CAPITOL UPDATE
March 7, 2011
ASME News and Public Policy Updates
Online version and archive:
ASME Government Relations Online/
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In this issue:
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* Two-Week CR Extension Passed by Senate, Signed by President
* Senate Considers “America Invents Act”
* EPA Estimates Clean Air Act to Yield $2 Trillion in Annual Benefits by 2020
* GAO Identifies Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs
* Senate Commerce Committee Kicks Off Series of Manufacturing Related Hearings
* President Issues Proclamation on Women’s History Month
* NSF Report: Share of Black S&E Degrees from HBCUs Declines in 2008
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TWO-WEEK CR EXTENSION PASSED BY SENATE, SIGNED BY PRESIDENT
On March 2nd, the U.S. Senate passed, by a vote of 91 to 9, H.J. Res. 44, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through March 18, 2011.The House of Representatives had approved H.J. Res. 44 on March 1st. President Obama signed the measure on March 2nd, thus avoiding a shutdown of the federal government on March 4th had no agreement on a short-term extension been reached.

Upon Senate passage of H. J. Res. 44, President Obama issued the following statement: “I’m pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together and passed a plan that will cut spending and keep the government running for the next two weeks.  But we cannot keep doing business this way.  Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy.  That’s why I’m calling on Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress to begin meeting immediately with the Vice President, my Chief of Staff, and Budget Director so we can find common ground on a budget that makes sure we are living within our means.  This agreement should cut spending and reduce deficits without damaging economic growth or gutting investments in education, research and development that will create jobs and secure our future.  This agreement should be bipartisan, it should be free of any party’s social or political agenda, and it should be reached without delay.” To review the President’s full statement, please visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/03/02/statement-president-passage-further-continuing-appropriations-amendments

H.J. Res. 44 terminates eight programs for a savings of approximately $1.24 billion.  The programs cut were all targeted for elimination in the President’s budget request and part of proposed cuts in the past by House and Senate members in both parties. Those eight programs include: Election Assistance Grants; the Broadband Direct Loan Subsidy; the Smithsonian Institution Legacy Fund; the Striving Readers Program; the LEAP program; Even Start; Smaller Learning Communities; and, a one-time highway funding addition.
 
Additionally, the bill eliminates more than $2.7 billion in funding previously reserved for earmarks. The earmark funding cuts come from Energy and Water, Homeland Security, Labor/Health and Human Services, Legislative Branch, and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development program accounts.

To read House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers’s floor statement in support of H.J. Res. 44, please visit: http://appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?fuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=267

The complete text of the 20page H.R. Res. 44 may be reviewed at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hjres44eh/pdf/BILLS-112hjres44eh.pdf

Melissa Carl handles public policy-related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for ASME.  She can be reached at: carlm@asme.org

Paul Fakes handles public policy-related research and development (R&D) issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: fakesp@asme.org

Robert Rains handles public policy-related energy issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org
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SENATE CONSIDERS “AMERICA INVENTS ACT”
Last week, the full U.S. Senate began consideration of S. 23, the “America Invents Act,” legislation which would provide comprehensive patent reform for the first time in more than 50 years. Supporters of the bill predict that enactment of S. 23 will update the U.S. patent system, help strengthen the U.S. economy and provide a spring board for further improvements to U.S. intellectual property laws.

S. 23 was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. The three sponsors spoke in support of the bill on the Senate floor.

According to a summary prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), S. 23, also known as the Patent Reform Act of 2011, would:

  • Amend federal patent law to define the "effective filing date" of a claimed invention as the actual filing date of the patent or the application for patent containing a claim to the invention, establishing a first-to-file system to replace the current first-to-invent system;
  • Establish a one-year grace period for inventors to file an application after certain disclosures of the claimed invention by the inventor or another who obtained the subject matter from the inventor;
  • Repeal provisions relating to inventions made abroad and statutory invention registration; and,
  • Replace the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

During Senate floor discussion of the bill, Senator Leahy offered the following comments on the first-to-file provision: “The transition to a first-inventor-to-file system will benefit the patent community in several ways,” said Leahy.  “It will simplify the patent application system and provide increased certainty to businesses that they can commercialize a patent that has been granted.  Once a patent is granted, an inventor can rely on its filing date on the face of the patent.  This certainty is necessary to raise capital, grow businesses, and create jobs.”

