Bookmark and Share


Public Policy Report for 19 December 2011

Congress Finally Funds Federal Agencies for FY 2012

After months of negotiations, Congress finally approved a $915 billion deal to fund a major portion of the federal government through fiscal year (FY) 2012. The so-called ‘megabus’—a collection of nine appropriations bills—will fund the Departments of Defense, Energy, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor, and State, as well as numerous independent agencies. The legislation (HR 2055) won bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress and is soon expected to be signed into law by President Obama.

Notably, the megabus includes a second consecutive year of budget cuts for many programs. According to documents from Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee: “When all FY 2012 Appropriations legislation is complete, Congress will have cut discretionary spending for two straight years in a row - the first time this has occurred in modern history. In fact, the enactment of the final Appropriations legislation will mark a savings of nearly $31 billion in total discretionary spending compared to last year’s level and a savings of $95 billion compared to FY 2010.”

Despite overall budget reductions, several agencies will receive increased funding. For instance, military spending will increase by $5.1 billion over last year’s level. Most programs, however, will not receive the amount of funding requested by the Obama Administration earlier this year.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive an increase of $299 million, for a total spending level of $30.7 billion. Congress also made clear that it wants NIH to continue to spend 90 percent of its budget on external grants.

Funding for the Department of Energy Office of Science will increase by $46 million to $4.9 billion. Despite a push by the House to cut funding for Biological and Environment Research, the program will operate with the same funding level it had last year.

Most science and environmental programs will be funded at smaller levels than in FY 2011. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be cut by $233 million, including a six percent reduction to clean air and climate research programs. Congress included funds for EPA to conduct a long-term evaluation of the agency’s laboratory network to “ensure the current organization matches the Agency’s strategic needs.” This directive follows a recommendation made by the Government Accountability Office.

Within the Department of the Interior, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will lose $13.9 million. The Ecosystems division will be essentially flat funded, although programmatic funding within the division will change. Monitoring, fisheries, and Cooperative Research Units will be trimmed slightly so that programs on invasive species, and terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments can be increased by 21 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively. Climate Science Centers will receive $4.6 million in new funding, but climate research and development will be cut by $6.4 million.

The budget for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will remain at $1.5 billion. Although the National Wildlife Refuges will be trimmed 1.1 percent, cooperative landscape conservation and adaptive science will increase slightly. The Cooperative Endangered Species Fund will be cut by $12.1 million relative to last year. Funding for the National Park Service will also remain essentially flat at $2.6 billion.

Forest and Rangeland Research at the United States Forest Service will be reduced by 3.5 percent.

The House of Representatives also passed a bill last week that would have further reduced FY 2012 discretionary spending by 1.8 percent in order to offset the costs of a disaster relief package. The Senate, however, balked at the offsets and rejected the measure.

link to this

NIH Suspends New Chimp Research

On 15 December, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it temporarily suspended funding for new biomedical and behavioral research on chimpanzees. The announcement was a response to a report released the same day by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM report concluded that most current medical research on chimpanzees is not necessary.

The report does not endorse a ban on chimp research; rather it recommends a set of uniform criteria for determining when use of chimpanzees in research is necessary. The IOM report was produced at the request of the NIH. In biomedical research, the use of chimpanzees could be warranted if not conducting the research would “significantly slow or prevent important advancement to prevent, control and/or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions.” For behavioral and genetic studies, the report found that research should “provide otherwise unattainable insight into comparative genomics, normal and abnormal behavior, mental health, emotion or cognition.”

The IOM found that chimps are not needed for research on HIV/AIDS, cancer, or nearly any other type of disease. Indeed, only one disease may warrant further research on chimpanzees: the development of a hepatitis C vaccine.

The NIH will create a working group to determine how to implement the recommendations made in the report. Until the group completes its work, the agency will not award any new grants involving chimps. Currently funded research that does not meet the criteria set in the report will be phased out, according to NIH Director Francis Collins. He estimates that about half of currently funded projects would not meet the new standards.

More than 900 chimps live in research facilities in the United States. The NIH owns or funds research on about 600 of the animals. The new rules would not apply to the remaining chimps, as they are owned by research institutions.

The IOM report may be accessed at http://iom.edu/Reports/2011/Chimpanzees-in-Biomedical-and-Behavioral-Research-Assessing-the-Necessity.aspx.

link to this

President's Bioethics Commission Calls for Improvements to Human Research Protections

A report released this month by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues concluded that current rules and regulations adequately protect human research subjects from avoidable harm or unethical treatment, but improvements can and should be made.

The Commission recommended improved accountability for federally funded research involving human subjects, including making information about the research grants publically available online. Currently, there is no central source for information about the overall size, scope, and cost of such research.

The report found that the government should also pursue a national system of compensation or treatment for research-related injuries. Most other developed nations have policies in place that require researchers or sponsors to treat or compensate for treatment for injuries suffered by research subjects.

Improvements should also be made to the Common Rule, which regulates basic protections for human subjects in federally funded research. The Commission recommends addressing the responsibilities of investigators in the rule.

The report was ordered by President Obama, who requested an assessment of human subject research standards following the revelation that the U.S. Public Health Service supported research in Guatemala in the 1940s that intentionally exposed thousands of people to sexually transmitted diseases without their consent.

