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Public Policy Report for 6 May 2013

AIBS Report Analyzes President's Budget Request for Science

President Obama released a $3.8 trillion budget plan for fiscal year (FY) 2014 on 10 April 2013. According to the White House, the budget proposal would reduce the federal deficit by increasing revenues and cutting spending. The proposal would replace sequestration, the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act.

Science is a priority in the President’s budget request, according to a new analysis by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. The Administration proposed $142.8 billion for federal research and development (R&D), an increase of 1.3 percent over the FY 2012 level. Although defense R&D would be cut by 5.2 percent, non-defense R&D would increase by 9.2 percent to $69.6 billion.

Most science agencies and biological research programs would see increased funding in FY 2014. Notably, the National Science Foundation would receive an 8.4 percent increase. Other science programs slated for a budget increase include the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy Office of Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Agriculture, and several Department of the Interior bureaus. Funding for Environmental Protection Agency science would be reduced.

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs would be consolidated across the federal government. More than 100 programs at 11 agencies are targeted for elimination or reorganization. Some programs would be moved to the Department of Education, National Science Foundation, or Smithsonian Institution.

Download a free copy of the report on science funding in the President’s budget request at www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_report.html.

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NSF Budget Proposal Would Boost Research, Education Funding

President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2014 requests $7.6 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This is a proposed increase of $592.7 million, or 8.4 percent over the FY 2012 appropriation.

Increases are proposed for all mission areas within NSF. The Research and Related Activities account, which includes funding for the various disciplinary directorates, would receive an increase of 9.2 percent. This would fund an additional 4,600 competitive awards during the fiscal year, although the agency’s funding rate is expected to remain at 24 percent. Education and Human Resources, which funds education research and various fellowships, would grow by 6.2 percent. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would increase by 6.6 percent. The budget for administrative efforts would receive a modest increase of 1.6 percent.

The budget request includes increases for several Presidential priorities, including big data, interdisciplinary research, sustainability, and innovation commercialization. Toward these goals, the President proposed an increase of $77.5 million for cyberinfrastructure for the Big Data initiative, $42.7 million in new funding for interdisciplinary research, an increase of $65.8 million for sustainability research, and an additional $17.4 million for NSF Innovation Corps.

NSF would become the government-wide leader for undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, as part of the reorganization proposed by the Administration. A new NSF-wide activity, Catalyzing Advances in Undergraduate STEM Education, would be created from consolidation of several existing NSF programs. The guiding principles for the new program are to focus investments on student retention, establish the portfolio through collaboration among all NSF directorates, gather input from outside experts, and base future investments on evaluation and demonstrated impacts.

NSF would expand its support for graduate students and early career scientists. The Graduate Research Fellowship program would be renamed the National Graduate Research Fellowship, to reflect the consolidation of STEM education programs across the government. The program would award an additional 700 fellowships, for a total of 2,700 new fellows in FY 2014; NSF would enhance the program to provide a wider range of career development opportunities. A new graduate program, NSF Research Traineeships, is proposed to support traineeship programs at universities. The program would replace the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The Faculty Early Career Development program (CAREER) would support 500 new awards in FY 2014.

The budget for the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) would increase by 6.8 percent to $760.6 million. BIO provides about 64 percent of federal funding for non-medical, basic life sciences research, including environmental biology, at academic institutions.

The number of research grants awarded and average award size would increase from the FY 2012 level. The funding rate across the directorate is expected to increase, largely due to the implementation of a new proposal submission process in 2011.

BIO would receive new funding to contribute to several NSF-wide initiatives. In addition to $8.5 million in additional funding for the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability initiative, BIO would receive $18.1 million in additional funding for the Research at the Interface of the Biological, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences (BioMaPS) program. The directorate’s support for clean energy technology would grow by $7.0 million. Within the Integrative Organismal Systems, a $5.0 million increase would focus on mapping circuits that drive behavior in a variety of organisms. Additionally, $4.5 million in new funding is proposed for software infrastructure for sustained innovation and cyberinfrastructure in the life sciences.

Support would continue for digitization of scientific information associated with biological specimens held in U.S. research collections. FY 2014 investments would be guided by the strategic and implementation plans developed by the community.

A new program would be created with the Division of Environmental Biology to link long-term planetary biodiversity data with specimen/collections data. The Strategic Integration for Biological Sciences would be supported with an initial investment of $2.0 million.

Additional analysis of the President’s budget is available in a new report from the American Institute of Biological Sciences. Download your free copy at www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_report.html.

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Lawmaker, Obama Administration At Odds Over NSF Peer Review

President Obama and others are responding vocally and publically to a draft bill authored by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith, who is Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has proposed that the National Science Foundation (NSF) only fund research that is in the national interest of the United States.

The High Quality Research Act, which has not yet been formally introduced as a bill, would require the director of NSF to certify that any award “(1) is in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science; (2) is the finest quality, is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and (3) is not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.”

President Obama alluded to Smith’s legislation and other attempts by Congress to weaken the peer review system in his remarks on the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences. “And what’s true of all sciences is that in order for us to maintain our edge, we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars,” said the President. “And I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process. That’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.”

