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Public Policy Report for 14 January 2013

Fiscal Cliff Deal Delays Sequestration

The agreement reached by federal lawmakers on New Year’s Day (the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012) to avert the fiscal cliff was not the grand bargain that many had hoped for. Although the legislation made permanent many expiring tax cuts, the deal did not address the need to raise the debt limit or avert budget sequestration. Instead, action on those issues has been delayed for several months.

Congress allowed tax rates to increase for the first time in almost two decades by letting tax cuts expire for individuals who make more than $400,000 a year. The new tax rates will generate about $600 billion in new revenue over the next decade. The deal also extended a package of tax credits, including research and development expenses incurred by businesses.

The compromise delays the start of $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts. Sequestration was scheduled to begin at the start of 2013, but will now be delayed for two months. Sequestration would have resulted in $586 million in cuts at the National Science Foundation, $2.5 billion in cuts at the National Institutes of Health, and $150 million in cuts from research and education programs at the Department of Agriculture this year. Nearly all other federal programs would have been impacted as well. Those cuts could still happen if lawmakers do not reach an agreement by early March on how to avert sequestration. The $24 billion cost of the delay of sequestration will be covered by new revenue and by $12 billion in alternative spending cuts to defense and non-defense programs over ten years.

Some lawmakers are unhappy that the law did not address all elements of the fiscal cliff, but rather kicked the proverbial can down the road. “We were trying to address the fiscal cliff and we spawned three more cliffs,” said Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA). He said three battles will come in the next three months: a debt limit increase, sequestration, and expiration of funding for government programs under the current continuing resolution.

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Chairman Smith Announces Changes to House Science Committee

The House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology not only will have a new chairman, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), but will also have new leadership on several of its subcommittees. In addition, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee is being split into two separate panels.

Smith was selected by the Republican caucus in November to lead the full committee. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will serve as the vice-chair. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) previously filled that position.

The Subcommittee on Research—previously the Research and Science Education panel—will be chaired by Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN). The panel will retain jurisdiction over science education despite the name change. Bucshon is a cardiothoracic surgeon whose southwestern Indiana district includes Indiana State University and the University of Southern Indiana.

Rep. Bucshon said in a statement: “I am honored to be selected as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Research during my second term in Congress. Because of my background in science and medicine, I understand very well the importance of research in improving the life of all Americans and the role it plays in economic development. I look forward to working with the committee to foster innovation in the research industry so that we can create jobs and grow the economy in Indiana and nationwide.”

The previous chair of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) will remain on the Science Committee and will serve as vice-chair of the Space Subcommittee in the 113th Congress.

A newcomer to the committee, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), will chair the newly created Subcommittee on Energy. Lummis had previously served on the House Appropriations Committee, but voluntarily left that panel this year in order to return to the Natural Resources Committee. It was reported that her change in committee assignments also had to do with disputes with Republican leadership over federal spending; Lummis voted against six of the seven appropriations bills brought to the floor last year.

A freshman was chosen to lead the Subcommittee on Technology. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) previously served as an executive of a technology company before being elected to Congress. Although more senior members are usually chosen to lead subcommittees, Massie is not the first freshman to be selected. Two years ago, four of the five subcommittee chairs on the science panel were brand new lawmakers.

The Subcommittee on Environment will continue to be led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a second term lawmaker. The Oversight Subcommittee will again be chaired by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA). Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) will continue to lead the Space Subcommittee.

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Comments Sought on National Climate Assessment

The Third National Climate Assessment Report has been released for public comment. The document is a synthesis of scientists’ current understanding of climate change and its impacts to our nation. It is not a policy document and does not make recommendations regarding potential mitigation or adaptation actions.

The report was prepared by the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It was developed with input from more than 240 authors and 1,000 experts who attended regional workshops and contributed technical reports.

The public comment period is open until 12 April 2013. The draft report is available for download at http://ncadac.globalchange.gov.

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Supreme Court Declines to Hear Stem Cell Case

The end may be drawing near for a lawsuit that has threatened for years to stop government-funded research that involves human embryonic stem cells. On 7 January, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it declined to review the case, which was filed by two medical researchers who claimed they were disadvantaged by the Obama Administration’s stem cell policy because they study induced pluripotent stem cells (stem cells derived from adult cells).

The case was dismissed in July 2011 by a federal judge, but the plaintiffs chose to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. In 2010, federally funded intramural stem cell research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was halted by court order, until a higher court overturned that decision.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of NIH released the following statement on 7 January: “I am very pleased with today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to decline to review the Sherley v. Sebelius U.S. Court of Appeals ruling. This decision allows the ruling to stand, and enables NIH to continue conducting and funding stem cell research, following the strict ethical guidelines put in place in 2009. Patients and their families who look forward to new therapies to replace cells lost by disease or injury, or who may benefit from new drugs identified by screening using stem cells, should be reassured that NIH will continue supporting this promising research.”

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Final Opportunity for Public Comment on Draft K-12 Science Education Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards represent a collaborative, state-led effort to develop science curriculum standards for grades K-12 across the nation. The arrangement of the most recent draft is similar to previous iterations. The standards are written as student performance expectations, which are grouped by topic, and by grade: K-5, middle school and high school. Each topic includes disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting, interdisciplinary concepts. Examples of biological standards include natural selection and adaptation, connections between organisms and ecosystems, growth and development, and structure and function of living organisms.

The standards are based on the National Research Council’s “Framework for K-12 Science Education”. The framework identified the science elements K-12 students should know, based on the most current research in science and science learning. Public comments will be accepted through 29 January 2013. Read the draft standards and submit comments at http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards.

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Agencies Announce New Funding Opportunities

Federal agencies have announced several new opportunities for funding for science.

The National Science Foundation launched the fourth competition of the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program. Unlike past competitions for BREAD funding, the first stage of the contest will offer up to 25 prizes of $10,000 each for the best ideas for innovative, potentially transformative research foci that could be of significant benefit to smallholder farmers in developing countries. Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13035/nsf13035.jsp?WT.mcid=USNSF25&WT.mc_ev=click.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has launched a challenge to visualize data from key biogeography datasets, including biological occurrence records, land cover, and taxonomic nomenclature. Submissions will be judged on their relevance to today’s scientific challenges, innovative use of the datasets, and overall ease of use of the application. Prizes will be awarded to the best overall app, the best student app, and the people’s choice. More information is available at http://applifyingusgsdata.challenge.gov/.

The Department of the Interior is seeking proposals for up to $6 million in research funding to support the Climate Science Centers science priorities in fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Projects are welcomed on an array of topics, including assessing and synthesizing knowledge about climate and land use change impacts to natural and cultural resources, performing vulnerability assessments of species and ecosystems, and understanding the interactions between climate and biogeochemical forces that influence ecosystems and the services they provide. Funding will only be awarded to institutions that are affiliated with Climate Science Centers and USGS centers, field stations, and laboratories. The full proposal is available at https://nccwsc.usgs.gov/sites/default/files/files/ANNUAL%20FUNDING%20OPPORTUNITY_09.1%20FINAL.pdf.

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Deadline Approaching: 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. Marcia McNutt, director of the United State Geological Survey, will step down from her post on 15 February. During her tenure, McNutt oversaw the reorganization of the agency and played an active role in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

  • Beginning on 18 March 2013, all investigators funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will be required to submit their annual, final, and interim project reports in Research.gov. In preparation for the change, NSF recommends that investigators stop using FastLane, the existing reporting system, on 1 February 2013. More information about the change is available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13041/nsf13041.jsp?WT.mc_id=USNSF_25&WT.mc_ev=click.

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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, Association for the Sciences of 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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