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Public Policy Report for 10 May 2010

House Science Committee Passes COMPETES Act

After a marathon day-long session during which nearly 60 amendments were considered, the House Science and Technology Committee approved a reauthorization of the American COMPETES Act (HR 5116) on 28 April 2010. The Committee ultimately passed a version of the bill by a 29-8 vote.

The most significant change to the legislation came from Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), sponsor of the bill. His “manager’s” amendment decreased the authorization levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE Science) by 10 percent from the levels specified in the bill at the time of introduction. This change was prompted by bipartisan concerns about the high potential cost of the legislation, which would increase funding authorizations for these agencies over the next five years by maintaining the doubling path established by the 2007 COMPETES Act. Authorized funding levels are specified through fiscal year (FY) 2015, when the NSF could receive, if appropriated, $10.2 billion. Although authorizations are not a guarantee of future funding, they provide guidelines for appropriators during the annual formulation of agencies budgets.

“This funding trajectory is not as steep as the bill enacted in 2007 and it is not as shallow as the president’s budget request,” said Rep. Gordon. “The funding path provides a modest cushion above the president’s request [for FY 2011] in the event our deficits come down and more funds are available. At the same time, we provide a stable, sustainable, and achievable set of authorization levels across the agencies in the bill. These levels are lower than I would like them, but I believe they are practical considering our current budget deficits. At a time of flat discretionary budgets, a seven percent annual growth rate allows for continued progress in getting our research programs back on a path to be the best in the world.”

The Committee also approved a number of other amendments, including a provision intended to reduce the gender gap in the sciences, and the creation of a program at NSF to promote student internships with science employers. Several amendments that would have further cut funding authorizations or stripped the bill of provisions related to climate research were rejected.

The bill could be voted on by the full House of Representatives as early as this week, according to Science Committee staff.

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House Appropriations Chairman to Retire

Representative David Obey (D-WI), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, announced on 5 May 2010 that he would not seek re-election to a 22nd term this fall. “I am bone tired,” he said in a statement to the press. “I am, frankly, weary of having to beg on a daily basis that both parties recognize that we do no favor for the country if we neglect to make the long-term investments in education, science, health, and energy that are necessary to modernize our economy and decline to raise the revenue needed to pay for those crucial investments. I do not want to be in a position as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of producing and defending lowest common denominator legislation that is inadequate to that task and, given the mood of the country, that is what I would have to do if I stayed.” Rep. Obey has served as the top ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee since 1994.

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Senate Confirms Environmental Chemist for New Ocean Policy Post

Dr. Larry Robinson, professor at the Environmental Sciences Institute at Florida A&M University, was confirmed by the Senate on 6 May 2010 as assistant secretary for conservation and management at the Department of Commerce. The new post, created by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, will oversee NOAA’s environmental policy.

Since 2001, Dr. Robinson has served as director of NOAA’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center at Florida A&M University. He also served as science advisor to the Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service from 2007-2009 and was a founding member of the National Science Foundation’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) Science Technology Education Advisory Committee. Robinson has a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry and conducts research in environmental chemistry.

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House Resolutions Recognize NSF, Science Education

The House of Representatives has approved two resolutions related to the nation’s scientific enterprise. One of the resolutions celebrates the 60th anniversary of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The other resolution recognizes National Lab Day, a joint effort between educators and scientists that aims to enhance inquiry-based learning in the classroom. The resolutions passed nearly unanimously. The only dissenting votes were cast by Representatives Paul Broun, MD (R-GA) and Ron Paul, MD (R-TX). Rep. Broun is a member of the House Science and Technology Committee, which oversees NSF.

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Short Takes

  • The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) gained final approval from the National Science Board on 5 May 2010. The Board voted to authorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) director to award NEON, Inc. a five year contract to construct the observatory network. Construction can begin once Congress appropriates funding. The President's budget request for fiscal year 2011 includes $20 million for NEON in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account of NSF.
  • The White House has announced that it will "streamline" paperwork requirements for federal grantees. New guidelines issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) direct all federal agencies that fund research grants to use a uniform form for collecting annual progress reports from science grantees. "Ensuring that there are common standards across agencies will ensure that researchers spend less time managing paperwork and forms, and more time producing research results across all science and technology fields sponsored by the Federal Government," said OSTP Director Dr. John Holdren.
  • The State Department is seeking expert authors and reviewers for the 5th Global Environment Outlook, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme which assesses the state of earth's natural systems. Experts are needed in the areas of environmental science; environment and development priorities, challenges and policy; and environmental management or governance. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-10842.htm.
  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture is seeking ideas for program solicitations for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) for fiscal year 2011. These solicitations will be competitively awarded for agricultural research, extension, and education. Comments are due by 7 June 2010. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-10690.htm.

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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 publication from AIBS, “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media,” will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Whether you are new to media outreach or just in a need of a media refresher, “Communicating Science” offers advice, case studies, and training exercises to prepare scientists for print, radio, and television interviews. 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. “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.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” is available at http://webstore.aibs.org.

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

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

The AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, 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.

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.

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.

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