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Public Policy Report for 26 March 2012

House Budget Committee Endorses Slimmer Budget for FY 2013

If Republicans serving on the House Budget Committee have their way, 2013 would be the year that Congress overhauls the tax code, makes major changes to entitlement programs, and further reduces government spending. The panel endorsed a proposal last week that would cap government spending in fiscal year (FY) 2013 at $3.5 trillion. The budget resolution passed by a margin of one vote, with two Republicans joining all of the Democrats on the committee in opposition.

According to Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the plan would cut government spending over the next decade by $5 trillion more than the plan President Obama released in February. Proposed savings would come from repealing health care reform, changing Medicare, and cutting domestic spending.

Discretionary spending, which includes transportation, education, research and development, environmental initiatives, and other programs, would be capped at $1.028 trillion in FY 2013. This is $19 billion less than the spending cap Congress agreed to last year in the debt limit deal.

Democratic leaders in the Senate have voiced their support for abiding by the higher spending cap set in the Budget Control Act. In a written statement, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) said “differing top line numbers lead to needless delay and in the end, no one should doubt that the Senate will not move forward from the agreed upon level of $1.047 trillion for discretionary spending.”

The two chambers also disagree on how to deal with $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that are scheduled to begin in January 2013. The spending “sequester” would occur because a special congressional panel created by the Budget Control Act was unable to agree on a plan to reduce expected deficits over the next decade. If sequestration happens, $43 billion would be cut from the appropriated discretionary spending level in FY 2013; defense spending would be cut by $55 billion. These reductions would come on top of any spending cuts (or increases) agreed to by Congress through their annual appropriations bills. Defense leaders have already warned that a budget sequester could cause long lasting and severe challenges.

The White House was quick to point out the potential impacts of the House budget resolution. According to a blog post by Jeff Zients, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the House proposal would cut non-defense funding by 5 percent this year and by 19 percent in 2014. “Investments in science, medical research, space, and technology would be cut by more than $100 billion over the next decade,” wrote Zients. “The number of new grants from NIH for promising research projects would shrink by more than 1,600 in 2014 and by over 16,000 over a decade, potentially curtailing or slowing research to fight Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and AIDS. The National Science Foundation would cut over 11,000 grants over the next decade, eliminating support for over 13,000 researchers, students, and teachers in 2014 alone.”

If enacted, the House budget resolution would not have the force of law. Rather it would set the funding limits for the annual spending bills prepared by the House Appropriations Committee.

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Interior Appropriations Panel Hears from AIBS Policy Director

On 21 March 2012, AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Robert Gropp, testified before the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee about the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget request for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Gropp provided testimony on behalf of the USGS Coalition, an organization that Gropp currently chairs.

The USGS Coalition is an alliance of more than 70 organizations united by a commitment to the continued vitality of the USGS and its ability to provide critical data and services to the nation. The Coalition supports increased federal investment in USGS programs that underpin responsible natural resource stewardship, improve resilience to natural and human-induced hazards, and contribute to the long-term health, security, and prosperity of the nation.

For more information about the USGS Coalition, please visit www.usgscoalition.org. A number of AIBS member organizations have joined the USGS Coalition. If your organization is interested in becoming a member of the USGS Coalition, please visit http://www.usgscoalition.org/?q=node/2.

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AIBS Encourages Congress to Fund FY 2013 NSF Budget Request

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has requested that Congressional appropriators fully fund the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In written testimony, AIBS expressed support for the President’s budget request of $7.373 billion for NSF in FY 2013, a 4.8 percent increase over last year. The testimony also calls attention to the valuable research and education programs provided by NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate. In particular, the testimony highlights the proposed funding increases for Graduate Research Fellowships, digitization of natural history collections, and the construction of NEON (National Ecological Observatory Network).

To read the AIBS testimony, please visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/.

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Action Alert: Write to Congress about Science

Congress has started the process for determining funding levels for federal programs for fiscal year 2013. Importantly, this process will determine how much funding will be available for scientific research and education programs in the coming year. This process directly impacts the various agencies that support competitive research grants, such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture. This process will also determine how much funding is available to support important in-house government research, such as the research conducted by the various agencies of the Department of the Interior.

