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Public Policy Report for 21 October 2013

Congress Reaches Deal to Reopen Federal Government, Delays Action on Fiscal Issues

Lawmakers reached an eleventh hour deal to avert a credit default on 16 October 2013. The agreement hashed out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reopened federal agencies after a 16-day shutdown and allowed the Treasury Department to borrow money and avoid a default that experts say would have disrupted the global economy.

The short-term deal funds the federal government at the fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding level of $986 billion through mid-January. This is higher than the spending cap of $967 billion for FY 2014 authorized by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The deal does not do away with budget sequestration, as some lawmakers had hoped, which means that funding for scientific research, environmental conservation, defense, and other government programs will continue to be constrained.

The legislation passed the Senate with the bipartisan support of 81 Senators. In the House, the entirety of the Democratic caucus—save for two members who were sick—was joined by 87 Republicans to pass the measure. Despite the insistence of some GOP lawmakers, the deal does not undo or delay the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), but it does require stricter efforts to verify the income of individuals who apply for health insurance subsidies.

Federal employees who were furloughed during the shutdown will be given back pay. Surprisingly, the law also provides for a one percent pay increase in January for all employees. Congress could still block the first cost-of-living increase for federal workers in four years, however.

The law requires Congress to form a budget conference committee so that the two chambers can work out differences regarding spending. Among the likely sticking points will be the overall funding level for discretionary spending, defense and non-defense programs whose budgets are determined annually by Congress. Democrats will push for a replacement to the across-the-board cuts from sequestration and the inclusion of new revenue. Republicans will likely focus on maintaining the lower overall spending level of $967 billion and changing entitlement programs.

Two years ago, Congress formed a ‘super committee’ to address the budget deficit. The failure of that committee to reach an agreement triggered the start of budget sequestration the following year.

Despite the reopening of the government and the short-term increase of the nation’s debt limit, the U.S. economy was negatively impacted by the government shutdown. According to rating agency Standard & Poor’s, the shutdown cost $24 billion and reduced gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Although many experts expect some recovery of lost economic input in the coming weeks, business investment and consumer spending could continue to be depressed because of the potential for another showdown when the deal expires in a few months.

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Request for Information: Undergraduate Biology Education Reform

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is conducting a survey of individuals who are leading large-scale educational change efforts at the undergraduate level. If you play a leadership role in undergraduate biology education reform, you are invited and encouraged to participate in the online Faculty Leadership Development Survey: http://surveys.aibs.org/index.php?sid=51136&lang=en

The survey will be open until 5 November 2013 and is part of a larger study to explore programmatic elements that are important for the development of departmental leadership capacity among STEM faculty (http://www.aibs.org/education/aibsfacultyleadershipdevelopmentstudy.html). This study will allow AIBS to evaluate questions related to faculty leadership for change, the academic leadership skills faculty need and want, and existing general higher education leadership programs. The results will be shared with the broader STEM undergraduate community and allow AIBS to determine how it can provide additional support to those leading change through new initiatives or programs.

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Ecosystem Scientists to Present Research to Policymakers

Ecosystem science plays an important role in the productivity of agricultural systems and the nation’s food security. A distinguished panel of scientists will present their research findings to policymakers on 24 October 2013. The briefing, to be held on Capitol Hill, is hosted by the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC), as part of their annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Dr. Jay Arnone, AERC president and research professor at the Desert Research Institute, will moderate the one-hour science briefing. The presenters are Dr. William Easterling, professor and dean at Penn State University, Dr. Elena Bennett, associate professor at McGill University, and Dr. Dorceta Taylor, professor at the University of Michigan. Their presentations will be posted on the AERC website: http://www.ecosystemresearch.org/.

AERC is a member of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). This year, as part of the AERC meetings in Washington, DC, AIBS will conduct a four-hour workshop for AERC participants on communicating ecosystem science to decision-makers and the media.

Some AERC members will also meet with congressional staff to discuss their research and the importance of sustained federal investments in ecosystem science.

As a member organization of AIBS and a contributor to the AIBS Public Policy Office, AERC received planning and logistical assistance for the congressional briefing from AIBS. For more information about the AIBS Public Policy Office and its services for AIBS members and contributing societies, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/.

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Short Takes

  • The newly launched Agricultural Innovation Prize will award $215,000 in cash prizes to undergraduate or graduate students who develop innovative plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems. Entries are due by 28 February 2014. Learn more at http://www.agprize.com/.

  • The National Science Foundation has appointed a task force to solicit community input and prepare a set of recommendations for the future of the Long Term Ecological Research Network Office. Provide input through a short survey at http://lnovision.colorado.edu/.

  • The National Academies of Science Gulf of Mexico will hold three meetings in the region to inform the creation of a scientific program in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Remote participation is possible. Learn more at http://www.nationalacademies.org/gulf/events.html?j=16481318.

  • The deadline to submit an abstract for the 2013 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference has been extended until 22 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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