Issue 10 (May 24)

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Congress Begins Marathon of Conferencing Work for Innovation & Competitiveness Package

On May 12, 107 members of the House and Senate comprising the conference committee for U.S. innovation legislation held their first meeting to begin work on reconciling their bills. As previously reported, the House of Representatives passed the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521) in February. The nearly 3,000-page package is comprised of several bills and other provisions related to advancing the U.S. STEM enterprise and shoring up U.S. scientific competitiveness, especially with respect to China. The COMPETES bill is the House’s response to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) that passed the Senate last year (see past coverage). While the bills are similar in their overarching goals, key differences remain, including their respective approaches for reauthorizing the National Science Foundation and establishing a new tech transfer-focused directorate at the agency.

Earlier this year, House and Senate leadership announced who they have selected to serve on the conference committee charged with reconciling differences between the two bills (House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans). The conference officially kicked off on May 12 when the Senate Commerce Committee hosted the first meeting, chaired by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The hearing provided the opportunity for each member to give two-minute opening statements about their priorities within the bills. Consistent with past hearings, there were significant differences in the way Republicans and Democrats discussed the bills. Democrats largely focused on the need to revitalize the U.S. R&D enterprise and issues related to the supply chain and other competitiveness issues, while Republicans were laser-focused on competition with China and protecting the U.S. from so-called bad actors. All told, 94 members of the conference committee provided opening statements during this first, marathon meeting, illustrating just how divided members are on many of the bills’ provisions.

Work will continue over the next few months, with some expressing hope that a final agreement can be reached by July 4. 

NCFR President Norma J. Bond Burgess Answers “Why Social Science?”

This week’s Why Social Science? post comes from Norma J. Bond Burgess, President of the National Council on Family Relations, who writes about the importance and role of family science in understanding and improving family relationships.

COSSA Seeks Assistant Director of Government Relations

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) is seeking to fill one position for Assistant Director of Government Relations. The desired candidate will have at least three (3) to five (5) years of professional advocacy, policy or related experience. Previous lobbying experience or experience working on Capitol Hill is preferred. Interested applicants should check the listing here.

House Committee Marks Up ARPA-H Authorization Legislation, Advances to House Floor

On May 18, the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee marked up several pieces of legislation including the Advanced Research Project Agency for Health (ARPA-H) Act (H.R. 5585), authorization legislation for the newly established health research agency. During the markup, the bill championed by the E&C Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA) was amended to explicitly state that ARPA-H would be established as an “independent operating division within the Department of Health and Human Services” and directs the Biden Administration to transfer ARPA-H away from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pushing back on the Administration’s recent move to house it in NIH (see previous coverage). In addition, the amended legislation authorizes $500 million per year for ARPA-H, far below the $1 billion appropriated for the agency for fiscal year (FY) 2022. With the legislation headed to the House floor, it is likely that inter-party disagreements about ARPA-H will be highlighted. Stay tuned for more coverage about ARPA-H here.

Congress Holds FY 2023 Budget Hearings for NIH

Over the past few weeks, the House and the Senate held their respective budget hearings for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for fiscal year (FY) 2023, hearings that typically feature the NIH director and several of the directors of NIH’s institutes and centers (ICs). On May 11, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) held its hearing led by Full Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK). Witnesses included Acting Director of NIH Larry Tabak, Director of the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Diana Bianchi, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Gary Gibbons, Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Doug Lowy, and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Nora Volkow. In their opening statements, DeLauro and Cole both praised NIH for its work and indicated they were interested in continuing to grow the agency’s budget in a bipartisan manner. However, while both DeLauro and Cole also expressed support for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) (see related article), each aired several concerns with its recent transfer into NIH. DeLauro stated that “placing ARPA-H within NIH is a mistake and will hamper the agency’s ability” to make health research breakthroughs, with Cole agreeing. In addition, both were wary that the base NIH budget may get squeezed to afford increases to ARPA-H, and Cole was hesitant to provide large increases of funding for ARPA-H without a director, physical location, or infrastructure. Additional questions from the Committee concerned the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, maternal health research, increasing the number of early-career researchers, research in minority health and health disparities, and more. A recording of the hearing is available on the Subcommittee website.

