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Public Policy Report for 28 February 2011

AIBS Report Analyzes President's FY 2012 Budget for Biology

President Obama released a $3.7 trillion budget plan for fiscal year (FY) 2012 on 14 February 2010. The budget proposal would trim deficits by $1.1 trillion over the next decade. To help accomplish this goal, non-security discretionary spending would be held steady for five years. Additionally, civilian government workers would be subject to a two year pay freeze.

Innovation, education, and climate change are again pervasive themes in the President’s budget. Despite the budget freeze, spending on non-defense research and development would increase by 6.5 percent. The budgets of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy Office of Science, and National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories would collectively increase by 12.2 percent. Other agencies and programs would be cut to offset proposed increases. Although most science agencies are spared top-line cuts, the Environmental Protection Agency is slated for a $1.3 billion reduction.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education would collectively receive $3.4 billion in FY 2012 from various government agencies. Some of these funds would be used to train 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next decade.

The multi-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program would receive $2.6 billion (+20.3 percent). New funding would be used to create a new National Climate Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NSF’s Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability initiative would grow by 33.0 percent to advance climate and energy science and education.

Read the full analysis of the FY 2012 budget at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/AIBSBudgetReportFY2012.pdf.

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House Passes Budget for FY 2011, Cuts Funding for Science

On 19 February, the House of Representatives passed a bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2011. If enacted, the bill would cut $61 billion relative to FY 2010 appropriations. The reductions affect nearly all portions of the federal government, although homeland security is less affected than other areas. HR 1 passed the House along party lines by a vote of 235 to 186. No Democrats supported the measure, but three Republicans opposed it.

Debate on the measure dominated the agenda of the House for days while over one hundred amendments to the bill were considered. The debate went well past midnight for four successive nights. A summary of some of the amendments that relate to federal science agencies are presented below:

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) offered an amendment to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The amendment was agreed to with the support of all but two Republicans.

  • House Science Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) won his bid to stop the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from putting funding towards a planned climate service.
  • The House agreed to an amendment from Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) that would bar the government from spending money on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to decrease funding for science and technology at EPA by $64.1 million.
  • Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) offered a failed amendment to decrease funding for resource management at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) by $7.5 million.
  • An amendment offered by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to increase funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture by $5 million was not accepted.
  • Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to decrease funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) by $50 million.

Additionally, conservative lawmakers pushed to cut spending even further. An amendment offered by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) would have cut an additional $22 billion by reducing funding across the entire government by 5.5 percent, with some exemptions. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 147-281, with a minority of Republicans joining a unified Democratic party in opposition.

The spending cuts proposed in HR 1 could be very detrimental to federal science programs. One analysis of the impacts to the National Science Foundation (NSF) indicates that the agency’s budget would be cut by 5.2 percent. Research and Related Activities would decrease by 2.6 percent, the net impacts of which could be 500 fewer awards and 5,500 fewer researchers, students, and teachers supported than in 2010. The Education and Human Resources Directorate would be reduced by 17 percent, which could result in 235 fewer awards and 4,400 less people supported. A 53 percent reduction is proposed for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account. If enacted, the result could be schedule delays in the construction of networks of ocean observatories and environmental sensors.

The House passage of HR 1 is just the first step towards enactment of an appropriations bill for FY 2011. The Senate must still act on the measure. Although Democratic leaders in the Senate plan to reduce spending in FY 2011, some have called the House’s cuts excessive. Leadership from the two chambers of Congress must now compromise to reach a level of spending that is agreeable to both parties, or face a shutdown of the federal government.

The two chambers of Congress have been in negotiations for a shorter term Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the government for two weeks beyond the expiration of the current CR on 4 March. Over the weekend, House Republicans signaled their receptiveness to smaller spending cuts while lawmakers work out a deal on spending for the remainder of FY 2011. The GOP plan would cut $4 billion by cutting earmarks and speeding up the elimination of programs President Obama proposed to terminate in his 2012 budget.

