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Public Policy Report for 18 January 2006

Scandals shake-up House leadership

As even casual Congress-watchers are now well aware, the House Republican leadership is in turmoil. California Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham has resigned his House seat after pleading guilty to charges that he accepted bribes from defense contractors. Although certainly a high-profile scandal, the Cunningham case will almost certainly lack the intrigue associated with former majority leader Tom DeLay's (R-TX) indictment in Texas for money laundering, and the ever-emerging corruption scandals associated with lobbyist Jack Abramhoff's plea agreement with the Department of Justice. Indeed, Ohio's Representative Bob Ney (R-18th) has already been implicated in the Abramhoff affair and has thus been forced to step down as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

With Rep. DeLay's departure from the number two post in the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has announced that the House will vote next month to select a new majority leader. Contending for the spot are southwest Missouri's Rep. Roy Blunt (R-7th), Ohio's Rep. John Boehner (R-8th), and Arizona's Rep. John Shadegg (R-3rd). By many accounts, including his own, Rep. Blunt is the front-runner for the majority leader post. Blunt served as majority whip until DeLay resigned his leadership post in 2005, at that time the Republican conference elected Blunt acting majority leader. Boehner, who was previously a member of the Republican leadership, until he lost his post as Republican Conference Chairman - the fourth highest position in the House Republican leadership - in 1998 to former Oklahoma Representative J.C. Watts. In 1996, Boehner was also linked to ethical lapses, when he distributed campaign checks from Tobacco industry lobbyists to lawmakers on the House floor prior to a vote on a matter important to the industry. Rep. Shadegg, whose district includes the suburbs of Phoenix, entered the race on 13 January. A fiscal conservative, Shadegg has said he is running, in part, to stem the tide of Congressional earmarking in appropriations legislation.

As for Rep. DeLay, it is widely expected that he will claim the Appropriations Committee seat vacated by Randy Cunningham.

Four members have already entered the race for majority whip, a post that will need to be filled if Rep. Blunt is elected majority leader. Among those actively campaigning for the post are: Oak Ridge, Tennessee's Rep. Zach Wamp (R-3rd); northern Virginia's Eric Cantor (R-7th); Wichita, Kansas' Todd Tiahrt (R-4th); and Lansing, Michigan's Michael Rogers (R-8th). While a shift in environmental policy would not be expected from any of these candidates, the maverick of the group, Rep. Wamp, has articulated his desire to see a different kind of energy policy. Wamp, a co-chair of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Technology subcommittee of the Republican Policy Committee, is making passage of a new energy policy the center-piece of his campaign for majority whip. Wamp, a member of the board of the Alliance to Save Energy, has previously introduced energy efficiency legislation, such as the "Energy Efficiency Cornerstone Act", designed to increase appliance and building efficiency, extend tax credits for renewable power investments and bolster use of alternative transportation fuels. Wamp, a social conservative, has stated that he sees the interplay of national security, the environment and energy as the nation's top domestic priority.

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OSTP requests comments on federal support of graduate education

The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has extended the deadline for interested parties to submit comments on the report, "Principles for Federal Support of Graduate and Postdoctoral Education and Training in Science and Engineering." The proposed principles are intended to increase collaboration and consistency within the federal agencies in support of graduate and postdoctoral education and training in science and engineering. Specifically, the principles are intended to help agencies plan and design, budget, and conduct extramural fellowship and training programs. At the same time, these principles would guide graduate students and postdoctoral scholars through other mechanisms, such as research assistantships supported by research grants or contracts, or through intramural programs. Public comments must be received by 31 January 2006.

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal government supported approximately 60,000 graduate students and 30,000 postdoctoral scholars in science and engineering in 2001. About 44,000 (or 73%) of the graduate students and 24,000 (or 80%) of the postdoctoral scholars received their support as research assistants or associates on federal grants and contracts. Most of the remaining 27% of the graduate students and 20% of the postdoctoral scholars received support through agency fellowships or traineeships.

For more information on the proposed principles or to submit comments, please see the official federal registrar notice at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/05-22744.htm.

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Science education lawsuits continue in California

Lawsuits involving science education and evolution continue in California, with the latest involving a school's offering of a four-week high school elective entitled "Philosophy of Design." A group of parents is suing the school district to force it to cancel the course at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec.

During the high-profile Dover trial in Pennsylvania, where a judge decided last month that the inclusion of intelligent design in a public school science curriculum is unconstitutional, some scientists stated that intelligent design might be applicable to a class on culture, religion, or philosophy. The problem with the Frazier Mountain course, according to the lawsuit, is that it advocates rather than examines intelligent design. Of the two-dozen videos on the syllabus, only one was not "produced or distributed by religious organizations" with "a pro-creationist, anti-evolution stance." As for the two evolution experts listed as class speakers, one was a local parent and scientist who had refused to speak to the class (and is now included in the lawsuit), and the other was Francis Crick-who passed away in 2004.

A course description, according to the New York Times, stated, "This class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."

Lawyers from Americans United for Separation of Church and State are representing the parents. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the leading intelligent design group, has sought to distance itself from the course by writing a letter to the school district stating, "The title and nature of this course are problematic and appear to misrepresent the content of the course and intelligent design. Sum We respectfully request that you either reformulate the course by removing the young earth creationist materials or retitle the course as a course not focused on intelligent design."

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Kentucky governor supports intelligent design during annual speech

On 9 January 2006, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) started out the year by inserting a brief endorsement of intelligent design into his State of the Commonwealth speech.

"What is wrong with teaching intelligent design in our schools?" he rhetorically asked the audience.

Later, the governor told an Associated Press reporter that schools should teach intelligent design because it is "the foundational principle of our nation."

ID, he said, is "not a matter of faith and it's not a matter of religion. It's a matter of something called self-evident truth."

Some state lawmakers later expressed their bafflement at the governor's mention of the topic. A Kentucky statute, which apparently has not been tested in court, specifically allows local educators to choose to teach creationism-essentially the "older sibling" of intelligent design-in public schools.

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Post-secondary employment statistics now available from IPEDS

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has released the results of its winter 2004-05 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which tracks employment records, salaries, and benefits provided by Title IV participating institutions. IPEDS adjusted nine-month salaries for employees and found that, on average, professors earned $87,634 annually, associate professors earned $63,567, assistant professors earned $53,481, instructors earned $46,238, and lecturers earned $44,385. The survey also found that "in general, men earned higher average salaries than women," with male and female professors at four-year public institutions earning $91,102 and $81,719, respectively.

The full report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006187.

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Application deadline for 2006 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award nears

As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award, an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS will pay travel costs and expenses for 1-2 recipients of the award to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on March 14-15, 2006. PLEASE NOTE THIS DATE HAS CHANGED SINCE THE ORIGINAL ANNOUNCEMENT. This is event brings scientists and educators to Washington, D.C. to raise visibility and support for the biological sciences. During the event, participants will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and receptions honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of biology; they will also participate in meetings with members of Congress and their staff.

For application details, please visit http://www.aibs.org/announcements/060106_date_change_for_aibs.html.

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