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Public Policy Report for 5 March 2007

Congress Begins Budget Hearings, Asks Questions About Funding Balance

Congressional hearings on the President Bush's fiscal year 2008 budget have begun. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science recently began its consideration of science funding, including the National Science Foundation budget request. Among the witnesses testifying before the committee was National Science Board chairman, Dr. Steven C. Beering. Following opening statements and Dr. Beering's testimony, subcommittee chairman Mollohan (D-WV) inquired about the imbalance in proposed funding increases across science directorates, namely the 7 - 10 percent increase for the physical sciences directorates compared to the roughly 4.1 percent that would be received by the biological sciences. This inquiry led to further discussion about funding disparities and whether the FY 2008 NSF budget promotes an integrated research portfolio.

The subcommittee continued its inquiry into science funding Wednesday (28 February) afternoon with Norman R. Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation and chairman of the National Academy of Sciences committee that wrote "Gathering Above the Rising Storm," the report behind the drive to fund physical sciences, and Dr. Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Leshner thanked the committee for its commitment to science and for funding increases in FY 2007, but also stated that growth in biological science research continues to lag behind other sciences. As Leshner testified, "[a] successful innovative future depends on robust support for all scientific fields, and that all scientific fields need to rise together."

Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) stated that climate research also continues to decline in constant dollars with decreases at NASA in earth observing programs. He stressed the importance of funding climate change research by warning that the poles are the canaries of climate change.

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Administration Plants Seeds for New Farm Bill

On 31 January 2007, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns revealed the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposal to reauthorize the programs of the USDA (i.e., the 2007 farm bill). The massive plan, like the 2002 farm bill (PL 107-171) which is set to expire 30 September 2007, proposes ten titles that would outline U.S. domestic agricultural policies and reauthorize farm programs. These titles include commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, farm credit, rural development, research, forestry, and energy.

Overall, if enacted by Congress as proposed, the 2007 farm bill would spend approximately $10 billion less than the cost of the 2002 farm bill over the last five years (excluding ad-hoc disaster aid), mostly through significant changes to the commodity payment program. According to the USDA, the 2007 proposals would authorize approximately $5 billion more than the projected spending if the 2002 farm bill were extended.

The 2007 proposed legislation suggests significant changes to the USDA's research structure. Currently, the USDA has two separate agencies responsible for both basic and applied agricultural science. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) conducts intramural research at 107 research locations across the country. The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) supports extramural programs including the National Research Initiative (NRI) competitive grants program and formula research grants that are distributed to land-grant universities. ARS and CSREES support similar research portfolios related to plant and animal systems, food and nutrition, and natural resources. The administration's proposal calls for the consolidation of ARS and CSREES into a single agency called the Research, Education, and Extension Service (REES) that would coordinate intramural as well as extramural research, education, and extension programs under the leadership of a chief scientist.

ARS and CSREES are located within the USDA's Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area along with the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Under the administration's proposal, REE would be renamed the Office of Science.

The proposal for greater research coordination in the administration's proposal echoes the recommendations made in 2006 by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) in CREATE-21 (Creating Research, Extension, and Teaching Excellence for the 21st Century). However, CREATE-21 suggested a more extensive integration of USDA research by calling for the consolidation of four agencies: ARS, CSREES, ERS, and U.S. Forest Service Research and Development.

In addition to restructuring the USDA research agencies, the administration's proposal would increase federal investment in high priority research areas like specialty crops and bio-fuels, and suggests a mandatory investment of $100 million per year to support scientific research on specialty crops. The plan would also provide a $50 million annual investment for the research and development of renewable fuels and bio-based products. Additionally, the 2007 farm bill research proposal would authorize the USDA to conduct research and diagnostics for highly infectious foreign animal diseases on mainland locations in the U.S and would invest $10 million in mandatory funding for organic farming research.

Congress has begun the process of developing its response, as have the broad array of USDA stakeholders. The Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), has already held a number of farm bill-related hearings in the 110th Congress and has more scheduled, including a 7 March hearing on agricultural research. On 28 February, the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, chaired by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), reviewed USDA proposals for specialty crops and organic agriculture. A draft bill is expected by the August 2007 Congressional recess.

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2007 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award Recipients Named

Graduate students Amber Szoboszlai of California State University and Sarah Wright of the University of Wisconsin have been named the 2007 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award recipients.

Szoboszlai and Wright receive an AIBS membership, including a subscription to BioScience, and will travel to Washington, DC on April 18-19 to participate in a congressional visits event sponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM). They will meet with members of Congress and their staffs and attend briefings on federal funding for research by senior members of the science policy community.

Amber Szoboszlai is a Marine Science graduate student at the California State University's Moss Landing Marine Labs on the Monterey Bay in California. Her Master's research, which she expects to complete in May 2007, uses field experiments to examine how some species of algae growing in the intertidal zone may modify environmental conditions to promote the settlement and growth of the juvenile stages of another co-existing algal species. Szoboszlai was awarded a 2007 California Sea Grant State Fellowship with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) to synthesize biological research projects conducted at MBNMS with management needs and goals. Following her fellowship in September 2007, she will begin her Ph.D. research in marine ecology at the University of California, Davis.

Sarah Wright is a doctoral candidate in Botany at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2006 for her dissertation research examining the effects of climate change on the range limits and timing of the life cycle of wild lupine, the only host plant of the endangered Karner blue butterfly. Wright is engaged in a number of science education and outreach activities including the UW Center for Biology Education Adult Role Models in Science Program and the National Phenology Network Implementation Team, Citizen Science and Outreach working group. She intends to pursue a career in science education following the completion of her Ph.D.

AIBS also recognized Kyle Brown, a Ph.D. candidate in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and Jennifer Jadin, a Ph.D. candidate in Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics at the University of Maryland as EPPLA honorable mentions.

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New in BioScience: "Just Another Report, or a Sea Change for Ocean Research?"

In the March 2007 Washington Watch column in BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on the recently released Ocean Research Plan. An excerpt from the article follows, but this and all other Washington Watch columns may be read for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

"For several years, ocean science advocates have been buoyed by various reports focusing attention on the importance of invigorating and prioritizing ocean research. Indeed, the US Ocean Action Plan called for the development of a long-range national ocean research agenda."

"The wait for this much-anticipated plan ended on 26 January 2007. In a day filled with a White House ceremony and a public briefing at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, the federal government issued its ocean research agenda. Prepared by the National Science and Technology Council's Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST), Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States for the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy establishes a federal and national research framework for the coming decade."

"According to Dan Walker of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a cochair of the JSOST, the report is unique because..."

Continue reading for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2007_03.html.

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Reminder: AIBS Evolution Education Policy Information is Available Online

The AIBS Public Policy Office monitors, analyzes, and reports local, state, and federal public policy developments (e.g., legislation, school board initiatives, and lawsuits) that threaten educators' ability to teach science and students' ability to gain an understanding of science, particularly evolution.

In addition to reporting on threats to science education in the Public Policy Report, the AIBS Public Policy Office also maintains a "State News on Teaching Evolution" archive featuring state-by-state coverage of evolution education developments. Quarterly, we release a fact sheet summarizing recent developments in different states.

Scientists and educators interested in current evolution and science education related developments in their home state may also wish to join the AIBS/NCSE State Evolution List Serve Network. For more information or to join a state evolution list-serve, please visit: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/teaching_evolution.html

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