Good news: Budget deal ends threat of sequestration

Deal between House, Senate and Administration allows for spending increases in science and other areas.

White House officials and congressional leaders have agreed to a two-year deal, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, to raise the budget caps that have plagued federal budgeting since 2011.  The deal would raise the caps by $321 billion and suspend the debt ceiling until July, 2021. The budget deal also includes $77 billion in spending cuts that offset the higher levels of allowed spending. The offsets include increased fees and cuts to mandatory programs such as the Prevention and Public Health Fund. This fund has been used to help partially offset earlier budget deals.

The House will vote on the legislation before members leave July 26 for the August district work period.  The Senate will take it up afterward.

This deal will enable significant spending increases for scientific, education and health priority programs. For example, the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee has approved a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health. The Senate subcommittee has not yet acted on its version of the bill. But an increase of that size would not be possible if the restrictive caps remained in place. The agreement specifically authorizes $2.5 billion in spending for the 2020 Census, clearing the way for the often- controversial survey to be funded in time.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement said: “This agreement represents a vast improvement over the harmful cuts contained in the President’s 2020 budget, restores certainty to our budgeting and achieves the priorities that Democrats have laid out from the beginning: [It] permanently ends the threat of the sequester, and prevents devastating funding cuts of 14% to defense spending and 13% to non-defense spending.”

Republican Senators predicted the bill would pass, but not without some opposition.  Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Senate Republican Whip, said “It probably won’t get all of our members but I think it will get a lot of them.“

The American Psychological Association and many other organizations have advocated that Congress eliminate the harmful, unrealistic budget caps that were included in the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The caps were so restrictive that Congress allowed them to take effect only once, in Fiscal Year 2013. Automatic spending cuts went into effect that year, an enforcement mechanism known as sequestration. A bipartisan agreement to lift the caps means Congress can increase spending on priority programs without forcing spending cuts in return. 

APA calls on Senate leadership to support VA-sponsored canine research

On May 14, 2019, the American Psychological Association (APA) sent a letter to Sen. John Boozman, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, and Sen. Brian Schatz, ranking member of the subcommittee, to express opposition to language in the House version of the FY 2020 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill that would prohibit the Department of Veterans Affairs from continuing its important research with canines.

To date this research program has been instrumental in the development of many therapies and therapeutics that benefit humans, including a cardiac pacemaker, non-invasive treatment of intervertebral discs, cough enhancement stimulators for individuals with spinal cord injuries (which renders them susceptible to respiratory infections), and treatments for narcolepsy.

The letter notes the stringent regulations in the United States on research with nonhuman animals, which ensure the research is ethically sound and scientifically valid and that the animals involved are afforded humane care and treatment.

APA, in collaboration with other organizations, will continue to monitor the funding bill and work to ensure that language that prevents the conduct of important research is not included in the final version.

For further information on APA’s work on this issue, contact Dr. Sangy Panicker, Director of the Research Ethics Office in the Science Directorate; Dr. Heather Kelly, Director, Military and Veterans Health Policy; or Pat Kobor, Senior Science Policy Analyst.

Human factors psychologist presents research on Capitol Hill

Jing Chen of Old Dominion University shared her work on safe autonomous driving.

On April 30, 2019, the American Psychological Association (APA) participated in the 25th annual Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) exhibition and reception.  This year’s event, titled “Building the Future: Federal Investments in Science, Engineering, and Education,” showcased a wide range of research across all areas of science, all funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

 APA was represented by psychologist Jing Chen of Old Dominion University, who demonstrated how human factors psychology contributes to safe autonomous driving.  Dr. Chen’s research investigates the fundamental principles of human performance and decision-making, and applies these principles to cybersecurity and human-automation interaction problems.  For the CNSF exhibition, she highlighted her work on factors that affect human trust in automated systems, how to design effective risk warnings for drivers, and how drivers respond to autonomous vehicle cyberattacks.

Dr. Chen (second-from-right) presents her research to Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI-1).

Dr. Chen (second-from-right) presents her research to Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI-1).

 Dr. Chen was joined at the event by 34 exhibitors representing professional organizations, scientific coalitions, and universities.  Among the exhibition attendees who stopped by to speak with Dr. Chen and learn about her research were Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI-1); Arthur “Skip” Lupia and Marc Sebrechts of NSF’s Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate; and various congressional staffers, NSF officers, and academic and organization representatives.

 Earlier in the day, Dr. Chen and APA staff met with the offices of several Virginia Members of Congress, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA-2), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-3), to describe her research and the role her Human-Automation Collaboration (HAC) Laboratory plays in advancing our understanding of how humans interact with automated systems. 

