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Public Policy Report for 20 December 2010

Senate Passes America COMPETES Reauthorization

On 17 December, the United States Senate unanimously passed legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The measure represents a compromise reached between the two chambers of Congress. Although the House of Representatives passed the legislation last May, the bill stalled in the Senate due to concerns raised by some Republicans over the cost of the plan. A reduction in funding authorizations and other changes paved the way for passage last Friday.

HR 5116, as passed by the Senate, would authorize funding for three years for research and education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy Office of Science. It 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.

One of the key compromises sought by Senate Republicans was the cost of the bill. Ultimately, funding authorizations for NSF and other science agencies were reduced. For instance in fiscal year 2013, the Senate recommended $8.3 billion for NSF versus the $8.76 billion recommended by the House. Additionally, the House had sought to authorize funding levels for five years, but the Senate would only commit to a three year authorization.

Notably for the natural science collections community, the Senate bill includes language regarding the management, use, and access to federal scientific collections. HR 5116 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 bill must be passed again by the House before it can go to the President’s desk for his signature. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has indicated that the bill could be brought to the House floor for a vote as early as tomorrow.

Interested individuals may send a letter to their Representative asking that s/he approve HR 5116 this year. Letters may be sent using the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=20938511.

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White House Issues Scientific Integrity Policy

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued guidelines on 17 December 2010 to ensure that research conducted by government scientists is not altered for political purposes. The new policy was released 18 months after the initial deadline set by President Obama.

“Science, and public trust in science, thrives in an environment that shields scientific data and analyses from inappropriate political influence; political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings,” wrote Dr. John Holdren, Director of OSTP and the President’s science adviser, in the memo setting forth the policy.

The policy outlines four principles for the foundations of scientific integrity in government: 1) ensuring a culture of scientific integrity, 2) strengthening the actual and perceived credibility of government research, 3) facilitating the free flow of scientific and technological information, and 4) establishing principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public. These guidelines include directives to federal agencies to hire scientists based primarily on their technical expertise and not their ideology, to subject scientific information to independent peer review when feasible, and to ensure protections for whistleblowers.

Government agencies are also directed to establish policies that “promote and facilitate, as permitted by law, the professional development of Government scientists and engineers.” This includes encouraging the publication of research in peer-reviewed journals and the presentation of research at professional meetings, and allowing government scientists to fully participate in professional societies, including serving on task forces or on the governing board.

The policy addresses the communication of scientific information to the public and the use of federal advisory committees. Of note, the policy directive states that “[i]n no circumstance may public affairs officers ask or direct Federal scientists to alter scientific findings.”

So far, the policy has received mixed reviews. Some groups have criticized the policy for lacking details and for not explicitly inviting public involvement as federal agencies develop their own policies to implement the government-wide policy. Federal agencies have 120 days to implement the new policy.

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Funding for FY 2011 Still Not Finalized

Congress is once again likely to extend its deadline for providing fiscal year (FY) 2011 funding to federal agencies. A push last week by Senate Democrats to pass an omnibus appropriations bill, which would have funded all federal agencies for the remainder of FY 2011, failed. The Senate is now expected to approve on 21 December another Continuing Resolution that would fund most government programs at the FY 2010 level until 4 March 2011.

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House Selects Committee Leadership for 112th Congress

Republicans and Democrats in the United States House of Representatives have now selected their Committee chairmen and ranking members, respectively, for the 112th Congress. The following provides a brief introduction to some of the new leaders of the House of Representatives. Additional details about subcommittee leadership will appear in a future AIBS Public Policy Report.

Two Republicans will run the House Science and Technology Committee next year. Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) was selected to chair the committee; Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will serve as the committee’s vice chair. Hall has served as the ranking member of the committee for the past four years. One of his primary interests in science policy is space exploration. Although he supported the America COMPETES Act of 2007, he voted against its reauthorization this year due to concerns over the cost of the legislation. Hall is also a vocal skeptic of climate change. In a statement released after his selection as chair, Hall said: “Our Committee will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested wisely in research and development programs by providing effective oversight of existing programs and by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs and streamlining programs where needed.”

Sensenbrenner will play a supporting role to Hall. Sensenbrenner is currently the second most senior Republican on the panel. His promotion to Vice Chair may be a result of the discontinuation of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, where he is the Ranking Republican.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will serve as the Ranking Member of the House Science and Technology Committee. The current top Democrat, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), is retiring. Johnson’s interests in science policy include science education, increasing diversity within science, and space exploration. In a statement released last month, Johnson outlined her priorities for the committee: “As Ranking Member, I would continue to advocate for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] education, clean energy, and for scientific research to improve the lives of all Americans….I would continue to emphasize the need to invest in basic scientific research and development to support our nation’s energy independence and security, to create new technologies, industries, and jobs that will catalyze our nation’s embattled middle class and fulfill a mission for the U.S. to lead the world in clean technology.”

