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Public Policy Report for 15 August 2011

Debt Deal Jeopardizes Growth in R&D Budgets

The deal on the debt limit recently signed into law by President Obama could mean leaner times for the nation’s federally supported research, science education, and environmental programs.

Under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-25), more than $900 billion will be cut from discretionary spending over the next decade. Discretionary spending accounts are the source for government spending that supports military, foreign aid, highways, research and development, conservation, and almost all other government programs with the notable exceptions of entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, and a few other programs.

Many lawmakers and policy experts do not expect environmental programs to fare well, given the current political climate on Capitol Hill. Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), who serves as the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, told reporters that the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior must brace for leaner times: “They won’t have growing budgets, that’s just the reality. Nobody will have growing budgets.”

These cuts could be exacerbated by additional reductions that could be proposed by a bicameral, bipartisan congressional committee charged with identifying $1.2-$1.5 trillion in additional savings by the end of the year. If this committee fails to identify these savings or if the panel’s plan is not signed into law, then automatic across-the-board budget cuts would begin to be made to discretionary and defense/security accounts in order to permit another debt ceiling increase.

Although the outlook is austere, some have found a small consolation in the shorter-term fiscal picture. The debt deal is much kinder to discretionary spending over the next two years than many expected. Funding for fiscal years (FY) 2012 and 2013 would remain essentially unchanged from last year. This is $24 billion higher than the House-passed budget for FY 2012, which could provide the Senate an opportunity to modestly increase current spending above the levels set by the House.

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Debt Deal Super Committee Members Named

Congressional leaders have announced the membership of the “super committee” established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-25). Under the law, the bicameral committee is equally divided among Democrats and Republicans, with three members from each party appointed by the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate. Under the provisions of the Budget Control Act, the super committee is charged with reporting an additional $1.2-$1.5 trillion in federal spending cuts, entitlement reforms, new revenue, or some combination of the three by the end of the year. The panel’s recommendations would be fast-tracked to the floor of each chamber for a vote. If the committee fails to identify the required level of savings or if the measure fails to pass Congress and be signed into law by the President, automatic budget cuts would be made to discretionary and defense/security programs. This is in exchange for a second debt ceiling increase that will be required to take the country into 2013.

From the Senate, the super committee members include Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), and Senator Patrick Toomey (R-PA). House members will be, Representative Dave Camp (R-MI), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC), and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Senator Murray and Rep. Hensarling will serve as the committee’s co-chairmen.

The membership includes a mix of senior members of Congress. Some members of the panel, including Rep. Hensarling, Rep. Van Hollen, Rep. Clyburn, and Senator Murray, have held political and campaign leadership positions for their parties. Other members, such as Senators Portman and Baucus have extensive budget experience, and many of the remaining members hold senior posts on important committees with jurisdiction over tax policy and entitlement programs. Many of the members were involved in budget negotiations with Vice President Biden earlier this year and all have strong relationships with their parties’ political leadership. Moreover, four committee members served on the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction panel that proposed a suite of actions to trim $4 trillion from the federal deficit. However, all four members voted against the final recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson commission.

Of note, the recent and brief ballyhoo for the Senate’s “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group of six Senators who were working to identify a bipartisan deficit reduction plan, has apparently dissipated. None of the members of that group were named to the super committee.

To learn more about these members of Congress or your member of Congress, please visit the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/dbq/officials/.

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Agencies Continue to Develop Scientific Integrity Policies

All but three federal agencies met last week’s deadline for submitting draft or final policies on scientific integrity to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). According to OSTP, the draft policies for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development are in clearance and will be submitted soon. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is still developing its policy.

Five agencies and departments, including the Departments of Commerce, Interior, and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the intelligence community, have finalized their policies. Thirteen other agencies have completed draft policies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, and Health and Human Services.

NSF’s draft policy was released for public comment last week (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-04/html/2011-19701.htm). It is a notable departure from other agencies’ policies. Instead of outlining principles of scientific integrity and a code of ethics for employees, NSF focuses heavily on the actions that it has already taken, such as its investigator conflict-of-interest policy and its information sharing via the Open Government Initiative. The draft policy also outlines a new policy on how NSF will handle media inquires. Public comments are being accepted on the draft policy through 6 September 2011.

NOAA’s draft scientific integrity policy outlines goals of facilitating the free flow of scientific information; documenting the scientific knowledge considered in decision making and where feasible using information that has been independently peer reviewed; basing hiring decisions for scientific positions on the candidate’s integrity, experience, and credentials; and examining, tracking, and resolving allegations of scientific misconduct. The policy includes codes of conduct for scientists and for supervisors and managers. NOAA is accepting public comments on the draft policy through 20 August 2011. For more information, visit http://www.noaa.gov/scientificintegrity.

The public comment period for EPA’s draft policy will remain open until 6 September 2011. For more information, visit http://www.epa.gov/osa/.

Agencies and departments are developing and implementing scientific integrity policies at the direction of President Obama, who in 2009 ordered 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.

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Creationist Theme Park Received Additional Tax Breaks

Ark Encounter, a proposed creationist theme park to be located in northern Kentucky, has been granted a 75 percent property tax break for the next 30 years by the city of Williamstown, Kentucky. This is in addition to nearly $200,000 given to the project’s developer by Grant County’s economic development arm, as well as 100 acres of reduced-price land.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority previously approved tax incentives for the theme park. According to the National Center for Science Education, the “tax incentives will allow Ark Encounter to recoup 25 percent of its development costs by retaining the sales tax generated by the project. With the development costs of the park estimated at 150 million dollars, the incentives would amount to 37.5 million dollars over ten years.”

The religious theme park will feature a full scale replica of Noah’s Ark. Construction of the project is expected to be completed with private funds.

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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 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 initiative 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 contest ends on 30 September 2011. For more information and to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • Funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is helping to launch a national center to synthesize social and environmental information. The center, which will be housed at the University of Maryland, is the first NSF synthesis center to integrate the natural and social sciences. The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center will facilitate research on issues like water availability, sustainable food production, and the interaction between human activities and ecosystems health.

  • The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) has released its draft science strategy. The draft report outlines the scientific questions that NEON will address, key aspects of the network's design, and needed infrastructure. To read the strategy or submit comments by 15 September 2011, visit http://www.neoninc.org/science/science-strategy.

  • The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has launched a new fellowship program for international graduate students studying in the United States. The first class of 48 fellows will receive $43,000 for three years to help them pursue their degrees in biomedicine or related fields.

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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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