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Public Policy Report for 7 May 2012

National Bioeconomy Blueprint Issued by Obama Administration

On 26 April 2012, the Obama Administration released its National Bioeconomy Blueprint. Describing the ‘bioeconomy’ as an economy “based on the use of research and innovation in the biological sciences to create economic activity and public benefit,” the White House emphasized its “tremendous potential for growth” and the many “societal benefits it offers.”

The Bioeconomy Blueprint charts recent advances in health, energy, agriculture, and environmental studies. Individualized medical treatments, biomaterials, plant-derived biofuels, disease-resistant crops with higher yields, and microorganisms that break down ecosystem contamination are fledgling developments derived from the bioeconomy. To ensure that the bioeconomy continues to flourish domestically, the Blueprint highlights five strategic objectives that need to be met.

The first objective is to invest in research and development (R&D) in areas that are foundational for the future bioeconomy.” The report notes that “a robust biological/biomedical R&D enterprise, backed by government, foundations, and for profit investments, is necessary to produce the new knowledge, ideas, and foundational technologies required to develop products and services that support businesses and industries and help create jobs.” To ensure success of this objective, federal agencies will need to select R&D investments strategically for maximum effect, implement a cross-disciplinary approach to research problems, and create funding procedures that are more flexible.

More needs to be done to help facilitate the transition of bioinventions from research labs to commercial markets. The report states the Administration’s commitment to commercializing research developments and fostering entrepreneurs who are rooted in the bioeconomy.

The government will also strive to “develop and reform regulations to reduce barriers, increase the speed and predictability of regulatory processes, and reduce costs while protecting human and environmental health.” The Administration acknowledges that logical, transparent regulations are preferable to antiquated, restrictive rules that no longer reflect the current environment. Federal agencies should ensure that their regulations are “cost-effective, evidence-based…[and] compatible with economic growth, job creation, and competitiveness.”

Student training programs will need to be updated to ensure that Americans gain the necessary skills to work in the bioeconomy. This could involve restructuring training programs and realigning academic institution incentives.

Lastly, the report calls for the identification and support of public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations. The report calls for academic institutions and private companies to join with the federal government “to invent, deploy, and scale the cutting-edge technologies that will create new jobs, spark new breakthroughs, and reinvigorate America today and in the future.” Potential areas of collaboration include biofuels, food security, and biotheaputics.

The Bioeconomy Blueprint is replete with examples of federal projects already underway that contribute to the bioeconomy. For the full report, visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/04/26/national-bioeconomy-blueprint-released.

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Representatives Fattah, Wolf Receive BESC Award

Representatives Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) are the recipients of the 2012 Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Award. The award is given to recognize congressional leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing science policy and research.

“Our community of biological scientists greatly appreciates the years of leadership by Representatives Wolf and Fattah in advocating for the research dollars needed to address national challenges, help our nation to remain globally competitive, and equip our young people for the science and technology jobs of the future,” said Nadine Lymn, co-chair of BESC and director of public affairs for the Ecological Society of America.

Reps. Wolf and Fattah have led the effort in recent years to sustain federal investments in critical research programs. Rep. Wolf, a Republican representing the 10th district of Virginia, chairs the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Rep. Fattah, a Democrat from the 2nd district of Pennsylvania, is the senior Democrat on the subcommittee. Last year, Reps. Wolf and Fattah pressed for and secured federal support for the National Science Foundation and other science agencies.

Rep. Wolf was one of the creators of the National Academies commission that produced the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report, which sparked a national effort to strengthen U.S. research and education programs. Rep. Wolf is also responsible for the generation of a recent report by the National Science Foundation on best practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. In the 110th session of Congress, Rep. Wolf sponsored a bill that would have attracted more students to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Rep. Fattah is a strong supporter of neuroscience research. Last year, he successfully led the effort for the creation of an interagency working group to coordinate federal investments in neuroscience research. Rep. Fattah is also very supportive of STEM education. Last year, he co-organized an event in Philadelphia for the rollout of the National Science Foundation report on best practices in STEM education. Rep. Fattah also has worked to grow minority participation in STEM fields.

“Chairman Wolf and Ranking Member Fattah have been powerful and steadfast advocates for scientific research, particularly at the National Science Foundation,” said BESC co-chair Robert Gropp, director of public policy at the American Institute of Biological Sciences. “They both appreciate that research drives innovation, contributes to the solution of complex problems, and will contribute significantly to our nation’s economic recovery.”

The Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) is an alliance of organizations united by a concern for every aspect of the biology of the natural world, from agricultural systems to zoology. BESC supports the goal of increasing the nation’s investment in the non-medical biological sciences across all federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Please visit www.esa.org/besc.

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Action Alert: House of Representatives to Vote on NSF Funding

The House of Representatives is scheduled to begin debating legislation on 8 May 2012 that would fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal agencies in fiscal year 2013. Importantly, this bill (H.R. 5326) will determine how much funding will be available for NSF’s scientific research and education programs in the coming year.

The legislation, as approved by the House Appropriations Committee, is supportive of NSF. The agency would receive $7.3 billion, $299 more than this year. The budget line that funds NSF’s research directorates would receive a 4 percent increase. Education funding would increase by 5 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.

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. Please take a few moments now to send a prepared letter to your Representative to urge his/her support for NSF.

