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Public Policy Report for 24 October 2011

Lawmakers Share Views with Deficit Reduction Super Committee

In recent weeks, numerous voices in Congress have shared policy priorities with the super committee about options for reducing the nation’s budget deficit. The super committee, more formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, was soliciting suggestions on how to meet its charge of cutting at least $1.2 trillion from federal spending over the next decade.

Although many Senate and House committees, as well as individual lawmakers, provided comments to the super committee, there was little mention of science, either as an area to cut or to protect. The notable exception was the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. In separate letters from most of the Republican members and the senior Democrat on the panel, Science, Space, and Technology Committee members shared their recommendations for federal investments in scientific research and education programs.

Representative Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX), the ranking Democrat on the Science Committee, wrote in support of science as a driver of economic growth. “I strongly support continued federal investment in science and technology as an important component of any serious effort to achieve long-term deficit reduction.” Her letter goes on to state that “[i]t is clear that federal investments in R&D [research and development] bring significant returns for decades to come…..I urge you…to do whatever it takes to prioritize steady growth of our investments in science, technology, and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education.”

A letter from Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and ten other Republicans who serve on the Science Committee supports federal investments in select research programs, but recommends cutting $1.5 billion from research and development in fiscal year (FY) 2012. The letter supports funding the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $6.86 billion, the same amount as the House Appropriations Committee would provide in FY 2012. However, the lawmakers would like to see reductions in the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program, climate change activities, and the Education and Human Resources program at NSF.

The Republicans also call for reductions to climate and environmental programs at other agencies. They argue for reduced spending on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate research, and climate and weather satellite acquisition. The letter also recommends zeroing out the Environmental Protection Agency’s global change research. The Department of Energy Office of Science stands out as a clear winner, to “be protected from cuts by the Joint Committee.” Despite this strong statement, the Republican lawmakers call for a 10 percent reduction to the Biological and Environmental Research program within the Office of Science.

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Biologists Urge Caution for Congressional Super Committee

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) wrote to members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction on 13 October 2011 urging lawmakers to use great caution in considering any proposals that would cut federal investments in scientific research and education.

Dr. James P. Collins, president of AIBS, reminded members of the so-called super committee that investments in scientific research and education since World War II have yielded remarkable economic opportunities, jobs, and a generally good quality of life for Americans.

“As was true after the launch of Sputnik, we are at a moment in history when sustained investments in scientific research and education empowers individuals, solves vexing problems, and creates new economic opportunities that will improve lives in the U.S. and around the world,” wrote Collins.

The letter urged lawmakers to work to ensure that stable and predictable funding is provided for scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics research programs across the federal government.

As most students who have been absent from a science class will attest, it is difficult to catch-up on course material because science and math builds on itself, Collins stated. Cuts made to these programs today will have long-lasting impacts. “Scientific progress and our nation’s welfare can be seriously hindered by even modest changes to current programs. You will receive many arguments to sustain particular programs, but those where modest investments now pay big dividends in the future deserve special consideration for a reprieve from major budget reductions.”

To AIBS letter is available online at

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AERC Members Share Value of Ecosystem Services with Policymakers

Ecosystems provide society with flood mitigation, pollination of crops, clean air and water, and production of timber and other natural resources. Recognizing this, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC) brought scientists, natural resource managers, and policymakers to Washington, DC on 19 October 2011 for the organization’s annual Congressional briefing and science symposium. The theme for the program was: “Ecosystem Research: Informing Our Understanding of Ecosystem Services and Their Benefits.”

The AERC briefing is held each year in conjunction with the organization’s scientific meeting. Individuals representing congressional offices, federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations attended the briefing, where they heard from scientists working at the nexus of science and public policy.

Dr. David Smith, AERC president and professor at the University of Virginia, moderated the one-hour Capital Hill science briefing. Program speakers were: Dr. Rebecca Moore of the University of Georgia, Dr. Brian Palik of the USDA Forest Service, Dr. Charles Perrings of Arizona State University, Dr. Andy Rosenberg of Conservation International and the University of New Hampshire, and Dr. Donald E. Weller of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The congressional briefing was videotaped, and a copy of the video will be posted to the AERC website (

After the briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building, the group moved down the National Mall to the National Museum of the American Indian, where AERC convened a half-day scientific symposium and reception.

As a member organization of AIBS and a contributor to the AIBS Public Policy Office, AERC received planning and logistical assistance for the congressional briefing from AIBS. For more information about AERC, please visit For more information about the AIBS Public Policy Office and its services for AIBS members and contributing societies, please visit

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White House Seeks Input on Blueprint for Bioeconomy

In September, President Obama announced his plans to develop a National Bioeconomy Blueprint detailing steps to harness biological research innovations to address national challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment, while simultaneously stimulating job creation.

According to the White House, the Blueprint “will focus on reforms to speed up commercialization and open new markets, strategic R&D [research and development] investments to accelerate innovation, regulatory reforms to reduce unnecessary burdens on innovators, enhanced workforce training to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers, and the development of public-private partnerships.”

The Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is tasked with creating the blueprint, is seeking public input on a variety of topics, including:

  • Identification of grand challenges for the bioeconomy in the areas of health, energy, the environment, and agriculture.
  • Priorities for federal spending in research, technology, and infrastructure to provide the foundation for the bioeconomy.
  • Identification of high-value data that government might release that could spur the development of new bioproducts and services.
  • Improvements to the education of doctoral students to better prepare them for private-sector bioeconomy jobs.

The public comment period is open through 6 December 2011. For more information, visit

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Senate Debates 'Minibus' Spending Bill

Despite a slow start to their work on fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations, the Senate may have found a path forward to fund some agencies of the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which started on 1 October. Last week, the Senate began consideration of a “minibus”—a bill that rolls three appropriations bills into one piece of legislation. The minibus would fund the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Transportation, as well as several independent agencies.

The bill would provide the National Science Foundation (NSF) with $6.698 billion, a 2.4 percent reduction from last year. Most of the reduction would come from the Research and Related Activities account, which provides funding for NSF’s various research directorates (e.g., Biological Sciences Directorate).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.0 billion in FY 2012, $434.2 million more than FY 2011. Nearly all of the proposed increase would be directed towards the acquisition of the Joint Polar Satellite System. NOAA’s operations, research, and facilities would receive $48.2 million less than last year if the bill were enacted.

Research programs at the Department of Agriculture would receive $2.3 billion, a $39 million reduction. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative — a competitive extramural research grants program — would receive $266 million, a $1.5 million increase. This is $36.5 million more than the House approved for the program.

The Senate debated and voted upon more than a dozen amendments to the minibus (HR 2112), before voting to end debate on the measure. The chamber is expected to pass the bill once they return from their weeklong recess.

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Senate Bill Would Cut Funding for Science at Interior, EPA

On 14 October, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment released a draft spending plan for the Department of the Interior and related agencies for fiscal year (FY) 2012.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $1.06 billion, a reduction of $20 million relative to last year, but $10 million more than the House included in its bill. Funding for the Ecosystems activity would hold nearly steady at $160.6 million. Priorities would shift, however, within the program; work on invasive species would receive a 21 percent increase. The USGS climate science centers would also receive an increase of $4.6 million.

Funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would be cut by 2.2 percent to $1.47 billion. Despite a proposed top-line reduction, the agency would receive increased funding for its endangered species program. Reductions would be made in the areas of habitat conservation, fish hatcheries, and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Science and technology at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would receive about 0.5 percent less funding. This is about $55 million more than the House of Representatives recommended in their spending proposal.

The Forest Service’s Forest and Rangeland Research program would be reduced by about 3.5 percent to $295.8 million.

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NIH Floats Budget Cutting Proposals

In these tight fiscal times, federal agencies are in search of the most effective management strategies for increasingly limited resources. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), like many federal agencies, is worried about future funding levels. NIH has recently begun evaluating existing and novel ways of allocating resources to ensure the most effective and fair distribution of its approximately $31 billion annual budget.

NIH has released information on possible programmatic changes, and the agency is encouraging feedback from the extramural research community. Proposed changes include limiting the number of research program grant (RPG) awards per investigator, the total amount of awards per investigator, the size of awards, or the amount of salary support paid by NIH.

One proposed change would be to reduce or limit the size of each award. NIH estimates that reducing the size of each award by $25,000 would allow the agency to award an additional 616 competitive RPGs and increase the success rate from 20.5 percent to 21.7 percent. RPGs currently average $414,000 per year for 4.3 years. This method could involve decreasing the percentage of large ($1 million) and medium ($500,000) RPGs awarded and increasing the number of small ($250,000) grants awarded.

A second option would be to limit the number of awards per principle investigator (PI). There are currently no limits on the number of RPGs per PI. Compared to FY 2010, limiting PIs to three RPG’s could create an additional 264 competitive grants, and raise the success rate by 0.5 percent. A two RPG limit per PI could result in 956 new competitive grants awarded and raise the success rate by 2.0 percent.

The third proposal would limit the amount of funds per PI. Currently, about 20 percent of investigators funded by NIH receive 50 percent of the awarded funds. Limiting individual PIs total funding from NIH to $1 million could save $3.1 billion, which could be used to create approximately 2,000 competitive grants at an average cost of $400,000 each. NIH estimates that an $800,000 limit per PI could result in 2,400 new awards, whereas a limit of $400,000 could allow the creation of 4,400 new awards.

A final option proposed by NIH would involve limiting the portion of PI’s salaries that can be funded by NIH RPGs. Limiting this would direct more RPG funding to research and research resources.

NIH was motivated to create these proposals to increase the applicant success rate, which has dropped from 32 percent to 21 percent over the past decade. NIH estimates that a 10 percent reduction in its research budget could result in a proposal success rate of 12.3 percent.

Further information, including interactive graphs and statistics, can be found on the NIH Office of Extramural Research website at NIH is encouraging comments and feedback at

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Short Takes

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is seeking public input on its draft strategic plan for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. The plan outlines several objectives for the program's science mission, including improving understanding of ecosystem trends and key processes, increasing use of observing platforms, and increasing the integration of ecosystem models and prediction capabilities over various scales. For more information, visit

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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

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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 to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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