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Public Policy Report for 12 March 2012

Federal Budget: NOAA Could Receive Funding Boost for Satellites, Research

The President’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is $5.1 billion. Under the President’s budget request, NOAA’s proposed 3.1 percent budget increase in FY 2013 would largely be applied to the escalating costs of the agency’s acquisition of weather and climate satellites. Funding for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would also increase by 7.6 percent. The budget for NOAA’s environmental and fisheries programs would decrease by roughly two percent; this would be the third straight year of cuts for these programs if the budget request is enacted by Congress.

The budget does not address two major policy changes previously sought by the Obama Administration. First, there is no mention of the creation of a National Climate Service, which NOAA sought to establish in FY 2012. The proposed reorganization would have shifted management of three data centers, two labs, and several programs into the new National Climate Service. The FY 2013 budget is also silent regarding the President’s January 2012 proposal to move NOAA into the Department of the Interior.

Some new funding is proposed for the development of marine sensors to detect changes in the oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes (+$6.6 million), competitively awarded research on harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and coastal ecosystems (+$2.0 million), and development of integrated ecosystem assessments (+$5.0 million). With respect to climate change, $28.2 million in new funding is being requested to support modeling of sea level rise and Arctic climate change, national and regional climate assessments, and other activities.

If appropriated by Congress as proposed by the President, the agency budget would achieve program efficiencies of $83.5 million in FY 2013. Several programs and activities are slated for termination or consolidation. Two fisheries research facilities would be closed—one in New Jersey and one in California, and aspects of the work at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory would be ceased. NOAA’s education program would be cut by $13.8 million (-55.1 percent). Other education activities would be eliminated, such as graduate research fellowships at the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and the Bay-Watershed Education and Training Regional Program. Other terminations include the National Undersea Research Program (-$4.0 million), national competitions for solutions to aquatic invasive species (-$1.0 million), and marine mammal rescue assistance grants (-$3.8 million). Habitat conservation and restoration programs would be consolidated, resulting in $11.3 million in savings.

NOAA would invest $651 million in R&D in FY 2013, a 12.0 percent increase. Most of NOAA’s R&D funding is spent internally, but about 27 percent would be directed extramurally.

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President Proposes Flat Budget for NIH in FY 2013

The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget proposes to flat fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $30.7 billion. About half of the budget would go to extramural research grants ($16.5 billion, -$25.8 million), with an additional $3.4 billion (+$20.9 million) for intramural research at NIH. Intramural support includes a federal pay raise of 0.5 percent.

The budget proposal prioritizes support for basic research, including genomics and proteomics, and stem cell research; new investigators; technologies to accelerate scientific discovery, such as large-scale sequencing technologies and The Cancer Genome Atlas; and the newly established National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. This center, which was created in FY 2012, is intended to help move basic research findings into new diagnostics and therapeutics.

Funding for Research Project Grants (RPGs) would decline by 0.2 percent. Despite this proposed reduction, the number of new competing RPGs would increase by about 670 over FY 2012; this is an increase of nearly 8 percent. At the requested funding level, 19 percent of proposals would be funded, an increase from the current rate of 18 percent.

According to NIH’s budget documents: “In order to maximize resources in FY 2013 for investigator-initiated grants, and to continue to focus on resources for young, first-time researchers, NIH proposes to reduce non-competing RPGs by one percent from the FY 2012 level, and to negotiate the budgets of competing RPGs to avoid growth in the average award size.” The average cost of new competing RPGs (excluding HIV/AIDS Clinical Trial Networks) would decrease by one percent.

Other proposed changes to research grants include additional scrutiny for any proposal submitted by a principal investigator with existing grants totaling $1.5 million or more. Additionally, NIH will no longer build in inflationary increases to the out-years of competing and non-competing awards.

Training program funding would be slightly reduced, resulting in a 1.8 percent reduction in the number of trainees supported. Stipend rates, however, would increase by 2.0 percent.

The proposal to flat-fund NIH has received push back from two senior members of the House of Representatives. Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Brian Bilbray (R-CA) have authored a Dear Colleague letter to the House Appropriations Committee that requests at least $1.3 billion more in funding for NIH.

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Forest Service Research Budget Could be Cut Despite Increase for the Agency

The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request would trim funding for United States Forest Service (USFS) research by 0.8 percent (-$2.5 million), but the overall USFS budget would grow slightly. The President has requested $4.9 billion for the agency, $15.5 million more than the current budget.

Forest Service research provides scientific information and new technologies to support sustainable management of the nation’s forests and rangelands. These products and services increase the basic biological and physical knowledge of the composition, structure, and function of forest, rangeland, and aquatic ecosystems. The agency is currently focused on seven research priorities: forest disturbances, forest inventory and analysis, watershed management and restoration, bioenergy and biobased products, urban natural resources stewardship, nanotechnology, and localized needs research.

Nearly all research programs are targeted for reductions. The largest cut would be taken from invasive species R&D (-$2.5 million, -6.9 percent). The USFS plans to reduce research on the most thoroughly studied pests and pathogens, as well as research on preventing and mitigating invasive species, in order to maintain research on the highest priority invasive species.

Other proposed reductions include wildlife and fish R&D (-5.1 percent) and water, air, and soil R&D (-3.1 percent). According to the Forest Service’s budget: “The request will reduce studies on traditional game and fish species with a refocusing of funds for long term monitoring protocols and models for wildlife and aquatic habitat to assess risk from environmental change.”

Notably, inventorying and monitoring R&D would receive $3.5 million in new funding (+4.7 percent). The Resource Management and Use research program would be flat funded. In 2013, the program would focus research on bioenergy and climate change adaptation.