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Senate Panel Advances Spending Bill for Agricultural Research

Extramural agricultural research at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) could receive an increase if a funding proposal approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee is enacted into law. On 26 April 2012, the committee passed an appropriations bill (S. 2375) for fiscal year (FY) 2013 that would provide $33.5 million in new funding for a USDA competitive research program. The $298 million proposed for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is nearly a 13 percent increase over the current funding level. The program supports extramural research on crop and livestock production, biofuels, food safety, and the environment.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which AFRI is part of, would receive $1.2 billion. This is a roughly $37 million increase over FY 2012.

Funding for USDA’s intramural research program would remain essentially flat. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.1 billion, an increase of $7.2 million. Notably, the Appropriations Committee rejected the Obama Administration’s request to close six ARS research facilities. USDA shuttered a dozen research facilities this year.

The House Appropriations Committee has yet to act on the measure.

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House, Senate Panels Approve Increases for Energy Research

In late April, the House and Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation to fund the Department of Energy and related agencies in fiscal year (FY) 2013. Both pieces of legislation would reduce funding from the current level. The House bill (H.R. 5325) would cut $1.3 billion more than the Senate bill (S. 2465). The difference in top line funding for the bills is also reflected in the amount of support for energy research.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science would receive a $35 million increase under the Senate proposal, bringing the program’s total funding to $4.9 billion. The House bill, however, would cut the budget for the Office of Science by $72 million.

The Senate committee report expresses concern about “the Office of Science’s lack of strategic guidance and prioritization among lower priority research activities, such as fusion energy science, nuclear physics, and high-energy physics.” The Committee directs the Office of Science to prioritize their activities in these areas and to take steps to reduce costs, including delaying construction projects and terminating research activities.

The Biological and Environmental Research within the Office of Science would receive $625.3 million (+$16 million) under the Senate bill. This is the same amount as was requested by President Obama. Included is support for the first year of the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment in the Tropics, which will study the relationship between climate change and tropical ecosystems. Conversely, the House bill would cut funding for biological research by $69 million.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would receive a $37 million increase (+13 percent) under the Senate bill. The increase would accelerate commercialization of next-energy energy technologies, according to the Senate panel. The House bill would cut $75 million (-27 percent) from the program.

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2012 Farm Bill Starts Its Odyssey

Every four years Congress examines the nation’s policies on crop and livestock production, environmental conservation on agricultural lands, and emergency food assistance. The Senate has begun the endeavor to formulate and enact the 2012 farm bill, passing a 980 page bill from the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee on 26 April 2012.

Overall, the bill would reportedly cut the nation’s deficit by $23 billion. The legislation would consolidate and eliminate programs at the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Conservation programs are among the targets, with 23 existing programs proposed for consolidation into 13 programs.

The bill would also reauthorize several agricultural research programs at the USDA. The Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which supports research on specialty crops - fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, flowers, and nursery plants - would receive a permanent funding source if the bill were enacted. Funding for organic agriculture research and extension, however, would be cut by 20 percent. No changes would be made to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Also included in the bill is a provision that requires the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to assess barriers faced by institutions with limited capacity to successfully apply and compete for research grants.

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House Panel Approves NSF, NOAA Funding

The House Appropriations Committee approved a proposal on 26 April 2012 to increase funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) by $299 million in fiscal year 2013. Senate appropriators had previously agreed to a $240 million increase.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive a $68 million increase, for a total of $5.0 billion. NOAA’s weather satellites would receive the bulk of the new funding. The budget for research, operations, and facilities would be trimmed slightly.

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Science Briefing on Digitization of Scientific Collections

On Tuesday, 5 June 2012, the Natural Science Collections Alliance will sponsor a science briefing for congressional lawmakers in Washington, DC. The briefing, which will take place in room 2325 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 2:00-3:00 p.m., will provide policymakers with information about how digitization of specimens and associated data are increasing access to natural science collections for research, education, and other societal benefits.

All interested individuals are welcome to attend this public event.

Program speakers:

  • Dr. Mary Liz Jameson, Associate Professor, Wichita State University
    “The Value of Biological Collections to Science, Education, and the Economy”
  • Dr. Larry Page, President, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Curator of Fishes, Florida Museum of Natural History
    “Digitization: A Modern Method for Exponentially Increasing Access to Collections”
  • Dr. Michael A. Mares, Director, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and Professor of Zoology, University of Oklahoma
    “Securing the Long-term Sustainability of Natural Science Collections and Data”

RSVP for the briefing at http://www.aibs.org/rsvp/digitization.html.

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Short Takes

  • Graduate schools need to do a better job of connecting students obtaining degrees in scientific fields with potential employers, concludes a new report from the Council of Graduate Schools. One of the problems may be that most students receive career advice from their faculty advisor, who is more likely to recommend a career in academia than employment in another sector. "Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers" is available at http://pathwaysreport.org/.

  • The federal government has released a ten-year strategic plan for climate change research. Federal climate research will be expanded from the current focus of documenting environmental changes and developing models of Earth's climate system to include the complex dynamics of ecosystems and human social-economic activities. Read the plan at http://library.globalchange.gov/u-s-global-change-research-program-strategic-plan-2012-2021.

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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 http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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