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Public Policy Report for 23 September 2013

Deadline Looming for Congressional Action on Funding

With only one week left before the start of the new fiscal year, Congress has yet to agree to a spending plan for 2014. If a plan is not enacted before 1 October, the federal government would shut down.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to keep the government open through mid-December. The bill would provide $986 billion, slightly below the current, post-sequestration funding level according to the House Appropriations Committee.

“This CR [Continuing Resolution] keeps this Congress moving in the right direction,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said in a statement. “It gives us time to solve the urgent fiscal issues facing our nation — finding a balanced and attainable plan that eliminates sequestration, implements careful reforms for both discretionary and mandatory spending, and keeps our economy growing.”

The measure is unlikely to pass the Senate in its current form because it contains a provision to defund the 2010 health care law.

“In case there is any shred of doubt in my House counterparts, I want to be absolutely crystal clear,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead. It’s a waste of time.”

An earlier version of the House legislation did not include the provision to defund health care reform. Some conservatives balked and insisted that House leadership defund the law in the short-term funding bill.

Reid is expected to remove the provision during Senate consideration of the bill.

The White House issued a veto threat against the House Continuing Resolution “because it advances a narrow ideological agenda that threatens our economy and the interests of the middle class,” the Office of Management and Budget said in the statement.

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USGS Coalition Honors Representatives Calvert, DeFazio

On 17 September 2013, the USGS Coalition honored Representatives Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) with the Coalition’s 2013 Leadership Award. The awards were presented during the USGS Coalition’s annual reception on Capitol Hill.

AIBS is a founding member of the USGS Coalition and AIBS director of public policy Robert Gropp is chair of the group. In addition to remarks by both Representatives, two senior Interior officials spoke. Jennifer Gimbel is the counselor to the assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior. Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS, thanked the Representatives and the USGS Coalition for the years of effort they have given to elevating the profile of the USGS among policymakers.

“We are pleased to recognize Representatives Calvert and DeFazio for their efforts to champion the scientific programs of the United States Geological Survey. Their leadership in Congress has helped increase awareness of the USGS,” stated Dr. Gropp. “Representatives Calvert and DeFazio clearly understand that we all benefit every day from USGS science. The agency’s research and information contribute to economic growth, improve public health and safety, and enhance our ability to smartly manage our natural resources.”

Congressman Calvert is serving his eleventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Southern California’s 42nd Congressional District. He serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which oversees funding for the USGS and other Department of Interior programs. As a member of the subcommittee, Calvert plays an important role in ensuring that the USGS has the resources it needs to provide the department and the nation with the scientific information required to make informed decisions. In addition, he focuses on creating long-term solutions for energy and water problems, both to California and the nation.

“I am honored to receive the USGS Coalition Leadership Award. The USGS continues to play an important role in providing the science and data used by natural disaster response organizations and other resource agencies,” stated Congressman Calvert.

Representative DeFazio is serving his fourteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Oregon’s 4th Congressional District. He serves as the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the USGS. DeFazio is committed to the responsible management of our nation’s natural resources and has been an outspoken voice for sustainable practices and economic security. In 2013, DeFazio urged House appropriators to support the Department of Interior Climate Science Centers, which provide fundamental scientific information, tools, and techniques for resource managers and other interested parties to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change impacts.

“I am pleased to support the USGS and the work it does to provide reliable scientific data to increase our understanding of the natural environment and how to protect it,” declared Congressman DeFazio. “I am proud to accept this award, and as Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee, I will continue to further USGS’s mission to promote sound science for Oregon and for the Nation.”

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Science Laureate Bill Pulled from House Schedule

On 10 September, House leaders abruptly pulled a bill to create the position of Science Laureate of the United States, despite bipartisan support. The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on H.R. 1891 under suspension of the rules, which would have limited debate and prevented amendments to the measure.

News reports indicate that the American Conservative Union and Competitive Enterprise Institute expressed concern that the bill would not be debated on the House floor. In a letter to Republican Representatives, the American Conservative Union stated: “Although the bill seems innocuous, it will provide the opportunity for President Obama to make an appointment of someone (or more than one person) who will share his view that science should serve political ends on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases.”

An aide to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee said that Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), a co-sponsor of the legislation, is “working to address members’ concerns.” The bill could be considered in committee this fall.

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NIH Announces Brain Research Priorities

Nine areas of research will be the initial focus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) $40 million investment in brain research. The priority areas were identified by a working group convened by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins. Initial priorities include a census of brain cell types, identification of linkages of neuronal activity to behavior, and structural maps of the brain.

“The time is right to exploit recent advances in neuroscience research and technologies to advance our understanding of the brain’s functions and processes and what causes them to go wrong in disease,” said Dr. Collins.

NIH’s contribution is part of the Brain Research Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative announced by President Obama in April 2013.

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New in BioScience: Harnessing the Power of Big Data in Biological Research

In the Washington Watch column in the September 2013 issue of the journal BioScience, Eve McCulloch explores the potential benefits of and challenges for the big data revolution.

The complete article is now online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2013_09.html. The following is an excerpt from the article:

A data revolution is changing the face of science. Scientists are confronting research challenges that require the analysis of large amounts of information on topics ranging from global climate patterns to genetic blueprints. These big data challenges are often summarized in four words: volume, variety, velocity, and veracity. Managing these four parameters could unlock revolutionary new applications, tap the potential of crowdsourcing, and produce a new way of doing science.

Scientists struggle to capture, curate, share, analyze, and visualize continuously generated data. In March 2012, the White House announced the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, committing more than $200 million to accelerate scientific discovery, strengthen national security, and transform education. Six federal departments and agencies are participating in the initiative. In addition, the Obama administration released the Open Data Policy, promising to make information generated by the federal government—including health care data (e.g., the Health Data Initiative)—more accessible to innovators, researchers, and the public.

Continue reading the article for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2013_09.html.

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Deadline Approaching for Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest

Biological research is transforming our society and the world. Help the public and policymakers to better understand these broader impacts in biological research by entering the Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest. The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The theme of the contest is broader impacts of biology. Photographs entered into the contest should demonstrate how biological research is transforming our society and the world. Examples of broader impacts include, but are not limited to, informing natural resources management, improving human health, addressing climate change, enhancing food or energy security, advancing foundational knowledge, and improving science education.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The contest ends on 30 September 2013 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Take

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released data collected in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the agency, the information was collected in 2010 to "support oil removal activities and assess the presence of dispersants." Access the data at http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/deepwaterhorizon/specialcollections.html.

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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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