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Public Policy Report for 18 November 2013

House Panel Considers Innovation Legislation

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is currently considering legislation to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF). Although past efforts by Congress regarding innovation have largely been non-contentious and bipartisan, the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act of 2013” has been received with some concern by the research community.

For one, the draft bill put forth by the panel’s majority members would require the director of NSF to certify that new grants are in the national interest, worthy of federal funding, and achieve one of six broad goals, which range from advancing the progress of science to increased partnerships with industry to support for the national defense. Dr. Richard Buckius, Vice President for Research at Purdue University, expressed concern about this provision at a Science Committee’s hearing last week. He said that one person is not all knowing enough to make this determination. Another witness at the hearing, Dr. Daniel Sarewitz, Co-Director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University, feared that the program officer or NSF director would become a “rubber stamp” for making these determinations.

NSF would also be required to publish online a written justification for the funding and the name of the employee who made the determination.

Other policy provisions in the bill indicate a fundamental level of mistrust of scientists. One provision of concern to researchers is a requirement that each principle investigator would have to sign a statement certifying that publications will be based on “an accurate and truthful representation of the research results.” Another draft policy would limit funding for scientists who have received more than five years of NSF funding after their training was completed; these researchers would only be able to receive new funding from NSF if “they will be contributing substantial original research under the grant.” Lastly, peer review panels would be limited to considering only five citations to articles per grant.

Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) made assurances at the hearing that he would take “a true bipartisan approach” to improving the legislation.

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"Faces of Austerity" Report Documents Impacts of Federal Budget Cuts

A new report shows how millions of Americans have been hurt by spending cuts to programs that rely on discretionary federal funding, from scientific research to national parks.

“Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure” goes sector by sector, from education to environment to public health, telling the stories of those who’ve been impacted most by Washington’s failure to protect the programs that keep us healthy, safe, and educated. NDD United, an alliance of more than 3,200 national, state, and local organizations working to stop more harsh cuts to core government functions, produced the report. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a member of the alliance and sponsored the report.

“With this report, NDD United shows us how the dysfunctional and disruptive cuts of sequester have real impacts in real communities with real consequences in people’s day-to-day lives,” said Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It’s time to find the sensible center and move forward with an agreement that cancels sequester for the next two years with a balanced approach while we negotiate a long-term solution to our deficit and debt.”

The report features the stories of those who’ve been doing more with less for years, but now face the risk that continued cuts will significantly prevent them from providing needed services:

  • Federal agencies have closed long-term sampling sites used to monitor greenhouse gases and other chemicals in the atmosphere and stream gauges used to predict floods and droughts.
  • Dwindling federal funding for research is creating an “innovation deficit” in our economy, according to Eli Capilouto, President of the University of Kentucky. “And, because our ability to grow our way to recovery is contingent upon new discoveries, we are setting ourselves up to fail.”
  • Pat O’Shea, University of Maryland vice president and chief research officer, said universities were already witnessing an across-the-board brain drain, with top researchers fleeing to more accommodating pastures. “It is not just junior faculty, it is senior faculty,” O’Shea said. “It is something that we never saw before.”

Since fiscal year 2010, federal investment in science has fallen, in nominal and inflation adjusted dollars, with total funding suffering a nearly 20 percent reduction in purchasing power in only three years. Science represented about 1.6 percent of all federal spending in fiscal year 2013. The trend will likely continue downward. Under sequestration, discretionary programs—including both defense and nondefense programs—will face more than $700 billion in cuts over the next eight years if lawmakers do not act to replace sequestration with a more meaningful and comprehensive deficit reduction strategy.

“Faces of Austerity” is available online at www.nddunited.org.

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New Leadership on House Appropriations Subcommittees

Due to the death of one congressman and the retirement of another, several changes have been made to the leadership of the House panel that allocates funding to federal agencies. Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), who had chaired the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, is the new chair of the Energy and Water Development subpanel. Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) advanced from the number two spot to chair the Interior subpanel. That subcommittee oversees spending for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. Both congressmen are viewed as moderates and are past recipients of the USGS Coalition Leadership Award for their efforts to champion the scientific programs of the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Government Shutdown Cost Billions

Last month’s shutdown of the federal government will take a toll on the U.S. economy, according to a new report from the White House Office of Management and Budget. The shutdown, which was the second longest since 1980, will reduce fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product growth by 0.2-0.6 percentage points and may have resulted in 120,000 fewer private-sector jobs created.

Other economic losses include paying federal employees who were furloughed at a cost of roughly $2 billion, according to the White House. The closure of national parks and Smithsonian museums resulted in an estimated $11 million in lost revenue from fees and $500 million in lost visitor spending.

