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Public Policy Report for 5 January 2009

Inspector General Finds Political Interference at Department of Interior

Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney has released a report entitled “The Endangered Species Act and the Conflict between Science and Policy” that reviews the political influence of former Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Julie MacDonald, on listing decisions concerning 20 different species. The report concludes that MacDonald exerted undue political influence on decisions relating to at least 13 of these species. Cases in which the decisions made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were not based on the best available science include those of the marbled murrelet, spotted owl, and bull trout. Since the release of the report, the Bush administration has contacted a federal court and stated that it may reevaluate its 2005 decision to reduce the critical habitat designated for the endangered bull trout by 90 percent.

Devaney wrote, “In the end, the cloud of MacDonald’s overreaching, and the actions of those who enabled and assisted her, have caused the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to reissue decisions and litigation costs to defend decisions that, in at least two instances, the courts found to be arbitrary and capricious,” Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity has noted that settling in cases involving endangered species decisions has become “almost routine” under the Bush administration.

The report suggests that changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) may be needed to correct the misconduct surrounding listed species at the Department of Interior. Under the ESA, the Interior Secretary has the authority to reduce protected habitat or make other changes but the law does not make clear the situations under which such modifications are be permitted.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is among those in Congress considering action on the matter. Wyden stated, “While I look forward to working with a new administration with a much greater respect for the law, Congress needs to take immediate steps to make sure that Julie MacDonald’s legacy can never be repeated.”

Although MacDonald resigned in 2007, a number of people who aided her in exerting her political influence are career employees that remain at the Department of Interior, including Randal Bowman, Thomas Graf, and Craig Manson.

The complete Inspector General’s report is available at: http://www.doioig.gov/

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Decisions Protect Some Marine Species, Not Others

Meanwhile, the Department of Interior has released decisions on the listing of several species that have the potential to be severely impacted by climate change in the coming years. On 17 December, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing seven species of penguins, but stated that listing was not warranted for an additional three species: the northern rockhopper, macaroni, and emperor penguins. Similarly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on the 23 December that the ribbon seal should not be a listed species under the Endangered Species Act.

Environmental groups are questioning the Bush administration’s decisions as the ribbon seals depend heavily on sea ice for reproduction and declining numbers of Emperor penguins, made famous by the movie “March of the Penguins,” have been linked to global warming.

The decision to not list the ribbon seal removes a potential barrier for energy development in the Chukchi Sea, where ten year exploration and drilling leases where auctioned off for $2.5 billion by the federal government in February. If the ribbon seal were listed, the sea ice in this area would likely be designated as critical habitat.

“The denial of protection for the ribbon seal ignores the science on global warming and ignores the law. We are confident it will be overturned by either the courts or the new administration,” said Brendan Cummings of The Center for Biological Diversity. The Center has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue in response to the ribbon seal ruling.

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Some Obama Science Agency Appointees Will Face Challenges

As the end of the Bush administration nears and the scientific community looks ahead to leadership and policy changes federal science agencies, it is increasingly clear that the leadership of all federal science programs face major challenges. For example, among the stated priorities of the Obama administration and the 111th Congress will be action on the nation’s energy and climate change policies.

Secretary of the Interior designate Ken Salazar has a difficult job ahead of him reforming the Department of the Interior, which includes the United States Geological Survey, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Salazar has been described as a “cowboy-hat-wearing Western Democrat in the mold of Cecil Andrus,” who, as Secretary of the Interior for President Carter, was responsible for significant environmental legislation. Salazar, a Democrat, served in the United States Senate until his selection to serve as Secretary of the Interior.

Over the past eight years, some bureaus within the Department of the Interior have been suffered from sex, financial, and accounting scandals, and political interference with endangered species management. According to some analysts, management has been more focused on increasing energy output than on managing or protecting public lands. Salazar has won mixed praise from environmentalists. As a fifth-generation rancher and a Senator from the West, he has close ties with the land, has supported his state’s efforts to limit groundwater impacts from the process of in-situ uranium mining, and often taken unpopular stands against oil shale. Overall he has been accepted as a compromise candidate because of his demonstrated commitment to conservation, and history as a moderate who knows the importance of working across party lines to get things done.

The selection of Tom Vilsack to serve as Secretary of Agriculture has been met with mixed reviews from many in the scientific and environmental communities who are calling for food safety, hunger, and local-farming to be higher priorities. Vilsack, a former Iowa Governor is a centrist who was named biotech’s Governor of the Year in 2001, has close ties with Monsanto, and is a vocal advocate for ethanol, which worries many environmentalists and research scientists. Bruce Babcock, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development noted that Vilsack “represents mainstream production ag.” However, he has also been a strong supporter of rural farm development in Iowa, has supported the labeling of GMO food, and has favored innovative policies such as subsidies for farmers that implement soil and water management practices. At the USDA he will face an agency whose reputation has become somewhat tarnished because of numerous food safety scandals, including those surrounding meat packing and tainted spinach.

