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Public Policy Report for 9 April 2012

House Budget Resolution Would Slash Environmental Spending

Federal spending on environmental programs would be cut by $4.1 billion under the budget plan for fiscal year 2013 endorsed by the House of Representatives in late March. Environmental spending, including for the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, would collectively be reduced to the 2001 level if the House budget is maintained through the annual appropriations process.

Science would not fair as poorly, despite proposed reductions. The House-passed budget would cut funding for NASA, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and other agencies to a level $300 million greater than in 2008.

The budget resolution passed in a largely partisan vote of 228 in support and 191 opposed. The House budget resolution does not have the force of law. Rather it sets the funding limits for the annual spending bills prepared by the House Appropriations Committee.

Senate leadership has criticized the low spending cap set by the House budget. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans on limiting 2013 spending to $1.047 trillion, $19 billion higher than the House proposal and the level set in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

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Scientists Visit Capitol Hill in Support of Biological Research

Biological scientists traveled to Washington, DC on 28-29 March 2012 to communicate to members of Congress the importance of sustained federal investments in the biological sciences. The scientists and graduate students were in the nation’s capital as part of the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day. Among the participants were researchers affiliated with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and its member organizations, including the Organization of Biological Field Stations and the Ecological Society of America. Also participating were Lida Beninson and Andrew Reinmann, the 2012 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award recipients.

The two-day event began with a briefing by senior staff from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Policy staffers from AIBS and the Ecological Society of America provided participants with budget analysis and advocacy training.

On 29 March, participants fanned out across Capitol Hill for meetings with members of Congress and their staff. This year, the group emphasized the importance of sustained federal investments in research that will help the nation create new jobs and respond to society’s needs, such as food security, maintaining healthy ecosystems, and improving human health. Participants highlighted the importance of the NSF in fostering economic growth. The agency’s Biological Sciences Directorate funds about 62 percent of fundamental, non-medical biological research.

This year, BESC recognized two members of Congress for their leadership and support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research and education. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, which oversees the budget for NSF and several other science agencies. Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA) is the senior Democrat on the subcommittee.

To download a BESC fact sheet on the importance of federal investments in biological research, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/BESC2012Leave_Behind.pdf.

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Government Announces 'Big Data' Initiative

The Obama Administration has announced the Big Data Research and Development Initiative to help accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering. The initiative aims to improve the tools needed to access, organize, store, and analyze large data sets.

To launch the initiative, six federal departments and agencies announced more than $200 million in new funding commitments. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced seven new efforts it is launching in coordination with the Big Data Initiative. Among them is a new joint funding opportunity by NSF and the National Institutes of Health. The Core Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Big Data Science and Engineering is a cross agency solicitation that aims to advance the core technological means of managing, analyzing, visualizing, and extracting useful information from large, heterogeneous data sets. NSF also publicized a $1.2 million award that will bring together biologists and statisticians to develop network models and scalable algorithms and tools to advance our understanding of protein structures and biological pathways.

The United States Geological Survey is performing state-of-the-art synthesis of long-term earth science data at the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. One example of recent work conducted at the center is a reconstruction of the Earth’s climate in the Pliocene era, which will be used in climate models to improve predictions of climate change. The Center is currently accepting applications for projects for next year.

At an event to the launch the initiative, the President’s Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. John Holdren outlined the need for an “all hands on deck” effort by government, industry, universities, and non-profits. The government cannot tackle big data on it own, stated Holdren.

The White House released a summary of the Big Data Initiative and the government programs that comprise it. The summary can be downloaded at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/bigdatafactsheetfinal_1.pdf.

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AIBS Congressional Testimony Supports FY 2013 Funding for USGS, EPA, USFS

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has asked Congressional appropriators to invest in science at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and United States Forest Service (USFS) in fiscal year (FY) 2013.

In written testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, AIBS expressed support for the budget request for USGS Ecosystems Activity, while calling for the restoration of proposed funding cuts for water research. The President’s budget request for FY 2013 would increase funding for USGS by $34.5 million.

