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Public Policy Report for 16 July 2012

House Bill Would Cut Funding for Biology Research at USGS

Ecosystem and biological research programs at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) could be cut by $28.8 million (-18 percent) if the House of Representative’s Interior and Environment Appropriations bill is enacted in its current form. This is a disproportionate reduction when compared with other USGS programs and with the agency as a whole.

The research and monitoring programs that comprise the Ecosystems account within USGS are vital to the nation. These scientific activities help decision makers within other Interior bureaus, states, local governments, and the private sector to understand the status of our living resources. Much of this information is only collected by the USGS. Without it, our efforts to combat invasive species, manage endangered and threatened species, address wildlife diseases, or restore degraded landscapes would be severely hampered.

The proposed cuts to USGS research include:

  • $8.5 million from wildlife and terrestrial endangered species research;
  • $7.5 million from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystem studies;
  • $4.6 million from fisheries research;
  • $4.4 million from monitoring of species and habitat status and trends; and
  • $3.8 million from the Cooperative Research Units, which are partnerships among universities, states, and USGS to conduct biological research in 38 states.

The House bill would spare a few biological programs at USGS from reductions. The invasive species and contaminant biology programs would both be flat funded at the 2012 level. Notably, the biological information management and delivery program would receive a $5.6 million increase.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the legislation at the end of June. The timeline for further action by the House of Representatives is currently unclear, but the Senate Appropriations Committee could consider their version of the fiscal year 2013 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill in the next few weeks.

Individuals interested in expressing support for the USGS can send letters to their United Sates Senators via the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=61540211.

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FWS Employees Now Able to Speak with the Media

A new policy from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) allows agency employees to speak publically about their work without official approval. Under the new policy, employees are able to speak publically about issues related to their work, as well as give their personal opinion on matters related to the agency’s business.

The policy does require employees to first report all interview requests to the External Affairs Office. If External Affairs Office decides that the employee cannot respond officially, the employee would still be able to speak as an individual in a non-official capacity.

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Scientific Collections Organization Calls for Government Review of Costs of New Federal Collections

On 22 June 2012, the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance) wrote to President Obama’s senior advisers on budget and science regarding the establishment of new federal scientific collections.

The letter from NSC Alliance President Dr. Larry Page thanks the Administration for its actions to encourage federal agencies to identify and more adequately budget for federally owned scientific collections. The letter points out, however, that federal personnel are sometimes unaware of specimens or data housed in non-federal institutions. This oversight can result in the establishment of a new collection when one or more already exists at a nearby non-federal facility.

“In the interest of improved stewardship of taxpayer resources and increased government efficiency, we respectfully request that you direct federal agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis prior to establishing a new federal collection,” states the letters. “We suggest that no new federal scientific collection be established unless it has been determined that funding an existing non-federal collection to curate the specimens will not be more cost-effective.”

To view the letter sent to the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, please visit http://nscalliance.org/?p=549.

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New in BioScience: Data Show that Federal Investment in Research Pays Dividends

In the Washington Watch column in the July 2012 issue of the journal BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr explores some of the economic returns on federal investments in research.

The complete article is now online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2012_07.html. The following is an excerpt from the report:

In 1990, the federal government formally launched an ambitious initiative to sequence the human genome, to identify all the genes in human DNA, and to develop the tools to store and allow access to this information. The effort took 13 years and cost the federal government $3.8 billion. As is evidenced by technological advancements, the cultivation of new lines of research, and countless subsequent scientific discoveries, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was a success by nearly all measures. A question of interest to policymakers, however, is what the economic return on this kind of federal investment is.

The HGP generated great prosperity, according to a 2011 report by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. Between 1988 and 2010, human genome sequencing and associated activities by private industry and researchers generated $796 billion in US economic output. This represents a return on investment of $141 for every $1 spent by the government. The HGP has also generated an estimated 3.8 million job-years of employment and increased government revenue. As was reported by the Battelle group, the genomics-enabled industry generated more than $3.7 billion in federal taxes and $2.3 billion in state and local taxes in 2010 alone. “Thus in one year, revenues returned to government nearly equaled the entire 13-year investment in the HGP,” states the report.

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Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Science education is becoming more interactive through the use of technology and inquiry-based learning. Help the public and policymakers to better understand these new directions in science education by entering the Faces of Biology: Teaching and Learning. The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The contest is an opportunity to showcase science education. Photographs entered into the contest must depict a person or persons engaging in science education. Any level of education (K-12, undergraduate, graduate, or adult) is eligible. The depicted education may occur in a classroom, laboratory, museum, natural history collection, botanical garden, zoo, or elsewhere. Photos of education in any discipline of science, not just biology, are welcome.

The Grand Prize Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The First and Second Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The contest ends on September 30, 2012 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • On 8 July 2012, the AIBS Public Policy Office conducted a workshop at the 2012 BOTANY meetings. The program, Influencing Science Policymakers, provided graduate student and early career professionals with information about how they can become effective advocates for their profession and research. The tips and techniques presented during the program are useful when talking with policymakers, university administrators, or other decisionmakers. Additional information about AIBS communications training workshops is available at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/policy_training.html.
  • The United States Geological Survey U.S. Geological Survey is creating 10-year strategies for each of its Mission Areas: Climate and Land Use Change, Core Science Systems, Ecosystems, Energy and Minerals, Environmental Health, Natural Hazards, and Water. This process involves gathering input from the public on draft strategy documents. Feedback can be offered at http://www.usgs.gov/start_with_science. Comment period is scheduled to close on 1 August. For more information, please visit http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-06-08/html/2012-13905.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, 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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