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Public Policy Report for 29 August 2011

Some NSF BIO Programs to Limit Research Proposals, Change to Annual Funding Cycle

The National Science Foundation Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has announced major changes to the process some of its divisions use to receive and review research proposals. The details are provided in a 15 August 2011 Dear Colleague letter from Dr. Joann Roskoski, acting director of BIO.

The letter reads:

As you are no doubt aware, the proposal workload across the Foundation has increased dramatically over the past decade. For example in IOS, the number of unsolicited proposals received into the core programs during this time period has increased 43% while the number of awards made has decreased by 11 percentage points, from 28% to 17%. Clearly, this is a burden on the Program Directors and administrative staff at NSF as well as on the community, who, in addition to submitting proposals are also called upon to serve as ad hoc and panel reviewers.

Effective immediately, the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated new procedures for the submission and review of regular research proposals to the core programs within the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), and Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). One goal of these new procedures is to reduce the burdens on the PI and reviewer communities associated with intensifying competition for limited funds. A second is to better manage proposal processing in the face of growing proposal submission numbers while maintaining the high quality of the merit review process and resulting funding selections. In response to these challenges, three BIO Divisions are revising their procedures for submission and review of research proposals. The changes for MCB were previously announced in a new solicitation (http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgmsumm.jsp?pimsid=503626&org=MCB&from=home; NSF-11-545).

DEB and IOS will both implement an annual cycle of preliminary and full proposals beginning in January 2012. Preliminary proposals will be accepted in January. Following review by a panel of outside experts, each applicant will be notified of a binding decision to Invite or Not Invite submission of a full proposal. Please note that each investigator is limited to submitting two preliminary proposals a year to either Division, whether as a PI, co-PI or lead senior investigator of a subaward.

All proposals submitted to DEB or IOS in response to the core program solicitations, and to the Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) and Long-term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) solicitations, must pass the preliminary proposal stage. The only exceptions are LTREB Renewals.

RAPIDs, EAGERs, conferences/workshops and supplemental funding requests will continue to be accepted at any time by IOS and DEB programs. Proposals submitted in response to special solicitations (e.g. BREAD, CAREER, CNH, EEID) will remain unaffected by these new review procedures. However, OPUS and RCN proposals will only be accepted by the core programs in DEB and IOS once a year at the August deadline for full proposals.

Full details can be found in a new Program Solicitation that will be posted on each Division’s website (DEB) and (IOS). A single set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about these changes also can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pubsumm.jsp?odskey=nsf11079 and linked from each Division website. In addition, both IOS and DEB will be hosting webinars to provide further information, please see the Division websites for details and contact information if you have questions or concerns.

Sincerely,
Dr. Joann Roskoski
Assistant Director (Acting)
Directorate for Biological Sciences

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NIH Revises Rule on Grantee Conflicts of Interest

Biomedical researchers and their home institutions will now need to track, report, and make available more information regarding financial conflicts of interest, according to a revised rule issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The changes come after multiple scandals shook public confidence about some medical research findings, and raised serious questions about the influence of corporate partners on researchers.

The updated rule requires scientists to report financial conflicts of interest, such as payments or equity in companies, of $5,000 or more. This is a change from the current threshold of $10,000. Researchers will also have to disclose significant financial interests that are “related to an Investigator’s institutional responsibilities,” such as research, consulting, and teaching.

Universities will now be expected to report in more detail about the value of the financial interest, the nature of the conflict, and how they will address the problem. This information is required to be made public, but it does not have to be published on a public website.

Researchers will continue to report information on financial conflicts of interest to their employing university, which has primary responsibility for ensuring compliance with the federal regulation.

For more information, visit http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-25/html/2011-21633.htm.

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Federal Agencies to Cut Budgets by 5 Percent in FY 2013

Each summer, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provides all federal Departments and agencies with guidance about Presidential priorities for inclusion in budgets submitted to the White House. OMB director Jacob Lew recently sent a memorandum to agency heads directing that they plan to submit fiscal year (FY) 2013 budgets to the White House that include a minimum of a five percent cut from enacted FY 2011 funding levels.

According to the memorandum, the reductions must be made through strategic cuts, not through across-the-board reductions. Agencies are also required to submit a list of additional cuts that would bring their total spending to 10 percent below FY 2011 levels.

“In light of the tight limits on discretionary spending starting in 2012, your 2013 budget submission to OMB should provide options to support the President’s commitment to cut waste and reorder priorities to achieve deficit reduction while investing in those areas critical to job creation and economic growth,” wrote Lew.

Although agency budgets would decline under the proposal, high priority programs that “enhance economic growth” could receive additional funding if agencies “eliminate low-priority and ineffective programs while consolidating duplicative ones; improve program efficiency by driving down operational and administrative costs; and support fundamental program reforms that generate the best outcomes per dollar spent.”

The reductions could begin to undo recent gains in federal investments in science. Most federal research programs had sizeable budget increases in FY 2009 and FY 2010, but many agencies saw their budgets stagnant or slightly decrease this year. For instance, funding for the National Science Foundation dropped by about 1 percent between FY 2010 and FY 2011.

Agencies are currently preparing FY 2013 budgets, which will not be made publically available until next February. Congress is still working on FY 2012 appropriations. The House has passed 6 of the 12 bills that would collectively fund the federal government next year. The Senate is expected to address appropriations in the fall.

