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Public Policy Report for 13 February 2012

President Obama Proposes FY 2013 Budget: Science Fares Comparatively Well

On 13 February 2012, President Obama released his official budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2013. According to the White House, the spending plan would cut the nation’s deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade and would avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts mandated by the debt limit deal reached last August. The deficit reductions would be achieved by increased revenues, including higher taxes on families earning more than $250,000, and spending cuts.

“I am proposing a 5-year freeze on all discretionary spending outside of security,” wrote President Obama in his message that accompanied the spending plan. “This is not an across-the-board cut, but rather an overall freeze with investments in areas critical for long-term economic growth and job creation. A commonsense approach where we cut what doesn’t work and invest in those things that make America stronger and our people more prosperous. Over a decade, this freeze will save more than $400 billion, cut non-security funding to the lowest share of the economy since at least 1962, and put the discretionary budget on a sustainable trajectory.”

Preliminary analysis suggests that science agencies fair reasonably well as compared to some other program areas. Overall, the President has proposed $140.8 billion for research and development (R&D) spending. Non-defense R&D would increase by about 5 percent from the 2012 level. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.4 billion, a $340 million increase above the FY 2012 enacted level. The Administration’s funding priorities include cross-cutting research in advanced manufacturing, clean energy, wireless communications, and science and mathematics education. “[L]ower priority education and research programs that lack evidence of impact or do not align well with NSF’s core mission responsibilities” would be eliminated, according to budget documents. Details on how the $66 million in savings are achieved are not yet available. NSF’s Research and Related Activities account would receive nearly $6 billion, a funding increase of roughly 5 percent above FY 2012 enacted. The Biological Sciences Directorate, which is funded from this account, could see an increase of $22 million (+3.1 percent). Education and Human Resources would increase by $47 million, whereas the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would be flat.

The following provides a quick first look at the top line numbers for some other key federal science agencies.

  • Environmental Protection Agency: $8.3 billion (-$104.9 million); Science and Technology would receive $807.3 million (+$13.5 million)
  • United States Geological Survey: $1.1 billion (+$34.5 million); the Ecosystems activity would receive $177.8 million (+$16.6 million)
  • National Institutes of Health: $30.7 billion, which is essentially unchanged from FY 2012
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.2 billion (+$160 million)
  • United States Department of Agriculture: Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would receive $325 million (+$60.5 million); the Agricultural Research Service would receive $1.1 billion (-$7.9 million)
  • Department of Energy Office of Science: $5.0 billion (+$118.4 million); Biological and Environmental Research would receive $625.3 million (+$15.8 million)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $17.7 billion (-$58.6 million)

More detailed analysis of the President’s budget request will be provided by AIBS in the coming days.

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House Passes Legislation to Freeze Federal Employee Pay, Cut House Budget

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would freeze congressional and executive branch salaries through 2013. Federal employee pay is already subject to a two-year cost-of-living adjustment freeze; the House legislation (HR 3835) would extend the salary freeze to three years. The measure passed the House with the bipartisan support of 309 Representatives. The Senate is not expected to take up the legislation, although the pay freeze provision may surface in negotiations between the two chambers over whether and how to extend the payroll tax reduction for the balance of this year.

On 1 February, the House passed a resolution that reduces the budgets for House committees for the remainder of the 112th Congress by 4.6 percent overall. The reductions would not be evenly distributed across committees. Instead, the House Agriculture and Science Committees would be subject to the largest reductions (8.6 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively).

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AIBS Recognizes Outstanding Graduate Students with the 2012 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has selected two graduate students to receive the 2012 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). Lida Beninson is a Ph.D. candidate in Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Andrew Reinmann is a Ph.D. candidate in Biology at Boston University.

“We applaud Lida and Andrew for their leadership and accomplishments at the interface of science and policy,” said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O’Grady. “AIBS is committed to fostering a productive dialogue between policymakers and scientists, and the EPPLA program is an important part of this work.”

Since 2003, AIBS has recognized the achievements of graduate students who have demonstrated an interest and aptitude for contributing to science and public policy. AIBS will bring Beninson and Reinmann to Washington, DC in March to meet with their Congressional delegations. The winners will also participate in a training program on communicating with policymakers and will be briefed on the federal budget for scientific research. These events are in conjunction with the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day. The winners will also receive a certificate and one-year membership in AIBS, which includes a subscription to the journal BioScience.

“Lida and Andrew are great role models for scientists who are interested in working at the interface of science and policy,” said AIBS President Dr. Susan Stafford. “The leadership and enthusiasm they demonstrate will help bridge the communication gap between our nation’s policymakers and the scientific community.”

“I believe that attending the trainings associated with Congressional Visits Day will substantially broaden my experience and insight into how policy decisions are made and what factors influence those decisions,” said Beninson.

Beninson is pursuing a Ph.D. in integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is an editor of The Journal of Science Policy and Governance and a founding member of the Forum on Science Ethics and Policy, which seeks to facilitate communication between the scientific community and the public. She previously interned at the National Science Foundation’s Division of Biological Infrastructure, where she evaluated the success of two programs designed to expand undergraduate participation in scientific research. Lida has also been active in science education; she developed and taught a curriculum for middle school students on human anatomy and physiology. She earned a bachelor’s degree in neuropsychology and a certificate in elementary education from Princeton University.

