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Public Policy Report for 19 July 2010

Senator Rockefeller Introduces COMPETES Bill

On 15 July 2010, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation that would reauthorize the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act. Like the measure passed by the House of Representatives in June (H.R. 5116), Rockefeller’s legislation (S. 3605) would seek to stimulate innovation and improve science education by increasing funding authorizations for federal agencies that support basic research. However, there are several differences between the House and Senate bills.

The current Senate legislation is broader in scope than H.R. 5116. Like H.R. 5116, the Rockefeller plan includes authorizations for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). However, S. 3605 also includes policy provisions regarding education programs at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Additionally, NOAA’s research and development program would be codified in law.

The Senate bill would authorize funding for a three year period, instead of the five years in H.R. 5116. Moreover, the funding path for NSF increases more rapidly in the Senate bill: $9.943 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2013 versus $10.161 billion in FY 2015 in the House’s version.

Notably for the natural science collections community, the Senate bill includes language regarding the management, use, and access to federal scientific collections. Like the House-passed legislation, S. 3605 would require the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a policy “to improve the quality, organization, access, including online access, and long-term preservation of [federally held] collections for the benefit of the scientific enterprise.” Significantly, the Senate bill would also require that the plan be developed in consultation with non-federal collections.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee could consider the legislation as early as this week. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee are also expected to contribute to the legislation.

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Congress Aims to Cut Agency Funding in FY 2011

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are continuing to work on fiscal year (FY) 2011 spending bills. To date, eight bills have been approved by House Appropriations Subcommittees and three bills have been adopted by the full Senate Appropriations Committee. All of these measures have included less funding than requested by the President last February.

Recently, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved what are known as 302(b) allocations ― the amount of money each appropriations subcommittee will have to fund the programs under its jurisdiction. As part of this process, Senate appropriators agreed on 15 July to trim $14 billion from the President’s $1 trillion FY 2011 budget request.

Among the measures approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee is the FY 2011 spending plan for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Included in the $22.8 billion for USDA is $2.818 billion for research, $20 million less than FY 2010. The department’s research agencies, the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), would receive $1.251 billion and $1.310 billion, respectively. Within NIFA, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive an increase of nearly $48 million. The $310 million proposed for AFRI is comparable to the amount passed last month by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, but is nearly $120 million less than the President requested.

In the House, spending plans for the Departments of Energy, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education moved one step further in the appropriations process. The House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved legislation that would provide a 4 percent increase for the Department of Energy. With this increase, Energy would still be $675 million below the level requested by the President. Funding for Energy’s Office of Science would be flat at $4.9 billion, $221 million below the President’s request. The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill has also been released from subcommittee. The measure would provide the National Institutes of Health with $32 billion, a $1 billion increase over last year.

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Presidential Bioethics Commission Considers Synthetic Biology

The President has directed his Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to report on the emerging field of synthetic biology. The Commission recently heard from scientists and other witnesses about the promise and risks of synthetic biology.

Following published reports that scientists have created a bacterium with a synthetic genome, some ethics experts have called for new federal research guidelines. Some argue, however, that the development of the new bacterium was merely a slight advance from techniques molecular biologists have been using for decades. Appearing before the Commission, Amy Patterson of the National Institutes of Health noted that guidelines currently in place for federally funded research on recombinant DNA are already being applied to synthetic biology.

The Commission’s recent meeting was the first step in the development of a report on the ethics of synthetic biology, which is due to be completed within six months. The issue is the first addressed by the President’s newly created Bioethics Commission. The panel will meet again in September and November before issuing their final report on the topic.

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Short Takes

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is soliciting expert guidance on the identification of grand challenges for the developing world, and how science can be used to help resolve these challenges. During a conference held on 13-14 July, science and technology based development challenges were discussed in the areas of biodiversity, conservation, climate change, and water; health, nutrition, and population; agriculture and poverty; energy; and conflicts and disasters. Participants offered many possible solutions, including developing capacity in developing nations to produce vaccines and other materials, encouraging private sector ventures, and investing in irrigation systems. Dr. Rajiv Shah, Director of USAID, is expected to pick a final list of grand challenges in the coming months.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a new online community resource for those involved in the development, evaluation, and application of environmental models. The Integrated Environmental Modeling Hub "is designed to facilitate knowledge sharing, discussion and collaboration on models and tools that support multimedia and multidisciplinary analysis," according to the program's website (

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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

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Professional Development: AIBS Workshops on Communicating Science to the Media and Policymakers

Staffed by professionals with years of experience working with scientists, law-makers, and opinion shapers, the AIBS Public Policy Office provides public presentations and small-group training programs that help scientists and educators become effective advocates for science.

Learn more about this exciting AIBS program, including how your organization can schedule a program, by visiting

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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 to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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