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Public Policy Report for 7 October 2013

Government Shutdown Enters Second Week

Tuesday, 8 October will mark the beginning of the second week of the federal government shutdown. Most government offices have been closed as the result of a congressional impasse over funding the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare), which conservative Republicans have sought to defund by adding riders to legislation that would provide fiscal year 2014 funding to keep the government open. Thus far, both chambers have agreed to an annual funding level of $986 billion, which is higher than the limit set in the Budget Control Act.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are insisting on defunding the 2010 health care reform law as part of the must-pass spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama have thus far held firm to not negotiate on whether Congress should fund the federal government.

In recent weeks, the legislative process has resembled a game of ping-pong. The House passed a bill to fund the government and defund Obamacare, which the Senate amended to remove the provision on health care. That bill was sent back to the House, where it was amended again and sent back to the Senate. The process repeated several more times before time ran out and the new fiscal year started on 1 October.

Federal agencies began shutting down operations on the morning of 1 October. Over the weekend, Congress did pass legislation that will ensure that federal employees are eventually paid for the time they have been furloughed. This legislation was passed after uniformed Secret Service and Capitol Police officers, working without pay, prevented a woman from ramming her vehicle onto White House and Capitol grounds. Officers involved in the incident were injured trying to stop the vehicle.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has been pursuing an alternate approach: funding and reopening select agencies and departments. The National Institutes of Health and National Parks would have reopened under legislation passed by the House last week. Both bills were modified by Senate Democrats to fund the entire government until mid-November.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced over the weekend that he was recalling federal civilian civil servants at the Department of Defense (DOD). The move came after DOD and the Justice Department interpreted a provision of a bill signed into law last week that guarantees uniformed military personnel are paid. According to news reports, DOD will recall roughly 300,000 civilians who contributed to the morale, well-being, and readiness of service members.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, about six percent of the workforce will continue working because they perform “essential duties” or because their salaries are paid for by sources other than annual appropriations.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) issued guidance that stated that awardees may continue work on all awards “to the extent that doing so will not require federal staff intervention and that funds are available….[N]o payments will be made during the funding hiatus.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, NSF, and others shuttered official websites due to the lapse in government funding. Other agencies notified users that their websites would not be updated until the government resumes business as usual.

Government agencies will remain closed until the House and Senate agree to a spending plan, which is increasingly looking to be more than a week off. News reports have speculated that a spending plan may come together with a proposal to address the nation’s debt ceiling. Current forecasts indicate that the country will hit its debt limit on 17 October. Many also believe that hard line Republicans will attempt to secure deep cuts to federal programs as well as repeal the health care reform law as part of any deal to address the debt ceiling.

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Action Alert: Urge Your Elected Officials to Fund the Government

Because Congress and the President have yet to reach an agreement that will fund the federal government after midnight on 30 September 2013, many government employees were furloughed beginning 1 October. Moreover, many government services, such as grant and contract administration at NSF and other funding agencies, also effectively stopped on 1 October.

Please take a moment to urge your federal elected officials to do their job. It is time for our elected officials to stop holding press conferences and passing pointless legislation. It is time for Congress to start governing and pass legislation that funds the federal government.

Take action at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=62950966.

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Report Highlights Climate's Threats to Oceans

A new scientific assessment of the world’s oceans outlines a “deadly trio” of threats caused by increasing carbon emissions. Warming ocean temperatures, increasing acidity, and decreasing oxygen are serious problems individually, but the impacts are “potentially far greater because of the interaction with one on another,” said the report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In addition to climate-related threats, pollution and overfishing are serious problems as well, according to the report.

“The health of the [global] ocean is spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought,” said Alex Rogers, a conservation biology professor at the University of Oxford and IPSO director. “The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth.”

Read the report at http://www.stateoftheocean.org/research.cfm.

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New NIH Grants to Address Biomedical Workforce

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the first round of grants for projects to enhance career training for graduate students and postdocs in the biomedical sciences. The Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST) awards aim to help young researchers prepare for research careers outside of academia.

“The NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Biomedical Workforce Task Force analyzed the state of the biomedical workforce, and found that many trainees are pursuing research and research-related careers outside of the traditional academic path that serves as the current model for training,” said Sally Rockey, Deputy Director for Extramural Research. “The BEST awards are intended to expose trainees to the multitude of career paths that utilize their Ph.D. training.”

Nearly four million dollars was awarded to support new approaches to provide students and trainees information on research and research-related career options. Grants will support exposure to coursework, rotations, workshops, and hands-on training experiences.

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EPA Releases Scientific Review of Water Connectivity

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a report that synthesizes more than one thousand scientific studies about the connections among water bodies. The report is a step towards a new rule to clarify what water resources are subject to the Clean Water Act. The decades old law protects the nation’s waterways from pollution.

The report will “serve as a basis” for the new rulemaking, according to the EPA, but only after it is reviewed by the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board and the public has the opportunity to comment on it.

The new rule would clarify confusion created by two rulings by the Supreme Court in 2001 and 2006. In those cases, the Court redefined what water bodies are subject to the Clean Water Act. Previously, federal regulators included waters that ultimately connected to “navigable waters,” which are subject to the law.

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Short Takes

  • The National Science Board has released a data and trends tool to track the state of science education in the U.S. The tool addresses all levels of education, including the job market for graduates. The tool is available online at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/edTool/index.html. (Note: the National Science Foundation's website is not operational due to the government shutdown.)

  • Climate change will impact the distribution of mercury worldwide, according to new research from the United States Geological Survey and Harvard University. Atmospheric changes, increased soil erosion, and more frequent forest fires will release stores of mercury from the atmosphere and soils.

  • The deadline is approaching to submit an abstract for the 2013 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference. Abstracts and submissions for student travel grants are due 15 October 2013. Learn more at http://gulfofmexicoconference.org/.

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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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