Smith countered in a statement released the next day that: “It is the job of Congress and the NSF to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly… The draft bill maintains the current peer review process and improves on it by adding a layer of accountability. The intent of the draft legislation is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on the highest-quality research possible.”

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House Science Panel Considers Scientific, Economic Aspects of Climate Change

The House Science Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing on 25 April 2013 on our current understanding of climate science as it relates to potential mitigation options. As with past hearings, some members of Congress expressed doubts about the causes of global warming or the need to take action.

Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) put forth the argument that global warming seems to have ceased in recent years. “The number and complexity of factors influencing climate—from land and oceans to the sun and clouds—make precise long-term temperature predictions an extremely difficult challenge. Contrary to the predictions of almost all modeling, over the past 16 years there has been a complete absence of global warming.”

Testimony from Dr. Judith Curry, a professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology, raised doubts about the certainty of climate models, saying, “If all other things remain equal, it is clear that adding more carbon to the atmosphere will warm the planet. But the problem is that nothing remains equal… There are two situations to avoid. The first is acting on the basis of a highly confident statement about the future that turns out to be wrong, and the second is missing the possibility of an extreme catastrophic outcome.”

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) emphasized “it is also important to recognize that the direction we choose to take on climate change is not resolvable by science alone.”

William Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, argued, “The risks posed by human-caused climate change are significant and warrant timely action to minimize these risks. We as individuals and as a society often act in the face of uncertainty. I, for example, cannot predict if, let alone when, I will have a fire in my house, but I pay for fire insurance.”

Representative Stewart later asserted that it would not make sense to pay for fire insurance if it costs more than the value of the house. The subcommittee’s ranking member, Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) responded, “I think I have to submit that it’s easier to replace a house than a planet if we have the kind of damage that could come from climate change,”

“Yes, there are uncertainties, but these uncertainties do not justify inaction. What they do suggest is that our response should be a flexible one that allows for course corrections as new information and knowledge comes available,” said Chameides.

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AIBS Testimony Supports Research Funding

The American Institute of Biological Sciences has asked the House of Representatives and the Senate to sustain federal investments in the United States Geological Survey (USGS), United States Forest Service (USFS), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in fiscal year (FY) 2014.

AIBS encouraged Congress to provide the USGS with at least $1.167 billion in FY 2014, with at least $180.8 million for the Ecosystems activity. The testimony also requested that Congress provide the USFS Forest and Rangeland Research program with at least $310.2 million, and EPA’s Office of Research and Development with at least $600 million.

The testimony from AIBS was submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, and Environment, and Related Agencies.

Additionally, AIBS director of public policy, Dr. Robert Gropp, appeared on a panel before the House subcommittee in regards to funding for USGS. Gropp chairs the USGS Coalition, an alliance of over 70 organizations united by a commitment to the continued vitality of the USGS.

Read AIBS’ testimony at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20130425houseinterior_testimony.html.

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EPA Updates Conflict of Interest Policy for Science Reviewers

Information about experts selected to serve on independent peer review panels for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will now be subject to public scrutiny. A recent policy change requires the names, affiliations, and resumes of candidates being considered for contractor-managed review panels be made public. Additionally, the EPA will accept public comments on the recommended reviewers. Contractors will also consult with EPA to assess compliance with existing conflict of interest policies.

Not everyone is impressed with the changes. Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT), who is sponsoring a bill (H.R. 1422) aimed at reforming EPA’s science review boards, called the new process “just a smoke-and-mirrors announcement without any meaningful documentation or chance of agency follow-through.”

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Request a Copy of the Biocollections Implementation Plan

It’s not too late to request a copy of the Implementation Plan for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance. The report calls for the creation of a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA) to increase research productivity, solve societal problems, and drive innovation. The report was the outcome of a workshop of experts that was convened last fall to outline the steps needed to build NIBA in the next ten years. When built, NIBA will provide online access to digitized data for biological specimens held in natural history museums, university science departments, and government laboratories, among other repositories. Request a free copy of the report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/biocollections.html.

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Short Takes

  • Two-dozen federal agencies that support scientific research will hold two meetings about public access to federally supported research. The two-day meetings will be held on the topics of access to scholarly publications and scientific data. Register to attend in person or to watch the webcast at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/CurrentProjects/DBASSE_082378#.UYE42IKj3r9.

  • The Louisiana Senate Education Committee voted against a bill to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. S. 26 is sponsored by Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans). Her legislation would repeal a state law that opens the door to the teaching of creationism in Louisiana schools. The bill was defeated in a vote of 2-3.

  • Nominations are currently being accepted for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Science Prize for Innovation, Research, and Education. The annual award recognizes young scientists who have demonstrated excellence in scientific research and cooperation with scientists from other Asian countries. Learn more at http://www.apec.org/Home/aspire/aspire2013.aspx.

  • The National Science Foundation is advertising a position vacancy for Program Director for the Advancing the Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program. It is being advertised as both a permanent position and as a rotating position. Details for the permanent position are available at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/342543200; the rotating position is posted at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/342544100.

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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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