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Public Policy Report for 21 November 2011

Congress Approves Budget Increase for NSF and NOAA, Cuts Other Science Agencies

Seven weeks into a new fiscal year (FY), Congress finally reached a compromise on the FY 2012 spending plans for several federal departments and agencies. The package of three appropriations bills, which was signed into law by President Obama on Friday, includes a budget increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Other science agencies did not fare as well.

NSF will receive $7.0 billion, a 2.5 percent increase over fiscal year 2011. Notably, this is more than either the Senate or the House of Representatives had previously agreed to in their respective spending plans. The Research and Related Activities account, which funds the Directorate for Biological Sciences and other scientific disciplines, will receive an increase of $155 million. The Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction account at NSF will receive $167 million, a $50 million increase. This is short, however, of the agency’s requested funding level, which could impact construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). NSF does have the option to transfer up to $50 million from the research account to the equipment account in order to fully fund construction projects. The budget for the Education and Human Resources account will be cut by $32 million (3.7 percent). This reduction includes the termination of the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education program.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive an increase of $305.6 million. All of the increase will go toward the acquisition of climate and weather satellites. Oceanic and fisheries programs will also be cut to further fund the satellite program. Notably, the legislation does not provide any funding for NOAA to establish a National Climate Service. The agency’s proposal to reorganize its climate change-related programs into one office in order to better provide data and forecasts continues to be blocked by House Republicans.

Within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Agricultural Research Service — USDA’s intramural research program — will have $38.6 million less to spend this year. Additionally, Congress backed the Obama Administration’s request to close 12 research facilities. Despite a $12.5 million cut to the budget of the National Institute on Food and Agriculture, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will be flat-funded at the $264.5. The initiative is a competitively awarded, extramural research program that supports research on plant and animal health and production, food safety and nutrition, renewable energy, and the environment.

A legal dispute between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and a leading House appropriator has resulted in a substantial budget cut for OSTP. The office will lose nearly a third of its budget this year. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) sought the budget reduction as a way to teach OSTP a lesson after its director met with Chinese officials earlier this year. Rep. Wolf asserts that the meeting violated a provision of the fiscal year 2011 spending bill that prevented OSTP from spending money to collaborate with China.

The conference report also includes a Continuing Resolution that will fund all other federal programs at the same level as in FY 2011 through 16 December 2011. This will buy time for legislators to finish work on the nine remaining appropriations bills that collectively fund the federal government.

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NSF Announces New Grant Program to Foster Innovation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is launching a pilot grant program to support bold interdisciplinary research. The Creative Research Awards for Transformative Interdisciplinary Ventures (CREATIV) is the first grant award mechanism launched by NSF as part of a new initiative to promote interdisciplinary research and education.

CREATIV will provide up to $1 million for up to five years for each proposal for interdisciplinary and potentially transformative research. The program is unique in that proposals will only be evaluated by internal merit review by NSF program officers.

The program is part of a broader initiative introduced by NSF Director Subra Suresh. ” INSPIRE [Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education] is aimed to encourage cross-disciplinary science,” said Suresh. “INSPIRE will help to break down any disciplinary barriers that may exist within NSF and encourage its program managers to use new tools, collaboration modes and techniques in the merit-review process to widen the pool of prospective discoveries that may be hidden from or circumvented by traditional means.” NSF expects to announce other efforts within INSPIRE in fiscal year 2013.

Proposals for CREATIV will be accepted through 15 June 2012. More information is available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2012/nsf12011/nsf12011.jsp?WT.mcid=USNSF25&WT.mc_ev=click.

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Attention Graduate Students: Apply for the 2012 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Applications are now being accepted for the 2012 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. EPPLA recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

EPPLA Winners Receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investments in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The 2012 event will last for two days and may be held between March and May. The official dates will be announced in 2012. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, and information on federal science budgets and the legislative process.
  • Meetings with Congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A 1-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”
  • A certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.

