fiscal 2011. With a CR, and potentially a new Congress after the election, there no longer may be the political willingness to accept increases in discretionary spending. If the debate in Congress in advance of passage of the CR is any indication, 2011 may be a difficult year. Senators successfully defeated two separate amendments to the CR which called for an across-the-board 5 percent cut to discretionary funding for the length of the CR.

Stem Cell Rulings Come – Future Remains in Question

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit extended its suspension of the preliminary injunction issued by a lower court that had barred federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. This procedural decision means the NIH can continue funding hESC research as the appeals court considers the government’s appeal of the preliminary injunction. For more information, see this month's Washington Update column.

The National Science Foundation Has New Director

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Subra Suresh, President Barack Obama’s nominee for director of the National Science Foundation, for a six-year term.

Suresh, 54, served as dean of the engineering school and as Vannevar Bush professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A mechanical engineer who later became interested in materials science and biology, Suresh has done pioneering work studying the biomechanics of blood cells under the influence of diseases such as malaria.

From 2000 to 2006, Suresh served as the head of the MIT department of materials science and engineering. He joined MIT in 1993 as the R. P. Simmons professor of materials science and engineering and held joint faculty appointments in the departments of mechanical engineering and biological engineering, as well as the division of health sciences and technology.

Highlights from the Policy Blotter

The ASBMB Policy Blotter blog posts regular news and commentary about current science policy issues. Below are some recent highlights.

• Recent Reports Highlight STEM Education
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education has been the focus of a series of reports released by different governmental agencies within the past few weeks.

• National Science Foundation Has New Director
On Sept. 29, the U.S. Senate confirmed Subra Suresh, President Barack Obama’s nominee for director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), for a six-year term.

• Science Featured In National Events
Science is in the national spotlight as events and award ceremonies around the country take place.

Suresh holds a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, a master’s degree from Iowa State University and a doctor of science degree from MIT in 1981.

Suresh was nominated by President Obama to become the new NSF director on June 8. He replaces Arden L. Bement, Jr., who led the agency from 2004 until he resigned in May of this year.

NSF’s budget for 2010 is $6.9 billion. The agency’s budget request for 2011 is $7.4 billion, an 8 percent increase over 2010, which supports the President’s goal of increasing the nation’s total public and private investment in research and development to at least 3 percent of the gross domestic product.

Election Day – Nov. 2

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, Americans will take to the polls and exercise the most important right we have in a democracy. Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or other…take the time on Tuesday to vote. The next Congress has some very serious issues to contend with, including a struggling economy and a growing deficient. The decisions they make may directly impact you, your lab and your ability to conduct the vital research you do on a daily basis.

Benjamin W. Corb ( is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

found= true1038