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Public Policy Report for 7 January 2008

Bush Signs FY 2008 Appropriations: Science Community Disappointed

On 26 December 2007, President Bush signed the $555 billion omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 (H.R. 2674). The legislation was finally pushed through both chambers of Congress in the days prior to Christmas. Prior to passage of this omnibus measure, the only appropriations legislation to become law was the FY 2008 Appropriations for the Department of Defense (H.R. 3222), which was signed by the President on 13 November. The omnibus includes funding for all remaining federal agencies and programs as well as billions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, appropriated funding for various federal research and development agencies was below the levels requested last February. The cuts were a result of Congress seeking to fund the breadth of federal programs and agencies while remaining below budget limits imposed by the White House.

Some specific details for selected science agencies include:

NSF: The FY 2008 omnibus provides NSF with $6.065 billion, $364 million less than the President requested and $434 million and $488 million less than the House and Senate proposed, respectively. This translates to just a 1.1 percent overall increase in funding for the Research and Related Activities accounts, from $4.766 billion dollars in FY 2007 to $4.821 billion dollars for FY 2008. Of significant concern to biologists, is an estimated 2.9 percent cut from FY 2007 for the Biological Sciences directorate. Additionally, the omnibus calls for the return of $33 million that NSF was appropriated in FY 2007, but did not spend.

NIH: The National Institutes of Health will receive $29.456 billion in the FY 2008 appropriations, approximately $776 million less than the amount President Bush vetoed in an earlier appropriation bill in November and just 1.1 percent more than NIH received in FY 2007. The $275 million increase over FY 2007 is largely accounted for by a transfer to the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS and increased funding for the NIH Common Fund. Thus, most institutes at NIH will remain flat-funded in FY 2008. Additionally, the omnibus appropriations bill included language requiring all investigators funded by NIH to submit peer-reviewed manuscripts accepted for publication to NIH’s PubMed Central for public access “no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.”

USDA: With the addition of $264 million in earmarks, the research and development appropriation for the US Department of Agriculture in FY 2008 will increase 2 percent from FY 2007 to $2.3 billion, $292 million more than the President’s budget request. In terms of extramural funding programs, total funding for research and development through the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) will remain flat-funded in FY 2008 at $654 million. This is also the case for the competitive grants program, the National Research Initiative (NRI), administered by CSREES. NRI will remain flat-funded in FY 2008 at $191 million, well below the $257 million presidential request. Research and development within the USDA’s intramural research arm, the Agricultural Research Service, will increase 3.2 percent over FY 2007 to $1.2 billion. This includes $47 million for earmarked construction projects in the Buildings and Facilities account. In FY 2008, the research and development budget for the US Forest Service will increase by $15 million, or 4.7 percent, to $337 million.

NOAA: Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received a 7.6 percent increase in research and development, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) recently released a statement indicating that the omnibus bill will reduce funding to a number of vital programs.

EPA: Research and development for the Environmental Protection Agency in FY 2008 is down 3.2 percent ($18 million) from 2007, its lowest level in over two decades. Efforts to increase research and development in FY 2008 for EPA were discarded by Congress, lost in negotiations in the final appropriations bill. Congress did, however, direct $3 million in the omnibus bill for EPA to “restore service at the EPA’s technical and research libraries.”

USGS: Within the Department of Interior, the omnibus bill provides $1.022 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), lower than the $1.033 billion for USGS approved by the House and slightly more than the $1.010 billion approved by the Senate. Of note, the various biological science programs within the Biological Resources Discipline (BRD) will receive nearly $180 million, with the bulk of this funding allocated to biological research and monitoring ($141.2 million after a mandated rescission), a small increase from the FY 2007 level. Within BRD, contaminant biology will receive $2 million, the National Biological Information Infrastructure will receive $6.85 million, and cooperative research units will receive $16.1 million.

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AIBS Writes to Texas Commissioner of Higher Education

In mid-December 2007 the Certification Advisory Council of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) recommended that the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research (ICR) be allowed to offer on-line Master’s degrees in science education. ICR, like Answers in Genesis, espouses Young Earth Creationism, a literal view of the Bible that contends the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. This world-view permeates the ICR graduate program in Science Teacher Education. ICR is seeking approval from the THECB to begin offering degrees immediately while waiting for accreditation from the state-recognized Southern Association of Schools and Colleges.

In light of this troubling development, 2007 AIBS President Douglas J. Futuyma wrote to THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes on behalf of AIBS expressing his serious concerns with the ICR request and encouraging the THECB to deny certification. Futuyma wrote, “It is unacceptable for the state to sanction the training of science educators committed to the practice of advancing their religious beliefs in a science classroom.” He continued, “The THECB will ill-serve science students if it certifies a science teacher education program based on a religious world-view rather than modern science.”

The letter may be read at: http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20071228_aibs_letter_to_5.html

In response to the AIBS letter and those from many other science education advocates, Commissioner Paredes has appointed a second evaluation committee, to re-evaluate the ICR application to grant graduate degrees in science education. This committee is scheduled to meet for the first time 7 January, and the entire THECB is scheduled to consider the ICR request on 24 January 2008.

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New Resource from AIBS

The AIBS Public Policy Office is pleased to announce that a new fact sheet highlighting the importance of NSF funded biological sciences research is now available. This new ‘one-pager’ is available via the Federal Budget Resource Page, or directly at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/Bio_funding_2008_final.pdf.

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New in BioScience: "FYI: Threats Remain to Evolution Education"

In the Washington Watch article in the January issue of BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on recent evolution education developments in Texas.

An excerpt from the article follows:

Just over two years ago, intelligent design and creationism (IDC) proponents suffered a stunning legal defeat when a federal judge ruled that intelligent design is no different from religious belief in creationism and has no place in the science classroom. Long-time science education advocates applauded the significant victory in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case (400 F. Supp. 2d 707 [M.D. Pa. 2005]).

Since the Kitzmiller decision, politicians from state capitols to the halls of Congress have seized on reports warning that the nation’s schoolchildren continue to lag behind international peers in science and mathematics, and that the nation’s global leadership in research and innovation are in jeopardy. Nationally, Congress and the executive branch have moved with alacrity to enact legislation intended to stimulate innovation and enhance science education through teacher training and improved instruction. Governors, working through the National Governors Association, have launched “Innovation America,” a plan that recognizes the important role states play in training skilled and scientific workforces. Also since Kitzmiller, many elected officials who advocated—sometimes surreptitiously—teaching IDC have lost elections. In this context, some in the science community hoped for a respite from the evolution issue. But political interests seeking to serve the IDC community remain, particularly at the state and local levels, and in some circumstances, they retain power.

To continue reading the complete article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2008_01.html.

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