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Public Policy Report for 8 June 2009

House Subcommittee Approves Budgets for NSF, NOAA

The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations has approved a spending plan for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for fiscal year (FY) 2010, which begins on 1 October 2009. On 4 June 2009, the subcommittee approved a $64.4 billion spending package for the Departments of Commerce and Justice and several independent agencies. Included in the appropriations plan is $6.937 billion for NSF, just under a 7 percent increase from FY 2009. The panel recommends providing NSF with $108.5 million less than the President’s budget request, with most of the reduction coming from NSF’s research budget. Funding for major research equipment and facilities construction would receive $3 million less than the President requested. Education and Human Resources programs at NSF would receive $5.1 million more than requested, putting the Directorate at $862.9 million.

NOAA would receive $4.6 billion, an increase of $129.1 million over the President’s budget request of $4.5 billion. If enacted as proposed by the subcommittee, NOAA would receive roughly a 5 percent bump from their FY 2009 funding level. Some of the new funding would be utilized to establish a new National Climate Service to provide and coordinate regional and national climate data.

Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) saw the value of increasing funding for NOAA. “The Subcommittee heard testimony that NOAA research is not markedly different or less important than other science disciplines supported by NSF and NIST, and there was little reason that NOAA research activities not be considered in the context of the doubling path envisioned in the COMPETES Act. These investments are critical as our Nation establishes a National Climate Service.”

Other science agencies were less fortunate. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Institute of Science and Technology would receive less funding than requested in the President’s budget, reductions of $482.7 million and $24.6 million, respectively. However, even at these levels, the agencies would receive more funding than in FY 2009.

The Subcommittee was the first of the twelve House Appropriations subcommittees to act on the FY 2010 budget. The funding levels approved may still change as they are considered by the whole Appropriations Committee, the House of Representatives, and ultimately reconciled with Senate appropriations legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet begun marking-up the 2010 budget.

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President Calls for Science Diplomacy

While in Egypt during the first week of June, President Obama spoke at Cairo University about United States relations with Islamic countries. Although the speech was focused on a new beginning between the U.S. and Muslims around the world, the President did call for investments in science as part of a greater plan to bring economic development to Muslim nations.

From the transcript of the President’s speech:

“On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We’ll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I’m announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.”

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National Climate Service Bill Passes Committee Vote

On 3 June 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee passed HR 2407, the “National Climate Service Act of 2009” by a vote of 24 to 12. Introduced on 14 May 2009 by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), the legislation would establish a Climate Service Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The legislation emphasizes the role of stakeholders in the development of a climate service, requiring agencies to consult with users of climate products and information in order to allow Congress to be more responsive to community needs.

One amendment, added by Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) would defer the somewhat contentious decision of where the new service would reside within NOAA’s organization. The amendment defined a three-year process, lead by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and conducted through the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) of the National Science and Technology Council. It would require that the CENR conduct an evaluation of different organizational structures for a National Climate Service and to report results to Congress within two years.

Two other successful amendments would expand the scientific outreach and education components of the legislation. The first, offered by Research and Science Education Subcommittee Vice Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would establish a clearinghouse and web portal to be managed by NOAA that would streamline communication between agencies and the scientific community. The second, offered by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), calls for the establishment of a climate science summer institute program for middle school, high school, and undergraduate students that would be conducted cooperatively between Regional Climate Centers and the university community.

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More US Visas on the Way for Scientists, Graduate Students

The United States Department of State announced on 4 June 2009 that it is speeding up the visa process for graduate students and researchers, in order to address the growing backlog of visa applications. This is good news for the many universities and scientific organizations that often rely upon foreign science and engineering graduates. Many of these institutions lodged complaints last year, fearing that scientists and students kept waiting too long would look for positions elsewhere. However, amid the recession, many lawmakers have been lobbying for fewer temporary visas for foreign specialty workers (H1-B visas), in order to preserve more jobs for domestic workers in high-tech fields. Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren, praised the change, noting that “it is more important than ever that we remove unnecessary impediments to collaborative innovation and technical advancement.”

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AIBS Comments on Louisiana Science Education Rule

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) submitted comments to the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on 4 June 2009 regarding the state’s implementation of the Louisiana Science Education Act (SB 733). The Act, which was signed into law in June 2008, is viewed by many as another attempt to introduce creationism/intelligent design into the classroom. The implementing rule, which was approved by the Louisiana Board of Education in April 2009, would “allow and assist educators in promoting critical thinking skills and objective discussion of scientific theories.” Under the proposed rule, teachers would be allowed to use supplemental textbooks and materials in science classes after covering the content of the state’s science curriculum.

To read AIBS’ comments, please visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/.

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Controversy in New Jersey

On 1 June 2009, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released a memo obtained from the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that detailed a proposal for placing restrictions on the public release of scientific reports. The memo, written by the DEP’s director of policy, provides guidelines that would prevent employees from disclosing draft scientific reports that have not passed through upper management and the DEP press office.