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Act Now: Ask Federal Politicians to Put the Country First and Pass an FY 2011 Appropriations Bill

The House of Representatives, Senate, and President have been at odds over a funding bill for the current fiscal year (FY) 2011. If an agreement is not reached by 4 March, it is likely that all or part of the federal government will be shut down. This will have impacts for people everywhere. With respect to science programs, agencies will not be able to award or manage grants, and federal laboratories and research centers will be closed. The implications of a shutdown go far beyond the impacts to science. More significantly, it may mean disruptions to Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries. Food and safety inspections may be slowed or ceased. A shutdown could result in disruptions to government services we all rely on every day. Even further, a shutdown of the federal government would undoubtedly have significant negative impacts on our economy.

Please take a few moments to ask your Representative, Senators, and the President to work together to pass an FY 2011 appropriations bill that will keep the government running past 4 March. Take action at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=30418511.

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OSTP Launches R&D Dashboard to Demonstrate Impacts of Federal Science Investments

On 10 February, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced the launch of a new online tool to help the public see the value of federal investments in research and development (R&D). The R&D Dashboard presents data on grant awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research institutions over the past decade. Information on awarded grants is linked to the outcomes of the funded research, such as publications, patent applications, and patents. Adding to its usefulness, the site can sort investments at the state, congressional district, and research-institution levels. In the future, the site will also include information from other federal science agencies. To access the R&D Dashboard, visit http://rd-dashboard.nitrd.gov/home.html.

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USGS Seeks Input on Ecosystem Science Strategy

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is requesting public input to inform the development of a new ecosystem science strategy. The new strategy will guide the research activities of the agency’s new ecosystem activity, which was created when the USGS reorganized in 2010. Details for commenting on the plan are available in the following letter from Gary Brewer and Kenneth Williams, Ecosystems Science Strategy Planning Team Co-Chairs.

Dear USGS partners and collaborators:

Ecosystems worldwide are undergoing unprecedented change because of climate variability, changing land uses, and increasing demands for water, food, energy, infrastructure, and commodities. To better understand these trends, forecast future conditions, and inform management decisions, a team of USGS scientists is developing a 10-year science strategy for the new USGS Ecosystems Mission Area. This is part of an effort to create strategies for all of the new USGS Mission Areas.

This process will culminate in a final report to be delivered to USGS Director Marcia McNutt by October 31, 2011. The Ecosystem Team has begun to gather input from colleagues, partners, and collaborators at listening sessions and meetings, and now we would like your help in taking the next step.

We invite you to visit the USGS Science Strategy site (http://www.usgs.gov/startwithscience/) to answer several questions we have posed to stimulate thought and inform the creation of the Ecosystems strategy. The site also includes background material on this plan and the strategic science planning process for all of the USGS Mission Areas. Please help us create a compelling, comprehensive, and relevant strategy by visiting the site to offer your input.

Thank you.

Gary Brewer and Kenneth Williams, Ecosystems SSPT Co-Chairs

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High School Student Seeks Repeal of Louisiana's Creationism Law

Baton Rouge Magnet High School Senior Zack Kopplin has launched a campaign to have the Louisiana Science Education Act repealed. The state law, which has been in place since 2008, encourages science teachers to include supplemental materials that attack evolution and promote creationism in their lessons. State Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5) will sponsor the repeal legislation. Kopplin was central in a grassroots effort last year that successfully convinced the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve new biology textbooks that include the teaching of evolution.

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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

  • Joan Ferrini-Mundy has been selected as the new assistant director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR). She has held the position on an acting basis for the last year. Her background prior to joining NSF was in math education.

  • Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has announced that he does not plan to seek a sixth term in 2012. Bingaman chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He is the sixth Senator to announce his intentions to retire at the end of the 112th Congress.
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Now in BioScience: "New Congress: Old Climate Rhetoric?"

Read the Washington Watch column in the February 2011 issue of BioScience to learn about how the 112th Congress may or may not work together to address pressing science and science-related public policy issues. The article, “New Congress, Old Climate Rhetoric?” may also be viewed online for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2011_02.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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