Application Process and Requirements:

The 2012 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

To apply:

Send a cover letter, statement, resume, and letter of reference to publicpolicy@aibs.org no later than 5:00 PM Eastern Time on Friday, 20 January 2012. The subject line of the e-mail must include “EPPLA 2012” and the applicant’s name. All documents should be included as attachments, with each file named as name-document (e.g., Sarah-Smith-Resume). A single PDF document is recommended.

  • Cover letter: Describe your interest in science policy and how participation in the Congressional Visits Day will further your career goals. Confirm your ability to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in meetings.
  • Statement: In 500 words or less, articulate the importance of federal investments in fundamental biological sciences research, such as that supported by the National Science Foundation. A successful statement will communicate to a non-scientist the benefits of biological research to the United States and draw upon the applicant’s experiences and research. The statement may reference local issues and concerns that may be of interest to your Congressional delegation.
  • Resume (1 page limit): The resume should emphasize leadership, policy, and communication experience — this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities, relevant education, work experience, honors and awards, and scientific society memberships. Conference presentations and scientific manuscripts will not be considered in the evaluation of the application.
  • Letter of reference: A reference letter should be provided by an individual who can attest to your leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills, and who is familiar with your interest in or experience with science policy. The reference should send the letter to publicpolicy@aibs.org by no later than 5:00 PM Eastern Time on 20 January 2012.

Applicants will be notified by the end of February of the decision of the selection panel. Information about past EPPLA recipients is available at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/studentopportunities.html. Download a copy of 2012 EPPLA announcement flyer at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/EPPLA2012_Announcement.pdf. Please direct questions to publicpolicy@aibs.org.

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New ESA Report Considers Ecosystem Health and Air Pollution Thresholds

Air pollution is altering the environment and reducing many benefits generated by wild lands, threatening water purity, food production, and climate stability, according to the authors of a new report. Published in the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) 14th edition of Issues in Ecology, the report calls for modernizing air quality standards, including a regulatory cost benefit analyses to account for ecosystem impacts. Traditional air quality standards have been defined by human health risk, not overall ecosystem health. Current standards do not provide adequate ecosystem protection, and the authors find that the U.S. needs to enact policy thresholds based on scientific thresholds to define sulfur, mercury, and nitrogen pollutant loads. The report can be downloaded from ESA’s website at http://esa.org/science_resources/issues/FileEnglish/issuesinecology14.pdf.

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Report Provides New Analysis of Carbon Accounting, Biomass Use, and Climate Benefits

A recent report tackles the latest science regarding carbon accounting, biomass use, and forest carbon offsets. The authors, which include a team of researchers from the U.S. Forest Service, found that sustainably managed forests can provide carbon storage, forest products can reduce carbon emissions, and forest biomass-based energy can reduce the flow of fossil fuel-based carbon emissions into the atmosphere. “This work should help policymakers reconsider the critical impact forests have on our daily lives and the potential they have to solve problems that confront our Nation,” says lead author Bob Malmsheimer of the State University of New York. The report can be found in the October/November issue of the Journal of Forestry.

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Gifts for Scientists on Your Holiday Shopping List

This holiday season give your colleagues and graduate students the gift of knowledge. Two practical publications offered by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are sure to be enjoyed by students and professionals in the scientific community.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” prepares scientists for successful and effective media interviews. Whether you are new to media outreach or just in a need of a media refresher, “Communicating Science” offers advice, case studies, and training exercises to prepare scientists for print, radio, and television interviews. The book walks scientists step-by-step through the entire interview process — from appropriate questions to ask when a reporter calls to practical advice for looking and sounding one’s best on-air or on-camera.

The AIBS guide to the 112th Congress is a useful source for information about Congress and the federal government. Learn about your members of Congress and Congressional committees with oversight on science. The guide also provides tips for communicating with Congress and information on the legislative process.

These publications, as well as other books and posters, are available at http://webstore.aibs.org.

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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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