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Public Policy Report for 17 January 2012

Obama Proposes Moving NOAA to Interior

On 13 January 2012, President Obama proposed a reorganization of the Department of Commerce (DOC). Although much of the emphasis during the announcement of the plan centered on the realignment of several DOC bureaus that focus on small businesses, the President would also like to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from DOC to the Department of the Interior. Interior is currently home to NOAA’s terrestrial science equivalent, the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Details on the proposed reorganization are scarce, but are expected to be released in the coming months.

President Obama does not currently have the authority to restructure the Executive Branch, although previous Presidents have held this power. The administration has asked Congress to grant the President the authority to consolidate the federal government.

If the reorganization did proceed, it is estimated that the government would save a total of $3 billion. NOAA would become the largest agency within the Department of the Interior. NOAA has been a part of DOC since 1970. The other science agencies currently in Commerce, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Patent Office, would be retained in the new Cabinet department, which will focus on trade and economic development.

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National Science Board Proposes Revisions to Merit Review Criteria

The National Science Board (NSB) has suggested changes to the criteria the National Science Foundation (NSF) uses to evaluate grant proposals. The existing two merit review criteria, which consider the intellectual merit and broader impacts of the proposed research, would be retained. Changes, however, would be made to better define the criteria, in order to clarify misunderstandings within the research community.

The largest change was made to the broader impacts criterion, which considers a project’s potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes, such as expanding minority participation in science. The revised criterion takes into account a proposal’s potential to benefit society and explore original or potentially transformative concepts, as well as the qualifications of the researcher(s), adequacy of resources, and organization and rationality of the plan. The existing broader impacts criterion does not place an emphasis on the ability of a grantee to achieve his/her stated outcomes.

The NSB also recommended the addition of three overarching principles to better guide researchers and reviewers. The principles aim to ensure that NSF supports high quality research that advances the frontiers of knowledge; that NSF-supported research should contribute, in the aggregate, to achieving societal goals; and that assessment of NSF-funded projects should use appropriate metrics that account for the size and scope of the work.

NSF has already taken action to transition to use of the revised criteria, according to a memorandum from Ray M. Bowen, chair of the NSB.

Download the report at

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Head of NSF BIO Shares His Vision for the Directorate's Future

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) new assistant director of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), Dr. John Wingfield, recently shared his vision for BIO with the AIBS journal, BioScience. The interview, which appears in the January issue, explores future directions in biological research, the budget for the directorate, and public access to data.

“[T]he organism in its environment is the ultimate frontier,” said Dr. Wingfield. “How we are going to understand the organism-environment interaction in a changing world is a huge challenge. Going from genomes to phenomes is one way; also, the other way, top-down, from phenome back to genome, is a useful way to look at it.”

With respect to the recent change to an annual grant cycle in the Divisions of Environmental Biology and Integrative Organismal Systems, Wingfield hopes that the new system will reduce the burden on reviewers and researchers: “You expect that with this system, where you have more time to assess the reviews, time to talk with the program officer, over the same timescale, you’ll get funded, and you’ll get a lot more feedback. One thing we’re reminding people of is that despite this new cycle, we will still be funding the same number of grants and the same number of beginning investigators each year.”

Wingfield recognizes the uncertainties in the current federal funding environment, and views protection of existing core programs as the first priority. An austere budget, notes Wingfield, could result in the delay of the opening of new synthesis centers.

Wingfield also expects NSF-funded researchers to start sharing their data. Mandated open access to data will be implemented in the future, although the details are still evolving.

Read the full interview with Dr. Wingfield for free at

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Interior to Establish Science Panel for Environmental Crises

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has ordered the creation of a new group of scientific advisors who will help the department to plan for and address environmental emergencies. The Strategic Science Group will help Interior plan for environmental crises by providing science-based assessments of probable environmental crises, such as severe drought, wildfires, or an oil spill. When an emergency does occur, the group will rapidly assemble teams of scientists from government, academia, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to assist with Interior’s response.

The group will be co-lead by Gary Machlis, a science adviser for the National Park Service, and David Applegate, associate director for natural hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Using the important lessons we’ve learned in preparing for and responding to past disasters, this group of expert, interdisciplinary scientists will play a major role in advising department-wide preparedness activities and grounding them in the best available science,” Salazar said in a statement.

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Plan to Participate in the 2012 BESC Congressional Visits Day

Each year, the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC), a group co-chaired by AIBS, hosts a Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC. This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress about the importance of federal support for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences at federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, among other federal agencies.

This year’s event will be held on 28-29 March 2012 in Washington, DC. The first day of the event includes presentations on the federal budget and a communicating with policymakers training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to federal lawmakers are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Space is limited and registration is required. Due to space limitations, we may not be able to accommodate all interested parties.

BESC is not able to pay/reimburse participant expenses associated with participating in this event.

Learn more and register at

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

The Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA) recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences with an interest and aptitude for working at the intersection of science and public policy.

EPPLA winners will receive a free trip to Washington, DC to participate in the 2012 BESC Congressional Visits Day on 28-29 March 2012.

Applications must be receive by 20 January 2012.

Information about the application process is available at:

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Now in BioScience: "Will Lawmakers Reform Immigration Rules for STEM Graduates?"

Increasingly, foreign-born students who pursue an advanced degree in a scientific field are choosing to leave the United States after graduation. This outflow concerns lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum. The possibility of immigration reform is evaluated in the Washington Watch column in the January 2012 issue of BioScience. An excerpt from the article, “Will Lawmakers Reform Immigration Rules for STEM Graduates?,” follows:

Ranjini Prithviraj is at the start of a promising career in neuroscience. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), serves as an editor on the NIH Fellows Editorial Board, and mentors students interested in careers in science. Despite her strong résumé and her PhD in cell and molecular biology from a well-regarded American university, Prithviraj’s ability to continue to work in the United States is uncertain, because she was born in India and raised in Dubai.

“I would like to stay in the US long term, but I’m not sure as of now,” said Prithviraj. “The reason I’m not sure is because the US makes it so hard for us foreign nationals to get a green card, irrespective of how qualified we are.”

To read the entire article for free, please visit

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Short Takes

  • Dr. Paul Anastas will step down as assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Research and Development in mid-February, after leading the program for two years. Anastas plans to return to Yale University, where he previously led its Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

  • A recent survey by Research!America indicates increasing public support for health research. Most people surveyed (91 percent) feel that research is important to their state's economy. However, 77 percent of respondents fear that the United States is losing its competitive edge in science. Read the report at

  • Five federal agencies have developed a pilot website to highlight science and technology careers in the federal government. The website ( offers resources for students and professionals considering a government science career.

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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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