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Public Policy Report for 23 April 2012

Congressional Panels Approve Increases for NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) could receive $7.3 billion next year if legislation approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees is enacted. The proposals were approved with bipartisan support last week.

A bill (S. 2323) endorsed by Senate appropriators would increase funding for NSF by $240 million, a 3.4 percent increase over the current spending level. The House Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF unanimously approved a proposal that would increase funding for NSF by $59 million more than the level proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Both the versions of the legislation would direct new funding to NSF’s research directorates, which would receive a 4.5 percent increase under the House bill and a 3.4 percent bump under the Senate plan. Education funding would increase by 5.6 percent. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would remain essentially flat at the fiscal year 2012 level. Funding for agency operations and grant administration would also remain flat.

Although the $7.3 billion proposed for NSF is less than President Obama requested, the mark is notable because other agencies and programs are facing the prospect of budget cuts under the House and Senate spending plans.

“This legislation roots out extraneous, duplicative and unnecessary programs to save the taxpayers $300 million while prioritizing some of the most critical aspects of government,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) at the subcommittee mark-up of the draft bill. “Within the overall reductions, strategic increases are included for … those which promote the scientific research that will help America continue to lead the world in innovation.”

“The bill invests more than $13 billion in scientific research and high-impact research and technology development, to create new products and new jobs for the future,” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said of the Senate bill. Mikulski is chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee responsible for drafting the appropriations bill that funds NSF.

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Senate, House Appropriators Disagree on NOAA Satellites

Last week the Senate and House Appropriations Committees considered draft legislation that would fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in fiscal year (FY) 2013. The panels approved different spending plans for the agency.

The Senate proposal would fund NOAA at $3.4 billion, a mark $1.5 billion below the FY 2012 level. House appropriators approved a $5.0 billion budget. At this level, NOAA would receive a $68 million increase, but would still receive less than the President sought in his FY 2013 budget.

The main difference is funding for procurement of NOAA’s weather satellites. The Senate plan would transfer NOAA’s satellite acquisition authority and the associated $1.6 billion satellite acquisition budget to NASA. House appropriators did not include this change in their legislation.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, argues that the change would save $117 million next year by consolidating redundant management. Under the proposal, NOAA would continue to operate the weather satellites and process associated data, but NASA would assume the lead role in managing the procurement process.

The escalating costs of the satellite program have long been a concern within NOAA, on Capitol Hill, and to stakeholders. In 2012 alone, NOAA will spend nearly a billion dollars on the Joint Polar Satellite System. NOAA had proposed spending 37 percent of the $5.1 billion it requested for FY 2013 on satellites. In recent years, budget increases for the satellite programs have been partially offset by cuts to research and conservation programs.

Regarding other NOAA programs, the House bill would trim $54 million of just below 2 percent from NOAA’s research, operations and facilities in order to increase funding for satellite acquisition. Conversely, the Senate bill increases funding for this budget line by $117 million, which would prevent cuts proposed by the Administration in the areas of fish habitat conservation, coastal restoration, and marine mammal rescue grants, as well as the closure of several research facilities.

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Anti-Evolution Legislation Enacted in Tennessee

Under a new Tennessee law, teachers could be encouraged to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics, including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” The bill became law despite the fact that it did not receive the signature of Governor Bill Haslam (R), who did not sign or veto the legislation.

Although the law would not require the teaching of creationist ideas, it would provide protections to educators who help students critique the “scientific weaknesses” of evolution.

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Deadline Approaching for Graduate Student Science Policy Internship

The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of a paid 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. The deadline to apply is 1 May 2012. For details and requirements, please visit

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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, 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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