Archive for May, 2011

CRS — Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program

May 31, 2011 Comments off

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via IEEE-USA)

In 1982, the Small Business Innovation Development Act (P.L. 97-219) established Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs within the major federal research and development (R&D) agencies designed to increase participation of small innovative companies in federally funded R&D. Government agencies with R&D budgets of $100 million or more are required to set aside a portion of these funds to finance the SBIR activity. Through FY2009, over 112,500 awards have been made totaling more than $26.9 billion.

Reauthorized several times over the years, the SBIR program was scheduled to terminate on September 30, 2008. To date, the program has not been specifically reauthorized, but instead temporarily extended by several bills, including P.L. 110-235, which extended the activity through March 20, 2009. P.L. 111-10 provided an additional extension through July 31, 2009; P.L. 111-43 through September 30, 2009; and P.L. 111-66 through October 31, 2009. P.L. 111-89 once again extended the program through April 30, 2010; P.L. 111-214 through September 30, 2010; and P.L. 111-251 through January 31, 2011. P.L. 112-1 provides an additional extension through May 31, 2011.

Several bills have been introduced in the 112th Congress that would reauthorize and make changes to the SBIR program (and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program) including H.R. 447, H.R. 448 (introduced January 26, 2011), H.R. 449, S. 493 (reported March 9, 2011, from the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship), and H.R. 1425 (introduced April 7, 2011). For further information on SBIR reauthorization activity see CRS Report RS22865, The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program: Reauthorization Efforts, by Wendy H. Schacht.

New From the GAO

May 31, 2011 Comments off

New GAO Reports (PDFs)
Source: Government Accountability Office
31 May 2011

1. Managing Critical Isotopes: Weaknesses in DOE’s Management of Helium-3 Delayed the Federal Response to a Critical Supply Shortage. GAO-11-472, May 12.  Highlights

2. Department of Energy: Progress Made Overseeing the Costs of Contractor Postretirement Benefits, but Additional Actions Could Help Address Challenges. GAO-11-378, April 29.  Highlights

3. Pediatric Research: Products Studied under Two Related Laws, but Improved Tracking Needed by FDA. GAO-11-457, May 31.  Highlights

CRS — U.S. Postal Service Workforce Size and Employment Categories, 1990-2010

May 31, 2011 Comments off

U.S. Postal Service Workforce Size and Employment Categories, 1990-2010 (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Consumer Postal Council)

This report provides data from the past 20 years on the size of the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS’s) workforce, including the number of persons employed by USPS by employment categories and the number of persons employed by USPS under time-limited contracts. It also analyzes the most salient aspects of these employment data.

USPS employed 671,687 persons as of September 30, 2010 (FY2010). USPS’s workforce size has dropped by 171,576 employees (20.3%) in the past 20 years, and USPS had 40,395 (6.0%) fewer employees at the end of FY2010 than it did at the end of FY2009. Since 1990, the career/non-career composition of the USPS’s workforce has also changed. The number of career employees has declined 23.2%, and the number of non-career employees has increased 6.3%.

Facing financial problems, the USPS recently has instituted a hiring freeze, frozen the pay rate of managers, and offered some employees early retirement options. In FY2010, USPS operated with its smallest workforce in at least 20 years.

This report will be updated at the beginning of each new Congress.

Documents in the News — IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans

May 31, 2011 Comments off

IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans (PDF)
Source: World Health Organization (International Agency for Research on Cancer)

Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”

“Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild, “it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting.”

The Working Group considered hundreds of scientific articles; the complete list will be published in the Monograph. It is noteworthy to mention that several recent in‐press scientific articles resulting from the Interphone study were made available to the working group shortly before it was due to convene, reflecting their acceptance for publication at that time, and were included in the evaluation.

A concise report summarizing the main conclusions of the IARC Working Group and the evaluations of the carcinogenic hazard from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including the use of mobile telephones) will be published in The Lancet Oncology in its July 1 issue, and in a few days online.

CRS — Advertising Industry in the Digital Age

May 31, 2011 Comments off

Advertising Industry in the Digital Age (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Word of Mouth Marketing Association)

The U.S. advertising industry is under growing scrutiny from Congress and federal regulators, who are considering tighter oversight in areas ranging from Internet privacy to environmental claims on packaging to marketing aimed at children.

Lawmakers have been active on advertising issues. In the 111th Congress, Members introduced legislation to limit the tax deductibility of advertising for pharmaceutical marketing and circulated proposals to give consumers more ability to block technology that tracks individuals’ activities online so that marketers may tailor advertising accordingly. House and Senate committees held hearings on privacy issues; advertising and marketing directed at children; and the state of the newspaper industry, which is in financial distress as advertising moves to the Internet and away from the print product. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on potentially deceptive advertising practices, including false testimonial advertising, blogging, and other areas. Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation to regulate the volume of commercials on television (P.L. 111-311).

On the regulatory front, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released guidelines calling on bloggers to disclose paid product reviews, and in December 2010 recommended a Do Not Track function to allow consumers to prevent advertising and other firms from collecting data about individuals’ online activities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is examining pharmaceutical marketing in social networks and could propose guidance for online marketing early in 2011. In December 2010, the Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force released a paper on commercial privacy issues.