“The Commission is confident that what happened in Guatemala in the 1940s could not happen today,” said Commission Chair Dr. Amy Gutmann. “However, it is also clear that improvements can be made to protect human subjects going forward. With the Commission’s recommendations, society will continue to benefit from advances in quality of life made possible by human subjects research and ensure respect for the inherent dignity of individual research volunteers.”

Read the report, “Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research,” at http://bioethics.gov/cms/node/559.

link to this

Biologists Commend NOAA's New Scientific Integrity Policy

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a policy that will promote and protect scientific integrity within the agency. The new policy has been well received by members of the scientific community.

“NOAA’s comprehensive scientific integrity policy should provide a strong foundation for public trust in the agency’s science,” said American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) President Dr. James P. Collins. “Other federal agencies should look to NOAA’s policy as a model.”

The policy outlines goals for facilitating the free flow of scientific information, documenting the scientific knowledge considered in decision making, using information that has been independently peer reviewed, and hiring scientists based on the candidate’s credentials and integrity. Also included in the final policy are codes of conduct for scientists and supervisors.

Notably, the agency’s scientific integrity policy applies to all employees and contractors who directly engage in or supervise research, analyze or communicate scientific findings, or make decisions using science. AIBS previously expressed strong support for application of the policy to all employees, both career and political, involved in NOAA science.

“NOAA should be commended for engaging in such an open process,” Collins said. “Public input and participation helped to improve the draft policy circulated for public comment last summer.”

The final policy includes numerous revisions that respond to public comments. For example, the policy makes clear that all staff scientists may express their personal viewpoints about science and policy matters, holds NOAA grant recipients to the same standards of integrity as federal employees, and provides scientists with the opportunity to review and edit references to their research in official documents.

At the request of AIBS and other organizations, NOAA revised the procedural handbook that will guide investigations of alleged scientific misconduct. AIBS also called on NOAA to make clear that cases involving waste, fraud, and abuse would be referred to the Department of Commerce Inspector General.

“Scientific societies and professional organizations should be pleased with this policy,” stated Collins. Importantly, the policy encourages federal scientists to participate in professional organizations, including as officers and on governing boards, and to serve on scientific advisory bodies. “NOAA now has a clear policy to guide how and when federal scientists may serve their scientific communities. This is good for the agency, for science, and for the public. Federal scientists are often leaders in their fields. Science benefits when they are able to fully participate in their professional communities,” stated Collins.

NOAA developed the scientific integrity policy in response to an Executive Order issued by President Obama in 2009.

AIBS comments on the draft NOAA scientific integrity policy are available online at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20110819noaaintegrity.html.

A letter from AIBS to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco regarding the agency’s final scientific integrity policy is available at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20111213noaaintegrity.html.

The NOAA scientific integrity policy is available at http://nrc.noaa.gov/scientificintegrity.html.

link to this

Attention Graduate Students: Applications for the 2012 EPPLA Are Now Available

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.

link to this

Increases for Small Business Programs to Come at Expense of Research

Congress has agreed to increase funding for two programs that help small businesses translate scientific discoveries into commercial ventures. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs would receive a larger share of federal research dollars under the bicameral compromise.

Currently, the programs are funded by the 11 federal agencies that spend more than $100 million a year on research. The SBIR receives 2.5 percent of each agency’s research budget; STTR receives 0.3 percent. The new deal would increase those allocations to 3.2 percent and 0.45 percent, respectively, for the next six years.

Some members of the research community are unhappy about the reauthorization because they worry it will reduce the funding available for research.

link to this

Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Requests Grant Proposals

On 15 December 2011, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) Research Board issued a new request for proposals, RFP-II, which will provide up to $7.5 million per year for research grants to individual investigators or small groups of researchers. The funding is part of BP’s commitment to provide $500 million over ten years to support independent scientific research into the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident on the Gulf of Mexico and to develop innovative new technologies and tools to respond to and mitigate future oil spills.

It is anticipated that grants awarded through the RFP-II competition will range between $100,000 and $1,000,000 per year. Grants may be awarded for a one to three year period. Individuals and small groups interested in submitting a grant application should consult RFP-II (http://www.gulfresearchinitiative.org/request-for-proposals/rfp-ii/) for specific guidelines and requirements. A Letter of Intent must be submitted by 9:00 p.m. EST on 17 January 2012.

link to this

Short Takes

  • A new ocean portal has launched on Data.gov, the federal government's official site for datasets. The ocean portal will support ocean planning efforts by providing open access to government information on endangered species critical habitat, water quality, marine protected areas, and more. Visit the portal at http://www.data.gov/communities/ocean.

  • Nominations of scientific experts are sought to serve on the new Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee. The Committee will provide advice regarding toxicological reviews of environmental chemicals. Nominations for persons with expertise in public health, epidemiology, toxicology, modeling, biostatistics, and risk assessment are due by 6 January 2012. More information is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-11-18/html/2011-29916.htm.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking nominations for technical experts to fill vacancies on the agency's Board of Scientific Counselors. The Board provides independent peer review, advice, and recommendations about the EPA's Office of Research and Development. Experts in ecology, endocrinology, pulmonary and cardiovascular toxicology, environmental economics, and behavioral sciences are needed. More information is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-12/html/2011-31816.htm.

link to this

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.

link to this

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.

link to this

back to Public Policy Reports

Bookmark and Share