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March 2011 Issue

Obama, Congress Compete Over Budgets for FY 11, FY 12
With a continuing resolution from fiscal year (FY) 2010 keeping the government running and President Barack Obama’s FY 12 budget being released in February, lawmakers spent much of last month debating the budget.

In a hearing of the House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee last month, Republicans expressed a number of concerns to Dr. John Holdren, chief science and technology advisor to the president, about spending levels and relative prioritization of funding in FY 12, along with concerns about the research and development (R&D) budget.

“Our debt today is slightly over $14 trillion dollars, and our nation’s budget deficit has increased 50 percent over the last three years,” said committee chairman Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas). “This level of spending is simply not sustainable.” 

The president’s FY 12 budget proposes a total of $147.9 billion for R&D across all agencies, representing a $772 million increase over the FY 10 enacted level. The proposed FY 12 budget does not treat R&D uniformly, but rather provides significant increases in some areas, while reducing or freezing spending in other areas.

  Republicans raised concerns with several aspects of the proposal, particularly the increases in funding for climate change research. Hall said that from 2006 through the present, the U.S. has spent nearly $36 billion on climate change response and research, but he questioned whether that spending had meaningful benefits.

  Republicans also raised concerns over the administration’s response to issues related to scientific integrity, concerns over regulations and tax policies, and concerns over priorities represented in the budget’s energy R&D portfolio.

Democrats at the committee meeting defended the president’s proposed FY 12 funding, with ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) saying it would promote innovation and maintain economic competitiveness.

“This committee has heard countless witnesses from industry, academia and government over the past several years testify that investments in science and technology and in [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education must be a cornerstone of any serious long-term strategy to keep America competitive,” Johnson said. “We can disagree over some of the specific choices in this budget proposal, but I share with the president the same goal of maintaining a strong national science and technology enterprise and ensuring that all of our young people are prepared for the technical careers of the future.”


Legislation Introduced to Compensate Workers Killed or Injured on Deepwater Horizon
Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) introduced legislation in January designed to remove limits on the amount of compensation possible for the families of those killed or injured in the Deepwater Horizon explosion last year.

Rockefeller said the legislation, known as the Deepwater Horizon Survivors’ Fairness Act, fixes loopholes in liability statutes so that victims’ families can receive the same compensation available to survivors of those injured or killed in accidents on land. The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

“While we should be fixing this area of maritime law for all circumstances, at a very minimum, we should treat families who lost loved ones in the Deepwater Horizon explosion fairly and equitably,” Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller’s legislation amends three maritime laws—the Shipowners’ Liability Act of 1851, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOSHA) and the Jones Act—all of which limit compensation for families of anyone killed on the high seas. DOSHA, for example, limits liability to economic damages only. Current laws do not permit widows who lost their husbands on the Deepwater Horizon to recover damages for the loss of care, comfort or companionship—damages available to survivors of land-based accidents.

“Our maritime laws are antiquated and unfair,” Rockefeller said. “They treat families of workers killed or injured at sea like second-class citizens—somehow deserving of less support than the families of those injured on land. It’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s got to change.”


Gates Works to Kill Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle; Cuts Expected to Save $12 Billion
Seeking to cut costs in the military, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced in January that he was seeking termination of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, and the House passed legislation in February that would allow the program to be cut.

The EFV program, run by General Dynamics (Falls Church, Virginia), has already cost $3.3 billion and would require an additional $13 billion to complete all 573 planned vehicles. The Pentagon estimates the move will save about $12 billion over the length of the program.

The EFV, which is currently going through testing, has water speeds of up to 25 knots and an operating sea range of 56 nautical miles. On land, the EFV is designed to travel at speeds of up to 42 miles per hour with an operational range of 300 miles.

Marine Corps Gen. James Amos said he supported the decision to end the EFV program and to pursue a more affordable amphibious tracked fighting vehicle. “Despite the critical amphibious and warfighting capability the EFV represents, the program is simply not affordable given likely Marine Corps procurement budgets. The procurement and operations/maintenance costs of this vehicle are onerous.”

Amos said that pending approval from Congress to cancel the EFV program, the Marine Corps would issue a special notice to industry requesting information on supporting required amphibious capabilities.

The cancellation drew protests from senators and representatives in Ohio, where the EFV is manufactured. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) sent a letter in January to President Barack Obama urging him to prevent the Department of Defense from ending the program.

“Eliminating this program is simply the wrong fiscal decision: More taxpayer money is at stake by ending this venture and starting again,” Jordan said.



2012:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
2011:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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