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Public Policy Report for 20 February 2007

A Look at R&D in the FY 08 Budget Request

Following its passage in the House of Representatives by a 286-140 vote, House Joint Resolution 20 (H.J. Res. 20), a continuing resolution (CR) to provide appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2007, passed the Senate by a vote of 81-15 on 14 February 2007. The Senate-passed version included no additional amendments and funded all agencies, unless otherwise noted, at the 2006 enacted levels. With appropriations for FY 2007 completed, the House and Senate now begin hearings on the President’s FY 2008 budget request.

The President’s budget request for fiscal year 2008 was released on 5 February 2007. Budget priorities for the administration once again include a commitment to national security and cultivating national economic growth. President Bush has again pledged to control spending with the goal of balancing the federal budget over the next five years. Some leading Democrats contend that the Administration’s pledge to cut the budget is unrealistic and based on incomplete numbers and potentially harsh program cuts. The administration argues, however, that it can meet the country’s needs and priorities while cutting non-defense discretionary spending once again in 2008.

A short-term analysis of discretionary funding by agency shows that non-defense discretionary spending budgets have seen few increases, if any at all. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency budget request once again includes cuts.

According to the 2008 budget plan, President Bush intends to protect and preserve the environment by “launching the National Parks Centennial Initiative; enhancing the ability to observe, protect, and manage the Earth’s resources; securing critical water infrastructure; improving our nation’s water quality and supplies; working with States and other nations to reduce air pollution; and partnering for cooperative conservation.”

The administration’s FY 2008 research and development priorities (R&D) remain focused, as in the FY 2007 budget, on President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). The ACI proposal calls for a doubling of investment over ten years in key civilian federal agencies that support basic research in the physical sciences and engineering (National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) core labs). Further, the administration has strongly encouraged executive departments and agencies to coordinate activities to pursue the following R&D budget priorities: homeland security, alternative energy technology, advanced networking and high-end computing, nanotechnology, and environmental research related to climate change and ocean science.

In the FY 2008 budget, President Bush proposes $142.655 billion in total federal R&D funding, $5.763 billion more than he requested for FY 2007 and $7.123 billion more than Congress enacted for FY 2006. Funding for development would increase from the $75.999 billion enacted in FY 2006 to $82.774 billion proposed for FY 2008, reflecting large increases in proposed spending for Department of Defense weapons and NASA spacecraft. The $55.426 billion proposed for basic and applied research in FY 2008, however, is lower than funding levels enacted by Congress in FY 2006 ($55.887 billion). Total non-defense R&D funding would increase from $57.498 enacted in FY 2006 and $58.505 requested in FY 2007 to $59.949 billion in the President’s FY 2008 budget.

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NSF in the FY 2008 Budget

On Monday, 5 February 2007 the President released the administration’s budget request for the 2008 fiscal year. Aside from the widely reported plan to actually include a budget estimate for the cost of the war in Iraq and to balance the budget by 2012, the budget plan also articulates the administration’s priorities for all federal agencies and programs. Although some areas of the physical sciences, engineering and computer sciences included in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) could see significant increased funding, other areas of science at the NSF would see substantially smaller increases. Indeed, for some programs, the proposed increases would likely fail to address inflation.

For NSF, the administration has requested significant budget increases for directorates viewed as central to the ACI. Although proposed increases vary by directorate, many of the physical science, engineering and cyber- related directorates would receive budget bumps ranging from nearly 7 to 10 percent. The BIO directorate would receive almost 4.1 percent in new funding, placing the FY 08 request at roughly $633 million or $ 25.15 million more than the administration’s FY 07 request. Meanwhile, the social science, behavior and economics directorate would receive roughly 3.9 percent in new funding. The Geosciences directorate would receive a 6.3 percent bump, bringing it to $792 million, and the Office of Polar Programs would receive $26.8 million in new funding, a 6.1 percent increase that would result in a program funding level of nearly $465 million. Cyberinfrastructure, however, could receive a 9.6 percent bump, bringing the program to nearly $200 million in FY 08. Overall, for Research and Related Activities (RR&A) programs, the administration has requested $5.131 billion, an average increase across all directorates of roughly 7.7 percent over the FY 2007 request. Significantly, this increase in the RR&A request also includes the transfer of the EPSCoR program (Experimental Research to Stimulate Competitive Research) from the Education and Human Resources account to the RR&A account.

