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Public Policy Report for 25 March 2013

Congress Maintains Spending Cuts in FY 2013 Appropriations

Lawmakers have avoided a government shutdown with passage of a Continuing Resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2013. The legislation, H.R. 933, will fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on 30 September 2013. The House and Senate have passed the bill with bipartisan support, and it has been sent to President Obama for his signature.

Since the legislation maintains the $85 billion sequestration cuts, the net impact for most federal agencies is a budget decrease.

Although the original House bill only granted fiscal flexibility to defense programs, the Senate amended the legislation to provide more flexibility to the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Justice, among other agencies.

A few science agencies were among the entities granted budget increases under a Senate-adopted amendment to the legislation. Although these are increases relative to FY 2012, after the effects of sequestration, these agencies will receive a budget cut.

The Senate gave an additional $221 million to the National Science Foundation (NSF); accounting for sequestration, the agency will be cut by about two percent relative to FY 2012.

The increase for NSF was largely due to the efforts of Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Her figure for NSF’s research account was $50 million higher than an earlier Senate mark and $100 million more than the House number. NSF’s education directorate was marked for an additional $20 million more than the President’s budget request.

The National Institutes of Health received an extra $71 million, which will partly offset the $1.5 billion cut resulting from budget sequestration. At $5 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also received a slight increase relative to last year, prior to the effects of sequestration. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative received a ten percent boost, which means that it will be one of a handful of programs that comes out ahead financially even after accounting for the five percent cut from sequester.

The legislation maintains a pay freeze for federal workers, which means that employees will go three years without a pay increase.

The Senate considered many amendments before a deal was struck for final passage of the legislation. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) successfully offered an amendment that bars NSF from awarding any grants on political science research unless the agency’s director can explain how the research promotes “national security or the economic interests of the United States.”

Congress could still act to adjust the terms of sequestration. Barring that action, the Continuing Resolution will likely be the final instructions to federal agencies on FY 2013 spending, which lasts through September.

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AIBS Provides Testimony to the House in Support of NSF Funding

The American Institute of Biological Sciences has asked the House of Representatives to sustain investments for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year 2014.

In testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, AIBS highlighted the important role that NSF plays in supporting basic research, which helps drive innovation and power our nation’s economic growth. NSF’s role in innovative science education was also addressed.

Read the AIBS testimony at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20130321housensf_testimony.html.

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AIBS Names Emerging Public Policy Leaders

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has selected two graduate students to receive the 2013 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. Jennifer Rood is a Ph.D. candidate in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Paul Tanger is a Ph.D. candidate in Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management at Colorado State University.

“AIBS is proud to award Jennifer and Paul the 2013 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award,” said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O’Grady. “Their involvement in the upcoming Congressional Visits Day is an important part of our ongoing commitment to fostering a productive dialogue between policymakers and scientists.”

Since 2003, AIBS has recognized the achievements of biology graduate students who have demonstrated an interest and aptitude for contributing to science and public policy. Rood and Tanger will travel to Washington, DC in April to meet with their congressional delegations. The winners will also participate in a training program on communicating with policymakers and will be briefed on the federal budget for scientific research. These events are in conjunction with the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day. The winners also receive a certificate and one-year membership in AIBS, which includes a subscription to the scientific journal BioScience.

“I applaud Jennifer and Paul for their leadership and accomplishments in science policy,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis. “Their enthusiastic involvement at the interface of science and policy is a model for other scientists.”

“I look forward to speaking with my members of Congress about why federal support of fundamental biological research is critical to the well-being of their constituents,” said Rood. “I hope that my experience at Congressional Visits Day will give me the opportunity to meet people working at the interface of science and policy and interact further with them in the future.”

Rood is pursuing a Ph.D. in biology at MIT, where she studies the functions of human enzymes. She previously interacted with congressional and federal agency policymakers in Washington, DC through her involvement with the MIT Science Policy Initiative. She has served as media director and treasurer for the program. In addition, she co-organized a workshop on communicating science and helped to organize a symposium on the intersection of science and public policy. As an undergraduate, she was an active participate in the Harvard Model Congress. Rood was awarded an International Parliament Scholarship, which allowed her to serve as a research fellow in the office of a member of the German parliament. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard University.

“With the challenges that Congress faces, this is an invaluable opportunity to speak directly with our representatives and share our insights as young scientists concerned about the future,” said Tanger. “I’m looking forward to discussing how we can balance the short term budget and debt dilemma with the need for viable science programs in the U.S.”

Tanger is a student in the National Science Foundation’s Multidisciplinary Approaches to Sustainable Biofuels IGERT training program at Colorado State University. His doctoral thesis focuses on genetic control of plant composition to develop better bioenergy crops. He was selected as a 2012-2013 Global Sustainability Leadership Fellow, which provided Tanger with leadership and communications training. He has a strong interest in the transfer of promising research findings and technology from academia to private industry; he currently interns with Colorado State University Ventures - the university’s technology transfer office. He also serves as a representative on two university advisory boards on technology fees. Tanger has a B.S. in Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

This year, AIBS will also recognize three Honorable Mentions. Julia Bradley-Cook is a Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College. Stephanie DeLuca is pursuing a Ph.D. in structural biology at Vanderbilt University. Pacifica Sommers is a Ph.D. student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona.

