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Public Policy Report for 17 March 2008

AIBS Submits Congressional Testimony in Support of USGS, EPA

The AIBS Public Policy Office recently submitted congressional testimony in support of increased fiscal year (FY) 2009 funding for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The testimony encouraged Congress to provide $1.3 billion for the USGS for FY 2009 and $230 million for the programs of the Biological Resource Discipline within the USGS. The Administration requested $969 million for the USGS, $38 million below the FY 2008 enacted budget. USGS has experienced flat funding for five of the past six years.

Testimony submitted in support of increased FY 2009 appropriations for the EPA requested that Congress provide at least $646.5 million for the Office of Research and Development, $181 million for human health and ecosystem research, and support for other biological research programs, many of which have experienced declining budgets since FY 2004.

This and forthcoming appropriations testimony will be available in the Position Statements section of the AIBS web site at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/.

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Budget Process Moves Forward in Congress

Both chambers of Congress adopted budget resolutions for fiscal year (FY) 2009 on Thursday, 13 March 2008. The resolution is important because it establishes spending levels and spending rules under which the appropriations process will take place. For an overview of this process, please visit: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_source.html

The Senate resolution (S Con Res 70), adopted by a 51-44 vote after a 15 hour marathon session, would allow $21.8 billion more than the $3.1 trillion proposed in the President’s FY 2009 budget. Prior to the final vote, the Senate rejected a proposal by Senator DeMint (R-SC) to impose a one-year moratorium on earmarks; this amendment had received a significant amount of attention in recent days because it was endorsed by all three presidential candidates.

The House budget resolution (H Con Res 312), adopted by a 212-207 vote, would increase the discretionary spending limit for appropriations bills by $25.4 billion more than proposed by President Bush. The House budget resolution would continue to enforce 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.

Both budget resolutions would balance the federal budget by 2012, assuming at least some or all of President Bush’s tax cuts would expire in 2010 and that the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) would affect more taxpayers after next year. Both chambers did assume a one-year “patch” for the AMT that would prevent it from affecting an estimated 20 million more households in the coming year.

Additionally, the House budget resolution includes a Sense of the House on innovation and the America COMPETES Act that states, “The House should provide sufficient funding so that our nation may continue to be the world leader in education, innovation, and economic growth.” It notes that the budget resolution “will keep us on a path toward doubling funding for the National Science Foundation, basic research in the physical sciences, and collaborative research partnerships, and toward achieving energy independence through the development of clean and sustainable alternative energy technologies.”

Now, the House and Senate must agree to a final budget resolution; however, in the last three election years (2002, 2004, and 2006), the two chambers were unable to reach a final agreement. Leaders on both sides of the Capitol have expressed hope that this will not be the case in 2008.

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Senate Reviews FY 2009 Federal Science Budget, Regrets FY 2008

Like the House Science and Technology Committee several weeks prior, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing to review the President’s FY 2009 budget request for federal science programs. Among those testifying on 12 March 2008 were Dr. John Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Dr. Arden Bement, director of the National Science Foundation.

In addition to discussing the proposed FY 2009 budget, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Subcommittee, expressed his regret about the disappointing funding levels appropriated for science in FY 2008, “While Congress didn’t provide the funding, I want to assure you they wanted to.” He blamed veto threats from the President that forced the hand of Congress to appropriate many federal science programs, including NSF, at levels below the President’s FY 2008 request. Kerry asked Dr. Bement to expound on the difficulties NSF and its grantees now face in FY 2008, given the lower than expected budget. Bement indicated that NSF would have to provide 1000 fewer research grants and suggested negative impacts on agency programs that support undergraduate and graduate students as well as young faculty members.

Kerry offered the possibility of emergency supplemental funds to maintain continuity of NSF programs, which Bement agreed would be helpful and welcomed. However, many Hill watchers have indicated that an emergency supplemental that includes funds for NSF is a long-shot.

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Scientist Wins Special Election: Takes Former Speaker Hastert's Seat in Congress

On 8 March, voters in Illinois’ 14th district elected scientist, Bill Foster, in a special election to fill the seat recently vacated by former Republican Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert. As reported on 3 March, Foster spent 22 years at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory before running for office. Foster joins fellow physicists Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) in the House of Representatives. Foster, a Democrat, won the seat in the heavily Republican district.

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McCain Growls About Bear Research

Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has decided to pick on a $3 million dollar project to “study grizzly bear DNA” as part of his campaign – both in speeches and in a recent campaign commercial. Senator McCain stated of the program, “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money.”

United States Geological Survey biologist Katherine Kendall, the brains behind the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project, has actually been evaluating grizzly bear DNA as a means of assessing bear population dynamics. Kendall is leading the first study to gather status information on the bear population in Montana, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Former Republican Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) had been a strong advocate for the study and is now the chairman of McCain’s Montana campaign. In fact in 2003, McCain voted for the appropriations bill that funded the research, which included a $1 million add-on courtesy of Senator Burns.