To review Senator Leahy’s entire statement, please visit: http://leahy.senate.gov/press/press_releases/release/?id=c017a98a-d1ba-440c-9759-8e786a40ce5f

Paul Fakes handles public policy-related research and development (R&D) issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: fakesp@asme.org
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EPA ESTIMATES CLEAN AIR ACT TO YIELD $2 TRILLION IN ANNUAL BENEFITS BY 2020
On March 1st, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released “The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020,” the third in a series of EPA studies required under the 1990 Clean Air Act (CAA) amendments that estimate the benefits and costs of the act. The reports are intended to provide Congress and the public with comprehensive, up-to-date, peer-reviewed information on the Clean Air Act’s social benefits and costs, including improvements in human health, welfare, and ecological resources, as well as the impact of the act’s provisions on the U.S. economy.

The most recent report shows that the benefits of avoiding early death, preventing heart attacks and asthma attacks, and reducing the number of sick days for employees far exceed costs of implementing clean air protections. In 2010, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than:

  • 160,000 cases of premature mortality;
  • 130,000 heart attacks;
  • 13 million lost work days; and,
  • 1.7 million asthma attacks.

In 2020, the report projects benefits will be even greater, preventing more than:

  • 230,000 cases of premature mortality;
  • 200,000 heart attacks;
  • 17 million lost work days; and,
  • 2.4 million asthma attacks.

According to the report, 85 percent of the $2 trillion benefits will be attributable to reducing risks of early death associated with exposure to ambient fine particle pollution. That amount far exceeds the cost of CAA Amendment-related programs and regulatory compliance actions, which are slated to cost an estimated $65 billion in 2020, as projected in the report.

This report estimates only the benefits from the 1990 CAA amendments. The very wide margin between estimated benefits and costs, and the results of EPA’s uncertainty analysis, suggest that it is extremely unlikely that the benefits of the CAA Amendments over the 1990 to 2020 period could be less than its costs. EPA’s central benefits estimate exceeds costs by a factor of more than 30 to one, and the high benefits estimate exceeds costs by 90 times, while the low benefits estimate exceeds costs by about three to one.

Additional detailed information on the report is available at: http://www.epa.gov/air/sect812/prospective2.html

Robert Rains handles public policy-related environmental issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: rainsr@asme.org
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GAO IDENTIFIES OPPORTUNITIES TO REDUCE POTENTIAL DUPLICATION IN GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), in response to a new statutory requirement that it identify federal programs, agencies and initiatives which have duplicative goals or activities, has released its first annual report to Congress. “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” (GAO-11-318SP March 1, 2011) is divided into two sections:

  • Section I presents 34 areas where agencies, offices, or initiatives have similar or overlapping objectives or provide similar services to the same populations; or, where government missions are fragmented across multiple agencies or programs;
  • Section II summarizes 47 additional areas – beyond those directly related to duplication or fragmentation – describing other opportunities for agencies or Congress to consider taking action that could either reduce the cost of government operations or enhance revenue collections for the Treasury.

Improving the quality of the nation’s teachers is one specific area identified by the report as lacking a coordinated focus. The report found that “federal efforts to improve teacher quality have led to the creation and expansion of a variety of programs across the federal government; however, there is no government-wide strategy to minimize fragmentation, overlap, or duplication among these many programs. Specifically, GAO identified 82 distinct programs designed to help improve teacher quality, either as a primary purpose or as an allowable activity, administered across 10 federal agencies. Many of these programs share similar goals. For example, nine of the 82 programs support improving the quality of teaching in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM subjects) and these programs alone are administered across the Departments of Education, Defense, and Energy; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and the National Science Foundation. Further, in fiscal year 2010, the majority (53) of the programs GAO identified supporting teacher quality improvements received $50 million or less in funding and many have their own separate administrative processes.”

To minimize the duplication of teacher quality improvement programs, the report recommends that “Congress could help eliminate some of these barriers through legislation, particularly through the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and other key education bills. Specifically, to minimize any wasteful fragmentation and overlap among teacher quality programs, Congress may choose either to eliminate programs that are too small to evaluate cost-effectively or combine programs serving similar target groups into a larger program.”

The 345-page report is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11318sp.pdf. The segment dealing with “Teacher Quality: Proliferation of Programs Complicates Federal Efforts to Invest Dollars Effectively” begins on page 149 of the report and concludes on page 155.

Melissa Carl handles public policy-related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) issues for ASME.  She can be reached at: carlm@asme.org
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SENATE COMMERCE COMMITTEE KICKS OFF SERIES OF MANUFACTURING RELATED HEARINGS
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on March 2, 2011 to explore the “Future of American Manufacturing: Maintain America’s Competitive Edge.’  Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) noted that he and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) had set the topic of manufacturing as the theme for the committee this year, and planned to hold a series of hearings on manufacturing topics. 

