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Public Policy Report for 17 December 2012

Congressional Democrats Select Committee Leadership

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have finalized their picks for who will take the helm of committees in their respective chambers in the new year. Many lawmakers will be returning to their positions, but a few changes in leadership are anticipated.

In the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be soon be chaired by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Wyden currently chairs the Public Lands and Forest Subcommittee. He will replace retiring Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who has served as the lead Democrat on the committee for 14 years. Two incoming freshman will join the panel: Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

The Senate Budget Committee, which is responsible for formulation of the annual budget for the federal government, will be chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). Current chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) is retiring this year. Three freshmen will join the committee: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Angus King of Maine.

Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) will continue to chair the Appropriations Committee, which determines annual spending allocations for federal agencies and programs. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) will fill three vacancies on the committee.

The Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will still be led by Senator John Rockefeller IV (D-WV). Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will join the committee.

Senate Agriculture will get two new members despite no change in leadership. Senators-elect Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana will take open slots. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will continue to serve as chair.

Lastly, the Environment and Public Works Committee is not expected to have any new Democratic members. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is expected to remain as chairman, although she could soon have the possibility to take the helm of Foreign Relations. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who currently chairs that committee, is a leading candidate to become the next Secretary of State. Boxer is the next most senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The House appropriations panel will have a new ranking member, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). Lowey faced a tough battle within the Democratic caucus for the position, beating Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to become the first women to lead the committee. Two other Democrats will join the committee: Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX).

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will serve a second term as the top Democrat on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) will also return as the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) will stay on as the Ranking Member on House Agriculture. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) will continue as Ranking Member on Energy and Commerce Committee.

House Republicans announced their committee leadership in November. Read a summary at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20121203.html#032729. Senate Republicans have not yet made any announcements.

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No More Cuts to Research: Join a National Day of Action

People around the country are taking action to stand up for science. Voice your support for federal investments in research and science education.

The biological sciences community needs to express its opposition to further cuts to the federal programs that invest in research, support education, and protect natural resources. These programs are essential to ensuring America’s global competitiveness, growing the economy, and addressing pressing social, public health, and environmental issues.

Take action now!

It’s easy to get involved. Send a prewritten letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Call your members of Congress. Send a Tweet to your elected officials.

Under current law, federal programs face devastating across-the-board budget cuts over the next decade. Unless Congress and the President act to prevent further cuts, non-defense discretionary programs, such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of the Interior, NOAA, and EPA, face mandatory 8.2 percent budget cuts next year, with further cuts over the next decade. Defense, including medical and environmental research supported by the Department of Defense, and security programs would be cut by 9.4 percent in 2013, with additional cuts in the subsequent years.

The net result of sequestration could be the loss of $12 billion in research funding next year; the loss of 31,000 jobs in the life, physical, and social sciences; and delays in the construction and renovation of facilities for research and environmental conservation.

Please do your part for science and take action.

Need more information? Watch this three-minute video from AIBS that explains the fiscal cliff and how it is likely to impact science. AIBS has also prepared a report about the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration.

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Report Calls for Agricultural Research to Meet Emerging Environmental Challenges

A recent report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found the U.S. agricultural system is unprepared to meet environmental challenges, including climate change. The White House report recommended increased public investments in agricultural science and rebalancing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research portfolio. The report also called for the creation of public-private agricultural “innovation institutes” to address environmental challenges such as water use, pests and pathogens, the environmental footprint of agricultural practices, bioenergy, and maintaining food production in the face of climate change.

Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard University’s Center for Environment and an author on the report, emphasized the need for, and benefit derived from, taking immediate action: “If we act strategically today we will gain invaluable benefits tomorrow, including enhanced food security, better nutrition, greener sources of energy and healthier lives, while we grow the rural economy.”

Research for the report was carried out by a presidentially appointed group of leading scientists and engineers, and co-chaired by Schrag and Barbara Schaal, vice president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seven challenges were identified in the report, notable among them climate change, including effects of gradual changes (i.e. rising summer temperatures) and unpredictable events (i.e. weather extremes). These can alter pest lifecycle and range, and increase soil aridity, among other important changes, creating difficult growing conditions.

Other environmental challenges detailed in the report include managing new and invasive pests and pathogens; reducing water usage through the design of new plant varieties and better irrigation; reducing dependence on fertilizers, pesticides, and other polluting products; and producing the next generation of biofuels.

The report highlights underfunding as an obstacle to addressing present and future agricultural challenges. The proportion of federal agricultural research funds awarded through a competitive process is far below that of other agencies, and federal dollars are presently allocated in a way that underfunds some research areas—such as reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint—while overlapping with private-sector funding in others—such as commodity crop research.

The report recommends the government increase agricultural research investments by $700 million a year. This should include an increase to the National Science Foundation’s budget for basic agricultural science from $120 million to $250 million, and raising the current funding level for USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative from $265 million to $500 million. The report also calls for the establishment of six multidisciplinary institutes tasked with focusing on the seven identified challenges, and recommends $150 million a year be set aside for that purpose.

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NSF Announces Opportunity for Graduate Research Fellows to Work Abroad

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will launch a new graduate research program that will enable fellows to work abroad. As many as 400 graduate students will be able to participate, starting in 2014. The program will be open to both current and future Graduate Research Fellows and will provide $5,000 for travel and relocation expenses to Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, France, Japan, South Korea, or Singapore. Science agencies in the host nation will provide fellows with a living stipend and cover research costs for three to twelve months.

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Upcoming Changes to NIH's Workforce Policies

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced several changes to programs and policies that impact will impact the pipeline of students entering the biomedical sciences. Among the proposed changes are new training initiatives and an effort to increase workforce diversity.

NIH plans to create a grant program for institutions to develop new approaches to complement traditional research training. One area of potential innovation is preparing young scientists for careers in industry or science policy. The agency will also increase funding for two types of grants that help young researchers start their own labs.

Additionally, NIH will try to reduce the length of graduate student training by encouraging institutions to limit NIH support to five years. All students and postdocs supported by the agency will also be required to have an Individual Development Plan that sets career goals; this move is aimed at getting advisers more engaged in the outcomes of their trainees.

The starting postdoc stipend will be raised by $3,000 and NIH will assess the creation of a policy to improve benefits for postdocs.

To increase minority representation in the biomedical workforce, NIH will spend up to $500 million over a decade on a new initiative that will support undergraduate scholarships and research experiences. The program will support 150 new students each year. The initial sites for the new program will likely be institutions with less than $7.5 million a year in NIH funding and a significant student population with need-based federal support. Participating students will be paired with personnel at research universities and centers where they can get research experience.

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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 on 10-11 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

  • Dr. Jane Lubchenco will step down as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in February after serving for four years. She plans to return to Oregon to continue her academic career in marine ecology. Lubchenco was the first woman to lead the agency.

  • The federal government has launched an effort to study the environmental and public health effects of nanomaterials. The collaborative effort will identify and characterize nanomaterials and examine how nanomaterials interact with the human body and ecosystems. The Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission will work together on the initiative.

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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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