The EPA’s Office of Research and Development has been chronically underfunded since FY 2004, often at the expense of ecosystem research. The statement requests that Congress address this funding shortfall.

The FY 2013 budget request for the USFS would cut funding for the Forest and Rangeland Research by $2.5 million. If enacted, the budget would reduce the Forest Service’s capacity to conduct research relevant to wildfires, control of invasive species, and management of wildlife and fish. The testimony calls for restoration of the proposed cuts.

To read the testimony, please visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20120327interiortestimony.html.

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AIBS Comments on NPS Draft Scientific Integrity Policy

On 3 April 2012, AIBS wrote to the National Park Service (NPS) regarding its draft scientific integrity policy.

The NPS policy includes many commendable provisions, including applicability to all employees, appointees, contractors, grantees, and volunteers. The policy encourages federal scientists to participate in professional scientific organizations. Additionally, the draft policy includes a code of scientific conduct for employees.

The statement encourages NPS to make changes to strengthen certain aspects of the policy. For instance, research that informs policy decisions should be peer reviewed by independent, qualified experts. NPS scientists should be free to speak to the media and the public about scientific and technological matters based on their official work. Additionally, NPS should provide training to its workforce on ethics and scientific integrity. Finally, NPS personnel should be encouraged to publish research findings in peer reviewed scholarly journals, to present research findings at professional meetings, to serve as editors of scholarly journals, as well as be able to receive honors and awards based on their research and discoveries.

The draft NPS scientific integrity policy is available at http://www.nps.gov/policy/DO-79draft.pdf.

Read the comments from AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20120403npsscientific_integrity.html.

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Phenology Network Approaches One Million Observations by Citizen Scientists

Citizen scientists from across the United States have submitted more than 900,000 observations of plants and animals at 5,000 sites as part of the Nature’s Notebook program. The program records the timing of natural events, such as tree blossoms, construction of bird nests, salmon migration, and leaves changing color in the fall.

The data collected by citizen scientists are used by researchers to understand how plants and wildlife are responding to climate change. The outcomes of this research are being used or will be used in the future to forecast the onset of allergy season or chance of wildfires, manage wildlife and invasive plants, and set baselines for habitat restoration.

The program is part of the USA National Phenology Network, a partnership of federal, state, and local agencies, universities, schools, non-governmental organizations, and others. The network is funded by the United States Geological Survey, National Park Service, University of Arizona, and the National Science Foundation. Learn more about the program at http://www.usanpn.org/participate.

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Graduate Student Opportunity: Science Policy Internship

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.

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NEON Seeks Assistant Director for Scientific Research Collections and Analysis

The National Ecological Observatory Network, Inc. (NEON) is hiring an assistant director for scientific research collections. This position will be responsible for planning, implementing, and overseeing the archiving and analysis of samples (biological, physical and chemical), tissues, and specimens collected as part of the field-based research of the NEON Observatory. This person will actively collaborate with NEON scientists to determine, document, and establish archiving and analytical needs and spearhead outsourcing of archiving and analyses to existing facilities.

NEON is a $430 million dollar observatory project dedicated to understanding how changes in climate, land use and invasive species impact ecology. For the next three decades NEON will collect a comprehensive range of ecological data on a continental scale across 20 eco-climatic domains representing U.S. ecosystems.

For more information about this job opening, visit http://www.neoninc.org/jobs/assistantdirectorcollections.

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Short Takes

  • The Department of the Interior and the Department of Education are teaming up to improve environmental education. The departments will partner "to connect young Americans to the outdoors, improve environmental literacy, support experiential learning outside the classroom, and form partnerships at the local level to learn from and conserve public lands," according to a press release from Interior.

  • The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is requesting public comments on the ethical issues raised by the ready availability of large-scale human genome sequence data. Comments are due by 25 May 2012. More information is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-03-27/html/2012-7329.htm.

  • The Environmental Protection has prepared a draft long-range strategy that describes how the agency will address the challenges posed by climate change to management of water resources. Comments on the draft strategy are being accepting through 17 May 2012. More information is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-04-02/html/2012-7816.htm.

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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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