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Public Policy Report for 9 May 2011

Impacts of FY 2011 Appropriations Starting to Emerge

Congress may have finished its work on the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget last month, but federal agencies are still scrambling to figure out what the Continuing Resolution that funds the government through September 2011 means for programs.

So far, federal science agencies generally have not released information to the public about the impacts of the nearly $40 billion cut by Congress in mid-April. While that legislation targets a number of programs for reductions, all agencies were subject to a 0.2 percent cut below FY 2010.

An analysis by the AIBS Public Policy Office found that the National Science Foundation (NSF) was cut by $67 million to $6.9 billion. This is more than half a billion dollars less than President Obama requested for the agency in FY 2011. Much of the reduction ($54 million) comes from the Research and Related Activities budget line. The Education and Human Resources budget account loses about $12 million. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account is funded at nearly the same level as in FY 2010, which is about $48 million dollars less than the agency requested. Since the program is not fully funded for FY 2011, some projects may be delayed; this could impact the start of construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network. No information is available yet regarding the budget for the Biological Sciences Directorate.

NSF’s one percent budget reduction was comparable to cuts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Energy Office of Science. NIH announced on 25 April that its one percent budget reduction would result in a comparable reduction in the size of ongoing research grants. Moreover, the size of grants awarded by the National Cancer Institute will decline by three percent. The agency also expects to make slightly fewer new awards for competitive research grants. (See http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-11-068.html for more information.)

Congress made even deeper cuts to the budgets of other science agencies. Funding for science and technology at the Environmental Protection Agency was reduced by 3.8 percent to $813 million. The United States Geological Survey received $1.08 billion, a $28 million cut (-2.5 percent).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was cut by 3.2 percent to $4.6 billion. The larger issue for NOAA, however, may be the nearly $1 billion in new funding that the agency requested but did not receive. These funds are needed for the continued development of weather and climate satellites.

Funding for competitive research grants at the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture also fell far short of the President’s budget request. The extramural grant program will receive about 40 percent less funding than requested.

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White House Orders Federal Agencies to Submit Draft Scientific Integrity Plans

Federal agencies have until early August to complete draft scientific integrity policies, according to a recent memo from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) director Dr. John Holdren.

Federal agencies are required by Presidential directive to develop and implement formal policies to ensure scientific integrity within their organization. Specifically, agencies must hire scientists based primarily on their technical expertise and not their ideology, subject scientific information to independent peer review when feasible, and ensure protections for whistleblowers. OSTP directed agencies to address transparency in public communication of science, professional development of government scientists and engineers, and lobbyists serving on federal advisory committees.

Agencies were required to submit a progress report to OSTP in April, a deadline which was met by 30 departments, agencies, and offices. Six government entities, including the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, submitted draft or complete policies.

It has been more than two years since President Obama directed his Administration to restore scientific integrity to government decision-making. The process should have been completed long ago, but OSTP overshot its deadline for releasing guidance to agencies by 17 months. The slow process has drawn criticism from members of Congress and the scientific community.

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Register for the 3rd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Event

Would you like to help inform the nation’s science policy without trekking to Washington, DC? Do you want to meet with your members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal investments in science?

Register now to participate in the 3rd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This national initiative is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their members of Congress to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

The 3rd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event will be held throughout the month of August 2011, when Representatives and Senators spend time in their Congressional districts and home states. This event is an opportunity for scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their members of Congress to demonstrate how science is conducted and why a sustained investment in research and education programs must be a national priority. Participating scientists may invite their elected officials to visit their facility or can meet with them at a congressional district office.

Participants will be prepared for their congressional meetings through an interactive training webinar. Individuals participating in this event will receive information about federal appropriations for biological research, tips for scheduling and conducting a successful meeting with an elected official, and resources to craft and communicate an effective message.