It is important that members of Congress are reminded by their constituents of the importance of sustained federal investment in our nation’s scientific research enterprise. In just a few minutes time, you can send a prepared letter to your member of Congress to urge his/her support for NSF or USGS. Alternatively, you can craft a letter of your own about these or other federal research programs.

Details about the President’s budget request to Congress for scientific research at various federal agencies is available from AIBS (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/AIBSBudgetReportFY2013.pdf).

Visit the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to take action.

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Senate-Passed Transportation Bill Cuts Funding for Archeological Research, Environmental Projects

Federal support for archeological research and wildlife protection could be cut if legislation approved by the U.S. Senate becomes law. A bill to reauthorize the federal highway trust fund includes major changes for a little known program that supports aesthetic and environmental improvements to transportation infrastructure projects.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (S. 1813) would restructure and reduce spending for so-called transportation enhancements. These projects include construction of pedestrian and bicycle facilities, highway beautification, mitigation of pollution from roadways, construction of wildlife corridors, historic preservation, archaeological research, and transportation museums.

The bill passed by the Senate on 14 March would consolidate the transportation enhancements program with several others and cap funding at a lower level. The current highway funding system dedicates 10 percent of certain federal transportation funds for enhancement projects - this is roughly 1.5 percent of overall federal aid for the highway program. Most of these resources have been used for pedestrian enhancements, such as sidewalks and bike trails.

The Senate bill would also eliminate transportation museums from eligibility for funding through the highway trust fund. Additionally, states would no longer be required to spend federal funds on transportation enhancement projects.

The current federal highway authorization bill expires at the end of March. The House of Representatives has thus far been unable to agree on a reauthorization bill. Some Senators are pushing for the House to take up S. 1813.

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AIBS Opposes Anti-Evolution Legislation in Tennessee, Oklahoma

The Tennessee Senate approved a bill on 20 March 2012 that would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics, including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” SB 893 was passed with the support of 24 senators and opposed by eight.

The Tennessee House passed a similar measure, HB 368, a year ago. The chambers are now expected to try to reconcile the differences in their versions. If that happens, each chamber would need to pass the bill again in order for it to be sent to the governor’s desk for a signature to become law.

According to the National Center for Science Education: “Tennessee’s governor Bill Haslam has previously indicated that he would discuss the bill with the state board of education, telling the Tennessean (March 19, 2012), ‘It is a fair question what the General Assembly’s role is … That’s why we have a state board of education.’ “

AIBS wrote to Governor Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell in opposition to the legislation prior to its passage in the Senate. Read the letter at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20120316tennesseeevolution_bill.html.

Blogger Michael Zimmerman wrote on the Huffington Post that: “Legislators in Tennessee have apparently decided that it is critical for them to reexamine what should have been settled by the Scopes Trial in Dayton, TN in 1925. They’re following down the path blazed by similar-minded legislators in Louisiana and moving relentlessly into the past by moving forward with an anti-evolution, pro-creationism bill modeled on the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008.” The letter from AIBS is referenced by Zimmerman as part of the “institutional expertise that has been levied against the Tennessee legislation.”

In Oklahoma, the state’s House of Representatives approved a bill on 16 March 2012 that would encourage teachers to present the strengths and weakness of “controversial” topics, including evolution and climate change. HB 1551 was introduced in 2011 by Rep. Sally Kern (R-District 84). The bill is now under consideration by the state Senate. The AIBS sent a letter to Oklahoma Senate leaders in opposition to HB 1551. Read the letter from AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20120320oklahomaevolution.html.

One piece of good news did come from Oklahoma this month. In early March, a second anti-evolution bill that was pending in the Senate died in committee. Prospects for Oklahoma SB 1742 ended when the deadline passed for bills in the Senate to be reported from their committees.

