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Public Policy Report for 19 March 2007

House Committee Approves Four Bills

The House Science and Technology Committee has approved four measures intended to enhance U.S. science and technology competitiveness. Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) introduced the "Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act" (H.R. 363) on 10 January 2007. The original legislation would have authorized appropriations for basic research and research infrastructure in science and engineering, and support for graduate fellowships. However, prior to approving the measure, Chairman Gordon and Ranking Member Ralph M. Hall (R-TX) offered an amendment to strike language that would authorize funding levels for basic research. It is expected that these provisions of the original legislation will be considered independently at a later date. As \reported out of the committee, the measure would support agency efforts to make early career grant awards to researchers at academic institutions, and would direct that 1.5 percent of Research and Related Activity (RR&A) funding at the National Science Foundation be used to support the Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training program. For researchers concerned about the state of the nation's research infrastructure, H.R. 363 would also establish a national office for research infrastructure at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The new program would identify and prioritize major deficiencies in the nation's research infrastructure at academic research enterprises and national laboratories. Moreover, the legislation would direct the new program to prioritize and coordinate federal agency responses to the identified priorities.

The other three measures included legislation introduced by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) to improve high performance computing (H.R. 1068); H.R. 85 introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) to institute a network of advanced energy technology transfer centers; and H.R. 1126 introduced by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) to reauthorize the Steel and Aluminum Energy Conservation and Technology Competitiveness Act of 1988.

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America COMPETES Act Introduced in Senate

The Senate is considering legislation intended to stimulate innovation through investments in physical sciences and engineering. The measure would seek to provide increased opportunities for elementary through graduate level science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

In this bipartisan effort, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) with 41 cosponsors introduced S. 761, "The America COMPETES Act" (America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act). "The America COMPETES Act" is similar to S. 3936, "The National Competitiveness Investment Act," introduced by former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), then Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and 40 others in September 2006. It also contains several sections derived from the "American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2006" (S. 2802) and the "Protecting America's Competitive Edge through Energy (PACE-E) Act of 2006" (S. 2197). "The America COMPETES Act" specifically addresses a number of recommendations made by the National Academies' in the 2006 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm Report," particularly with respect to education and research support.

Although "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" and the President's American Competitiveness Initiative emphasize boosting the physical sciences through increased support to the Department of Energy Office of Science, the National Institute for Standards and Technology core laboratories, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), "The America COMPETES Act" asserts that two other federal agencies also play a critical role in competitiveness and innovation: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"The America COMPETES Act" would require any executive agency that funds STEM research to allocate approximately 8 percent of its annual research budget to innovation acceleration research. To this end, S. 761 would specifically call for the Department of Energy to establish a competitive program to fund high-risk, high-reward extramural research.

The legislation would authorize appropriations for the NSF to double from a FY 2006 level of $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion in FY 2011. The NIST appropriations would be authorized to increase yearly from $703 million in FY 2008 to $937 million in FY 2011. Appropriations for the Department of Energy Office of Science would be authorized to increase annually from $3.6 billion in FY 2006 to $5.2 billion in FY 2011, setting the course for a budget doubling over the next ten years. The legislation would also require an increase of $160 million to NASA's FY 2008 basic research budget.

Across agencies, "The America COMPETES Act" would establish or expand a number of STEM-related education programs. For example, S. 761 would strengthen teacher training by establishing summer institutes for teachers and expanding the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program to recruit and train math and science teachers in high-need local school districts. The legislation would provide assistance to states to establish math and science specialty schools, expand Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in math, science, and foreign languages, and create summer internships for middle and high school students.

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EU Launches New Research Funding Organization

Continuing its effort to increase European research competitiveness and to further reduce the innovation gap between European Union members and the United States, the EU has launched the European Research Council (ERC). According to ERC documents, the Council marks "a new approach to fund research in Europe. Funded through the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the ERC aims to stimulate creativity and scientific excellence in basic research in Europe. The ERC enables open and direct competition for funding between the very best researchers in any field science, engineering, and scholarship on the basis of scientific excellence."

In remarks accompanying the launch of the ERC, Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research, stated, "today is about change: a change in direction, ideas and opportunities." Potocnik also recognized the speed with which the ERC was established, noting that it was proposed in 2004. "In terms of funding," continued Potocnik, "we have to be satisfied, although I still believe we can and should go higher. Nonetheless, not many new organizations are offered a budget of over 1 billion euros per year on average."

Similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation, the new ERC was established to "fund research at the frontiers of science." To achieve this, the ERC will fund investigator-initiated research proposals. Secondly, the ERC will be governed by an independent Scientific Council, not the European Commission.

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Climate Change and Wildlife Update

After a 27 December 2006 announcement by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the evaluation process continues. However, even though the Bush Administration has considered listing the polar bear under ESA, it does not intend to address the cause of habitat loss. Furthermore, the FWS may not consider identifying critical habitat for protection. Rosa Meehan, head of the Service's marine mammal division in Alaska, said "should a decision be made to list ... we will look at direct actions that could help polar bears. Carbon is a broader question that will play out on a bigger field." While Fish and Wildlife sort through data, several members of Congress have circulated a Dear Colleague letter requesting that wildlife be included in legislation responding to climate change.

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SETAC-North America Issues Statement About Science in the Classroom

The Board of Directors of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) North America recently posted their position statement on the teaching of science in the classroom (Approved November 2006).

The SETAC North America Board of Directors explicitly states that science is "the acquisition of new knowledge based upon observations, hypotheses, experimentation and the study of physical evidence and is based on the fundamental assumption that observations of the physical world can be explained by natural causes."

Further, given the definition and nature of science, SETAC affirms that evolution by natural selection is an underlying principle of biology.

To read SETAC's statement and those from other AIBS member societies on teaching evolution, go to: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/teaching_evolution.html

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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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