SBIR Reauthorization Moves Forward in House and Senate
Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
passed legislation to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation
Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The Senate legislation (S.1233), spearheaded by Small Business
Committee Chairwoman Mary L. Landrieu (LA) and Ranking Member Olympia J. Snowe (ME), is matched in the House by four bills:
H.R. 2772 and
H.R. 2747, which are expected to be combined before conference with the Senate version.
The Senate bill would increase the set-aside to fund the SBIR program from 2.5% to 3.5% of any federal agency budget that provides more
than $100 million for research, in annual increments of .1% per year starting in 2011 and ending in 2020. This increase in the set-aside
would apply to eleven federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health (through the Department of Health and Human Services),
National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and United States Department of Agriculture. In an earlier version of the bill, NIH was
exempted from the increase, but the exemption was eliminated yesterday. The set-aside increase has raised concern in the research
community, as it would redirect a larger portion of science agency budgets away from the competitive peer-review and grant awarding
process at a time when future research budgets are uncertain.
On June 17th, FASEB President Richard Marchase wrote a
letter to Senate Small Business Committee members expressing opposition to the
measure. The House legislation, considered at a
hearing the same day, does not include a set-aside increase for SBIR and will be examined
by both the House Small Business Committee and the House Committee on Science and Technology. Without Congressional action, SBIR will
expire on July 31st and STTR on September 30th.
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Secretary Sebelius Defends FY 2010 Budget to Appropriations Subcommittee
On June 9th, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius
appeared before the Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to discuss and defend the Administration’s FY 2010 budget for the
discussed health care reform plans and touted investments made in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through
the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the FY 2010 budget, stating, “The President is committed to a safer, healthier
and more prosperous America.” The 2010 President’s budget request for the NIH is approximately $31 billion, and places a focus
on addressing cancer and autism. Sebelius emphasized the role of prevention and wellness as well as elimination of waste and fraud
in reducing health care costs and improving the health of Americans. Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA), in his opening
statement, also discussed health care reform as well as biomedical research and drug safety.
Senator Harkin (IA) and Senator Arlen Specter (PA) both expressed concerns about the NIH budget request and criticized the Secretary
for the low increase in FY 2010. Specter urged the Secretary reexamine the NIH budget, and commented that ARRA funds should not be
included when the baseline is considered because those funds were for recovery, not regular investment in NIH. Harkin expressed
concerns about the effect of recent years of flat funding and mounting inflation on the NIH budget. Sebelius acknowledged a
concern that funding not “fall off the edge of the cliff” after ARRA funds run out. Specter also warned Sebelius about the
dangers of disease-specific funding allocations and “politicizing” the NIH funding process by “picking and choosing” which
diseases NIH should be researching; he encouraged her to leave funding decisions to NIH’s peer review process. Harkin agreed,
also questioning the disease targets in budget request. The discussion about the NIH budget and disease targeting echoed the
hearing the previous week when Sebelius appeared before House appropriators to defend the budget.
Other issues addressed at the hearing included access to health care for rural communities and comparative effectiveness research.
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FASEB Scientists Meet With Congress on
Great Ape Protection Act
FASEB scientists met with House leaders and members of the House Energy and Commerce committee on June 18th to discuss the Great Ape
Protection Act (H.R. 1326), a bill
opposed by FASEB which would ban invasive research or blood and tissue collection from chimpanzees and
other great apes. American Physiological Society members Dr. Robert Shade, from the Southwest National Primate Research Center, and Dr.
Kevin Kregel, from the University of Iowa and chair of FASEB’s animal research issues subcommittee, together with Drs. Joann Boughman,
Executive Director of the American Society for Human Genetics, and Jennifer Zeitzer of FASEB’s Office of Public Affairs, raised concerns
about the implications of the legislation for biomedical research.
The group, which met with the offices of Rep. Waxman (CA-30), Barton (TX-06), Markey (MA-08), Braley (IA-01), and Van Hollen (MD-08), as
well as with Congressman Charles Gonzalez (TX-20) himself, pointed out that the chimpanzee was the only animal model available for
diseases such as hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, and respiratory syncytial virus. Currently, the United States is the only country with research
colonies of chimpanzees; if the bill were passed, it would halt promising ongoing research developing vaccines and treatments. The
scientists also addressed the concern that the bill could eliminate research intended to benefit great apes themselves, both in
captivity and in the wild. For example, chimps are greatly threatened in the wild by the Ebola virus and current attempts to develop
a chimpanzee vaccine against Ebola would be prohibited by the bill. The legislation currently has 57 cosponsors and has been
referred to the subcommittee on Health under the House Energy and Commerce committee.
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FASEB Joins Scientific Community On Visa Delays Statement
FASEB joined with over 30 science and higher education organizations in a
statement and recommendations addressing the growing problem
of visa delays for scientists and engineers traveling to the United States. The statement described the potential harm visa problems
could cause to the country’s scientific, economic, and security interests and called for “a visa system that supports international
exchange and cooperation.” The group made a number of recommendations to help mitigate the problems, including addressing the current
backlog of applications, reducing repetitive processing for scientists and scholars who regularly visit the U.S., establishing more
consistent protocols, and increasing transparency in the system. There were also very specific suggestions related to reducing the list
of sensitive subjects on the Technology Alert List and considering reciprocity agreements that only allow visitors from countries like
China a single entry before visa renewal. Finally, the statement urged a high level review of all visa policies put into place since
9/11. The State Department is aware of the current problem with delays in visa processing and recently announced they had brought
in additional staff to tackle the backlog of applications as well as revising procedures to expedite reviews.
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