Investments within the BIO Directorate breakdown accordingly:

  • Molecular and Cellular Biossiences: 4.6 percent increase, a $5.15 million bump bringing the division to just under $114 million.
  • Integrative Organismal System: 4.7 percent increase, a $4.75 million bump bringing the division to nearly $105.5 million.
  • Environmental Biology: 4.6 percent increase, or just over $5 million in new funding, placing the division at $114.66 million.
  • Biological Infrastructure: 11.9 percent or $10.2 million in new funding, placing the division at $96.1 million.

The Emerging Frontiers and Plant Genome programs would not receive new funding in the request. Thus, requested funding for these programs would be at the FY 2007 requested levels of $99.16 and $101.22 million, respectively.

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Interior Science Budget Flat, at Best

The Department of the Interior, in its entirety, requested approximately $10.7 billion, coupled with permanent funding through current legislation of $5.1 billion, the total 2008 budget for Interior would be $15.8 billion. The request, according to the Interior budget documents, is in excess of $317.8 million (3.7 percent) over the 2007 request and $250.4 million (2.3 percent) less than the enacted funding level for FY 2006, exclusive of supplemental appropriations. Priorities for Interior in terms of funding include: serving communities and services to Tribes; the wildland fire program; law enforcement; resource protection and improved health of watersheds; recreation and improved access to recreational opportunities; resource use and the ability to help provide energy security for the country; and management excellence.

Within the Department of the Interior, the National Parks Service (NPS) would see roughly a $250 million budget increase if the administration's plan is implemented, although many other Department of the Interior agencies would not receive robust budget increases. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $975 million, roughly two million less than what was appropriated for fiscal year 2007.

Within the USGS budget, biological research and monitoring would receive $143 million, an increase of roughly 3 million over FY 2007 and 2006 funding levels, of which $5 million would be allocated for the Healthy Lands Initiative, an initiative in the 2008 budget that "will expand cooperative conservation efforts to help restore nearly half a million acres of western land that hosts world-class wildlife habitat and energy resources and provides major economic benefits to local communities." Also within Biological Research, Cooperative Research Units would receive $62.3 million, approximately $450,000 less than 2006 enacted funding levels and Biological Information Management would receive $22 million roughly $1million one million less than 2006 enacted levels. Some additional increases to the USGS budget for 2008 include $3 million for the Ocean Action Plan. Of the $3 million, $1.5 million will be allocated for sea floor mapping in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The remaining $1.5 million will be allocated for the national water-quality monitoring network.

Finally, increases in the FY 2008 USGS budget include $4.7 million to repair and rehabilitate several buildings at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge. The 2008 budget would reduce funding for minerals research and the cooperative water programs as well as lower funding for priority ecosystem science, including mammalian population ecology and habitat programs, by $2 million.

The USGS budget for FY 2008 does include a proposed increase of $24 million to fund fixed cost escalations, expenses that are unavoidable in the short term (unemployment compensation and government-wide pay changes).

USGS director Mark Myers, addressing a group of individuals representing the USGS Coalition, various agencies within the Interior, and other organizations concerned about the Survey, said that although USGS did not fare as well as the NPS, he sees it as a neutral budget valuing science. Significantly, the budget request remains well below the $1.2 billion recommended by the USGS Coalition for the past two years.

Also within the Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service, according to budget documents, requested $1.3 billion. Of the $1.3 billion, the request included $1.03 billion for Resource Management, which is $25 million more than the 2007 enacted level passed by the Senate. The National Wildlife Refuge System would receive an increase of $12 million over the 2006 enacted level, although fisheries and aquatic resources would receive an $8 million increase over the 2006 enacted funding level.

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EPA Budget is in Hazardous Situation

Over the last decade, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been plagued by significant budget cuts. The request for FY 2008 is no different. EPA has requested $7.2 billion, $100 million below last year's requested amount and $400 million less than the 2006 appropriated funding level. EPA's budget request for FY 2008, in fact, is the lowest in well over ten years, after peaking in 2004 at $8.4 billion. EPA has proposed to reduce the number of full-time equivalents (full time positions [FTE]) from 17,560 to 17,324, eliminating roughly 236 positions.