Early challenges facing Vilsack will likely include managing the growth of the biofuels industry while ensuring sufficient food and feed grain, and also dealing with the environmental impacts of increased crop production. Additionally, the USDA has suffered from budget shortfalls that have hindered research, and it is likely that if he tries to shift research policies he will face serious obstacles from institutional inertia to agribusiness’s entrenched influence.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nomination of Lisa Jackson has similarly received mixed reviews. Jackson has two decades of experience as an environmental regulator and helped crack down on greenhouse gas emissions in pollution-plagued New Jersey. However, critics note that during her tenure in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the department failed to adopt many important pesticide and chemical standards and delayed progress on emission targets. With the EPA, Jackson will inherit an agency that has been the subject of much controversy during the Bush administration. Jackson will be charged with the restoring calm within the agency as well as repairing its reputation as a credible generator of scientific information.

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New Report Describes Postsecondary Institutional Workforce

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released a report which describes the number and diversity of workers employed by postsecondary educational institutions in the United States. The report also highlights the percentage of faculty who have earned tenure status at their institution and the average salary of different faculty ranks ranging from instructors to professors.

Participation in the study is a requirement for all postsecondary schools that receive and administer federal financial aid for students. NCES found that over 3.63 million individuals are employed by the 6,706 institutions that were surveyed. “Staff whose primary responsibility is instruction, research, and/or public service” numbered nearly 1.41 million with the majority (63 percent) being employed by public rather than private institutions. Nearly half (48.5 percent) of these staff were part-time workers. Of the 1.32 million people who were classified as “full-time professional staff”, 47.5 percent were reported to have faculty status and 52.5 percent did not have faculty status. Among those classified as faculty, only 45.3 percent have tenure at their institution, 19.3 percent were on the tenure track, and the remainder either were not on tenure track (21.8 percent) or did not have a tenure system at their institution (13.6 percent).

Of the more than 700 thousand full-time faculty in the United States, most work at public 4-year institutions (50.4 percent) while private 4-year and public 2-year employ 32.1 and 16.1 percent, respectively. The majority of full-time faculty members are male (58.2 percent) and white, non-Hispanic (76.8 percent). The diversity among faculty with tenure is even lower, with 66.1 percent being male (33.9 percent female) and 82.9 percent classified as white, non-Hispanic. The second most prevalent racial group among all faculty and those with tenure are Asian/Pacific Islanders at 7.6 percent and 7.0 percent, respectively. Black, non-Hispanics make up only 5.4 percent of all faculty and 4.6 percent of those with tenure, while Hispanics account for 3.6 percent of all faculty and 3.3 percent of those with tenure.

The NCES reports that the average salary of full-time instructional faculty is $69,698. Salaries were reported as an adjusted 9-month average. The average salary among ranks of faculty is as follows: Professor ($98,020), Associate Professor ($70,744), Assistant Professor ($59,283), Instructor ($51,633), and Lecturer ($51,552). Men were reported as having a higher average salary than women across all faculty ranks at both 4-year and 2-year public institutions.

The full NCES report, entitled, “Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2007, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Faculty, 2007-2008,” is available online at: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009154.pdf

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New in Bioscience: "Nothing Average About Change"

In the January 2009 issue of BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on the Obama transition and some of the potential implications for the nation’s science policy agenda. To read this and other columns for free, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/. An excerpt from “Nothing Average About Change” follows:

On 4 November 2008, a long, expensive, and unprecedented general election finally concluded. By the next morning, one would have been hard-pressed to find a field biologist even in the most remote locale who had not learned of the historically significant election result: Barack Obama had been elected the nation’s 44th president. Yet the outcome of the presidential race was only part of the November news. A steadily worsening economy and significant election wins for Democratic candidates for the US House and Senate garnered headlines and refocused the nation’s political and public policy priorities.

As the economy continued its downturn after the November election, historians, political analysts, and other professional and amateur Washington, DC, pundits drew parallels between the conditions facing Barack Obama and those of the Great Depression era that occupied Franklin D. Roosevelt. Clearly, the combination of geopolitical instability (i.e., wars in Iraq and Afghan­istan) and an economic recession presents great challenges to President-elect Obama and to the new 111th Congress, which must work to reach compromise on significant legislative initiatives while holding together a Democratic majority that is untested and susceptible to fragmentation on some issues.

To continue reading this article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_01.html

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Employment Opportunity: AIBS Public Affairs Associate

For complete details, please go to http://www.aibs.org/classifieds/aibspositionsavailable.html#8005

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit scientific association with individual and organizational members, seeks a Public Affairs Associate to join its energetic Public Policy Office. The successful applicant will work to develop and help advance science policy and media relations initiatives. Responsibilities will include working on legislative and regulatory policy issues, writing policy analyses for online and print publications, developing materials for policy and news briefings, helping to develop and implement the Public Policy Office’s policy advocacy/communications strategies, making public presentations, and representing AIBS in a variety of settings. Travel and occasional work on evenings, weekends, or holidays is required.

