Issue 15 (July 21)


House Appropriations Committee Approves FY 2021 Funding Bills

During the week of July 13, the House Appropriations Committee completed its marathon markups of its 12 annual appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2021, making way for consideration by the full House of Representatives; the relevant subcommittees advanced their respective measures the week prior.

Despite the semblance of “regular order,” the outlook for final FY 2021 spending bills is still very much up in the air as lawmakers continue to grapple with pandemic relief negotiations and as the November elections approach. In addition, the House bills—which were written by the Democrats—include several funding and policy provisions that will be non-starters for the Republican-controlled Senate. For example, one area of contention between the parties is whether to use the FY 2021 spending bills to provide additional coronavirus relief (as currently included in the House Labor, HHS, Education bill), or to negotiate such measures separately (which is the position of that subcommittee’s Ranking Republican). Also threatening final passage of the FY 2021 bills is the perennial fight over whether to fund the President’s border wall; the House Homeland Security bill contains no funding for the project.

Complicating things further are the budget caps to which appropriators were forced to adhere when writing the FY 2021 bills. As previously reported, a bipartisan budget agreement was passed in August 2019 providing much needed relief from tight budget caps on discretionary spending for FY 2020 and FY 2021. The deal allowed Congress to increase funding to federal agencies across the FY 2020 appropriations bills; however, for FY 2021, the deal raised the caps by only 0.4 percent, setting this year up at the outset to be a particularly challenging one.

Timing for consideration of the FY 2021 spending bills in the Senate remains unclear. The chamber returned from a two-week recess to face ongoing COVID-19 relief negotiations and must-pass defense authorization legislation.

Read on for COSSA’s full analysis of the House FY 2021 funding bills for federal agencies and programs important to the social and behavioral science research community.

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House Budget Committee Holds Hearing on Federal R&D Spending

On July 8, the House Committee on the Budget held a hearing focused on the federal role in research and development (R&D) in fueling American innovation and recovery in light of the effort to combat the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee heard testimony from several experts on the research and development enterprise including CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Sudip Parikh, Professor at New York University Paul Romer, President and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness Deborah Wince-Smith, and Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School Willy Shih.

The Committee questioned the witnesses on a variety of topics including the ideal level of federal R&D spending as a percentage of GDP, research on mobilizing the manufacturing sector, the development of graduate students in research careers, the merits of the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act (see COSSA’s previous coverage for more details) in assisting the U.S. research enterprise, and the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) order regarding international students at U.S. universities. AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh also lauded the role of social scientists in prescribing policy, noting the importance of data and transparency in that effort. A recording of the hearing and the witnesses’ testimonies are available on the Committee website.

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HHS Bypasses CDC in COVID-19 Data Collection, Sparking Concerns

On July 10, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released new guidance that instructed hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in reporting COVID-19 data and instead send the information directly to the Department through a relatively new system called HHS Protect. The change has raised concerns among many public health and science stakeholder groups that it could signal an effort to sideline the CDC in responding to the pandemic and to limit the data available to the public.

Prior to the change, hospitals submitted COVID-19 information to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), which released data on hospital capacity and staffing, but is now no longer being updated. While some reporting indicates that HHS officials intend to make data collected by the new system publicly available at some point, no concrete plans to do so have been announced.

COSSA joined nearly 100 stakeholder organization in a letter to the Coronavirus Task Force calling for the Administration to reverse this decision and commit to ensuring that COVID-19 data remains publicly available.

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NIH Releases Agency-Wide Strategic Plan for COVID-19 Research

On July 13, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released an agency-wide strategic plan on how NIH intends to direct research in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan is intended to provide a framework of new research programs and repurposing of existing programs that would assist in mobilizing the research community in developing treatments, prevention methods, and vaccines. The strategic plan cites five overarching priorities for NIH in responding to COVID-19:

  • Improve fundamental knowledge of COVID-19 disease progression, outcomes, and recovery.
  • Advance research to improve detection by developing and validating new assays and retooling existing diagnostic platforms.
  • Support research to advance treatment by evaluating new or repurposing existing treatments and defining implementation strategies.
  • Accelerate research to improve prevention by developing vaccines, other methods to prevent transmission, and implementation models.
  • Prevent and redress poor COVID-19 outcomes in health disparity and vulnerable populations.

The strategic plan and more information is available on the NIH website.

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NIMHD Funding Research on Digital Interventions to COVID-19

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) within the National Institutes of Health has released a funding opportunity seeking research applications on digital healthcare practices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding announcement cites the primary focus of the research to be the role of digital health interventions like telehealth, mobile health, health information technology, and wearable devices in addressing health disparities that may be caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. Applications will be accepted through August 20, 2020. More information is available on the NIH website.

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APA Seeks Nominations for Climate Change Task Force

The American Psychological Association (APA), a COSSA governing member, has announced the opening of nominations for individuals to serve on a new APA Task Force on Climate Change. The task force, which was authorized by APA’s Council of Representatives in February 2020 as part of a greater APA policy resolution responding to climate change, will focus on how the academic discipline of psychology can better address climate change and will produce a report to be shared publicly.

Nominees should be willing to self-nominate and be able to serve a full year on the task force. Nominations will be accepted through August 21, 2020. More information is available on the APA website.

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