Notably, over the past three years, scientific research within the EPA has endured considerable cuts. One primary goal of the EPA consists of maintaining and protecting clean air as well as addressing global climate change issues. It has comprised approximately 13 per cent of EPA's budget for the past three years, however, its budget for enhancing science and research has gone from $134 million in FY 06 (President's budget) to $98 million for FY 08. Similarly, EPA's goal of land preservation and restoration, accounting for nearly a quarter of the EPA budget, has seen sizeable budget reductions in enhancing science and research. Since 2006, funding for science and research has decreased $9 million in a program responsible for among many things, research on the transport of contaminants in ground water.

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Forest Service Budget Cut

Within the FY 2008 budget request, the United States Forest Service (USFS) has requested $263 million for Forest and Rangeland Research, a decrease of $14.71 million from FY 2006 and 2007 enacted funding levels. Further, it is estimated that Forest and Rangeland Research would lose 177 full-time equivalent positions, representing an 8 percent reduction in staff from FY 2006 and 2007 appropriations. For FY 2008, research represents only 5.7 percent of the entire Forest Service budget, maintaining its low placement among USFS budget priorities in recent years. The administration indicated that the proposed FY 2008 Forest Service budget reflects a shift in national focus with greater emphasis on wildland fire suppression and law enforcement operations, both of which received substantial increases from the enacted FY 2006 and 2007 appropriations. Under the FY 2008 budget, wildland fire suppression would increase by $120.8 million (15 percent) and law enforcement operations would rise $12 million (12 percent) compared to FY 2006 and 2007 funded levels.

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Funding Sinks for Many NOAA Programs

The FY 2008 budget requested by President Bush for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is $3.82 billion, roughly $96 million less than Congress appropriated for NOAA in FY 2006 and maintained for FY 2007 in the recently passed continuing resolution.

The administration asserts that the FY 2008 NOAA budget reflects an increased commitment to the Ocean Action Plan (OAP) and the recently released Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP), improved severe weather forecasting, and expanded climate monitoring and research. In fact, as promised at a White House briefing on oceans on 26 January 2007, the FY 2008 NOAA budget includes $123 million in “new funding” to support three major areas outlined in the OAP: (1) Enhanced ocean science and research; (2) Protection and restoration of sensitive marine and coastal areas; and (3) Ensuring sustainable use of ocean resources. Despite its enthusiasm for the OAP and ORPP, however, the FY 2008 NOAA budget falls short in its overall commitment to research and development, as evidenced by a $44 million decrease, or 8 percent, in R&D funding compared to FY 2006 and 2007 levels.

The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the National Ocean Service (NOS) represent 60, 9, and 7 percent, respectively, of NOAA’s total R&D budget. The White House has touted a $60 million investment of “new money” specifically for ocean science research, but these increases appear to be counterbalanced by large decreases from FY 2006 and 2007 funding levels in other parts of NOAA’s R&D portfolio. For example, within OAR, the Climate Research Program budget would increase $23.2 million (14 percent) from FY 2006 enacted levels; however, Weather and Air Quality Research would receive a $20.4 million cut (30 percent) and Ocean, Coastal and Great Lakes Research funding would decrease by $21.2 million (17 percent) compared to FY 2006 funding levels. NMFS would receive a $37.4 million (6 percent) increase from FY 2006, with increases in Fisheries Research and Management programs, in support of OAP and ORPP-related activities. To implement a different part of the ORPP, the National Ocean Service (NOS) would receive $10 million for ocean biological sensors and hurricane decision-support tools. However, other programs in NOS would experience significant declines in FY 2008. For example, Ocean Resources Conservation and Assessment, which include a number of coral reef programs, would lose $54.6 million (26 percent) in FY 2008 compared to FY 2006 and 2007. Navigation Services, a program that is responsible for coastal mapping, would experience a budget cut of $5.5 million (4 percent) compared to FY 2006 and 2007 enacted levels.