On May 17, the Senate LHHS Subcommittee held its hearing led by Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Roy Blunt (R-MO). Witnesses included Tabak, Fauci, Gibbons, Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Josh Gordon, and Director of the National Institute of Aging (NIA) Richard Hodes. Murray expressed support for several NIH priorities in her opening statements such as research on Alzheimer’s disease and how they might be addressed by the Senate’s proposed authorization legislation for ARPA-H, the Advanced Research Projects Authority for Health Act (S. 3819). Blunt also expressed praise for NIH and for sustaining the budget for the agency, but also stated his support for establishing ARPA-H with some level of independence within NIH. Other members of the Subcommittee questioned the witnesses on issues such as the closure of the Undiagnosed Disease Network, addressing growing mental health crises, the use of vaccination requirements in workplaces, developing early career researcher opportunities, and more. Witness testimony and a recording of the hearing is available on the Subcommittee website.

NIH Council Approves Report on Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Integration

During the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils Meeting on May 19-20, a report on the  Working Group on Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (BSSR) Integration was presented and approved by the Council. The report, which was presented by Acting Director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) and Acting Associate Director for BSSR at NIH Dr. Christine Hunter, is the work of the working group chartered by the Council of Councils and charged with examining the proportion of NIH research with a significant social or behavioral component and the representation of BSSR in the expertise of those within NIH. The report finds that while BSSR is relevant across each of the Institutes and Centers (ICs) at NIH, there are “significant gaps and variation in BSSR integration across the NIH.” Several recommendations for NIH were made in the report including:

  • Better incorporating and integrating BSSR into IC and NIH-wide strategic plans;
  • Evaluating and monitoring the distribution of BSSR staff across the agency;
  • Aligning NIH Advisory Council representation to have two minimum members with BSSR or public health expertise;
  • Working with OBSSR to identify opportunities to increase BSSR applications at ICs with low BSSR usage;
  • Increasing centers, resource grants, and trial networks that include a BSSR focus;
  • Increasing resources allocated to OBSSR for staff and programs; and
  • Engaging BSSR expertise throughout the development of new research policies and practices.

The members of the Council of Councils were largely supportive of the report and its findings, with some questions directed to Dr. Hunter regarding the importance of research grant success rates, the “shockingly low” amount of BSSR used at some of the ICs, and, given the wide range of application of BSSR, calls that it be better utilized in improving public health. The working group report and the presentation slides are available on the Council of Councils website.

National Academies Release Report on Improving Representation in Clinical Trials and Research

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) have released a report titled Improving Representation in Clinical Trials and Research: Building Research Equity for Women and Underrepresented Groups, which aims to identify existing challenges and potential solutions to the lack of representation of populations such as women and ethnic minority groups in clinical research studies. According to the report, the underrepresentation of populations in clinical trials and research does much to harm the clinical research enterprise by compromising research findings’ usefulness to the whole population, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, hindering innovation and effective health discoveries, and undermining trust in research and medicine. The report also cites several barriers to participation in clinical trials and research by underrepresented populations including poorly designed individual research studies, structural barriers at medical institutions, decision making by research or industry funders, and biases in medical journals.

The report provides recommendations to improve representation in clinical trials and research through improvements to reporting and accountability of demographic data, incentivizing inclusion through federal incentives, developing clear guidelines for compensating research participants and their caregivers, and fostering diversity and inclusion practices in educational and workplace settings with all entities involved in clinical trials and research. The report is available for download on the National Academies website.

Social, Behavioral, and Economic COVID Coordinating Center Launches New Website & Resources

The Social, Behavioral, and Economic COVID Coordinating Center (SBE CCC), an effort led by the University of Michigan’s Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently developed a new website with a host of resources on coordinating research efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic.  The SBE CCC acts as an information hub for communication about COVID-19 research, information-sharing between researchers, and sharing opportunities among the social, behavioral, and economic sciences community. Among the resources available on the new website are breaking news stories about COVID-19 research, podcasts and webinars, and publications featuring topics related to social, behavioral, and economic research on COVID-19. Check out the website here.

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