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Public Policy Report for 20 June 2011

House Passes FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations, Advances Energy Funding Bill

On 16 June, the House of Representatives passed its budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for fiscal year (FY) 2012. The bill, HR 2112, would cut the department’s discretionary funding by 13 percent relative to FY 2011. The bill passed by a narrow margin of fourteen votes. All House Democrats and 19 Republicans opposed the measure.

Among the programs targeted for funding reductions are the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The legislation would cut the budget for ARS, the USDA’s in-house research division, by 12 percent relative to FY 2011. Among the proposed budget cuts are the closure of ten ARS research facilities, an action supported by the Obama Administration. Funding for competitive, extramural research within NIFA would decrease by 13 percent, well below the 22 percent increase requested by the Obama Administration.

According to Appropriations Committee report language accompanying the legislation: “While the bill reduces funding for the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction, it provides sufficient funding for them to focus on their core missions.” In terms of science, the report states that the budget is adequate for core science missions, such as “ensuring that agricultural research is science-based and focused on keeping American agriculture competitive…”

The Appropriations Committee report cited concern regarding NIFA’s research priorities. The Committee “is concerned about some of the research being funded by the agency. For example, the agency recently awarded more than $23 million in grants to improve regional and local food systems…. In light of … the nation’s serious budget deficit and debt problems, the agency should be focusing its research efforts on only the highest priority, scientifically merited research.”

During floor debate over the legislation, the House considered numerous amendments. One amendment that was adopted would halt USDA’s climate adaptation planning. The policy, which was sponsored by Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), would prevent USDA from using funds appropriated by the FY 2012 bill to implement a new departmental regulation that calls for assessing how climate change may affect agriculture systems and the department’s operations. Additionally, Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) successfully offered an amendment to bar the Food and Drug Administration from spending money in FY 2012 to consider the approval of genetically engineered salmon.

The House Appropriations Committee also advanced legislation to fund the Department of Energy in FY 2012. The Committee approved a bill on 15 June to fund the Office of Science at $4.8 billion, a $43 million decrease. The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program would receive $547.1 million, $64.7 million less than last year and $170.8 million less than President Obama requested.

The Appropriations Committee would like some of those reductions to come from the Climate and Environmental Sciences program within BER. “[C]limate research at the Department of Energy is closely related to activities carried out in other federal agencies and may be better carried out by those organizations. The Department proposes to eliminate medical research focused on human applications in order to direct limited funds to on-mission purposes, and the Department should apply the same principles to climate and atmospheric research.”

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NOAA Releases Draft Scientific Integrity Policy

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has proposed a new policy to protect NOAA scientists from political interference. NOAA’s release of a draft policy follows the recent adoption of a scientific integrity policy by the Department of the Interior.

“NOAA is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the scientific activities it conducts, and activities that are conducted on its behalf,” states the draft policy. “It will not tolerate loss of integrity in the performance of scientific activities or in the application of science in decision-making.”

In order to accomplish these goals, NOAA will facilitate the free flow of scientific information; document the scientific knowledge considered in decision making and where feasible use information that has been independently peer review; base hiring decisions for scientific positions on the candidate’s integrity, experience, and credentials; and examine, track, and resolve allegations of scientific misconduct.

The proposed policy applies to all employees, political appointees, and contractors who engage in, supervise, or manage scientific activities, publicly communicate science, or use scientific information in decision making. The policy includes codes of conduct for scientists and for supervisors and managers.

The policy allows NOAA scientists to speak to the media and the public about scientific and technical matters. It encourages NOAA scientists to publish and disseminate scientific findings and data, including through peer-reviewed journals. They are also encouraged to present their research at scientific meetings, serve on editorial boards and expert review panels, and participate and serve in leadership capacities within professional societies.

NOAA is accepting public comments on the draft policy through 15 August 2011. For more information, visit http://www.noaa.gov/scientificintegrity.

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Advisory Committee Recommends Overhaul of Select Agents Program

The Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel has recommended that the list of 82 select agents be reduced in size and organized into tiers based on the risk posed by the agents. Select agents are biological agents and toxins that pose a severe threat to the public, animals, and plants. Eleven microorganisms, including anthrax, Ebola virus, and the virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease, were identified by the advisory panel as Tier 1 agents and toxins, which pose the most risk. Twenty-five other agents were recommended for removal from the select agents program.

The report also provides advice regarding personnel, physical, and cyber security. The advisory panel was created by an Executive Order issued by President Obama in July 2010. To read the panel’s recommendations, visit http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/legal/boards/fesap/Documents/fesap-recommendations-101102.pdf.

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Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Biological research takes diverse forms-from field research to computer modeling to lab work. Help the public and policymakers to better understand the breadth of biology by entering the Faces of Biology Photo Contest. The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The contest is an opportunity to showcase the varied forms that biological research can take. Photographs entered into the contest must depict a person, such as a scientist, researcher, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The depicted research may occur outside, in a lab, with a natural history collection, on a computer, in a classroom, or elsewhere.

The Grand Prize Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a print subscription to BioScience. The First and Second Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a print subscription to BioScience.

The contest ends on September 30, 2011 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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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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Short Takes

  • Last week the Wisconsin state legislation considered a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Among the proposed cost saving proposals was a provision that would bar state universities from participating in high-speed networks. If enacted, the proposal would have jeopardized the ability of Wisconsin universities to share large data sets, such as those generated by research on protein structure or the development of cellulosic biofuels. Fortunately for researchers, the Assembly removed the policy rider from the budget before final passage.

  • Former Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) plans to form a new conservative coalition to address climate change. Inglis hopes to rally support from other Republicans who believe that action should be taken to address global warming. "What I hope to do is be a part of an effort that calls conservatives to return to conservatism and to turn away from the populist rejection of science," Inglis said.

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2011 AIBS Congressional Directory: 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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