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) will serve as the new Chairman for the House Appropriations Committee. Rogers defeated bids by two other Republicans in his quest for the committee’s top position, including a bid by the current Ranking Member Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). The Republican Steering Committee did not grant Lewis an exemption from the House GOP’s rule that Republicans may only hold the top committee spot (Chairman or Ranking Member) for six years. Rogers has pledged to ban earmarks in appropriations bills starting in fiscal year 2012, and is also considering voting on the federal budget on an agency by agency basis, rather than grouping agencies into 12 appropriations bills.

The top ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee is likely to be Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA). Chairman David Obey (D-WI), the current head of the panel, is retiring at the end of the 111th Congress. Obey has served as the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee since 1994. Dicks has previously served as Chairman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, where he championed increased funding for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. He currently serves as Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) will be the next Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Hastings has served as the panel’s Ranking Minority Member for two years. Although the environmental legislation he sponsored in the 111th Congress was mainly related to issues specific to Washington state, Hastings has outlined a broad agenda for the next session of Congress. “Like all committees, one of our top priorities on the Natural Resources Committee will be cutting spending and bringing fiscal sanity back to Washington, D.C.,” Hastings said in a statement to the press. He also plans to address job creation through increased domestic energy production and the opening of public lands.

The ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee will be Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA). Although Markey has served on the committee since 1976, he has never been the senior Democrat. Markey is active on energy and climate policy, having served as Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming for the past four years. He is a co-author of House-passed comprehensive legislation to address climate change.

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American Students' Science Scores Rank Average on International Tests

Recently released results of an international effort to evaluate and compare student performance in math, reading, and science found that students in the United States have significant room for improvement. The study was conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and evaluated students from 65 countries.

Based on the test results, American 15-year-olds were average in reading and science, but were slightly below average in math. In terms of rank, American students placed 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math.

The tests, which measure students’ knowledge and problem-solving abilities, are administered every three years. The most recent assessment was conducted in the autumn of 2009 and shows some improvement in American science test scores since the last assessment in 2006. Domestic math scores, however, did not improve over the 2003 assessment.

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AIBS Criticizes FCC Net Neutrality Proposal

On 13 December 2010, AIBS sent a letter (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/news/aibsexpressesconcernstofccregardingnet_neutrality.html#029862) to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its proposed Open Internet initiative. The proposal, which is FCC is expected to vote on this month, is intended to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against online content provided by competing companies. Some experts, however, fear that the proposal does not provide sufficient protections for Internet users, application developers, and content providers.

The comments submitted by AIBS recommend that the FCC clarify the non-discrimination rule, include a clear ban on access charges for application and content providers, and provide the same protections for wireless Internet service as for wired Internet service. The Botanical Society of America (BSA), an AIBS member society, also commented on the proposal. The BSA letter may be viewed at http://www.botany.org/Public_Policy/FCC-BSA-101209.pdf.

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Attention Graduate Students: AIBS is Accepting Applications for the 2011 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

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.

The deadline to apply is 5 pm EST on 22 January 2010. Application information is available at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/student_opportunities.html.

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Graduate Student Policy Internship Available

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.

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A Victory for Supporters of Evolution Education in Louisiana

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently approved new high school biology textbooks that include the topic of evolution, despite the objections of some creationists. The 8-2 vote means that the state will purchase textbooks that do not mention creationism or intelligent design.

Supporters of evolution education praised the decision. “We are pleased and proud that the board has done the right thing,” said the Louisiana Coalition for Science in a statement. “As a result, students in Louisiana public schools will have the most current, up-to-date information about biology, including the theory of evolution, which is the strongest explanation of the history and development of life on Earth ever constructed…Students in our public schools deserve the best science education we can give them. Thanks to [the board’s] decision, they won’t have to wait any longer for decent textbooks.”

According to Eugenie C. Scott, the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, “The board’s decision is a ray of sunlight, especially because the creationist opponents of these textbooks were claiming — wrongly — that the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act requires that biology textbooks misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. It’s refreshing to see that the board withstood the pressure to compromise the quality of biology textbooks in the state.”

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Short Takes

  • The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has released the methodology it plans to use to inventory and forecast the capacity of different types of ecosystems to store carbon. The assessment, which was mandated by Congress, is expected to be completed within three years. For more information, visit http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5233/.

  • The Department of Commerce is seeking nominations for membership on the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee. Nominations are sought for highly qualified non-federal scientists, resource managers, and people representing other interests or organizations involved with or affected by marine conservation including in the Great Lakes. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-31187.htm.

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In the AIBS Webstore

“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! (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.

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