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Congress Passes Budget Plans for 2014

Even though President Obama has yet to release his budget plan for fiscal year (FY) 2014, both chambers of Congress have pressed ahead with their planning. Last week, the House and Senate each passed a budget resolution for FY 2014.

Although a budget resolution is not binding, it does provide a target for total spending for the federal government for the upcoming fiscal year. FY 2014 starts on 1 October 2013. Both plans set the same legally required discretionary spending limit of $966 billion for FY 2014. Discretionary programs include defense, education, science, environmental conservation, housing, foreign affairs, and other programs.

Although the House and Senate plans share the same top line budget number for next year, they offer different spending limits for future years and address sequestration and deficit reduction differently.

The House of Representatives continued its efforts to cut federal spending. The lower chamber’s plan would reduce the deficit by $4.6 trillion over a ten-year period. The House budget resolution, authored by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), would essentially wipe out the effect of sequestration on the military and transfer those cuts to domestic programs.

The Ryan plan would also extend the timeframe for the spending caps enacted in 2011. The caps on discretionary spending are currently set to end in 2021. The House resolution would extend them to the years 2022 and 2023. These caps would limit future growth in discretionary spending across the government.

The Senate budget resolution sets a smaller goal for reducing spending over the next decade. The plan created by Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray would cut the deficit by $600 to $700 billion over a decade, while still replacing budget sequestration. This would be achieved through equal parts spending cuts and revenue increases.

The Senate plan would lower discretionary spending, but not as much as the House plan. These cuts would start in FY 2015. The Democratic plan would boost spending for infrastructure, clean energy, climate change research, and environmental protection by $100 billion over ten years.

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Science Committee Evaluates EPA Science Advisory Panels for Potential Bias

On 20 March 2013, the House Science Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing to evaluate whether there is bias in the scientific advice provided by advisory committees to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some Representatives raised questions about the range of views reflected and scientists’ potential lack of objectivity due to receiving funding from the agency.

According to subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT), researchers who serve on EPA science advisory panels are not always qualified to serve. Members of a panel that reviewed hydraulic fracturing “had no experience in hydraulic fracturing and no understanding of current industry practices.”

Chairman Stewart plans to pursue legislation that would reform EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to include greater public comment and increase peer-review requirements. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) introduced similar legislation last year.

“EPA routinely touts the work of its ‘independent science advisers’ in promoting and defending its controversial regulatory agenda,” Stewart said. “The record is clear: The SAB is ripe for improvement.”

Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) agreed that improvement is possible, but that the draft bill would limit EPA’s access to science. “I noted provisions [of the draft legislation] that will not improve the Science Advisory Board structure or operation, but that instead would likely limit the quality of scientific advice the EPA receives,” said Bonamici. “These provisions appear to tie the EPA’s hands by denying the agency access to a vast pool of our country’s most expert scientists and researchers in environmental science and health.”

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Bill Reintroduced in Louisiana to Repeal Creationism Law

Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D, New Orleans) recently filed a bill (SB 26) to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). Bearing a misleading name, the LSEA has allowed the teaching of creationism in public schools since 2008. This bill marks Senator Peterson’s third attempt at repealing the LSEA; in 2012, Peterson’s bill was defeated in committee.

Supporters of the repeal, which include nearly 40 percent of living Nobel Laureate scientists and over 70,000 people from Louisiana and the rest of the country that signed a petition, are optimistic, however, as Louisiana’s public officials have become increasingly pro-science. Said Nobel laureate chemist Sir Harry Kroto, “The present situation should be likened to requiring Louisiana school texts to include the claim that the sun goes round the Earth.”

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Short Takes

  • William Brinkman, the head of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, plans to step down in April. Brinkman has led the program since June 2009. "As I leave office, my biggest concern remains the erosion of science funding in the United States when most of the industrialized countries of the world are increasing funding," he wrote in an email to staff.

  • The Department of Agriculture has re-established the Forestry Research Advisory Council. Nominations are sought for people to serve on the council, including people from federal and state agencies, academia, and industry. More information is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-03-13/html/2013-05739.htm.

  • The Renewable Natural Resources Foundation has released a report, "Congress on Sustaining Natural Resources and Conservation Science: What is at Stake in the Years Ahead." The report covers program priority and funding trends for research and development at science and environmental management agencies over the past decade, and analyzes these agencies in the context of potential budget cuts under various sequestration scenarios. The report is available at http://www.rnrf.org/2012cong/2012_Congress_Report.pdf.

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) will continue supplemental funding to facilitate family leave for principal investigators (PIs) supported in the CAREER program. The funding can be used to support additional personnel to sustain research when the PI is on family leave. This program started in 2012 as part of NSF's Career-Life Balance 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 Entomological Society of America, 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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