This event is organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences with the generous support of Event Sponsors Botanical Society of America, Museum of Comparative Zoology—Harvard University, Natural Science Collections Alliance, and Organization of Biological Field Stations, and Event Supporters National Ecological Observatory Network, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

Participation is free, but registration is required and space is limited. For more information and to register, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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NSF Outlines New Vision and Goals in Five Year Strategic Plan

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has outlined a new vision and goals for the agency for fiscal years 2011 to 2016. The new vision is more outcome-oriented than the previous vision: “NSF envisions a nation that capitalizes on new concepts in science and engineering and provides global leadership in advancing research and education.” The strategic goals were also revised: transform the frontiers, innovate for society, and perform as a model organization.

According to the plan, the new vision and goals were developed “to better integrate them with the concepts of research and learning, and more closely align with NSF’s merit review criteria of intellectual merit and broader impacts.”

The strategic plan also utilizes new methods for evaluating the performance of NSF’s investments in research and education. New performance goals include:

  • Transform the Frontiers:

    • Make investments that lead to emerging new fields of science and engineering and shifts in existing fields.
    • Prepare and engage a diverse STEM workforce motivated to participate at the frontiers.
    • Keep the United States globally competitive at the frontiers of knowledge by increasing international partnerships and collaborations.
    • Enhance research infrastructure and promote data access to support researchers’ and educators’ capabilities and enable transformation at the frontiers.
  • Innovate for Society:

    • Make investments that lead to results and resources that are useful to society.
    • Build the capacity of the nation’s citizenry for addressing societal challenges through science and engineering.
    • Support the development of innovative learning systems.
  • Perform as a Model Organization:

    • Achieve management excellence through leadership, accountability, and personal responsibility.
    • Infuse learning as an essential element of the NSF culture with emphasis on professional development and personal growth.
    • Encourage and sustain a culture of creativity and innovation across the agency to ensure continuous improvement and achieve high levels of customer service.

To read the strategic plan, visit http://www.nsf.gov/news/strategicplan/index.jsp?WT.mcid=USNSF124.

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Head of National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Step Down

Dr. Roger Beachy, the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), plans to leave his position on 20 May 2011. In his two years as director, Beachy led the reorganization of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service into NIFA. He was also responsible for major changes in the program’s competitive research grants, including targeting half of the competitive research funding for grand challenges like climate change.

According to an email from Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, the agency is “initiating an aggressive search to identify and bring on board a distinguished scientist as NIFA’s next director.” In the interim, Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young will serve as acting director of NIFA. Jacobs-Young currently serves as director of the Office of the Chief Scientist at USDA.

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Workshop Helps Researchers, Students Improve Science Communication

Communicating science to the media, policymakers, and the general public can be a difficult task. That is why the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a part of the Long-Term Ecological Research Network, recently held a training session on the topic for its researchers and graduate students.

Participants heard from several experts in communication during the full day workshop. Julie Palakovich Carr of AIBS’ Public Policy Office gave a presentation on communicating effectively with policymakers. She presented strategies and tips for formulating and delivering scientific information to elected officials, congressional and agency staff, and other decision makers. Additionally, workshop participants had the chance to practice their new communication skills during mock meetings with ‘congressional staff.’

The workshop also included presentations from an environmental reporter at The Baltimore Sun, a science writer who specializes in writing for the general public, and a specialist in videography. The workshop was held on 5 April 2011 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

For more information about AIBS policy and media communications workshops and programs, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/policy_training.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established a new working group to evaluate the future of the biomedical research workforce. The group will consider the appropriate size of the workforce, training opportunities, and other workforce issues, and will gather input from the extramural research community. The group's recommendations will be presented to the Advisory Committee to the Director. The working group is co-chaired by Dr. Shirley Tilghman, the president of Princeton University, and Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research.

  • Public lands play a critical role in the conservation of North American birds, according to the "State of the Birds" report. More than 300 species of birds have more than half of their U.S. distribution on public lands and waters. The report is the first national assessment of the distribution of birds on public lands.

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2011 AIBS Congressional Directory: Now Available in AIBS Webstore

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that copies of the AIBS guide to the 112th Congress are now available in the AIBS Webstore for only $19.95 per copy. There is a limited supply of this handy resource, so please order your copy today. To learn more about this or other publications available through AIBS, please visit http://webstore.aibs.org/category/35373945661/1/Books.htm.

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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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