“I look forward to the opportunity to communicate science and the importance of science to policy makers and to further my understanding of federal science budgets and the legislative process,” said Reinmann.

Reinmann is pursuing a Ph.D. in biology at Boston University. He has extensive experience communicating science to policymakers and the public. As part of his research program, he has developed a protocol for quantifying the carbon footprint of development and worked with local municipalities to mitigate climate change through land-use planning. He is currently organizing an interdisciplinary forum on communication of science for graduate students in the Boston area. Reinmann is a member of AIBS and the recipient of a Science to Achieve Results Graduate Fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency. He has a Master’s degree in forestry from the University of Maine and a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Binghamton University.

This year, AIBS will also recognize Lindsay Chura, a Ph.D. student in psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, with an EPPLA Honorable Mention.

To learn more about the EPPLA program or other opportunities to work with AIBS on science policy issues, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/.

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President's Science Advisors Recommend Improvements to Undergrad STEM Education

America needs to produce considerably more college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) over the next decade, according to a new report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). One million additional STEM professionals will be needed over the next decade to fill domestic demand for employees with scientific skills.

To meet this ambitious goal, the United States would need to increase the number of undergraduates who complete college with a STEM degree by about a third over current graduation rates.

The PCAST report argues that this goal can be attained by retaining more of the students who enter college with an interest in STEM fields. Currently, fewer than 40 percent of college freshmen who intend to major in a STEM field actually graduate with a STEM degree. PCAST estimates that increasing the retention of undergraduate STEM majors from 40 percent to 50 percent would generate about three-quarters of the targeted one million additional STEM graduates.

To achieve higher retention rates, colleges should actively engage students in class and should replace standard lab coursework with discovery-based research opportunities. Students also need better preparation in math, as nearly 60 percent of students enter college with inadequate math skills.

President Obama stated his support for the goals underlying the report. The President announced a new joint initiative between the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to improve K-16 math education. The initiative will develop, validate, and scale up evidence-based approaches to improve student learning of mathematics.

The report also calls for innovation in the nation’s community colleges, including new partnerships that can help students achieve the STEM skills they require to compete in the workforce. The Administration’s efforts to enhance STEM education at community colleges was further reinforced as President Obama traveled to a community college in Northern Virginia on Monday, 13 February 2012 to announce higher education provisions in his fiscal year 2013 budget request.

The PCAST report, “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduate with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast.

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AIBS Urges Indiana Legislative Leaders to Oppose Bad Science Education Bill

On 6 February, AIBS wrote to the Speaker and Minority Leader of the Indiana House of Representatives to urge them to oppose passage of Indiana Senate Bill 89. The legislation would open the door to the teaching of creationism in Indiana schools.

The bill was recently passed by the state Senate and could soon be acted upon by the House. SB 89 is sponsored by Dennis Kruse (R-District 14), who chairs the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development.

The bill would require that lessons on the theory of the origin of life include viewpoints from “multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.”

The letter from AIBS states: “There are many religious traditions that offer explanations for the origin of life. These are, however, not scientific constructs and do not belong in a science classroom.”

Read the full letter from AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20120206indianacreationism.html.

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New in BioScience: "White House Begins to Map Course toward Bio-Based Economy"

The White House is evaluating the potential to stimulate economic growth from sectors based in biological research. Such a plan could help to grow the economy and to create jobs while addressing national challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment. Learn more about what a National Bioeconomy Blueprint could mean for basic biological research in the Washington Watch column in the February 2012 issue of BioScience. An excerpt from the article, “White House Begins to Map Course toward Bio-Based Economy,” follows:

Politicians and pundits clogged the airwaves last year with rhetoric about the state of the nation’s economy. Amid this noise, a few economic policy initiatives did begin to take shape. For instance, last fall, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a request for comments on a draft policy to stimulate the bioeconomy.

Scientists have long asserted that research is an investment that yields economic prosperity. A growing number of scientists and engineers have more recently advised that the biological sciences are poised to inspire transformative discoveries that can solve persistent problems while stimulating new economic opportunities. Indeed, in 2009, the National Research Council (NRC) released a 112-page report, A New Biology for the 21st Century: Ensuring the United States Leads the Coming Biology Revolution, which offered recommendations intended to harness the potential of the biological sciences to solve society’s grand challenges in the areas of energy, environment, food, and health.

To read the entire article for free, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2012_02.html.

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Short Takes

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson has announced that two veteran officials in EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) will replace the current head of ORD, Dr. Paul Anastas. Anastas is leaving EPA this month to return to Yale University. Lek Kadeli will serve as acting assistant administrator, a role he filled during the first year of the Obama administration. Ramona Trovato, who began her career at EPA as a scientist and later went on to serve as director of the Office of Children's Health Protection, will serve as Kadeli's principal deputy.

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments regarding future research priorities and program solicitations for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. A public meeting for stakeholders will be held on 22 February 2012 in Washington, D.C. Written comments will be accepted through 22 March. More information is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-02-01/html/2012-2100.htm.

  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is currently accepting applications for its summer 2012 Student Volunteer Program. U.S. citizens who are enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs are welcome to apply. More information is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/about/student/.

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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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