Kendall’s research has discovered that grizzly bears have a healthier population than expected, indicating that conservation efforts over the past 30 years have paid off. The project, contrary to Senator McCain’s quips, has been using DNA as a tool to identify bears. Answering the question of “why count bears” in a recent Washington Post interview, Kendall remarked: “We just can’t be managing in the dark for another 25 years.”

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Now Available: AIBS Congressional Directory for the 110th Congress, Second Session

A valuable primer on Capitol Hill and the legislative process, the AIBS Congressional Directory contains biographical information, color photographs, and contact information for all members of Congress and selected federal and state officials. Contact information and assignments for all Congressional Standing Committees, Select Committees, and Joint Committees are included. This pocket-sized resource also includes a glossary of legislative terminology and state maps identifying Congressional districts.

Order your copy today while supplies last — go to http://www.aibs.org/bookstore/congressional_directory.html . To view and order other titles In the AIBS Webstore, visit http://ebstore.aibs.org .

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New in BioScience: "Theory and Funding for 21st Century Biology - Maybe"

The March 2008 Washington Watch column from the journal BioScience reports on a recent National Academies report that could change the way biology is conducted in the coming decades. The article, “Theory and Funding for 21st Century Biology - Maybe” also considers the challenges facing the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) at the National Science Foundation as it strives to advance the findings of this recent report at a time when BIO funding is flat, at best.

An excerpt of this article follows:

Compared with other scientific disciplines, some leaders in the science community have said, biology is too heavily centered on facts, with too little emphasis on underlying theory. The propagation of this misperception in recent years has very likely contributed to a drive to allocate larger portions of the federal research budget to nonbiological disciplines, a move that some assume will have a “transformative” impact on the nation’s research enterprise.

To stimulate thinking about the role of theory in biology, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) commissioned the National Acad­emies of Science to study the explicit role that theory plays in shaping basic biological research. According to James Collins, the NSF’s assistant director for BIO, the report-The Role of Theory in Advancing 21st Century Biology: Catalyzing Transformative Research-“shines a bright light on the fact that there are lots of theories in biology; it is a theory-rich discipline that goes beyond the theory of evolution.”

Continue reading this article online for free, go to: http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_03.html

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Register Now for the 2008 AIBS Annual Meeting: "Climate, Environment, and Infectious Diseases"

The 2008 AIBS annual meeting will be held 12 —13 May and will explore the theme of “Climate, Environment, and Infectious Diseases.” The location is the Westin Arlington Hotel, 801 North Glebe Road, Arlington, Virginia 22203, a two-minute walk from the National Science Foundation building and a few station stops from downtown Washington, DC, on the Metro subway system. The program chair is 2008 AIBS President Rita Colwell of the University of Maryland at College Park. To register online or submit a poster, go to: http://www.aibs.org/annual-meeting/annualmeeting2008.html

SUMMARY: Interrelationships of climate, environment, and human health are manifested in infectious disease patterns. Vector borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue, Avian influenza, SARS, and related diseases are known to be closely linked to the environment and, more recently, to climate. Interactions between climate, climate change, and the environment have been studied extensively by investigators in the United States and abroad. The AIBS annual meeting will address these issues.

SPEAKERS AND SESSIONS:

Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the US House of Representatives Presentation: A Contract with the Earth

James E. Hansen, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Presentation: Climate Change Models and Predictions

Durland Fish, Yale University Presentation: Environmental Determinants of Lyme Disease Risk

Howard Frumkin, National Center for Environmental Health Presentation: The Public Health Response to Climate Change

David Rogers, Oxford University Presentation: Infectious Diseases and the Environment

Stephen Morse, Columbia University Presentation: Avian Influenza

Robert Morris, author of “The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink” Kim Stanley Robinson, author of “Sixty Days and Counting” Presentation: Science and Society: the Art of Communication

Andrew Dobson, Princeton University Presentation: Disentangling the Role of Climate, Immunity, and Biotic Interactions in the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases

Duane Gubler, University of Hawaii Presentation: The 20th Century Emergence and Spread of Epidemic Dengue/Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever: Is Climate or Environmental Change Responsible?

David Blockstein, National Council on Science and the Environment Presentation: Climate Change and Human Health: Developing Collaborations with the Public Health Community

Stephen Hoffman, Sanaria Inc., Rockville, MD Presentation: Malaria

Workshop 1: “Your Classroom: Making Study of the Climate, Environment, and Infectious Diseases Meaningful for Your Students”

Convenors: Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, National Association of Biology Teachers

Workshop 2: “A Scientist Walks Into a Bar: Using Science Cafes to Reach the Public” Convenors: WGBH Educational Foundation, Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science

AIBS is pleased to be collaborating on this meeting with the National Council for Science and the Environment, whose conference on “Climate Change: Science and Solutions” is being held 16 - 18 January in Washington DC, see http://ncseonline.org/2008conference/

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