On 18 February 2010, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Executive Order establishing the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The Commission was charged with “identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.” According to the establishing order, the Commission was specifically charged with proposing “recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015…[and] that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.”
The 18-member Commission, which was co-chaired by former United States Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) and Erskine Bowles, a Chief of Staff to President Clinton, released its final report, “Moment of Truth,” on 1 December 2010. The bipartisan Commission, which was selected by the President and the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, included the following members: Senator Max Baucus (D-MT); Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA); Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI); Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK); Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND); David Cote, Chairman and CEO, Honeywell International; Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID); Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL); Ann Fudge, Former CEO, Young & Rubicam Brands; Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH); Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX); Alice Rivlin, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institute and former Director, Office of Management and Budget; Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI); Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Rep. John Spratt (D-SC); and Andrew Stern, President, Service Employees International Union.
The 66-page plan, which was endorsed by 11 of 18 Commission members, was developed in the context of the following guiding principles and values:
Within this context, the report’s plan for discretionary spending starts bluntly: “Over the past decade, base discretionary spending (excluding war costs) has grown by 34 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars (64 percent in nominal dollars), and the President’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget projects it to grow by an additional 6 percent to $1.26 trillion in 2015. In order to bring down the deficit, Washington will have to rein in discretionary spending. Every aspect of the discretionary budget must be scrutinized, no agency can be off limits, and no program that spends too much or achieves too little can be spared. The federal government can and must adapt to the 21st century by transforming itself into a leaner and more efficient operation.”
As supporting evidence for the Commission’s recommendation to “cut-and-reinvest,” the Commission called attention to the fact that the “government funds more than 44 job training programs across nine different federal agencies, at least 20 programs at 12 agencies dedicated to the study of invasive species, and 105 programs meant to encourage participation in science, technology, education, and math. Many of these programs cannot demonstrate to Congress or taxpayers they are actually accomplishing their intended purpose.”
Other areas for action are not new or surprising and include tax reform, health care, Social Security, other mandatory spending program reform, and process-related efficiencies.
The complete report is available at http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/sites/fiscalcommission.gov/files/documents/TheMomentofTruth1212010.pdf.
Congress has once again postponed its work on fiscal year (FY) 2011 appropriations. Despite the start of FY 2011 more than two months ago, Congress has yet to enact any of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Congress recently gave itself a few additional weeks to finish its appropriations work. In the meantime, the “Continuing Resolution” maintains the 2010 level of funding for government programs through 18 December.
Republicans will not take control of the House of Representatives until January, but they are already making plans for how they will govern the chamber. Last week, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) announced that the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming would not be continued in the 112th Congress. Sensenbrenner, the panel’s senior Republican in this Congress and a vocal climate skeptic, had pushed for the continuation of the panel under Republican leadership in the next session of Congress. The Committee was established four years ago when the Democrats gained control of the House and has been chaired by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA).
A review of the United States Forest Service’s (USFS) research and development (R&D) programs by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified a major area for improvement in the agency’s activities: the delivery of scientific information to end users. The GAO found that USFS’s communication system is segmented and sometimes inconsistent. Additionally, some sources told GAO that the Forest Service places more emphasis on disseminating research results in peer-reviewed journals than through other media, such as workshops, which can be more useful to end users of data. The GAO found that “[w]ithout improved delivery of research results, land managers and others may be unable to fully benefit from the agency’s work.”
The report also investigated the accomplishments and shortcomings of the USFS’s R&D programs. GAO identified a number of successful programs, including the Forest Inventory and Analysis program and the invasive species and climate change research programs. Areas of possible improvement include collection and dissemination of higher resolution data, increased investments in controlling and eradicating invasive species, and greater emphasis on the social sciences.
To download the report, visit http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1112.pdf.
Research and development (R&D) investments in China have been growing at an average rate of 23 percent a year over the past decade. However, most of these funds have been directed towards development. For instance, in 2009, basic and applied research spending constituted 17 percent of total R&D expenditures in China, as compared to approximately 50 percent in the United States. The Chinese government is attempting to bring R&D spending more into balance by increasing funding for basic research to 15 percent of total science expenditures by 2020. This would nearly triple the proportion of R&D funding spent on basic research in China.
Starting 1 January 2011, natural history specimens shipped via commercial air will no longer be classified as “dangerous goods.” The new policy, issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), also removes a requirement for shippers to be formally trained in how to package scientific specimens; instead the shipper can train themselves.
These special provisions, known as “A180” in the 52nd edition of the IATA Dangerous Good Manual, should enable researchers and natural science collections curators to ship specimens more easily, as well as expand the list of countries which these materials can be sent to or from.
Dr. Andrew Bentley, Ichthyology Collection Manager at the University of Kansas’ Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, was an integral player in representing the collections community to IATA. According to Bentley, the major air shipping companies (DHL, FedEx, and UPS) have indicated that they will accept packages that meet the A180 guidelines. FedEx previously barred the shipment of dead animals. The United States Postal Service will also exempt the shipment of natural history specimens from its list of dangerous goods shipped domestically.
In order to qualify for the exemption, specimens must be placed in three layers of heat-sealed bags and contain no more than 30 mL of free liquid. Additionally, scientific specimens will still not be allowed in carry-on or checked luggage.
To read the new regulations, visit http://nscalliance.org/?p=346.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) Public Policy Office is pleased to announce that applications are being accepted for the 2011 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences and science education who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. EPPLA recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy. The 2011 winners will receive an expense paid trip to Washington, DC to participate in meetings with their congressional delegation, training and information on the federal budget and appropriations process, a certificate and 1-year AIBS membership, a complimentary 1-year subscription to BioScience, and a copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.
Application information and deadlines are available at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/student_opportunities.html.
The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of an internship in the Washington, DC, AIBS Public Policy Office. The internship is open to ASM members who are currently enrolled in a graduate program and who are engaged in research that will contribute to the understanding and conservation of mammals. The internship is for 3 months during fall 2011, and carries a generous monthly stipend. Selection criteria include demonstrated interest in the public policy process, strong communications skills, and excellent academic record.
For details and requirements, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/student_opportunities.html.
“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
Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today! (www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislative_action_center.html)
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.