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Public Policy Report for 2 April 2007

House Adopts Budget

If you count yourself among those addicted to C-SPAN, you will likely know that the House of Representatives narrowly (216-210) approved a budget resolution for fiscal year 2008 on 29 March 2007. Indeed, both sides of the aisle have dedicated considerable rhetorical effort to this year's budget debate, and both sides accurately noting that the budget is important because it defines our government's priorities. It is in articulating these priorities where issues arise. The resolution is also important because it establishes spending levels and spending rules under which the appropriations process will take place.

According to House Democrats, the resolution, which would allow spending to reach nearly $3 trillion, will balance the budget by 2012. House Democrats also disagree with Republican statements that the budget will increase taxes, noting that 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will remain in effect until their current expiration - generally between 2007 and 2010.

Significantly, the budget resolution reinstates a "pay go" system (pay as you go), which means that any new project or program to be funded will require offsetting its cost through reductions to other programs or through the establishment of new revenue sources.

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Major Changes at Smithsonian, NMNH

Lawrence Small has for the past seven years served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. To say that his tenure was uneventful is likely an understatement. Although the Smithsonian has seen some significant changes under Small's leadership, namely the opening of the Native American museum and a new aeronautics museum in northern Virginia, low staff morale, tight budgets, and questionable business deals also marked his tenure. Most recently, concerns emerged when some of Small's financial expenditures caught the attention of members of Congress and the media.

According to reports in the Washington Post, Small had charged $2 million in housing and office expenditures and $90,000 in unauthorized expenses. The intensity of congressional concern over Small's actions surfaced when Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) offered an amendment to freeze a $17 million budget increase for the Smithsonian's FY 2008 budget.

Small's resignation was announced on 26 March. Biologist and Director of the National Museum of Natural History, Cristian Samper was named Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian. On Tuesday, 27 March, David Evans, then Undersecretary for Science, announced his resignation. In at least one media report, Evans noted his disappointment about being passed over by Samper - who Evans recruited for the NMNH post. Following Evans' announcement, Samper named Ira Rubinoff, Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, to fill Evans' post on an interim basis.

Finally, on 30 March, Samper announced that former AIBS president Paul G. Risser would serve as the acting director for NMNH. Risser will assume the post effective 18 April. Presently, Risser is the chair of the University of Oklahoma Research Cabinet, where he coordinates research across the university's three campuses. Risser has served on the NMNH board for nine years. "We are very fortunate that Paul Risser has agreed to become the acting director of the National Museum of Natural History," said Cristian Samper. "His distinguished career as a scientist and university administrator, as well as his dedicated service on the museum's board, makes him uniquely qualified for this position."

"In an interesting way, the museum's extraordinary exhibits and its research and education programs are probably more important today for our country than at any time in our history," said Risser. "Our understanding of the natural sciences is unfolding at an extremely rapid rate, making it a challenge to just keep up with new discoveries and their applications."

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Russian Academy Asserts Autonomy

On 28 March 2007, the General Assembly of the Russian Academy of Sciences almost unanimously approved a new charter, rejecting a model charter proposed by the Russian Federation's Ministry of Education and Science that would have placed the academy under the supervision of a council largely appointed by the Russian president and parliament. Under the rejected model charter, the supervisory council would have also determined how funding for research would be allocated and would have placed some of the Academy's 400 research institutes under the control of Russian government ministries.

The Russian Academy of Sciences was founded by Peter the Great in 1724. The Academy's 1000 senior members are currently self-governed, overseeing a $1.2 billion budget and 200,000 researchers and staff members across Russia. Decisions on the allocation of research funds as well as the election of senior members and the institution's leading officials are determined by secret ballot.

The new charter approved by the Academy does change its status to that of a State Academy, and specifies that future presidents of the Academy of Science be approved by Russia's president. Additionally, the approved charter omits an age census clause, thus allowing the president and vice-presidents of the Academy, directors of its research institutes and the structures they supervise to remain in office beyond the age of 70.

Russian government officials contended that the charter they proposed and the Academy rejected was meant to modernize and increase the efficiency of the Academy. They have criticized the organization for being overly controlled by aging scientists and too slow to seek commercial applications for scientific breakthroughs.

Members of the Academy were concerned that the charter proposed by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science threatened the very nature of science conducted at the Academy and some even speculated that the Kremlin was eyeing valuable real estate properties held by the Academy.

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Education Releases Data About Postsecondary Faculty

The National Center for Education Statistics, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education, recently released the report, "Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2005, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Faculty, 2005-2006." This report provides information about the number of faculty and instructional staff employed in public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit postsecondary institutions in the United States. For full-time instructional faculty, the report describes the tenure status, gender, race/ethnicity, income, and fringe benefits by institution type. Over 6000 colleges, universities, and other institutions that were eligible to distribute Title IV federal student financial aid, such as Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, were included in this study that was conducted through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System during the 2005-6 academic year.