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Sign-up for Policy News from AIBS and Enter for the Chance to Win Prizes

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) helps scientists stay informed about rapidly changing developments in Washington, DC, that can have a direct and long-lasting impact on science and science education in the United States.

To stay appraised of these developments, sign up for a free subscription to the AIBS Public Policy Report and/or AIBS Legislative Action Center, and enter for a chance to win a special gift.

The AIBS Public Policy Report provides the latest news and analysis of issues concerning the science community, including funding for scientific research, changes to federal research programs, support for science education programs and fellowships, threats to evolution and climate change education, and much more.

The AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online tool that facilitates quick and effective communication between scientists and their elected officials. Subscribers receive action alerts about specific opportunities to influence science policy.

For a limited time, AIBS will provide five lucky new subscribers with a special gift. From Monday, August 22, 2011 through Friday, October 7, 2011, new subscribers to the AIBS Public Policy Report and/or AIBS Legislative Action Center will automatically be entered into a drawing to receive one of the following prize packages.

Prize packages:

  • Three randomly selected winners will each receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card + a copy of AIBS Congressional Directory + a copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media (Value: $52.90)
  • Two randomly selected winners will each receive a copy of AIBS Congressional Directory + a copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media (Value: $32.90)

There is no cost to subscribe to the AIBS Public Policy Report or AIBS Legislative Action Center. Subscribe to both lists to maximize your chances of winning.

Enter the contest at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/news/subscribe.html#031366.

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Republican Presidential Candidates Question Climate Change, Evolution

Some Republican presidential candidates are once again playing politics with science. Rather than highlight how science can help solve societal problems, some candidates are highlighting their skepticism and distrust of science, particularly when it comes to evolution and climate change.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) recently said: “We are seeing almost weekly or even daily scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing our climate to change.” Perry also spoke about the teaching of evolution in schools. He called evolution “a theory that’s out there” that has “got some gaps in it.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) has also expressed doubts about the causes of warming temperatures. “Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”

Conversely, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (R) has defended science. On a recent Twitter post, Huntsman said: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

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AIBS Comments on NOAA's Draft Scientific Integrity Policy

On 19 August 2011, AIBS wrote to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco about the agency’s draft scientific integrity policy. The letter highlights areas of support for the NOAA policy, as well as offers recommendations to further improve the policy.

AIBS expressed strong support for application of the proposed policy 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. “Universal coverage is essential to ensuring that the policy is effective,” states the letter. “It is vital that decision-makers are subject to the policy, otherwise the potential exists for decision-makers to misrepresent, alter, or suppress scientific information, as has happened at other science agencies in recent years.” The policy also 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. The letter states: “We strongly support the policy’s encouragement of NOAA scientists to serve in the leadership of professional and scientific societies, publish their results in peer-reviewed journals, present their research at scientific meetings, actively participate in professional societies, serve on review panels, and participate in science assessment bodies.”

Several recommendations were offered to improve the procedural handbook for dealing with allegations of research misconduct, including securing evidence earlier in the investigation; referring allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, and criminal law violations to the Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General; and providing more guidance on the information that is required to report an allegation of scientific misconduct.

To read the comments submitted by AIBS, visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20110819noaaintegrity.html.

For more information about NOAA’s draft scientific integrity policy, visit http://www.noaa.gov/scientificintegrity/.

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Government Watchdog Finds EPA Labs Lack Coordination

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to make major changes to the structure and leadership of its “fragmented and largely uncoordinated” scientific activities. This is according to a new report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that EPA has not fully implemented recommendations made by past independent assessments. Some of these recommendations were made almost 20 years ago.

Among the recommendations is the need for a coordinated planning process for EPA’s scientific activities and the appointment of a top-level official with authority over all 37 laboratories. Currently, 15 senior officials are charged with managing research and technical activities.

“In light of current efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit, which include significant proposed cuts in the budgets of most departments and agencies, including EPA, the agency will need to more effectively use its scientific and laboratory resources across the agency to ensure the agency is best positioned to fulfill the critical scientific work for its core mission,” states the report.

EPA has also failed to address a recommendation made in 1994 to consolidate or realign its laboratory facilities and workforce. “Although EPA’s laboratory organizational and management structure and footprint have remained largely the same over the past 20 years — in spite of multiple calls for change — in the current budget climate the agency may not be afforded the luxury of maintaining its current number of laboratory facilities,” GAO analysts wrote.

Besides better coordination and a new leadership structure, the GAO recommends that EPA improve physical infrastructure planning and develop a comprehensive workforce planning process for all laboratories. EPA generally agreed with these findings.

To read the report, “To Better Fulfill Its Mission, EPA Needs a More Coordinated Approach to Managing Its Laboratories,” visit http://gao.gov/products/GAO-11-347.

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Short Takes

  • American universities are offering graduate school admission to an increasing number of foreign students. In 2010-2011, admission offers for international students grew by 11 percent; much of this growth was fueled by increasing admission offers to students from China. In total, international students comprise about 15 percent of graduate students at U.S. colleges.

  • An unusual coalition of organizations is advocating for $380 billion in budget cuts from what they claim are environmentally harmful federal subsidies. The group is comprised of environmental organizations and fiscal conservatives, who hope that the congressional debt reduction super committee will phase out oil and gas tax breaks, nuclear power loan guarantees, and ethanol subsidies.

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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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