In terms of services, the shutdown prevented the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other science programs from issuing new grants. On average, NSF issues about 765 grants and continuations in a two-week period. The shutdown also prevented hundreds of patients from enrolling in clinical trials with the National Institutes of Health. NSF’s U.S. Antarctic Program was transitioned into caretaker status, resulting in the cancellation of some research activities for the 2013-2014 season. Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey missed their window of opportunity to complete field testing of a technology to prevent the spread of Asian carp in the Great Lakes.

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Applications are now being accepted for the 2014 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on 9-10 April 2014. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, and information on trends in federal science funding and the legislative process.
  • Meetings with Congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A 1-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”
  • An award certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.

The 2014 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible. Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Monday, 13 January 2014. The application can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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AIBS Announces New Board of Directors for 2014

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) announced today the election results for its next Board of Directors. The new Board is a mix of continuing Board members from 2013 and new members added for 2014. The Board governs the 66-year-old scientific association, headquartered in Reston, Virginia, with a science policy office in Washington, DC.

The current Board will hold its final meeting in Washington, DC on December 5, 2013. The following day, AIBS will hold its annual meeting of the AIBS Council of Member Organizations in conjunction with an exciting new Leadership in Biology Program-- a day-long dialogue with leading life scientists about the needs and opportunities of 21st century biology. The new Board will take office on January 1, 2014.

AIBS provides the biological sciences community and various government and non-government clients with services and programs ranging from scientific peer-review of grant programs to various initiatives in undergraduate science education, science policy, and scientific communications; including publication of the highly regarded science journal BioScience.

The 2014 AIBS Board of Directors is:

President:
Dr. Joseph Travis of Florida State University

Vice President:
Dr. Karen Schmaling of Washington State University

Secretary:
Dr. Judith Skog of George Mason University

Treasurer:
Dr. John Tobin of Credit Suisse

Board members:

  • Dr. John Burris of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund
  • Dr. James Collins of Arizona State University
  • Dr. Muriel Poston of Pitzer College
  • Dr. Susan Stafford of the University of Minnesota
  • Dr. Michael Cato of Vassar College
  • Dr. Eric Nagy of the University of Virginia
  • Dr. Alan Savitzky of Utah State University
  • Dr. Charles Fenster of the University of Maryland
  • Dr. David M. Leslie, Jr. of the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
  • Dr. Steward Pickett of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Dr. Teri C. Balser of the University of Florida

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Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Announces New Grant Competition

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) announced that it plans to award up to $105 million to support research consortia investigating the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization, and remediation technologies. The funding under this program, known as RFP-IV, will support research in the Gulf of Mexico conducted by consortia of four or more institutions between 2015 and 2017. It is anticipated that each team will be funded at levels between $1 million and $7.5 million per year. Research teams interested in applying for RFP-IV support must complete a pre-proposal by 15 January 2014 to be eligible to submit a full proposal by the 2 June 2014 deadline. Learn more at http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

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Program Officer Sought for Advances in Digitization of Biological Collections

The Directorate for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation is advertising for a program officer position to manage the program Advances in Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC). For information about the scope of the program, visit the program web site at http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgmsumm.jsp?pimsid=503559&org=EF&from=home.

The ADBC program began in 2010 as a result of the community strategic plan for a National Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA). The program supports some of the NIBA goals, specifically increasing access to the wealth of information contained in vouchered biological specimens and associated metadata through digitization and providing a central resource for access to the data (iDigBio). For information about the NIBA strategic plan and implementation plan, see http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/news/scientistscallforgreateraccesstobiodiversityresourcesdata.html where the links to community efforts are provided. For information about the goals and activities of iDigBio, see www.iDigBio.org.

The position for Program Officer for the ADBC program is being advertised as both a permanent position and as a temporary position.

If you wish to apply to the permanent position, the application and information can be found at USAJobs: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/355394500?org=NSF. If you wish to apply for the temporary position, the application can be found at USAJobs: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/355388100?org=NSF.

If you are interested in both positions then you must apply to both job solicitations.

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No New AFRI Grants for Climate, Bioenergy Research

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it will not award any new grants in fiscal year 2014 for research related to sustainable bioenergy or climate variability. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) will support ongoing research, education, and extension investments through continuation awards totaling $65 million for the two programs. AFRI will continue to solicit grants for six other research programs.

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Short Takes

  • The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved several of President Obama's science nominations last week. The Committee approved by voice vote Kathryn Sullivan to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jo Handelsman as associate director of science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Robert Simon as OSTP's associate director of energy and environment. The nominations are subject to approval by the full Senate.

  • Are you a teacher and did you receive a slick packet in the mail in late October attacking climate science? If so, the National Center for Science Education wants to hear about it. Complete a brief survey at http://ncse.com/taking-action/track-denialist-nipcc-mailing.

  • Graduate students will have more opportunities to conduct research abroad as a result of the expansion of the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide program. In addition to 15 countries included in the first year of the program, fellows will be able to work in Brazil, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Senegal, and South Africa.

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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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