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Public Policy Report for 2 August 2010

Biologists Visit Members of Congress

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to announce the start of the 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This nationwide initiative is intended to spur individual biologists and research centers to meet with their members of Congress during the August congressional district work period.

“It is exciting to see the growing interest in this effort from members of the scientific community,” said AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp. “This year a number of leading scientific societies and organizations have joined us to sponsor this important event.” In addition to AIBS, Sponsors of the 2010 event are Botanical Society of America, Genetics Society of America, Long Term Ecological Research Network, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Society of Systematic Biologists, and University of Michigan Biological Station. Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is a Supporter of the 2010 initiative.

Each August, Representatives and Senators spend time in their districts and home states. This is an opportunity for individuals to meet with members of Congress to demonstrate the importance of their research to the individuals responsible for casting the votes that shape the nation’s science policy.

“Inviting your member of Congress to visit your laboratory, to see what you do and how many people your work involves, is one of the best ways to educate your leaders and legislators about scientific research. They get to see where the money they appropriated to NIH, NSF, USDA, and other funding agencies goes, how carefully it is spent, and what amazing work is done with it,” said Dr. Sherry Marts, Executive Director of the Genetics Society of America.

According to Marts, this is an important opportunity to put a face on science. “Most people get their images of scientists and science from Hollywood - a visit with a scientist is a great reality check,” states Marts.

Dr. Keith Crandall, President of the Society of Systematic Biologists agrees. “Congressional visits are especially effective for fields like systematic biology as the importance of basic science is not always obvious to those outside of science. These visits allow biologists to inform congressional members of the exciting science being performed and its potential contributions to society.”

The 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event occurs throughout the month of August. Participating scientists and research facilities will meet with their members of Congress to show them first-hand the people, equipment, and processes involved with modern scientific research.

More information about the 2nd Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is available at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

Individuals who are unable to participate in a meeting during the month of August may wish to instead send a letter to their members of Congress to help communicate the importance of investments in science. A prepared letter may be sent through the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=15502501.

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White House Releases Guidance on Science Priorities in FY 2012 Budget

On 21 July, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a joint memorandum providing guidance to federal agencies on the formulation of science and technology priorities in the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget. The memo directs agencies to prioritize funding in six areas: 1) promoting sustainable economic growth and job creation; 2) defeating the most dangerous diseases and achieving better health outcomes for all while reducing health care costs; 3) moving toward a clean energy future to reduce dependence on energy imports while curbing greenhouse gas emissions; 4) understanding, adapting to, and mitigating the impacts of global climate change; 5) managing the competing demands on land, fresh water, and the oceans for the production of food, fiber, biofuels, and ecosystem services based on sustainability and biodiversity; and 6) developing the technologies to protect our troops, citizens, and national interests.

Among these priorities are several in the areas of energy, environment, health, and agriculture, consistent with the National Research Council’s report on 21st Century Biology. The need to support the foundation of a new “bio-economy” through advancements in biotechnology and design of biological systems was also referenced. Additionally, agencies are directed to invest in high-risk, high-reward research, support multidisciplinary research, and engage in international scientific collaboration.

The memo also includes a provision on federal science collections: “Agencies should implement strategies for increasing the benefits for science and society derived from scientific collections by following the recommendations in the report by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections and efforts outlined in the National R&D Strategy for Microbial Forensics.”

Ocean observation was also highlighted, with a goal to “develop and deploy integrated ocean observing capabilities to support ecosystems-based management, including under conditions of changing climate and multiple stressors (e.g. oil spills).”

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Congress Racing to Catch Up on Appropriations

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been rushing to complete as many of the appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2011 as possible in the weeks leading up to the August Congressional recess. Over the past two weeks, the committees have advanced a number of spending plans, although to date only two bills have passed the House of Representatives. No bills have yet cleared the Senate. In a typical year, the House has passed most, if not all, of the twelve appropriations bills prior to the August recess.

The following summarizes the current status of spending bills for select science agencies:

  • Department of Energy: The Office of Science would receive $5.012 billion in the bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on 22 July, $108 million more than last year. Of this, $614.5 million would be directed to the Biological and Environmental Research program, an increase of $10.3 million. The House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved legislation that would hold funding for the Office at Science flat at $4.9 billion.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment approved a budget of $10 billion for the EPA, $271 million less than last year. This would include $855 million for Science and Technology, an increase of $9 million. The Senate has yet to act on the bill.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): Both the full Senate committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education approved bills that would provide NIH with $32 billion, a $1 billion increase over last year.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): NOAA would be funded at $5.54 billion in the bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee on 22 July. This is the same as the budget approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. Both spending plans represent a 17% increase for the agency.
  • National Science Foundation (NSF): The spending plan approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on 22 July would fund NSF at $7.35 billion, $74 million less than approved by the House appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the agency. Despite this discrepancy, the spending plans of both chambers would provide an increase of more than $400 million to the agency in FY 2011. Most of this increase would go towards Research and Related Activities, which both the House and the Senate bills would fund at approximately $5.9 billion. The Education and Human Resources budget line would receive $892 million in the Senate bill, $66 million less than the House bill, but still an increase of $19 million. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would be funded at $155 million in the Senate versus $165 million in the House.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $2.818 billion for research at USDA in FY 2011, including $1.251 billion for the Agricultural Research Service and $1.310 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Within NIFA, the competitively awarded, extramural research grant program, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), would receive $310 million. This increase of nearly $48 million is comparable to the amount passed in June by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
  • U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment approved a budget of $1.15 billion for the USGS, $39 million more than FY 2010. However, the spending plan does not fully fund the agency's fixed costs, such as rent and salary increases, of $13.5 million. Despite this, USGS would be one of the few agencies in the Department of the Interior to receive a budget increase in FY 2011. The Senate has yet to act on the bill.

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Senate Committee Passes COMPETES Reauthorization

On 22 July 2010, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that would reauthorize research and education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal science agencies. The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (S. 3605), sponsored by Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would authorize increased funding for NSF for three years. S. 3605 would also reinforce the roles of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

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 access to, and preservation of, federally held scientific collections. Significantly, the Senate bill would require that the plan be developed in consultation with non-federal collections.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee are also expected to contribute to the legislation. The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill, HR 5116, in June.

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Short Takes

  • On 26 July 2010, AIBS submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on their Draft Strategic Plan for 2011-2015. Included in AIBS’ comments was a call for the elevation of science within the strategic plan from a second tier, cross-cutting strategy to an overarching goal. Within the new science strategic goal, several key areas should be addressed, including scientific integrity and transparency, environmental monitoring, and management and access to scientific collections held by the EPA. The full comments submitted by AIBS can be read at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100726epastrategic_plan.html.

  • On 2 August 2010, AIBS submitted comments to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on their draft Next Generation Strategic Plan. The comments call for the elevation of science within the plan to better reflect the agency’s new mission statement of “science, service, and stewardship.” The full set of comments submitted by AIBS can be read at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100802noaastrategic_plan.html. The public comment period on the draft plan closes on 10 August 2010. More information is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-15768.htm.

  • The National Park Service is seeking public comments on the permitting process for conducting research or collecting specimens in national parks. In addition to feedback on the permit application process, comments are requested to improve the online, automated application and progress reporting website (https://science.nature.nps.gov/research/ac/ResearchIndex). For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-17823.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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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 http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/policy_training.html.

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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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