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Public Policy Report for 5 November 2012

Potential Shortage of Quality STEM Workers within the Department of Defense

Sustaining U.S. national security and military preeminence depends on attracting, retaining, and managing top science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) talent, according to a new report by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Engineering. The report highlights the risk of a shortfall of highly qualified scientists and engineers within the Department of Defense (DOD), and proposes changes to prevent a workforce crisis.

To access top talent in the global marketplace, the U.S. military should consider revising rules that presently exclude hiring foreign-born scientists and engineers. The report calls on DOD to “reexamine the need for security clearances in selected positions in order to permit non-U.S. citizens to enter the STEM talent pool… under tailored circumstances.” Additionally, “the H1-B visa system should be modified to provide… a substantially larger pool of extraordinary talent in areas of need.” Foreign hiring recommendations could be difficult to enact, however, because they require changes in a suite of laws and regulations, many of which are out of the hands of the military.

The Department of Defense should also make its work more attractive to potential employees by providing meaningful career development and educational opportunities for civilian, as well as uniformed, personnel.

The report advised that the Pentagon sponsor “unconventional” research and engineering projects to potential workers. “It’s been shown over and over again that the idea of working on a challenging project is a very attractive recruiting tool,” said C. Daniel Mote Jr., the former president of University of Maryland, College Park, who co-chaired the 18-month-long study with former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine.

Other recommendations include expansion of DOD SMART, a civilian “scholarship for service” program, as well as other education fronts that directly benefit the military, and implementation of policies to protect particularly important positions from layoffs and hiring freezes.

The report counseled that, since DOD employs approximately 2% of STEM workers in the United States, it “cannot significantly impact the nation’s overall STEM workforce—and therefore, with a few exceptions, DOD should focus its limited resources on fulfilling its own special requirements for STEM talent.”

Steps need to be taken for DOD to become “fully competitive with overall industry and academia,” and develop an “agile and resilient STEM workforce… attuned to the dynamism and future uncertainty of technical needs,” the report panel states. It is unclear, however, how much priority the report will receive with DOD facing impending budget cuts and other issues.

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Applications are now being accepted for the 2013 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will last for two days and will be held in late March or early April 2013. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, and information on trends in federal science funding and the legislative process.
  • Meetings with Congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A 1-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”
  • An award certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.

The 2013 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 5:00 PM Eastern Time on Monday, 28 January 2013. The award application can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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UN Atlas of Health and Climate Serves as "Call to Action"

The impacts of weather and climate on human health are profound, and decision-makers at all levels need access to information on the connections between climate and health, according to a new report. The atlas was prepared by two United Nations (UN) agencies: the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization.

“Many diseases including malaria, dengue, meningitis — just a few examples — these are what we call climate-sensitive diseases, because such climate dimensions for rainfall, humidity and temperature would influence the epidemics, the outbreaks, either directly influencing the parasites or the mosquitoes that carry them,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization.

In the case of many infectious diseases, basic weather data can provide valuable information for health programs. For example, precipitation data can be used to provide an alert for epidemics of cholera or malaria. Temperature and humidity data is useful in mapping areas susceptible to meningitis or malaria transmission. Despite the potential for collaboration between health and climate services, the atlas reports that “these techniques are not currently used to their full potential,” due to lack of capacity to collect and process weather data into useful products, and to interpret and apply these products within the health services.

Download the atlas at http://www.wmo.int/ebooks/WHO/AtlasENweb.pdf.

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New Research Initiative to Study Efficacy of Great Lakes Restoration

The University of Michigan has launched a new research initiative to guide efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes. The new University of Michigan Water Center will be jointly funded by the university and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

The center will receive $9 million during its first three years to identify and fill science gaps in the federally supported Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Research will be prioritized around the federal initiative’s foci: removing toxic contaminations and environmental restoration, combating invasive species, protecting and restoring wildlife and their habitats, and addressing stormwater runoff. The federal effort is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, and received $1 billion in its first three years.

According to the University of Michigan: “While the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been widely praised, there is great interest in integrating a stronger science base into the projects and helping to assess their cumulative environmental and economic impacts. That is the primary near-term focus of [University of Michigan’s] new Water Center.”

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Short Takes

  • Several thousand genetically altered rodents used in biomedical research died as a result of flooding in New York during Hurricane Sandy. The rats and mice were bred for study of heart disease, cancer, and mental disorders. Most of the other research animals at the New York University Neuroscience Institute were not harmed during the super storm, but staff was not able to rescue the rodents in time. "These animals were the culmination of 10 years of work, and it will take time to replace them," said Gordon Fishell, associate director of the institute.

  • A judge has tentatively ruled that former NASA employee David Coppedge was not fired because of his belief in intelligent design. Coppedge, a computer specialist, contended that NASA terminated his employment because he advocated his beliefs while at work. The Superior Court judge handling the case has indicated that he supports NASA's defense that the termination was due to other factors.

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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! (www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html)

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. These exciting new advocacy tools 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 policy advocates 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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