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Rising to the Challenge: Scientists and Business Leaders Address Global Climate Change

On 18 February 2007, the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, publicly issued a strong statement regarding global environmental change, “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”

The board’s statement was released during a town hall meeting of school teachers at the 2007 AAAS annual meeting in San Francisco and represents its first consensus on global climate change. It follows the 2 February 2007 report released by the Physical Science Basis Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that concluded, “Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [greater than 90 percent certain] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Further, the AAAS board warned, “Delaying action to address climate change will increase the environmental and societal consequences as well as the costs. The longer we wait to tackle climate change, the harder and more expensive the task will be.”

The statement by the AAAS board represents a growing call-to-action by scientific, environmental, and business organizations to address global climate change. On 22 January 2007, the US Climate Action Partnership, a high profile group of market-leading businesses and environmental organizations, called for the federal government to quickly enact legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On 20 February 2007, the Global Round Table on Climate Change, a coalition of American and international corporations, institutions, and non-governmental organizations, is expected to issue a similar statement calling for caps on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

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Kansas Board of Education Returns Evolution to State Science Curricula

On Tuesday, February 13, 2007, the Kansas Board of Education approved new science standards that reflect the consensus of the scientific community on evolution and reject the “teach the controversy” stance of intelligent design/creationism advocates.

The new guidelines replace those approved in November 2005 that called into question well-accepted concepts in evolution and permitted the teaching of supernatural phenomena, such as intelligent design/creationism, in public school science classrooms. Those standards were intensely criticized by scientific and educational organizations, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Teachers Association, and the National Center for Science Education.

The new Kansas science standards further clarify that science is “a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.”

The 6-4 vote for the new science standards was a result of last November’s elections, in which two anti-science board members were defeated. The science guidelines, the fifth set passed in eight years, will be used to develop tests that determine how well Kansas students are learning science.

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EPA at it Again

On the same day that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its fiscal year 2008 budget request, announcing that it will seek $100 million less than FY 2007 and $400 million less than the FY 2006 enacted level; an unfair labor practice complaint was filed by the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of EPA Locals, Council 238 before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The complaint was filed due to the closure of the EPA Regional Library in Chicago and allegations that EPA has refused to look into the impacts that closing this library and others would make.

The EPA Regional Library in Chicago is one of several libraries closed in the past twelve months. Last October, EPA announced that it was closing its Headquarters Library to visitors and walk-in patrons. It followed the closing of the Ft. Meade Environmental Science Center (ESC) Library (February 2006) as well as regional library closures in Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, and a specialized library on toxics and pesticides. Many of the services offered by these regional libraries have been transitioned to the Cincinnati library.

The library closures have caused quite a stir within the federal government as well as on Capitol Hill. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a full committee oversight hearing on 6 February to review recent EPA decisions, including decisions to close libraries. EPW chairwoman, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in her opening statement said, “Today is the first in a series of hearings. EPA has gone too long without meaningful oversight. I want to send a clear signal to EPA and to this Administration. We are watching. The American public is watching. And no longer will EPA rollbacks quietly escape scrutiny.”

EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson testified before the entire committee, attributing closures of EPA libraries to the converting of materials to electronic media. Yet, Johnson was unable to answer many questions regarding EPA library closures from committee members. Boxer asked Johnson if the EPA library servicing Region 4 in Atlanta was open, Johnson answered, “Our regional library in Atlanta remains open.” Yet, all interlibrary loan requests are being handled through the Cincinnati Library. When asked if the EPA had closed the Environmental Science library at Fort Meade, Mr. Johnson answered with a definitive “no.” However, as was stated in the hearing, if you visit the EPA’s website for Ft. Meade’s library, it states, “The Library at EPA Region 3’s Environmental Science Center (ESC) at Ft. Meade is currently unstaffed. Consequently, public access to the Library facility has been suspended.”

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New in BioScience: "Declining Amphibian Populations: What is the Next Step?"

In the February 2007 Washington Watch article in BioScience, Megan Kelhart explores the state of amphibian conservation. An excerpt from the article follows:

Declines in global amphibian populations have been in news headlines around the world since they were acknowledged in 1989 at the First World Congress of Herpetology. Eager to explain the causes, biologists have established ambitious research, monitoring, and inventory programs. But what is being done at the policy level to stem current declines and prevent future losses?”

According to biologist Edmund Brodie, a professor at Utah State University, very little is being done.

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