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Public Policy Report for 14 March 2011

Government Shutdown Averted For Now, Next Showdown 18 March

On 2 March 2011, Congress and the White House struck a deal to approve a two week stop-gap spending bill that has kept the government operating since 4 March. The Continuing Resolution cut $4 billion from the current fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget by eliminating earmarks and ending several programs the President proposed to terminate in his FY 2012 budget request. The short-term spending law was intended to provide policymakers with additional time to craft a plan to fund the government for the balance of the current fiscal year. The House and Senate, however, continue to struggle to find agreement on a funding bill that would carry the government though the end of FY 2011. Thus, on 11 March, House Republicans introduced a plan for another three week Continuing Resolution that would keep the government operating beyond the 18 March expiration of the current spending plan.

The House Appropriations Committee proposal for a three week extension would cut a total of $6 billion. Programs targeted for reduction or elimination include:

  • $10.5 million for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Climate Effects Network—Science Application;
  • $10.0 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s local government climate change grants;
  • $4.6 million for the National Park Service’s Preserve America program; and
  • $14.8 million for the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program.

All of the spending cuts in this legislation were also included in HR 1 - a bill passed by the House that would fund the government for the remainder of FY 2011 - and many of these reductions and terminations were supported by President Obama in his annual budget requests. Additionally, $2.6 billion in earmarks would be terminated. The House proposal is expected to be brought to the chamber’s floor for a vote this week.

Although both parties appear to want to avoid a government shutdown, little progress has been made thus far in negotiations over how much to cut the federal budget for the remainder of FY 2011. Republican leadership in the House of Representatives is pushing for a total reduction of at least $61 billion, whereas the Democrats in the Senate want to limit cuts to non-defense spending to $10.5 billion. Last week, the Senate voted on and rejected the Republican and Democratic spending proposals.

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AIBS Congressional Testimony Supports FY 2012 NSF Budget Request

On 11 March, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) provided testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies in support of the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request of $7.767 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). If funded at this level, the budget for NSF would be 13 percent above the FY 2010 level.

“NSF is a vital engine for our nation’s continued economic growth,” stated the testimony. “The agency’s support for scientific research and education programs fosters innovation, improves science education, and maintains our scientific infrastructure.”

AIBS drew attention to the contributions of NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) to science, education, and research infrastructure. In addition to supporting a proposed increase for research funding for BIO, the testimony urges Congress to support increased funding for the digitization of biological collections, the continued construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and the Graduate Research Fellowship program.

To read the complete statement, visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20110311nsftestimony.html.

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Report Finds Duplication in Federal Programs to Improve Teacher Quality

(This title was changed from the originally distributed version of the March 14th Public Policy Report. The original title inaccurately used the word Duplicity, when Duplication is the appropriate word).

A new report to Congress by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends an evaluation of the 82 federal programs that aim to improve the quality of the nation’s educators. The report found that there is currently no government-wide strategy to “minimize fragmentation, overlap, or duplication among these many programs,” which are administered across 10 federal agencies.

The GAO found that: “Many of these programs share similar goals. For example, 9 of the 82 programs support improving the quality of teaching in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects and these programs alone are administered across the Departments of Education, Defense, and Energy; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and the National Science Foundation.”

Education programs were among 34 areas recommended for congressional review. To read the report, entitled “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue,” visit http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11318sp.pdf.

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Students: Voice Your Support for Investments in Science, Science Education

More than 2,500 students have already signed an open letter to policymakers about the importance of sustained federal investments in science. These undergraduate and graduate students represent the breadth of scientific disciplines.

The letter, developed by student members of the Botanical Society of America, encourages “Congress and the President to make sustained investments in the nation’s scientific research, education, and training programs. The extramural, competitive, peer-reviewed grant programs administered by federal agencies are critical to our nation’s scientific enterprise and future.”

Students pursuing a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, or math are encouraged to sign the letter at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/sciencestudentsletter.html. Also, students are encouraged to spread the word about this effort by joining the campaign on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Students-Sign-the-Open-Letter-to-Policymakers-About-Investments-in-Science/183684855001704.

To learn more about this effort, listen to a free podcast at http://sciencecabaret.podomatic.com/player/web/2011-02-27T194204-08_00.

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Follow the AIBS Public Policy Office on Twitter

The AIBS Public Policy Office is now on Twitter. Follow our Twitter feed to stay informed of the latest science policy news. Follow us at AIBS_Policy on Twitter.com.

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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 or who have completed a program within a semester of application and who are engaged in research that will contribute to the understanding and conservation of mammals. The internship is for three 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

  • The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is requesting public comment on the federal and international standards for protecting the health and well-being of participants in scientific studies supported by the federal government. Specifically, the Commission is interested in receiving comments on the existing standards for protecting human subjects, how the current system of global research works in practice, and the ethical and social justice issues that emerge from the current research system. Comments will be accepted until 2 May, 2011. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2011/2011-4658.htm.

  • Nominations are sought for experts to serve on the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. The Committee is charged with producing a National Climate Assessment that synthesizes and summarizes the science and information pertaining to current and future impacts of climate change upon the United States; and to provide advice and recommendations toward the development of an ongoing, sustainable national assessment of global change impacts and adaptation and mitigation strategies for the nation. Nominations must be received by 16 March. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2011/2011-4562.htm.

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) is seeking a new director for the Division of Biological Infrastructure in the Biological Sciences Directorate. The Division Director provides leadership and direction and serves as NSF's spokesperson for research and related activities involving biological infrastructure, physical research resources, and the development of human capital in the biological sciences. For more information on the vacancy, visit http://jobview.usajobs.gov/GetJob.aspx?OPMControl=2202853.

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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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