June 1, 2007
Nearly 40 scientists and graduate students were in Washington, DC, 18–19 April, to participate in a congressional visits event cosponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM). AIBS and the Ecological Society of America joined together to form BESC in 2002.
The two-day event began with a briefing by senior members of the science policy community to give participants an insider’s view of the administration’s research and development budget for fiscal year 2008. Providing the update were Kei Koizumi, program director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Jim Collins, assistant director for biological sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF); Anna Palmisano, deputy administrator for competitive programs at the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA); Jane Silverthorne, senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Jacqlyn Schneider, legislative assistant to Representative Jim Costa (D–CA).
After the briefing, participants traveled to Capitol Hill to attend a BESC/CoFARM-sponsored reception for Senators Tom Harkin (D–IA) and Kit Bond (R–MO). The senators were recognized for their work as proponents of biological and agricultural science research funding.
On the second day of the event, scientists fanned out across Capitol Hill in multidisciplinary teams to visit over 40 House and Senate offices, spanning 23 states. In their meetings, BESC/CoFARM scientists and staff discussed the importance of strong investment in basic biological and agricultural sciences research. Participants advocated an increase in research funding for all disciplines funded by the NSF, particularly the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), as well as the National Research Initiative, the extramural competitive grants program at the USDA.
In recounting their personal experiences, scientists explained how investments in basic biological and agricultural research provide not only opportunities to train graduate and undergraduate students but also answers to some of the nation’s most pressing scientific challenges. Given that the NSF BIO funds 68 percent of fundamental (nonmedical) biological sciences research, scientists expressed grave concerns to lawmakers about the relatively flat budget for BIO over the last six years; they pointed out that grant funding rates for the directorate have dipped to an average of 14 percent.
Also participating in the event were scientists representing AIBS and its member societies, including two recipients of the 2007 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award (EPPLA), Amber Szoboszlai, of Moss Landing Labs, and Sarah Wright, of the University of Wisconsin. EPPLA honorable mention recipients Kyle Brown, of Harvard University, and Jenna Jadin, of the University of Maryland, were also in attendance.