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Public Policy Report for 25 September 2006

NAS Issues Recommendations for Diversifying Science and Engineering Faculty

At a press conference in downtown Washington, DC, on 18 September 2006, the National Academies of Science released its most recent report on gender equity. The report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering," includes recommended actions for university administrators, professional societies and higher education organizations, and government agencies and Congress.

According to National Academy materials, "Forty years ago, women made up only 3 percent of America's scientific and technical workers, but by 20003 they accounted for nearly one-fifth. Women have earned more than half of the bachelor's degrees awarded in science and engineering since 2000." Despite these trends, however, the representation of women on university and college faculties does not reflect these gains.

Findings underpinning the report recommendations include the following.

  • Studies have not found any significant biological differences between men and women in performing science and mathematics that can account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and leadership positions in science and technology fields;

  • Compared with men, women faculty members are generally paid less and promoted more slowly, receive fewer honors, and hold fewer leadership positions in science and technology fields;

  • Measures of success underlying performance-evaluation systems are often arbitrary and frequently applied in ways that place women at a disadvantage. "Assertiveness," for example, may be viewed as a socially unacceptable trait for women but suitable for men. Also, structural constraints and expectations built into academic institutions assume that faculty members have substantial support from their spouses. Anyone lacking the career and family support traditionally provided by a "wife" is at a serious disadvantage in academe, evidence shows. About 90 percent of the spouses of women science and engineering faculty are employed full time. For the spouses of male faculty, it is nearly half.

The study panel was chaired by Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Shalala said, "Women are capable of contributing more to the nation's science and engineering research enterprise, but bias and outmoded practices governing academic success impede their progress almost every step of the way. Fundamental changes in the culture and opportunities at America's research universities are urgently needed. The United States should enhance its talent pool by making the most of its entire population."

Recommendations targeted at universities include a more visible commitment to gender equity from university presidents, provosts, and trustees. Moreover, the panel recommends that universities examine evaluation practices with the goal of focusing on the quality and impact of faculty contributions.

With respect to professional societies and higher education organizations, the report calls on the American Council on Education to bring together other relevant groups, such as the Association of American Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, to discuss the formation of a monitoring body. Additionally, honorary societies are challenged to review nomination and election procedures to address the under-representation of women in their memberships. Scholarly journals are encouraged to examine existing processes for reviewing papers submitted for publication to determine how to minimize bias. Moreover, journals are encouraged to consider policies and practices that keep authors' identities hidden until reviews have been completed.

Finally, with respect to government agencies, the report encourages funding agencies to work with professional societies to convene "mandatory national meetings to educate university department chairs, agency program officers, and members of review panels on ways to minimize the effects of gender bias in performance evaluations."

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House of Representatives Approves Earmark Reform

On 14 September 2006 the House of Representatives approved a new rule to require disclosure of all earmarks in tax and appropriations legislation. In very general terms, an earmark is a special provision inserted into appropriations legislation to fund a specific project of interest to one or more members of Congress.

Over the protest of several members of the House Appropriations Committee, House Resolution 1000 passed the chamber on a 245-171 vote. The resolution will require sponsors of earmarks placed in appropriations bills to be identified each year. Rules Committee chairman, Rep. David Dreier (R-CA), who supported the rule change said, "the goal is to pull back the curtain on earmarks to the public."

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee who did not vote for the measure were concerned that the rule does not address the underlying problems with lobbying and ethics. Republican members of the Appropriations Committee disagreed with the measure because it is not equally applied to tax and appropriations bills.

The Senate is also working on rule changes to address earmarks in appropriation legislation, but many in Washington would be surprised to see the issue addressed before the 109th Congress adjourns.

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Budget Cuts Close EPA Libraries

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will close the doors of its Headquarters Library to the public in October as part of a $2 million budget cut to the agency's libraries. The White House originally sought to strip $2 million from the EPA Library Network budget in May 2006 as part of a plan to reduce the agency's operating costs. Some EPA watchers think the cuts are also a response to decreased public visits. The reduced visits are attributed to increased security measures at federal buildings. It has also been reported that many people request electronic copies of material, making open library access less essential for researchers and other interested parties. This latest closing follows EPA library closings in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City.

Many interested parties fear that EPA library materials will not be as readily available as the library closes and works to digitize source material. According to an EPA posted notice in the Federal Register, the Headquarters Library will remain a repository for EPA documents. These documents will be available to the public under the new guidelines of the EPA Library Network National Framework (http://www.epa.gov/natlibra/).

According to PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) there are no identified funds for the digitizing, cataloging and reformatting of information in these libraries, so there is no timeline for when the information stored in these libraries may be available to the public. Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, has said, "Despite its 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' public statements, EPA has no coherent plan let alone a timetable for making these collections available."

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Is Climate Change Heating Up on Capitol Hill?

During the week of 18-22 September, both chambers of Congress held hearings to review the status of the federal government's initiatives on climate change technology. For its part, the House Science Committee's Energy Subcommittee held a hearing on the Department of Energy's plan for climate change technology. Witnesses appearing before the subcommittee testified that the Administration's effort on climate change technology should be strengthened and expanded. Judith M. Greenwald, representing the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, addressed the plan's failure to include mandatory emission controls, stating that without these constraints, "the potential reductions outlined in this Plan will not be achieved." Ms. Greenwald argued that although the Department of Energy is successful in running research and development programs targeting climate change, these technologies must be deployed if they are to be of value. Subcommittee Chairwoman Biggert (R-IL) argued that the Department of Energy "should be able to tie achievement of technical and deployment goals to greenhouse gas emissions reductions." Biggert also stated that she would like to see the DOE collaborate with environmental organizations, technology groups, and industry in order to gain advice and increase understanding of the science and technology associated with climate change.

Meanwhile, the House Government Reform Committee held a hearing to consider whether there is a need for a department to take the lead on climate change technology research and development or whether the current Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) is adequate. Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) opened the hearing by stating that CCTP has no budgetary authority, no direct funding, and as such does not employ full time staff. CCTP shares staff with other offices on an as-needed basis. Davis also noted that research and development funds are not exploring new technologies to combat climate change.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee considered the Asia-Pacific Partnership. The partnership is a six-country agreement to share resources and technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All the countries involved view it as an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. Criticism of the partnership centers on its lack of mandates, emission standards, and goals for the future. The partnership has no mandates for greenhouse gas emissions, but calls for over $52 million dollars in continued research and development of new technologies. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) were among the committee members in opposition to the partnership, because of its lack of goals in the current political climate where states such as California are leading the country on setting tough emission standards.

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New in BioScience: "Where are all the State Science Advisers?"

The September 2006 Washington Watch article in BioScience considers the role that states play in science policy, and the potential benefits to states of science policy advisers.

Following is a short excerpt from the article:

"Since World War II, the federal government has set the science policy agenda for the United States. In recent years, however, states have increasingly sought to expand their role, at least perceptually, in an effort to nurture economic development. Although this growing state involvement in science policy by no means rivals the federal government's, it does suggest the emergence of a new research policy environment."

To read this article for free, please go to: www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2006_09.html

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