The Committee welcomed a special guest over from the House of Representatives for an opening statement, Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Minority Whip for the House Democrats.  Rep. Hoyer spoke to the Democrats’ ‘Make it in America’ agenda, kicked off last year as a way to focus on manufacturing, innovation, education, tax and regulatory reform, and other topics important to manufacturing competitiveness in the United States.  Despite the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment from its peak in 1979, the U.S. remains the largest manufacturing exporter in the world with a 21 percent share of global exports to China’s 20 percent share.  A resurgence of American manufacturing holds great promise for the economy, and Rep. Hoyer noted that manufacturing exports have witnessed several months of consistent growth, helping to lead the U.S. economic recovery. 

Commerce Department Secretary Gary Locke spoke to the importance of manufacturing to the U.S. innovation enterprise, as manufacturers perform over 70 percent of all private sector research and development.  Secretary Locke noted that the Obama Administration has ordered a regulatory review to help address regulatory burdens on manufacturers, is working with Congress to advance patent reform issues, and is ready to work with Congress to address other issues affecting manufactures, including the corporate income tax rate and repatriation of foreign earned income – long-time Republican goals. 

To review an archived webcast of the hearing, as well as full testimony and opening statements, please visit:  http://commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Hearings&ContentRecord_id=050cf3d1-6c86-44c9-be23-ca708e57d735&ContentType_id=14f995b9-dfa5-407a-9d35-56cc7152a7ed&Group_id=b06c39af-e033-4cba-9221-de668ca1978a

Paul Fakes handles public policy-related research and development (R&D) issues for ASME.  He can be reached at: fakesp@asme.org
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PRESIDENT ISSUES PROCLAMATION ON WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH
President Obama has proclaimed March 2011 as Women’s History Month. In doing so, he called upon all Americans to observe the month and to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2011 with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that honor the history, accomplishments and contributions of American women.

The proclamation in part, reads as follows:

“In America, we must lead by example in protecting women's rights and supporting their empowerment.  Despite our progress, too many women continue to be paid less than male workers, and women are significantly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.  By tapping into the potential and talents of all our citizens, we can utilize an enormous source of economic growth and prosperity. 

“As we reflect on the triumphs of the past, we must also look to the limitless potential that lies ahead.  To win the future, we must equip the young women of today with the knowledge, skills, and equal access to reach for the promise of tomorrow.  My Administration is making unprecedented investments in education and is working to expand opportunities for women and girls in the STEM fields critical for growth in the 21st century economy.”

The entire text of the proclamation is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/02/28/presidential-proclamation-womens-history-month-2011. For additional information on women who have shaped U.S. history, visit www.WomensHistoryMonth.gov.

Melissa Carl handles public policy-related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce for ASME.  She can be reached at: carlm@asme.org
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NSF REPORT: SHARE OF BLACK S&E DEGREES FROM HBCUS DECLINES IN 2008
Recently released National Science Foundation (NSF) statistics show that while minority academic institutions enroll a substantial number of minority students, the percentage of minorities earning bachelor's degrees in science and engineering (S&E) from minority-serving institutions has declined over time. Statistics published in "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2011" show that 26 percent of blacks earned S&E bachelor's degrees from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in 2000, while only 20 percent earned them from HBCUs in 2008.

According to the report's findings, underrepresented minorities--blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians--are less likely than whites to attend college or to graduate. About 53 percent of blacks and 35 percent of Hispanics versus 68 percent of whites attend college, while 19 percent of blacks and 12 percent of Hispanics versus 37 percent of whites graduate. But for those underrepresented minorities who do graduate, the degree patterns are similar to those of whites.  In fact, the shares of S&E bachelor's and master's degrees for underrepresented minorities have been rising for two decades since 1989. For example, underrepresented minorities received 10 percent of S&E bachelor's degrees in 1989 compared to 17 percent in 2008.

The participation of blacks is substantially lower in S&E occupations, as well as in all professional and related science occupations than it is in the U.S. workforce as a whole. Blacks, who are about 12 percent of the U.S. population, make up only about 3 percent of all U.S. scientists and engineers. Moreover, they are a smaller percentage of engineers than they are of scientists.

The report is available online at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.

Melissa Carl handles public policy-related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce for ASME.  She can be reached at: carlm@asme.org
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THE ARTICLES CONTAINED IN CAPITOL UPDATE ARE NOT POSITIONS OF ASME OR ANY OF ITS SUB-ENTITIES, UNLESS SPECIFICALLY NOTED AS SUCH. THIS PUBLICATION IS DESIGNED TO INFORM ASME MEMBERS ABOUT ISSUES OF CONCERN BEING DEBATED AND DISCUSSED IN THE HALLS OF CONGRESS, IN THE STATES, AND IN THE FEDERAL AGENCIES.
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Website:  ASME Government Relations Online