This directive follows the release of an April 2009 report on chromium-6 soil cleanup standards in Hudson County. The report suggested that all previous efforts to clean up this toxin were inadequate, which would force the DEP to review and redo all of these efforts.

Environmental groups, including PEER, have denounced the memo, claiming that the DEP is trying to suppress scientific findings that are inconvenient to the agency. The DEP has countered that the department is completely transparent, and the aim of the new directive is to ensure that the science has been peer-reviewed and finalized before it is made part of the public record.

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New Recovery Act Funding Opportunities

The federal government has announced three new stimulus funding opportunities. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will fund the construction of research facilities, and measurement science research grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will fund coastal habitat restoration.

The Recovery Act NIST Construction Grant Program will fund $120 million in grants for construction of research buildings. Grant proposals related to oceans and atmosphere, measurement, and telecommunications will be considered. NIST anticipates funding 8-12 projects with federal shares in the $10-$15 million range. Although cost sharing is not required, it is encouraged for a proposal to be selected for funding. For more information, go to www.grants.gov and search for opportunity number 2009-NIST-ARRA-CONSTRUCTION-01.

The Recovery Act Measurement Science and Engineering Research Grants Program will fund appropriately 20-60 proposals of $500,000 to $1,500,000. Proposals in six areas will be considered: energy, environment and climate change, information technology/cybersecurity, biosciences/healthcare, manufacturing, and physical infrastructure. In the environment and climate change subcategory, priority research includes measurement and modeling of aerosols and other greenhouse gases, development of buoy sensor technology to measure ocean color and chemistry, and research on the environmental, health, and safety aspects of nanomaterials. In the biosciences/healthcare subcategory, priority research includes development of measurement tools and standards for disease signatures, human cells, and nucleic acids, proteins and non-peptide hormones in blood. For more information, go to www.grants.gov and search for opportunity number 2009-NIST-ARRA-MSE-RESEARCH-01.

The FWS also announced a new stimulus funding opportunity. Grants are available for habitat restoration projects that address high priority wetland, upland, or riparian habitats in selected geographic areas. Projects must provide direct benefits to Federal Trust species (i.e., migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, inter-jurisdictional fish, certain marine mammals, and species of international concern). Twenty awards ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 will be made. Go to www.grants.gov and search for opportunity number ARRA-COASTAL-2009.

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In the AIBS Webstore

  • AIBS CONGRESSIONAL DIRECTORY

AIBS Congressional Directory - 111th Congress, 2009

A valuable primer on Capitol Hill and the legislative process, the Congressional Directory contains biographies, photographs, and contact information for all members of Congress. Contact information and assignments for all Congressional Standing Committees, Select Committees, and Joint Committees are included. This pocket-sized resource (9” x 4”, 190 pp., spiral bound) also includes Executive Branch and Supreme Court data, a glossary of legislative terms, and maps of Washington, DC, and Capitol Hill.

To pre-order your copy today, please go to https://ssl4.westserver.net/birenheide.com/secure/aibs/cart/. This publication is expected to be available for shipping after 16 April 2009.

  • “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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New in BioScience - "Will Congress Include Ecosystem Monitoring in Climate Legislation?"

In the Washington Watch column in the June 2009 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr, reports on the need for monitoring the impacts of climate change on ecosystems.

An excerpt from the article follows, but the complete article (along with prior Washington Watch columns) may be viewed for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

Coral bleaching, earlier leaf budding, pika range shifts—these are only a few of the documented effects of climate change on species and ecosystems. Congress is trying to pass legislation responding to climate change, yet some scientists are wondering whether policymakers understand the importance of including ecosystem monitoring in the policy response to climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many biologists have voiced support for an ecosystem observation system to monitor climate-related changes in species’ distribution and abundance, ecosystem disturbance, phenology, nutrient cycling, and other ecological data. Such environmental observations, the IPCC says, are “vital to allow for adjustments in management strategies.” The Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), the inter-agency organization responsible for federal climate research, has identified a need to expand existing monitoring networks and to develop new capabilities for ecosystem observations. A 2009 review of the CCSP by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reported that the establishment of a climate observation system to monitor physical, biological, and social systems was a top priority for the program. Progress has been slow despite the continuing need for data.

To continue reading this article, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_06.html.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, and effective! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today!

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has launched the AIBS Legislative Action Center. The online resource allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. The AIBS Legislative Action Center is located at www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, and the Botanical Society of America.

Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, biodiversity conservation, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues.

This exciting new advocacy tool allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become a policy advocate today. Simply go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

For additional information about the AIBS Legislative Action Center, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html. To further help AIBS advance biology and science education, consider joining AIBS. To learn about other membership benefits and to join AIBS online, please visit www.aibs.org.

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