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Public Policy Report for 6 June 2011

House Begins Work on FY 2012 Appropriations

After a slow start, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has begun its consideration of fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations. The Committee set an ambitious agenda for crafting the 12 bills that would collectively fund the federal government in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on 1 October 2011. The Committee plans to consider at least 9 of the bills on the House floor before the start of the Congressional recess in August. As of today, the House has passed one appropriations bill.

Among the bills that the Appropriations Committee has considered to date are legislation to fund the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Energy (DOE). The Committee passed a bill on 31 May that would cut funding for the USDA in FY 2012. That legislation would cut the budget for the Agricultural Research Service, the USDA’s in-house research division, by nearly $140 million relative to FY 2011. Funding for competitive, extramural research would decrease by 15 percent to $225 million, well below the $325 million requested by the Obama Administration. The Committee recommended a budget of $4.8 billion (-$42.7 million) for the Department of Energy Office of Science. It is not yet clear what the funding levels will be for the biological and environmental research divisions at DOE.

Also of note is a policy rider included in the House-passed version of the FY 2012 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The House voted 242 to 180 to adopt an amendment offered by Representative John Carter (R-TX) that would bar DHS from participating in the Interagency Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. The Task Force, which is comprised of representatives from the White House, 12 departments, and 5 independent agencies, is tasked with developing recommendations for preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change. In his statement supporting the amendment, Carter said that DHS should focus its limited resources on securing the U.S.-Mexico border, “not wasting time duplicating the work of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up consideration of funding bills for the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of the Interior in early July. The Senate has yet to publicly release drafts of any FY 2012 appropriation bills.

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House Science Committee Weighs Value of Social Science

On 2 June, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to examine the need for federal investments in social, behavioral, and economic sciences. The hearing considered the role of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) in funding basic research. NSF provides about 57 percent of federal support for basic research in the social and behavioral sciences at colleges and universities.

Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) said: “The goal of this hearing is not to question whether the social, behavioral, and economic sciences produce interesting and sound research, as I believe we all can agree that they do…. Rather, the goal of our hearing is to look at the need for federal investments in these disciplines, … and how we prioritize funding for those needs, not only within the social science disciplines, but also within all science disciplines, particularly when federal research dollars are scarce.”

Not all Republican members of the panel seemed to agree with Chairman Brooks’ assertion about the value of SBE research. Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), a medical doctor by training, questioned the need for research to study the impact of the economic stimulus or for NSF’s Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability program. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI), also a medical doctor, asserted that millions of dollars of research funding has been wasted on questionable projects and that it’s unreasonable for the SBE budget to grow by 18 percent in fiscal year 2012, as the Obama Administration hopes. For FY 2012, President Obama requested $301.1 million for SBE.

Dr. Myron Gutmann, Assistant Director of SBE, adamantly defended his division. In his testimony, Gutmann cited numerous examples of achievements that resulted from social science research supported by NSF. For instance, NSF has supported 43 Nobel laureates in economics. Other dividends from NSF-funded research include the development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), matching systems for kidney transplants, and spectrum auctions that have generated tens of billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury.

Other witnesses appearing before the subcommittee disagreed on the need to prioritize SBE research. “During this time of shrinking federal dollars, when our debt is over $14 trillion and our deficit this year is projected at $1.6 trillion, the NSF should focus on basic physical and life sciences research rather than research in the social, economic and behavioral science,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Dr. Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars - a conservative group - alleged that some funding decisions made by NSF, such as regarding sustainability, were politically motivated.

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Interior to Reduce Regulatory Burden from Endangered Species Act

The Department of the Interior has announced plans to make administrative changes to implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plans are part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to identify and remedy duplicative, burdensome, or unnecessary rules and regulations.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, working in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “will revise and update the ESA implementing regulations and policies to improve conservation effectiveness, reduce administrative burden, enhance clarity and consistency for impacted stakeholders and agency staff, and encourage partnerships, innovation, and cooperation.”

Among the changes to administrative process being considered are expanding opportunities for states to engage in the species listing process; revising the process for designating critical habitat to make it more consistent; using map- and internet-based descriptions of critical habitat boundaries instead of written descriptions of locations; and improving and expediting procedures for the development and approval of conservation agreements with landowners.

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Act Now to Showcase Science to Policymakers This August

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 by 15 July 2011. For more information and to register, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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White House Releases Plans for Ocean Stewardship

The National Ocean Council has released a series of action plans to guide development of the White House’s new National Ocean Policy. President Obama ordered the creation of the policy last year in order to improve coordination and planning of marine, coastal, and Great Lakes policies regarding climate change adaptation, renewable energy, and a host of other issues.

The action plans address nine priority objectives, including ecosystem-based management, coastal and marine spatial planning, climate adaptation, the Arctic, and ocean observations, mapping, and infrastructure. The last priority aims to “strengthen Federal and non-Federal ocean observing systems, sensors, data collection platforms, data management, and mapping capabilities into a national system and integrate that system into international efforts.” These efforts would include reviewing the status of the National Oceanic Fleet and unmanned and satellite remote sensing systems, implementing the Integrated Ocean Observing System, and developing an integrated data management system.

To read the action plans and to submit comments, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/oceans/sap.

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Short Takes

  • The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other federal, state, and tribal partners are seeking public comments to inform a draft National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy. The strategy will provide a unified approach for reducing the negative impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants, habitats, and our natural resource heritage. Comments are due by 1 July 2011. For more information and to submit comments, visit http://www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/.

  • Researchers at the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) have created the most precise map ever produced depicting the amount of carbon stored in tropical forests around the world. The map, which was created from satellite and ground data, will be useful as a baseline for carbon monitoring and management of greenhouse gas emissions. To view the map, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-165.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency has released two scientific assessments of the environmental and water quality effects of mountaintop coal mining on Appalachian streams. The reports, which were endorsed by the agency's Science Advisory Board, provide scientific information for use by federal and state policymakers tasked with reviewing surface coal mining under the Clean Water Act. The reports are available at http://www.epa.gov/ncea.

  • As of 2 June 2011, all PDF versions of reports published by the National Academies Press will be downloadable free of charge to anyone. The Academies hopes this move will increase readership and use its products.

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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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