Among the findings, the report sheds some light on gender and racial/ethnic equality among postsecondary faculty. In fall 2005, 55 percent of all postsecondary faculty members were men. Women comprised 47 percent of new full-time faculty hires and 45 percent of faculty members who were on the tenure track at degree-granting institutions. However, with respect to full-time faculty members who had tenure, women represented 33 percent and men 67 percent. Considering race and ethnicity, 84 percent of full-time faculty members with tenure were White, non-Hispanic, compared to the 7 percent who were Asian/Pacific Islander, 5 percent who were Black, non-Hispanic, and 3 percent who were Hispanic.

The average salaries of full-time instructional faculty for the 2005-6 academic year at degree-granting institutions varied by academic rank, with faculty holding higher ranks earning higher average salaries. Considering 9-month average salaries, full professors earned $90,600, associate professors earned $65,600, assistant professors earned $55,000, instructors earned $47, 400, and lecturers earned $46,000. Overall, medical/dental plans and retirement plans were the largest fringe benefits provided by degree-granting institutions to their instructional faculty.

For more information, please visit the NCES website:
http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007150

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ESA, C-FARE, Tri-Societies Brief Capitol Hill

Scientists representing the Ecological Society of America (ESA), Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE), and American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America (ASA-CSSA-SSSA) recently were on Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress and their staff about the value of ecosystem services. Speakers at the briefing included Dr. Stephen Draft, an agricultural economist and Co-Director of the Environmental Resources Policy program at Southern Illinois University, Dr. Katherine Gross, a plant ecologist and Director of Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station, and Dr. John Havlin, a soil science professor at the North Carolina State University.

Dr. Kraft was sponsored by the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics and highlighted the importance of ecosystems being the nation's natural capital, stating, "Natural capital must be maintained just like other types of capital." He indicated that while ecosystems have no inherent market values through which landowners can directly derive income, farmers can be compensated for taking sensitive lands out of rotation to benefit wildlife, improve water quality, and conserve soil through several federal programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The USDA proposal for the Conservation Title of the 2007 Farm Bill suggests consolidating several of the non-CRP compensation programs to streamline activities and produce more cost-effective environmental benefits. A draft of the 2007 Farm Bill is expected by the August 2007 Congressional recess.

Dr. Katherine Gross, who was sponsored by the Ecological Society of America, spoke on the importance of using ecosystems near agricultural lands to promote cleaner waters. She stated that while nitrogen fertilizer has historically been useful in agriculture, its current and increasing usage has led to high nitrate concentrations in our rivers, which in turn flow downstream to coastal waters, creating dead zones and devastating coastal fisheries. However, wetland and riparian ecosystems adjacent to agricultural lands can provide a valuable filtering system for removing much of this nitrogen before it hits the streams. Dr. John Havlin, sponsored by ASA-CSSA-SSSA, then discussed land use change. He pointed out that each year 1.78 million acres of rural land are converted to residential use, and urban areas have been growing by 0.88 million acres per year.

Overall, the speakers presented a unified message that ecosystem services providing food, security, clean air, water, and biodiversity are critical to the health of the nation, and, even further, the sustainable use of our "natural capital" today can yield enhanced services sufficient to meet the needs of tomorrow.

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USGS Releases Report on Streamflow and Nutrient Delivery from the MS River to the Gulf of Mexico

The U.S. Geological Survey has released a new report that presents information on streamflow and nutrient delivery from the Mississippi River Basin to the northern Gulf of Mexico. Scientists have linked the delivery of nutrients and streamflow to the formation and extent of a "hypoxic zone" - a zone of waters with low dissolved oxygen that forms each summer in the northern Gulf along the Louisiana-Texas coast, according to a USGS statement accompanying the report. The resulting lack of oxygen can cause stress or death in bottom-dwelling organisms that cannot escape to more oxygen-rich areas of the Gulf.

The Mississippi River Basin drains about 3 million square kilometers or about one third of the land area of the United States. The Basin discharges to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana via the main stem of the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River.

The report also provides information on streamflow and nutrient delivery for 30 subbasins. The subbasins vary in size from 16,200 square kilometers (about the land area of Hawaii) to 1,847,000 square kilometers (about the land area of Alaska and Montana combined) and have various hydrology, land use, and geographic location. The information is presented for the available period of record for each subbasin, with some dating back to the early 1960's.

"Scientists will use this information to investigate causal linkages between the delivery of nutrients and streamflow to the northern Gulf and the magnitude and duration of the hypoxic zone" said Brent Aulenbach, a USGS scientist and lead author of the report. "Managers also will use this information to identify areas within the Mississippi River Basin that produce the highest nutrient yields, helping to guide management actions for mitigation of problems associated with excess nutrients in local receiving waters, as well as the Gulf of Mexico."

Aulenbach noted that the information will be used by the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrients Task Force, which currently is conducting a science assessment of the causes of hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The report includes information for the 5 major subbasins that comprise the entire Mississippi River Basin.

To view the Mississippi River Basin report, please go to:
http://toxics.usgs.gov/highlights/of-2007-1080.html

To view additional information on nutrients in the Mississippi River Basin and Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, go to http://toxics.usgs.gov/hypoxia/

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New in BioScience: "Transforming the rules on federal regulations"

In the April 2007 issue of BioScience, Noreen Parks reports on recent federal actions that will change the way federal regulations are developed.