Dr. Chen at the office of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Dr. Chen at the office of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

 These visits also provided an opportunity to thank Members of Congress for supporting increases in NSF funding in fiscal year (FY) 2019, ask them to support NSF receiving at least $9 billion in its FY 2020 appropriation, and ask for support of a two-year bipartisan budget agreement that increases the spending caps for federal discretionary programs such as at NSF.

APA is committed to advocating for funding of research in human factors and other areas of applied psychology and to promoting the use of such research in the development of new technologies and policies.  The next APA conference on Technology, Mind & Society will be held on Oct. 3-5, 2019, in Washington, DC.

President’s FY 2020 Budget: Give it a glance but keep walking

Budget would cut science, services, infrastructure, but add more for a wall

 The Trump administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget was released in two parts over the week of March 11 – 18, 2019. Despite confusion over exactly how big some of the cuts were --the Department of Health and Human Services said the National Institutes of Health (NIH), currently funded at $39 billion, would be cut by $4.5 billion; the Office of Management and Budget said the cut was $5.7 billion-- budget experts in Congress and Washington observers were not inclined to expend much effort to make the math add up. The President’s budget proposal was almost universally panned, and it is unlikely to exert much influence over Congress as the House and Senate Budget Committees begin to write their own 2020 funding blueprint. 

However, even a budget with little influence provides information that Washington policymakers can use. It tells you about priorities, economic assumptions, and programs on the chopping block.  That’s why we at the American Psychological Association (APA) never ignore the President’s budget.

Highlights of the President’s proposal are:

  • Cuts the NIH by over 13% in FY 2020.

  • Cuts the National Science Foundation (NSF) by 12% in FY 2020.

  • Cuts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 17.6% in FY 2020; cuts grow to 33.8% after ten years.

  • Cuts the Environmental Protection Agency by 33% in FY 2020 and by 45% over ten years.

  • Cuts the National Aeronautic and Space Administration by 22% over ten years.

  • Cuts Medicare funding by about 10% over 10 years, despite a projected 44% increase in beneficiaries by 2030.

  • Reduces Medicaid funding by 5% over 10 years and converts it into a system of block grants with per-capita caps.

  • Repeals the Affordable Care Act, including exchanges, marketplace subsidies, and Medicaid expansion.

  • Cuts Head Start by 17% over ten years after holding its budget steady for 2020.

  • Eliminates Public Service Loan Forgiveness for new borrowers.

  • Cuts discretionary defense spending from $647 billion to $576 billion, but raises defense spending overall by increasing the Overseas Contingency Operations account from $69 billion to $165 billion to circumvent the budget caps.  

  • Proposes $8.6 billion for construction of walls or other barriers across the southern border.

  • Cuts transportation, a key infrastructure indicator, by a net $286 billion over ten years.

Most of these cuts are unlikely to be enacted. APA and other scientific organizations are advocating for a $2.5 billion increase for NIH in FY 2020 and a $1 billion increase for NSF, and the Appropriations Committees are encouraging.

Still, for these and other funding increases to be feasible, Congress must enact a budget agreement that raises the spending caps that were put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The last budget agreement simply allowed more federal borrowing, but earlier agreements to raise the caps were ‘paid for’ by raising some revenue. Without raising the caps, there remains extraordinary pressure on current levels of funding.

Every year since 2014, Congress has approved a budget agreement that raises the spending caps but there is no agreement yet for 2020. So APA is advocating for Congress to #raisethecaps.

We will share more information about the federal budget and appropriations bills throughout the spring and summer as that legislation is drafted and debated. For the latest, please follow us on Twitter: @APA, @APAScience.

Partial government shutdown impacts psychological science

What does it mean for those seeking research grants?

As you have no doubt heard, parts of the federal government currently lack appropriations and are shut down.  Thankfully for many psychological scientists, this does not include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as most of the Department of Health and Human Services was funded and given its FY2019 budget in September 2018.  So despite what you may have heard or read on social media, NIH is open and operational, accepting proposals and awarding grants.

Read More

Developmental milestones – The ABCD study comes of age

Psychologists play pivotal role in landmark study.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study is an ambitious project to image the brains of more than 10,000 nine- and ten-year-old children and follow their physical, cognitive and emotional development for ten years through early adulthood.   Brain magnetic resonance imaging [PDF, 3.1MB] (MRI), both structural and functional, will be conducted at baseline and biannually throughout the course of the study.  The study recently completed enrollment and that milestone was celebrated this fall at the study’s third annual meeting in La Jolla, CA. The study is being led by psychologists Sandra Brown and Terry Jernigan from the ABCD Coordinating Center at the University of California San Diego and across 21 additional sites nationwide.  Twenty-seven of the 39 Principal Investigators are psychologists.

Read More