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Public Policy Report for 18 January 2011

Congressional Leadership Announced for Education Committees

The start of the 112th Congress brought some changes to the leadership of the legislative committees with jurisdiction over education policy.

In the House of Representatives, the Education and Labor Committee has been renamed - it is once again the Education and the Workforce Committee. The committee will also have a new chairman, Representative John Kline (R-MN), who has served as the top ranking Republican on the panel since 2009. In a statement released in December 2010, Kline said: “My goal for the federal programs and agencies that oversee our schools and workplaces is to provide certainty and simplicity. We must ensure federal red tape does not become the enemy of innovation, and that federal mandates do not become roadblocks on the path to reform.” In the past, Kline has advocated for greater flexibility and local control in education. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who chaired the Education and Labor Committee in the 111th Congress, is expected to serve as Ranking Member.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has been named chairwoman of the panel’s Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness. Foxx is a former college professor and administrator. Although she has a light legislative footprint in the area of education, she has previously expressed criticism of the Department of Education’s handling of for-profit colleges. In a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed, Foxx expressed her interest in cutting back federal regulations in education and in reevaluating funding for the Department of Education. “…[G]overnment funding for higher education is most effective the closer the funding source is to the institutions. This is why I support focusing our efforts on state and local government and removing much of the federal red tape, mandates and funding mechanisms that hinder innovation and accountability.” The ranking member for the subcommittee has not yet been announced.

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education will be chaired by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA). Hunter, who is serving his second term in office, has little legislative history in education policy, but has expressed interest in cutting government spending.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education will be chaired by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT). This is the congressman’s first time as top Republican on the committee. Rehberg commented on his priorities for the subcommittee in a statement released on 7 January: “Even as federal spending went through the roof, the quality of health care and education has suffered. We need to spend tax dollars more responsibly and efficiently. We need to empower communities, not federal bureaucrats. We need to stop thinking that we can solve every problem by throwing more money at it.” House Democrats have not yet made a decision regarding the panel’s ranking member. The subcommittee was led in the last session of Congress by now retired Rep. David Obey (D-WI), who had also served as chairman of the full Appropriations Committee.

The Senate has not yet officially named the leadership for its committees. However, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected to be chaired again by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). Harkin became the lead Democrat on the committee after the death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in 2009. Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) has served as the education committee’s ranking member since 2008. He chaired the committee from 2005-2007, when the Republicans last controlled the Senate, and played an important role in the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act. Senator Harkin is also expected to continue on as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

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Federal Employee Groups Criticize Fiscal Commission Report

Fifteen unions and organizations representing federal employees have sent a letter to President Obama expressing serious concerns with several recommendations included in the December 2010 report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The Commission’s report, “The Moment of Truth,” included several recommendations that, if enacted, would impact federal employees, including those in science and natural resource agencies. For example, the report calls for the President and Congress to impose a three-year pay freeze on federal workers and Defense Department civilians, reduce the size of the federal workforce through attrition, and to reduce federal travel, printing, and vehicle budgets.

According to a news report on Federal News Radio, the letter “rejected freezing or reducing salaries at a time when a highly professional federal workforce is critical to a functional and safe nation.”

The letter also drew attention to an October report from the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), according to the Federal News Radio report. The OPM report found that “the salary advantage private sector workers have over federal employees grew to 24 percent in 2010, 2 percent higher than in 2009.”

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Privately Owned Forests Key to Conservation of At-Risk Species

More than sixty percent of threatened and endangered plant and animal species in the United States are found in private forests. More than 57 million acres of private forests, however, are expected to experience substantial increases in development over the next few decades, according to a new report by the U.S. Forest Service.

“Over half of America’s forests are privately owned and are under pressure from housing development, pests, diseases and fire,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Future development is likely to result in a decrease of private forest habitat for many at-risk species.”

Development of forests for housing could be particularly harmful in the eastern United States, where increased housing density in rural areas is likely to contribute to the decline of the largest numbers of forest-associated at-risk species. Wildfires have the potential to impact the habitats of the greatest variety of at-risk species in the southeast, southwest, and California.

The report suggests actions to reduce the impacts of development on wildlife and plant species already at risk, including building wildlife tunnels under highways, clustering housing in order to maintain open space, and increasing public awareness of the negative impacts of free-ranging cats and other pets.

To download the report, visit http://www.fs.fed.us/openspace/fote/at-risk.html.

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AIBS Public Policy Office 2010 Annual Report Now Available

The AIBS Public Policy Office 2010 Annual Report is now online. Learn about our activities and accomplishments last year and find out how you can participate in the future.

A few key accomplishments from 2010:

  • Organized the 2nd annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event, which drew the participation of biologists from 25 states.
  • Facilitated the participation of scientists and educators in science policy through the AIBS Legislative Action Center.
  • Influenced the development of the Department of the Interior’s scientific integrity policy.
  • Testified before the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee in sup¬port of increased funding for the United States Geological Survey.

To download the report, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/PPOAnnualReport_2010.pdf.

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NSF Program Directors Outline Plan for Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability Program

A recent “dear colleague” letter from the heads of all eleven directorates and offices at the National Science Foundation (NSF) outlines the agency’s plans for supporting the “science and engineering research needed to understand and overcome the barriers to sustainable human well-being.” The Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program is an NSF-wide investment that “will include the conceptual, theoretical, empirical, and computational research needed to further develop the basic science, engineering, education, and policy knowledge base relevant to sustainability. Additionally, it will support projects at multiple scales, from the individual to the system level, and will stimulate innovations in education and learning research and practice.”

The program began in 2010 with a solicitation for proposals that addressed the intersection of climate and environment. In fiscal year 2011, SEES will focus on energy sustainability, such as the development of sustainable energy technologies, development of techniques for effective and efficient use of water resources, and research in transportation technology.

For more information on the SEES program, including upcoming activities, visit http://www.nsf.gov/sees. To read the dear colleague letter, visit http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2011/nsf11022/nsf11022.jsp?WT.mcid=USNSF25&WT.mc_ev=click.

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Public Comments Sought on Draft Plan for Environmental Research on Impacts of Nanotechnology

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council are seeking public comments on the draft National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research. The document outlines the federal government’s strategy for conducting research to ensure the responsible development of nanotechnology.

With respect to evaluating the potential environmental impacts of nanotechnology, the strategy outlines several research needs: understanding environmental exposure sources and routes, determining the factors affecting environmental transportation of nanomaterials, understanding the transformation of nanomaterials in the environment, understanding the effects of nanomaterials on organisms, and evaluating the effects of nanomaterials at the population, community, and ecosystem levels.

Public comments are being accepted through 21 January. For more information or to download the draft strategy, visit http://strategy.nano.gov/.

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Deadline Approaching 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 on 30-31 March to participate in meetings with their congressional delegation, as well as training and information on the federal budget and appropriations process. Recipients will also receive 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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Short Takes

  • On 4 January 2011, President Obama signed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 into law. The National Science Foundation, one of several federal science agencies that will be impacted by the new law, has not wasted any time in starting to implement some of the law's requirements. The National Science Board's Task Force on Merit Review is set to meet on 19 January to discuss their implementation of the law's requirement for a review of the broader impacts of NSF activities.
  • Scientific collections and the institutions that house them are an important part of our nation's research and education enterprise. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to spread the word about the value of museums. Send a prepared letter from the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=22163501.

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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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