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Public Policy Report for 15 July 2013

House Passes Energy Appropriations Bill Despite Veto Threat

The House of Representatives approved a $3 billion spending cut for the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers, and related agencies last week. Energy’s Office of Science would be funded at $4.7 billion, a cut of $223 million. The Biological and Environmental Research program would be cut by 21.5 percent to $494.1 million, by far the largest cut proposed for any Office of Science research program. HR 2609 passed the chamber after considerable floor debate and consideration of dozens of amendments.

President Obama’s advisers “would recommend that he veto the bill” because of its steep cuts to clean energy and research programs, among other reasons, according to a statement from the White House.

Several lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to undo the 5 percent cut proposed for the Department of Energy Office of Science. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member on the House Science Committee, offered an amendment during the floor debate to fund the office at $430 million more than the current legislation; this would have been achieved by cutting funding for the Defense Environmental Cleanup account. Representative Joe Heck (R-NV) proposed an increase of $25 million for the Office of Science offset by an equivalent cut to nuclear energy funding. Representatives Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Bill Foster (D-IL) sought to transfer $223 million and $500 million, respectively, from the Weapons Activities account to Office of Science. All of these amendments were rejected.

House Science and Technology Committee member Representative Paul Broun (R-GA), a candidate for an open Senate seat in 2014, offered an amendment to further reduce research funding at Department of Energy by $158.3 million in order to decrease the deficit. The chamber also rejected this amendment.

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House Bill Would Increase NSF Funding, Cut Funds for NOAA

The National Science Foundation (NSF) could see a $111 million increase next year if legislation approved by the House of Representatives panel with jurisdiction over funding for the agency is enacted. The proposed increase is 1.6 percent more than the agency received this year after accounting for budget sequestration, but is less than President Obama requested for NSF. The proposed increase is especially notable given the lower overall funding allocations set by the House for fiscal year 2014. If the House funding levels were to be enacted, they would not be subject to an across the board cut due to sequestration because the total spending caps comply with federal law.

NSF’s Research and Related Activities account would be the primary beneficiary of the proposed funding increase. This budget account includes the Biological Sciences Directorate. Overall research funding would increase by $132.5 million to $5.7 billion. Funding for education would be cut by one percent. Funding for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would decline by seven percent.

The legislation would also set FY 2014 funding levels for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency would receive $89 million less than the 2013 enacted funding level of $5 billion. The agency’s operations and research account would be targeted for cuts, whereas funding for procurement and construction of satellites and other facilities would be level funded. The proposed funding is about a half a billion dollars short of what President Obama requested for NOAA.

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, warned that NOAA might have more difficulty avoiding staff furloughs next year. “The sources from which the funds were reprogrammed [this year] will not be available in 2014,” said Wolf. “A grand bargain of some type will be necessary to solve the problem.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) echoed the difficulties presented by the spending levels adopted by the House: “All of the subcommittees have been given scant numbers with which to deal. It is a little like skating on ice with thin patches; you have to keep your eyes on the horizon and not look down.”

The draft bill is awaiting action by the full House Appropriations Committee. The Senate is expected to reveal their proposal for NSF and NOAA funding this week.

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Senate Proposes Funding Increase for NIH

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a bill that would fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $31 billion, a $307 million increase from the fiscal year (FY) 2013 enacted level. Although the suggested funding is $147 million less than President’s request, it is well above NIH’s current funding level after budget sequestration is accounted for.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Appropriations Committee, called attention to outcomes of previous investments in NIH, including eradication of polio and small pox, and decreased cancer death rates. “These medical breakthroughs didn’t just happen, they occurred because this Committee supported NIH, and the NIH supported dedicated scientists who sought knowledge and medical breakthroughs,” stated Senator Mikulski. “We must keep up this support.”

The legislation would provide $40 million for President Obama’s brain research initiative. The initiative, announced earlier this year, aims to find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.

Additionally, the bill will expand public access to research funded by federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control. These agencies would be required to develop a public access policy that makes peer-reviewed manuscripts available online within 12 months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. This provision would only pertain to federal agencies that are funded within the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill.

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Obama Revives Plan to Move NOAA to Interior

President Obama has once again asked Congress to give him the authority to reorganize federal agencies. During a speech on his second-term management goals, Obama referenced his plan to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Department of the Interior; the agency is currently within the Department of Commerce. The president would also like to consolidate six business and trade agencies into one agency.

President Obama does not currently have the authority to restructure the Executive Branch, although previous Presidents have held this power. The administration asked Congress last year to grant the President the authority to consolidate the federal government. If the reorganization does proceed, NOAA would become the largest agency within the Department of the Interior.

Thus far, few policymakers have expressed any enthusiasm for moving NOAA to the Department of the Interior.

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House Science Committee Advances Weather Research Bill

A panel of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved by voice vote a bill that would prioritize weather forecasting over ocean and climate research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). HR 2413 would require NOAA to prioritize research to improve forecasting of tornados, hurricanes, or other severe weather events.

Democrats on the subcommittee accused the majority of rushing the bill without allowing time for proper consideration. Some Democrats on the panel have expressed concern that the legislation aims to undermine NOAA’s research on climate change. Freshman Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) stated: “It’s become apparent to me that the pleas for balance are disingenuous, that this is really an attempt to undermine research efforts by the federal government on climate change.”

Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT), a freshman lawmaker who chairs the Environment Subcommittee, said: “It is not our intention at all to undermine climate research… We are simply trying to bring some balance and to set priorities. And we recognize that there are people in coastal areas that have great concerns with climate research, but there are millions of people living in the central and southern parts of this nation that have great interest as well in weather research.”

Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) offered several amendments that would have removed the bill’s prioritization of weather research. She withdrew the amendments on the grounds that Chairman Stewart agreed to work with her on improving the bill.

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Call for Nominations for National Science Board

The National Science Board is seeking nominations for candidates to serve a six-year term starting in 2014. Candidates should have a demonstrated record of distinguished service and outstanding scientific credentials. Additionally, the Board is seeking candidates with expertise in large facility planning and management, international research, metrics and performance measurement, neuroscience, undergraduate research, or other topics. Nominations are open through 29 July 2013. For more information, visit http://www.nsf.gov/news/newssumm.jsp?cntnid=128423&WT.mcid=USNSF51&WT.mc_ev=click.

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Action Alert: Ask Your Governor to Support Science Education

In a competitive and increasingly knowledge-based global economy, students must have the skills and education necessary to succeed.

The recently released Next Generation Science Standards represent a collaborative, state-led effort to develop comprehensive and integrated science curriculum standards for grades K-12 across the nation. Twenty-six partner states, in conjunction with the National Research Council, have collaborated to design an internationally benchmarked education framework based on the most current research in science and science-learning.

Please consider expressing your support for strong science standards. It will only take a minute to send a letter to your governor about the importance of adopting the Next Generation Science Standards.

Take action at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=62755406. More information on the standards can be found at http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards.

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Short Take

  • The House of Representatives passed their version of the farm bill on 11 July 2013 in a close vote (216-208). The House had previously rejected the measure over concerns about reauthorizing the nation's food stamp program--provisions that were stripped from the bill prior to consideration the second time.

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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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