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Anti-Evolution Legislation in Alabama, Oklahoma

Legislation that would allow the teaching of creationism in schools is moving forward in the Alabama and Oklahoma state legislatures.

In late February, the Alabama House Education Policy Committee passed a bill (HB 133) that would allow local boards of education to award credit for religious instruction. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher (R-District 30). The bill would “authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students.” Some critics of the bill fear that this could allow courses that teach creationism to count towards a student’s diploma.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives Common Education Committee approved legislation on 21 February 2012 that would encourage teachers to present the strengths and weakness of “controversial” topics, including evolution and climate change. The bill, HB 1551, was approved by a 9-7 vote of the committee.

HB 1551 was introduced in 2011 by Rep. Sally Kern (R-District 84). Although the bill was rejected by the House Education Committee last year, the measure could be resurrected by request. Rep. Gus Blackwell (R-District 61) made such a request recently, opening the door to the committee’s reconsideration of the legislation.

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Bill Filed to Repeal Louisiana's Creationism Law

Louisiana state Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) has introduced legislation that would repeal an anti-evolution education law. SB 374 would repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, which was signed into law in 2008. Most science education experts consider this law to be a mechanism for advocates of creationism to introduce the concept into the science curriculum.

The repeal effort has the support of several science education associations and scientific societies, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Society of Naturalists, Society for the Study of Evolution, and Society of Systematic Biologists. Additionally, 75 Nobel laureates have written to the Louisiana state legislature in support of overturning the law. In 2011, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously in favor of repealing the education act.

“This year the Governor has asked the Louisiana legislature to focus on education,” said Senator Peterson. “If this Legislative session is truly about improving Louisiana’s education system, then the first place to start is to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.”

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Senators Express Support for R&D During Committee Hearing

On 6 March 2012, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on “Keeping America Competitive through Investments in R&D [Research and Development].” The hearing examined progress made towards achieving the goals of the America COMPETES Act, a 2007 law that aims to increase federal investments in science and strengthen science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) stated that research has an important contribution to make to the nation’s future: “Innovation and job creation are essential, yet they are only part of the solution. We also need to improve job training to align our workforce with the skills demanded by the global economy.” Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) lauded innovation and enterprise, but noted that in the current economic and fiscal climate, limited federal resources need to be distributed “prudently.”

Witnesses testifying before the panel were Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Dr. Subra Suresh, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF); Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); and Dr. Mason Peck, Chief Technologist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The hearing focused on the direct potential economic benefits of R&D funding. The witnesses came prepared to argue that their agencies had prioritized those areas with the greatest possible impact.

Holdren stated that the Obama Administration understands the government’s current fiscal constraints. At $140.8 billion, the fiscal year (FY) 2013 request for federal R&D investment is essentially flat compared to the FY 2012 enacted amount. Additionally, Holdren highlighted the contributions of the Department of Energy Office of Science, NSF, and NIST—due to the nature of research conducted by these agencies, these three are “especially important to this Nation’s continued economic leadership” and global competitiveness. Holdren also argued that these agencies are worthy of funding increases on the order of 4.3 percent, with concomitant decreases to other agencies.

Suresh also tied NSF’s R&D funding to the economy: the proposed FY 2013 budget “moves our nation forward by connecting the science and engineering enterprise with potential economic, societal, and educational benefits in areas critical to creating high-quality jobs, growing the economy, and ensuring national security.” This message was echoed by Peck, who asserted that, “Investments in space and aeronautics technology stimulate the economy and contribute to the Nation’s global competitiveness through the creation of new products and services, new business and industries, and high quality, sustainable jobs.” Gallagher reiterated the importance of NIST to the economic future of the nation, saying the “proposed FY 2013 budget reflects NIST’s critical role in the Administration’s efforts to strengthen manufacturing through critical investments in key research and development areas.”

As reflected by questioning, Senators are keenly interested in the potential commercial developments resulting from federal research. In response, Suresh discussed NSF’s Innovation Corps and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), two NSF programs that foster collaboration and innovation.

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Court Rejects Virginia Attorney General's Case Against Climate Scientist

The Virginia Supreme Court has dismissed a case brought by the commonwealth’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli II, against a former University of Virginia professor. The court ruled that Cuccinelli does not have the authority to force the university to produce records related to Dr. Michael Mann’s research on climate change. Cuccinelli (R), a vocal climate skeptic, had demanded that the University of Virginia, Mann’s former employer, turn over seven years’ worth of emails and documents relating to a state-funded research grant that Mann received while employed by the university.

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Short Takes

  • An analysis prepared by AIBS of President Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget request for biological sciences research and education has been updated. The report now includes information on the proposed spending plans for the National Institutes of Health and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Download the updated report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/AIBS_Budget_Report_FY_2013.pdf.

  • Dr. Judy Scotchmoor, a member of the AIBS Board, is a 2012 recipient of the Friend of Darwin award. The recognition is presented annually by the National Center for Science Education (NSCE). Scotchmoor led the development of the Understanding Evolution website as the assistant director for education and public programs at the University of California Museum of Paleontology. According to NCSE executive director Eugenie C. Scott: "It would be difficult to think of another person who has done more, and in such a sustained way, to promote and improve the teaching of evolution" than Scotchmoor.

  • The SciFund Challenge is currently inviting researchers to participate in the second round of crowd-funded research. The initiative helps scientists to raise money for their research by soliciting donations from the general public. Last fall, 49 research projects raised $76,000. Proposals for the second round of funding are currently being accepted at http://scifund.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/here-we-go-again-scifund-round-two-begins-now/.

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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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