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AIBS Sponsors Congressional Briefing on Economic Benefits from Federally Funded Research

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) joined with nine other scientific organizations to conduct a briefing for congressional policymakers on the economic returns resulting from federal government funding for scientific research and development (R&D).

The briefing, “Research That Pays Off: The Economic Benefits of Federally Funded R&D” was held on 16 March 2012.

The briefing featured an impressive panel of experts speaking about the economic and societal benefits associated with federally funded research. Simon Tripp, senior director of the Technology Partnership Practice at Battelle Memorial Institute, explained how the $3.8 billion, 13 year Human Genome Project has spurred an estimated $796 billion in economic outputs. Dr. Fred Block, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Davis, described how long-term economic growth is fueled by research and development. Despite the benefits of science, however, Block noted that government spending on R&D is declining. Dr. Kate Hunt, R&D director at the Dow Chemical Company, emphasized the need for collaboration among the government, private industry, and academics. The event was moderated by Vijay Vaitheeswaran, a correspondent for The Economist.

The briefing was sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geosciences Institute, American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Sociological Association, American Statistical Association, Geological Society of America, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

A video of the briefing is available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m6y_P2vUfg&feature=youtu.be.

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Senate Panel Considers Allowing the White House to Reorganize Agencies

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on 21 March 2012 to consider a legislative proposal that would empower the Executive Branch to reorganize the federal government. S. 2129 would expand the White House’s authority to create, abolish, or consolidate executive department and agencies. Reorganization would only be allowed, however, if the Director of the Office of Management and Budget determines that the proposal will or is likely to result in a decrease in the number of agencies or result in cost savings.

Thus far, Congress has not worked aggressively to give this authority to the President, as the bill has only two sponsors. At the hearing, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) added his support for the legislation. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), indicated that he plans on passing the bill before he retires from the Senate at the end of the year.

President Obama is seeking this authority to reorganize the Department of Commerce. The President wants to realign several Commerce bureaus that focus on small businesses, as well as to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from Commerce to the Department of the Interior. President Obama does not currently have the authority to restructure the Executive Branch.

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NSF Awards Second Round of Funding to Promote Tech Transfer

Twenty-five teams have been awarded funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to assist with transitioning emerging technology concepts into economically viable products. This is the second round of Innovation Corps funding, a program NSF started in 2012.

The awards draw upon discoveries previously supported by NSF research grants.

Each team will receive $50,000 to begin assessing the commercial readiness of their technology concepts. NSF will also provide guidance from private- and public-sector experts, as well as a specially designed training curriculum for grantees.

“Earlier I-Corps teams are well on their way to commercializing their technologies,” said Innovation Corps program officer Errol Arkilic. “A number are already building their teams and new partnerships, and they are obtaining license agreements and negotiating third-party financing.”

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Short Takes

  • The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of an internship in the Washington, DC, AIBS Public Policy Office. The internship is open to ASM members who are currently enrolled in a graduate program or who have completed a program within a semester of application, and who are engaged in research that will contribute to the understanding and conservation of mammals. The internship is for three months during fall 2012, and carries a generous monthly stipend. Selection criteria include demonstrated interest in the public policy process, strong communications skills, and excellent academic record. For details and requirements, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/student_opportunities.html.

  • Under the new Department of the Interior communications policy, agency scientists will be able to speak publicly about the department and are encouraged to publish research based on agency projects. The new policy, however, requires staff to seek guidance from a supervisor before speaking about information that has not been publicly released by Interior. Employees are also prohibited from disclosing anything covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

  • Nominations are sought for a new international agriculture award that will honor young field researchers who emulate Dr. Norman Borlaug, the visionary agricultural researcher whose scientific breakthroughs helped to feed millions of people around the world. The award winner will receive $10,000. The award is sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. More information is available at http://www.worldfoodprize.org/index.cfm?nodeID=39531&audienceID=1.

  • The U.S. Forest Service and the University of Georgia have developed an app for mobile devices to help people to identify invasive plants in the southern forests. Eventually, people will be able to report sightings of invasive plants through the application. The app is available for free download at http://apps.bugwood.org/southern_forests.html.

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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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