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Public Policy Report for 5 February 2008

State of the Union Recap: Energy, Earmarks & Economy

President Bush addressed Congress, the administration, and the nation Tuesday, 28 January, delivering his final State of the Union speech. The President primarily focused on national security issues and stimulating the economy but touched on energy security, stating, “We must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology.” The President addressed the need to capture carbon emissions, increase the use of renewable fuel sources, and create an international clean technology fund, but offered no particularly innovative energy policies or initiatives. In fact, following the speech, several members of Congress expressed their desire to hear the President talk more strongly about climate change and the need to address emissions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a joint statement, “We agree with the President that we must work together to make progress on our most pressing challenges. Yet tonight, the President offered little more than the status quo. At a time when our economy is on shaky ground and our leadership around the world is eroding, the status quo won’t do.”

The top two Democrats in Congress were not alone; Republican Senator John Warner (R-VA) stated that he “wished President Bush would take stronger steps” toward addressing climate change and cutting emissions. Several other Democrats echoed this, pushing slightly further, stating that the address was a wasted opportunity to make significant progress in reducing emissions and fighting climate change.

The President, addressing Congress directly, stated that he would veto any forthcoming appropriations bill that did not cut the number and amount of earmarks from last year in half. He followed up the address by issuing an executive order, “Protecting American Taxpayers from Government Spending on Wasteful Earmarks” (Executive Order 13457, Federal Register 29 January 2008). The Order stated, “To ensure the proper use of taxpayer funds that are appropriated for Government programs and purposes, it is necessary that the number and cost of earmarks be reduced, that their origin and purposes be transparent, and that they be included in the text of the bills voted upon by the Congress and presented to the President.”

A number of Democratic members of Congress questioned the President’s motivation after agreeing to sign appropriations legislation from a Republican Congress for six years, with no mention of earmarks. Agreeing with the President, several Republican members indicated that the time to end wasteful earmarks is now. Yet the question remains how Congress will find the time to vote on $100,000 programs in a fiscal year 2009 budget request that totals $3 trillion and when continuing resolutions and consolidated funding have become the norm each fiscal year since 2002.

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Bush Proposes Biggest Budget Ever, Will Science Suffer?

Just one week following the State of the Union address where he stressed the importance of spending tax dollars wisely, on 4 February 2008 President Bush released his budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2009 - to the tune of $3.1 trillion, a budget that would impose a $400 billion deficit upon the next administration. Despite its largesse, the FY 09 budget would reduce a number of discretionary programs by millions of dollars. The Department of Defense would see a 7 percent increase in FY 09, while many domestic programs, including food programs for poor children, research assistance to manufacturers, career and technical education grants, weatherization assistance, graduate medical education at children’s hospitals, and a public housing revitalization program would be cut or eliminated. In fact, the Administration proposes that all non-security discretionary funding in the FY 09 budget be held below the rate of inflation.

At a briefing convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. John Marburger, Science Adviser to the President, presented the FY 09 Federal Research and Development Budget. For FY 09, the President proposes $147 billion, a three percent increase over the amount enacted in the FY 2008 omnibus appropriations. Of this, $29.3 billion would support basic research with $12.2 billion specifically directed towards basic research in the physical sciences and engineering. During the briefing, Marburger explained that such emphasis on the physical sciences and engineering reflects the goals of the Bush Administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) which aims to double investments in basic research in these key areas at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DoE) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

For a review of ACI, see: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20060213.html#001901

For a complete description of the federal funding process, please visit the AIBS Federal Budget Resource at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_source.html

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A First Look at NSF in the FY 09 Budget: Physical Sciences Favored, Again

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Administration has again requested significant budget increases for directorates viewed as central to the American Competitiveness Initiative. Although the proposed increases vary by directorate, many of the physical science, engineering and cyber- related directorates would receive budget bumps on the order of 19 to 20 percent over FY 08 estimated appropriation. The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) would receive 10.3 percent in new funds, placing the FY 09 request at roughly $63.04 million above what the BIO directorate may receive from the FY 08 appropriation. Meanwhile, the Social Science, Behavior, and Economics directorate would receive roughly 8.5 percent in new funding. Overall, for Research and Related Activities (R&RA) programs, the administration has requested $5.594 billion, an average increase across all directorates of roughly 16 percent over the FY 08 estimated appropriation.