Duties Include:

  • Represent AIBS and its members in the public policy arena to promote the use of scientific information in decisions pertaining to scientific research, education, and applications;

  • Monitor and report on policy developments in Washington, DC;

  • Draft public policy statements, background papers, press releases, white papers, reports to the membership, and other materials;

  • Cultivate and maintain working relationships with members of the scientific, policy, and media/communications fields;

  • Work collaboratively with AIBS staff, members, and others on public policy and media relations issues identified by the Director of Public Policy;

  • Provide planning and logistical assistance for science policy/media briefings and advocacy events; and

  • Conduct outreach initiatives for members, including workshops and other training sessions.

Minimum Requirements:

  1. Excellent and demonstrable written and oral communication skills;
  2. Excellent and demonstrable science policy analysis skills;
  3. Understanding and appreciation of the scientific community, the nature of science, and the goals and objectives of a professional, membership organization such as AIBS;
  4. Reliability, attention to detail, and ability to work under strict time constraints;
  5. Ability to self-direct, think creatively, and anticipate work needs as part of a team of professionals;
  6. Ability to synthesize and accurately communicate complex concepts to varied audiences;
  7. Possession of common sense and good judgment with strong interpersonal skills and a sense of humor;
  8. A Bachelor’s degree in the biological sciences, science policy, science communication, or journalism (or a closely related field). A graduate degree and prior work experience in public policy/affairs are highly desirable.

Compensation and Benefits: This is a full-time position in downtown Washington, DC. Salary is commensurate with experience. AIBS offers a competitive benefits package that includes a retirement plan, health and disability insurance, paid annual and sick leave, and paid holidays.

To Apply: Send a cover letter, resume, salary history and requirements, names and contact information of three professional references, and a writing sample (approx. 750 words) to publ@aibs.org or via fax to 202-628-1509. Application review will begin immediately and continue until this position is filled.

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Graduate Student Opportunity: 2009 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS, www.aibs.org) is pleased to announce that applications are being accepted for the 2009 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). The EPPLA program enables graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the science policy arena.

Recipients receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, during spring 2009 to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day (target dates are 21-22 April 2009). The BESC CVD is an annual event that brings scientists to Washington, DC, to advocate for federal funding for the biological sciences.

  • The EPPLA will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a Capitol Hill reception honoring a member of Congress.

  • The EPPLA will meet with their Representative and Senators.

  • A certificate and 1-year AIBS membership, including subscription to BioScience and a copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.

For application details and requirements, go to: http://www.aibs.org/announcements/081031aibsacceptingapplications2009.html

Applications must be received by 5:00 PM eastern, 6 February 2009.

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2009 AIBS Media Award Entries Due Soon

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is accepting entries for the 2009 AIBS Media Award for outstanding reporting on biological research. The deadline is 15 January 2009.

The winner receives an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, to attend the awards ceremony and a prize of $1,000. Submissions will be judged by a panel of scientists and science journalists, and will be evaluated on the basis of clarity, writing/reporting skills, originality, and appeal to the general public.

Only one entry per journalist will be considered; both freelancers and staff writers are eligible. For an application and further information, please download 2009 AIBS Media Award (108 KB, PDF) or contact Jennifer Williams at jwil@aibs.org (202-628-1500 ext. 209).

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Now In the AIBS Webstore: "Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media"

Evolution, climate change, stem cell research -- Scientists are frequently called upon to provide expert information on hot button issues that pervade the daily news headlines, yet most find themselves woefully unprepared for the bright lights of the television studio or leading questions from a newspaper journalist. A new publication from AIBS, "Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media," by Holly Menninger and Robert Gropp in the Public Policy Office, will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Recognizing that many scientists are reluctant to engage in media outreach, "Communicating Science" outlines compelling reasons for scientists to interact with the media and describes key differences between journalism and science that may not be apparent to practicing scientists. Step-by-step, Menninger and Gropp walk scientists through the entire interview process - from appropriate questions to ask when a reporter calls to practical advice for looking and sounding one's best on-air or on-camera.

The information and advice in "Communicating Science" is presented in eight easy-to-read chapters that provide vital information for scientists new to media outreach, as well as a quick refresher for seasoned experts - an ideal text for a graduate course on science communication or a professional development course for students and faculty. The primer's authors speak from their own experiences as PhD scientists in the biological sciences with years of experience in media outreach.

The concise, user-friendly volume has several unique features that set it apart from other media guides for scientists. "Communicating Science" includes first-person interviews with nearly a dozen scientists who have successfully navigated print, radio, and television interviews. The scientists-including the "Island Snake Lady," Kristin Stanford, recently featured on the Discovery Channel show, "Dirty Jobs" - share advice and experiences on a number of topics, including safely speaking on behalf of an organization, avoiding trouble when discussing socially or politically controversial topics, and reflections on first interviews.

"Communicating Science" also provides worksheets to assist readers with interview preparation: building a message framework with talking points and transition phrases, developing analogies, and using illustrative props or images. It includes pages for readers to organize contact information of journalists with whom they have worked directly and those who have reported on stories related to their own research to keep as potential contacts for future story pitches.

"Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media" is available now in the AIBS Webstore.

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