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Public Policy Report for 19 November 2012

Three-Way Race to Lead House Science Committee

The contest to become the next leader of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is heating up. Three Representatives are vying for the position, which will be vacated by current chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) at the end of this year. All three congressman have served on the committee for more than twenty years.

A Texan could once again chair the committee if Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is selected. Smith currently chairs the Judiciary Committee, but is facing a term limit. Under his leadership, Congress passed a bipartisan patent reform bill last year. He also played a central role in a failed attempt this fall to reform immigration laws affecting scientists and engineers. NASA and energy are other issues of interest to the congressman.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) is the committee’s current vice-chairman. He chaired the committee from 1997-2001. Sensenbrenner more recently served as the senior Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, a post that he used to broadcast his skepticism about climate change. The congressman told ScienceInsider that he would want the House Science Committee to be a more active player in Congress, “particularly in terms of how to stretch the science research dollars at a time of obvious austerity.” Another issue of keen interest is space; Sensenbrenner was active in that policy area during his previous term as science chair.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is an active member of the committee who has previously chaired two of its subcommittees. His skepticism of human contributions to climate change and criticism of China are well known. Among his priorities for the committee would be reauthorization of NASA and the National Science Foundation, as well as international collaboration on science. Rohrabacher’s legislative interests also include aerospace and wise use of government funds.

Hall has been the top Republican on the panel for almost six years. He served as ranking member for four years before becoming chair in 2011 when the Republicans gained a majority in the House. Rules set by the House Republicans limit members of their caucus to serving as chair and/or ranking member for no more than six years. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is the panel’s ranking member; she is expected to retain that position in the new Congress. The Republican caucus will select committee chairs this month after the House Republican Steering Committee puts forth its recommendations.

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Elections to Bring Change and Stasis

The culmination of the lengthy 2012 election season has brought some change to Congress. A dozen new Senators and roughly 80 new Representatives will be sworn in as part of the 113th Congress in January.

In the House of Representatives, where all 435 seats were up for election, many lawmakers who are strong supporters of science have been reelected.

  • Appropriators Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who currently oversee the subcommittee responsible for providing funds for the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, both return to Congress.
  • Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Jim Moran (D-VA) were reelected; they are currently the top members on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment.
  • Congressman and physicist Rush Holt (D-NJ), who is one of only a handful of scientists and engineers in Congress, cruised to victory.
  • Former Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) was elected after a two-year hiatus from Congress. Foster is a physicist who previously served one term in the House.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee can expect major changes based on the election results. Ten of the current 36 committee members will not return to Congress in the new year.

  • Representatives Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Judy Biggert (R-IL), and Chip Cravaack (R-MN) were defeated in the general election.
  • Representatives Sandy Adams (R-FL), Hansen Clarke (D-MI), and Ben Quayle (R-AZ) did not win their primary earlier in the year.
  • Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) ran unsuccessfully for Senate.
  • Three additional committee members are retiring: Representatives Jerry Costello (D-IL), Brad Miller (D-NC), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

In the Senate, only a third of the chamber’s 100 seats were up for election. Twenty-one incumbents won reelection.

  • The Republican leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will change in the 113th Congress. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) are retiring. Hutchison is the current ranking member of the full committee. Snowe is the lead Republican on the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee.
  • Science and Space Subcommittee Chair Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) won reelection in what was predicted to be a difficult race.
  • Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) easily won her reelection.
  • Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) is retiring in January.
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who chairs the Environment Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, won reelection.

Despite the anticipated new faces, many aspects of the legislative branch will remain unchanged. Democrats will retain control of the Senate and Republicans will still be the majority party in the House. Moreover, the same issues facing the nation before the election, including the fiscal cliff, unfinished 2013 appropriations, and the looming debt limit, still must be addressed.

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AIBS Video Explains Implications of the Fiscal Cliff for Science

After a protracted and contentious election, our nation’s political leaders now face the daunting task of addressing the fiscal cliff.

Unless lawmakers take action, the policies encompassed in the fiscal cliff will automatically go into effect this January. Included are tax increases and federal budget cuts. Federal science programs would be subject to at least an 8 percent reduction in funding next year-a $12 billion cut. Although these policies will help to reduce the deficit, they could also harm the nation’s fragile economic recovery, and some economists warn that the policy would trigger a new recession.

Watch a short video presented by the American Institute of Biological Sciences about the fiscal cliff and how it would impact science: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4GNHJMKRf4.

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Request for Comments: Draft Implementation Plan for a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance

The biocollections community is currently engaged in an important process to develop an Implementation Plan that will guide the multi-year effort to create a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance.

The Implementation Plan for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance builds upon the work of an earlier report: A Strategic Plan for Establishing a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance. The Strategic Plan issues a strong and urgent call for an aggressive, sustained, coordinated, and large-scale effort to digitize the nation’s biological collections in order to mobilize their data (including images) through the Internet.

The draft Implementation Plan outlines the actions, timelines, and milestones required to achieve these goals. It was developed by a writing team drawn from the participants in a September 2012 workshop of experts in biocollections, digitization, computer science, and other relevant fields. The workshop was co-organized by James Hanken and Lucinda McDade and convened by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, with support from the National Science Foundation.

A draft of the Implementation Plan is now available for public comment at http://blogs.aibs.org/niba/. Members of the biological collections community and other stakeholders are encouraged to review the plan and submit comments to the comment section of the website or via email to publicpolicy@aibs.org. Comments must be received by 26 November 2012.

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BP Oil Spill Settlement Includes Billions for Restoration, Science

The Department of Justice announced last week that it had reached a settlement with BP regarding the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident. The energy company will pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties to settle its role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Included in that sum is $2.4 billion for environmental restoration and conservation in the Gulf region, which will be administered by the independent National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. BP will also provide $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences to support a 30-year initiative to develop oil spill prevention and response technologies, research, education, and training.

The settlement, which still needs to be approved by a federal judge, will be separate from the civil fines BP faces under the Clean Water Act. The company could pay up to $20 billion under that law, funds that would be used for ecological and economic restoration activities in the Gulf.

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New Foreign Aid Grants Take a 'DARPA' Approach

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded grants to seven universities in the U.S. and abroad to support innovative and cost effective ways to improve quality of life in developing countries. The program will receive $130 million over five years, plus matching funds from participating universities.

“This is USAID trying to build a DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] for development,” says Alex Dehgan, the agency’s science adviser. DARPA is a military research program that has been successful in backing high-risk, high reward projects. Among its successes is the creation of the Internet.

Funded “development labs” will focus on activities such as the intersection of poverty, conflict, and food insecurity; resilience of African communities against natural and political stresses; and technologies to improve healthcare delivery.

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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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Short Takes

  • The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is inviting stakeholders to submit suggestions for projects to enhance plant pest/disease detection. Suggestions will be accepted through 7 December 2012. More information is available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/pest_detection/farm_bill.shtml.
  • The White House Fellows Program is now accepting applications for the 2013-2014 class. The one-year paid fellowship provides an opportunity to experience working with top-ranking government officials. The application deadline if 15 January 2013. More information is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/fellows/.

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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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