As reported in the 7 January 2008 Public Policy Report (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20080107.html#004475), the FY 08 appropriations passed by Congress and signed by the President provided roughly a one-percent increase over FY 07 to the R&RA account at NSF. Importantly, given that the FY 08 budget for BIO saw no real increase over the FY 07 budget, if enacted, the proposed increase for FY 08 would represent a modest two-year adjustment for BIO.

The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account which supports the acquisition, construction, and commissioning of major facilities and equipment that provide unique capabilities at the frontiers of science and engineering will see the estimated $55 million boost in funding that it is expected to receive for FY 08 erode in FY 09. Total MREFC funding would decrease by $73.2 million, or 33 percent, from FY 08 estimates in FY 09. MREFC will continue to support three ongoing projects - the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, and the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory - as well as design activities for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope. However, three other projects, including the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Ocean Observatories Initiative, and the Alaska Region Research Vessel, would not receive MREFC funds in FY 09. The $26 million requested for NEON pre-construction design and development in FY 09 will be managed by the Emerging Frontiers sub-activity within the BIO directorate.

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USGS Budget is Mixed: NBII to Get Cut

The Department of the Interior, in its entirety, requested approximately $10.7 billion for fiscal year (FY) 09; with $6 billion in permanent funding carried through current legislation, the total 2009 budget for Interior would be $16.7 billion. The request, according to the Interior Budget in Brief, is essentially flat when compared to FY 08. Priorities for Interior in the upcoming fiscal year in order of importance include: serving communities; resource protection; recreation and improved access to recreational opportunities; resource use and the ability to help provide energy security for the country; and management excellence.

Within Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $969 million; $38 million below the FY 2008 enacted budget and $6.4 million below the 2008 President’s budget request. Of significance in the USGS budget, biological research would receive $180.3 million, slightly above the level enacted in FY 08 appropriations, yet below the FY 08 budget request ($181.1 million). Biological research and monitoring would receive $145 million, of which $4.5 million would be allocated for the Healthy Lands and Birds initiatives. Of note, the National Biological Infrastructure Initiative (known as NBII) would experience a $2.9 million reduction, a significant cut for USGS biological information management and delivery. The total amount allocated to information management would then total $19.6 million, compared to $22 million enacted in FY 08. Cooperative Research Units would be cut by $764,000, bringing the requested amount in FY 09 to $15.4 million.

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Decision on Texas Creationist Grad Program Delayed

The Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has asked the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to delay final consideration of its request to grant graduate degrees in science education until April 2008. 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. 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 mid-December 2007 the Certification Advisory Council of the THECB preliminarily recommended that ICR be allowed to offer on-line Master’s degrees in science education. This recommendation elicited significant outcry from science education advocates; according to the Dallas Morning News, the THECB received over 200 emails on the subject, including a letter from 2007 AIBS president Douglas J. Futuyma urging the THECB to deny ICR certification. On behalf of AIBS, 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/20071228aibsletterto5.html In response to the AIBS letter and those from many other science education advocates, THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes appointed a second committee of scientists and science educators to re-evaluate the ICR. He told Education Week on 9 January, “Our primary objective in looking at this program is to make sure any master’s degree in science education will prepare teachers who can get students in high school ready to do college-level work in science.”

To this end, Paredes requested ICR to supply more specific information on its online learning program, science curriculum, and faculty research. The entire THECB was initially scheduled to vote on the ICR request on 23 January 2008, but ICR has asked for an extension to address Paredes’ concerns; the THECB is now expected to consider the application at its 24 April 2008 meeting.

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AIBS Joins Call for 2008 Presidential Debate on Science

AIBS has added its name to a growing list of scientists, concerned citizens, and leading scientific organizations calling on the presidential candidates to go on-the-record about key science and technology policy issues in a public debate forum.

Launched in December 2007, the grassroots effort ScienceDebate2008.com has over 12,000 supporters including prominent scientists and Nobel laureates, university presidents, leaders of scientific professional societies, former directors of federal science agencies, journalists, members of Congress, and most recently the National Academies of Science.

The petition signed by ScienceDebate2008 supporters states, “Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.”

You can add your name to the growing list, submit potential debate questions, and learn more about the movement at www.sciencedebate2008.com

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PPO Posts Annual Report - With a New Look!

The 2007 Public Policy Annual Report has been posted online and has a new look! See and read what the AIBS Public Policy Office has been doing the past year, what accomplishments have been made, and how you can participate. Download the report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/2007AIBSPPO.pdf

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New in BioScience: "FYI: Threats Remain for 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/washingtonwatch2008_01.html

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