Much of this activity is in response to the rapid growth of advertising on the Internet. Online ad spending has jumped more than 400% during the past decade, to more than $20 billion. The online market is dominated by a small number of firms, with the top 10 digital ad firms garnering more than 70% of all online ad revenues, a level that has remained relatively constant in recent years. “Search” advertising—where companies sell ads as part of consumer-initiated information queries on web browsers—accounted for nearly half of digital ad revenues in 2009, with Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo getting most of the online search traffic.

The key issue for lawmakers and regulators is how to protect consumers without stifling innovation. Rapid technological change is leading to new forms of advertising and to issues that were unknown only a few years ago, from competition in search advertising to fraudulent marketing over social networks. It is likely that regulators, and Congress, will continue to struggle to keep pace as they consider how to craft a workable system to oversee advertising in the rapidly changing digital world.

CRS — Organized Retail Crime

May 31, 2011 Comments off

Organized Retail Crime (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Business Industry Political Action Committee)

Organized retail crime (ORC) involves the large-scale theft of everyday consumer items and potentially has much broader implications. Organized groups of professional shoplifters, or “boosters,” steal or fraudulently obtain merchandise that is then sold, or “fenced,” to individuals and retailers through a variety of venues. In an increasingly globalized society, more and more transactions take place online rather than face-to-face. As such, in addition to relying on physical resale markets, organized retail thieves have turned to online marketplaces as means to fence their ill-gotten goods.

ORC exposes the United States to costs and harms in the economic, public health, and domestic security arenas. The exact loss from ORC to the retail industry is unknown, but an often-cited estimate of this loss is $15 billion to $30 billion annually. The economic impact, however, extends beyond the manufacturing and retail industry and includes costs incurred by consumers and taxes lost by the states. The theft and resale of stolen consumable or health and beauty products such as infant formula (that may have been repackaged, relabeled, and subjected to altered expiration dates) poses potential safety concerns for individuals purchasing such goods from ORC fences. In addition, some industry experts and policy makers have expressed concern about the possibility that proceeds from ORC may be used to fund terrorist activities.

Current efforts to combat ORC largely come from retailers, online marketplaces, and law enforcement alike. Retailers responding to the 2009 National Retail Security Survey spent an average of 0.37% of their annual sales on loss prevention measures. These loss prevention costs are ultimately born by the consumers in the form of higher prices on goods. Also, online marketplaces report taking various measures to combat the sale of stolen and fraudulently obtained goods on their websites, including educating sellers and consumers, monitoring suspicious activity, and partnering with retailers and law enforcement. Combating retail theft has traditionally been handled by state law enforcement under state criminal laws. Some, however, have begun to question whether state laws—which vary in the quantity of monetary losses that constitute major theft—are adequate to combat ORC.

While many agree that ORC is a national problem, there is debate over the federal government’s role in deterring ORC and sanctioning various actors that may be involved in committing or aiding these crimes. One policy issue facing Congress is whether criminalizing organized retail crime in the U.S. Code would allow for more effective investigation and prosecution of these criminals. Congress may also wish to consider whether regulating resale marketplaces (online markets, in particular), to require such entities to increase information sharing with retailers and law enforcement, would strengthen investigations and prosecutions of ORC as well as decrease the prevalence of retail thieves relying on legitimate online marketplaces to fence stolen goods.

CRS — Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: Past and Present

May 31, 2011 Comments off

Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: Past and Present (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials)

American federalism, which shapes the roles, responsibilities, and interactions among and between the federal government, the states, and local governments, is continuously evolving, adapting to changes in American society and American political institutions. The nature of federalism relationships in surface transportation policy has also evolved over time, with the federal government’s role becoming increasingly influential, especially since the Federal-Aid to Highway Act of 1956 which authorized the interstate highway system. In recent years, state and local government officials, through their public interest groups (especially the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) have lobbied for increased federal assistance for surface transportation grants and increased flexibility in the use of those funds. They contend that they are better able to identify surface transportation needs in their states than federal officials and are capable of administering federal grant funds with relatively minimal federal oversight. They also argue that states have a long history of learning from one another. In their view, providing states flexibility in the use of federal funds results in better surface transportation policy because it enables states to experiment with innovative solutions to surface transportation problems and then share their experiences with other states. Others argue that the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that federal funds are used in the most efficient and effective manner possible to promote the national interest in expanding national economic growth and protecting the environment. In their view, providing states increased flexibility in the use of federal funds diminishes the federal government’s ability to ensure that national needs are met. Still others have argued for a fundamental restructuring of federal and state government responsibilities in surface transportation policy, with some responsibilities devolved to states and others remaining with the federal government.

Congressional attention to federalism issues in surface transportation policy tends to increase during reauthorizations of the federal highway and mass transit program. The current highway and mass transit program, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA, P.L. 109-59), after being extended several times, is set to expire on March 4, 2011. Its reauthorization generated considerable legislative activity during the 111th Congress. Issues addressed by Congress include SAFETEA’s funding level and financing, especially proposals addressing the Highway Trust Fund’s fiscal sustainability, state funding guarantees, and congressional earmarks.

This report provides an historical perspective on contemporary federalism issues in surface transportation policy that are likely to be addressed by Congress during the 112th Congress, including possible devolution of programmatic responsibility to states and proposals to change state maintenance-of-effort requirements and state cost matching requirements.