An excerpt from the article follows:

In mid-January, as national attention focused on congressional reorganization and the never-ending controversies surrounding the Iraq war, the White House rewrote key chapters of the book on federal regulations. In one fell swoop, Executive Order 13422 made economic criteria the primary basis for regulation, placed fresh restrictions on agencies, amplified the role of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and extended the already protracted process of rulemaking. US Chamber of Commerce spokesman William Kovacs hailed the moves as the "first truly significant attempt...to hold federal bureaucrats to account and insist they act with discretion when imposing new and expensive burdens on businesses and consumers." But government watchdogs contend that the new order further politicizes the regulatory system, subverts agencies' abilities to fulfill their legal mandates, and erodes Congress's role in setting regulatory standards.

In brief, four important changes were enacted, affecting the federal agencies responsible for public health, safety, and environmental regulation.

To continue reading this article for free, visit
www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2007_04.html.

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Graduate Student Science Policy Internship

The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of an internship in the Washington, DC AIBS Public Policy Office. The internship is open to ASM student members who are currently enrolled in a graduate program and who are engaged in research that involves the study of mammals. The internship is for 3 months during fall 2007, and carries a monthly stipend of $2000. Selection criteria include demonstrated interest in public policy process, strong oral and written communication skills, and excellent academic record.

The AIBS Public Policy Office focuses on science and science education public policy (e.g., federal R&D funding policy). The office does not routinely address environmental policy matters. Additional information about ASM and AIBS can be found on their respective websites (www.mammalsociety.org, www.aibs.org).

The goal of the ASM-AIBS Public Policy Internship is to provide an opportunity for a student to gain hands-on experience in public policy at the national level that relates generally to biology and specifically to matters of interest to ASM. By working with the AIBS Public Policy Office, the intern will learn how scientific societies, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), executive branch agencies (e.g., NSF, NOAA), and the legislative branch interact in crafting public policy. While the intern will work primarily on U.S. policy matters, issues that affect international scientific collaboration (such as U.S. visa policies) as well as concerns particular to non-U.S. entities (primarily Canada and the European Union) will also be tracked and addressed as appropriate. Duties may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Attending science coalition meetings, congressional and agency briefings, hearings, press briefings and other relevant events;
  • Assisting AIBS Public Policy Office staff with tracking and analysis of relevant issues;
  • Assisting AIBS Public Policy Office staff with planning Capitol Hill briefings or press events; and
  • Preparing a written report on the internship experience.

Application requirements:

  • Letter of application describing the applicant's interest in science policy issues and detailing how this fellowship would enhance his/her professional goals. Applicant should include the names of two individuals other than their advisor from whom recommendations can be requested. These individuals should be able to address the candidate's leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills.
  • A two-page resume that emphasizes leadership and communication experience, including graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. It should include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, memberships, presentations, and publications
  • A statement describing the importance of federal support for fundamental mammalian research (500 words maximum). The statement should draw on the applicant's own experience and/or research area, and should illustrate how the applicant would try to convince his/her own congressional delegation that federal support for research, particularly on mammals, is important.
  • A letter of support/recommendation from advisor.
  • Copies of transcripts from each college or university from which applicant received a degree and/or is currently enrolled. If selected, official transcripts may be required.
  • Applicants are not required to be ASM members at the time of application but, if selected, must join the Society prior to starting the internship.

Deadline:
All application materials must be received by 1 May 2007 and should be sent to Dr. Alicia V. Linzey, Evaluation Committee Chair, 148 Double Brook Dr., Weaverville, NC 28787. Questions about the award can be addressed to Dr. Linzey at .

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Plan to Attend: 2007 AIBS Annual Meeting

The 2007 AIBS annual meeting will be held 14 to 15 May 2007 in Washington DC, on the theme of "Evolutionary Biology and Human Health," at the Capital Hilton Hotel. The program chair is 2007 AIBS President Douglas Futuyma, State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Plenary speakers and discussion groups will approach the meeting's topic from a variety of cross-cutting themes involving science, education, and public policy. Principles and methods of evolutionary biology are becoming increasingly important in many aspects of health science, among them understanding the human genome, the normal functions and malfunctions of human genes, and the origin and evolution of infectious diseases. These are among the topics addressed in sessions on Infectious Diseases; Genes and Genomics; and Human Adaptation and Malfunction. The rest of the meeting's program will be rounded out by events such as a contributed poster session, a diversity lunch, and AIBS awards.

The AIBS annual meeting this year is a joint meeting with the Natural Science Collections Alliance, whose meeting program will come online here when ready. Registration for the AIBS meeting includes entrance to all NSC Alliance events. The AIBS and NSC Alliance meetings take place immediately after the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) Conference and General Assembly (requires separate registration, see the IUBS meeting website), 9 -12 May at the Capital Hilton.

NOTE: The 2007 meeting of the AIBS Council of member societies and organizations will be held immediately following the AIBS annual meeting, in the same hotel, 15 May (2:00 pm - 5:30 pm) and 16 May (9:00 am - 12:30 pm).

For more information or to register online, please visit
http://www.aibs.org/annual-meeting/annual_meeting_2007.html

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