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AIBS Writes to New NSF BIO Director

September 20, 2011

Dr. John C. Wingfield
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences
National Science Foundation
Room 605 N
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230

Dear Dr. Wingfield:

On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), I extend our congratulations on your appointment as Assistant Director of the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). I also write to invite you to meet with AIBS leadership in the coming weeks.

As you may recall from your time as President of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology -- an AIBS member organization - AIBS is a meta-level organization dedicated to advancing research and education in the biological sciences. During the past decade, AIBS membership has increased dramatically. Our members now include nearly 200 professional societies and scientific organizations with a collective membership of roughly 250,000 individuals. Significantly, the AIBS membership represents the breadth of the biological sciences. Our members also include a number of the institutions that support biological sciences research and education, such as field stations, natural science collections, and other research centers.

As illustrated in our 2010 Annual Report (available at http://www.aibs.org/about-aibs/index.html), AIBS is a vibrant organization well positioned to help advance research and education in the biological sciences for the benefit of science and society. We deliver high-quality programs in public policy, peer-review, publishing, education, and public programs. Thus, we are able to foster communication among biologists and between biologists and decision-makers.

Over the years, I think, AIBS has maintained a productive and collaborative relationship with NSF, and particularly BIO. At times, we have been asked by our members to transmit their concerns to NSF. In keeping with this responsibility to our membership, I would like to briefly alert you to several community concerns. Additionally, I want you to know that AIBS stands ready to work with you and our membership to explore these issues and identify solutions, when needed, that address the concerns and constraints of the scientific community and NSF.

As you are aware, NSF recently announced major changes to the grant solicitation and review process for various programs across the BIO. AIBS recognizes that the Foundation faces a number of significant workload and budget challenges that have driven this decision. However, leaders from a number of our member societies have contacted us to express concern with the new process. For instance, there is considerable worry about how these changes may impact young investigators. Related to this uncertainty are questions about how increased time and potentially reduced feedback between a rejected pre-proposal and the next time an investigator may submit a pre-proposal to the same program. Soft money investigators, especially those affiliated with smaller institutions, are concerned that the limitation on grant proposal submissions may jeopardize research programs and support for research personnel. I understand that BIO is conducting informational webinars with the community to explain the new policy. However, AIBS does feel that there is merit to the concerns expressed by practicing scientists. Thus, AIBS would welcome an opportunity to establish a dialogue with you to ensure timely information exchange with the research community and, where appropriate and feasible, to explore remedies to problems that may arise from this new grant review process.

Separately, AIBS leadership recognizes that budget constraints for scientific research are going to become more significant in the coming years. We also recognize that there have been few policy discussions that have considered whether our current funding models for basic research are appropriate for the 21st century or what may be a prolonged period of fiscal austerity. Thus, AIBS is interested in convening a panel of experts to begin to explore questions surrounding this topic. We would welcome your involvement in this and similar discussions.

Once again, congratulations on your appointment. AIBS looks forward to working with you and the outstanding staff associated with the Foundation and the Biological Sciences Directors. I hope you will be able to find time in your schedule in the coming weeks to meet with members of the AIBS Board of Directors and senior staff. Please do not hesitate to contact AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 if AIBS may be of any assistance to you. Dr. Gropp will also be able to coordinate potential meeting times with your staff.

Sincerely,

Richard T. O'Grady, Ph.D.
Executive Director

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