Mary Woolley's Weekly Letter: Full Speed Ahead

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate,

Getting a fast start on assuring that our nation reclaims our – let’s face it – war-torn identity as a science-strong nation, the Biden Administration is moving full speed ahead. Consider PCAST (the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology). President Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) chartering his advisory council earlier than any of the last four administrations. (You can track all of the President’s EOs here.)

The President elevating the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to a cabinet-level position is another straight-out-of-the-gate action. A cabinet-level science advisor is the first of three recommendations included in the Science & Technology Action Plan I’ve discussed in previous letters. Review the Action Plan here and please consider endorsing

Beyond quickly establishing that science and technology experts will play a pivotal role in executive branch decision-making, the President issued a memorandum to all executive branch and agency heads that connects trust in government to evidence-based policymaking. Affirming and acting on that crucial link will strengthen a still-frayed attribute of what should and must be a science-strong nation: trust in science. (Read down for information on a webinar on this topic.) 

On Capitol Hill: The dynamics of the next supplemental spending package (or packages) change on a near-daily basis. Reportedly, the Administration is exploring a two-part strategy. The first part involves paring down President Biden’s proposed “American Rescue Plan” in the hopes of garnering the 60 Senate votes needed to secure bipartisan passage. The second part is using a budget reconciliation bill to move the remaining pieces of the original proposal through the Senate by a simple majority.

It is unclear whether a bipartisan supplemental is viable, but advocates cannot sit on our hands (to quote former Congressman John Porter, an unparalleled research advocate and Research!America Board Chair Emeritus) while all this plays out. Our job as advocates is to act now. Your representatives in Congress can urge Congressional leadership to include research relief in the next supplemental spending bill. Use this editable email or tweet to make the case, or call them. Here are the new House and Senate directories. 

Science, Not Silence: This week, we held an alliance member meeting aimed at surfacing more evidence of the need for supplemental funding to fill COVID-19 engendered gaps in research resources. You came through. The break-out sessions brought forth compelling examples and arguments. Here’s some of what we heard: 

Failing to empower stalled and sidelined research wastes time that patients do not have. That’s reason enough, but far from the only reason policymakers should restore pandemic-eroded research dollars.

The loss of research funding and uncertainty surrounding the future of research projects is demonstrably compromising racial, ethnic, and gender diversity at all levels of the scientific workforce. Pandemic-forced research disruptions are wreaking havoc on career pathways for young scientists. For every researcher who is forced out of the field, and for every day we delay re-fueling labs and clinical trials, the U.S. heads further in the wrong direction. Other nations are methodically bolstering their R&D assets. Funding that restores research will also restore our economy. Every dollar invested in NIH research returns at least twice that to the economy.  

We are compiling what we heard and the additional examples we are receiving through this link. You can also email advocacy@researchamerica.org. We will share your examples and your insights with Congressional and appropriations leadership, as well as with the Biden Administration. We’ll keep the link open until COB on Monday, February 1, 2021; if you have examples of the impact of COVID-19 on research, please share them ASAP!

The Promise of Science: Many of you joined us for a lively discussion with Steve Clemons, Editor-at-Large for The Hill. Steve compared today’s power dynamics to past Congressional sessions in which there was almost even representation in both chambers. He anticipates the Vice President will be spending a lot of time in the upper chamber, breaking ties. On the promise of science in the new administration, Steve said, ”When you elevate the OSTP director to a cabinet-level position... it changes the weight and consequence...not only of that office but of the field as a whole.” Watch the recording here and please share.

Upcoming Alliance Meeting: On February 3, 2021, at 1 p.m. ET, we’ll ask two subject matter experts, Rob Smith with Capital Alpha Partners and Sarah Egge with SplitOak Strategies, to discuss the 2021 Congressional agenda, appropriations, 21st Century Cures “2.0,” the reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), FDA regulatory developments, drug pricing proposals, and more. Register today.

Upcoming for All: On February 4, 2021, at 2 p.m. ET, I will join Cary Funk, Director of Science and Society Research at Pew Research Center, and Dr. Chris Volpe, Executive Director of Science Counts, for a look at what recent national survey data reveals about public views on science, including the complex and critical issue of trust in science. Register here.

Stay well, stay safe, and stay connected.  

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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Without research, there is no hope.
The Honorable Paul G. Rogers