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Sequestration is the term for automatic, across the board budget cuts that were scheduled to take place on January 2, 2013 to all discretionary federal spending accounts. The fiscal cliff was narrowly avoided when the Senate and House passed a bill reflecting a deal negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell called The American Tax Payers Relief Act of 2012. This agreement delays sequestration by two months and reduces the amount of the automatic cuts by $24 billion, $12 billion of which would come from discretionary spending cuts and $12 billion that would come from revenue. Of the $12 billion in cuts to discretionary spending, 50% of those cuts would come from the defense budget and 50% would come from non-defense. These limits on the overall budget caps allow for the President and Congress to prioritize certain programs such as research and development funding as opposed to having all programs cut by a given percentage which would have been the case had sequestration taken effect. This two month delay allows time for discussions about prioritizing spending decisions and it is important for the physics community to be active in these discussions, to make decision makers aware of the importance of funding for science.

The American COMPETES Act
The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science (COMPETES) Act was last reauthorized in 2010 and will be up for reauthorization in 2013.  The America COMPETES Act of 2007 created the President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness which has since become the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) under President Obama. This legislation incudes reauthorizations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy Office of Science (SC). Originally the Act set a baseline for funding appropriations and had a goal of doubling the annual appropriations of the NSF, NIST and SC by 2011. It also called for a National Science and Technology Summit and a wide variety of reports on the state of US competitiveness and innovation. The bill pays considerable attention to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and in 2010, the Act required the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish a committee to coordinate federal STEM education programs.

This reauthorization will likely be the subject of hearings in the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology as well as the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation though the bill may be separated and addressed as a series of smaller bills.

NASA Reauthorization
NASA was last reauthorized in 2010 and is up again for reauthorization in 2013.  This legislation will authorize appropriations for programs including human space flight and exploration, aeronautics research and development, education, and scientific research at NASA. The 2010 reauthorization bill included language which initiated steps to develop a Space Launch System including the development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle. The 2010 reauthorization also included funding for the International Space Station, continued commercial cargo development, and expanded the Commercial Crew Development Program.

This reauthorization will likely be the subject of hearings in the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology as well as the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

For more information, contact:
Beth Cunningham, Executive Officer, American Association of Physics Teachers bcunningham@aapt.org
Aline McNaull, Policy Associate, American Institute of Physics amcnaull@aip.org
Tyler Glembo, Government Relations Specialist, American Physical Society glembo@aps.org