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Public Policy Report for 16 December 2013

Congress Nears Final Approval for Deal to Reduce Sequestration

This week, the Senate is expected to approve a bicameral deal to raise discretionary spending by $63 billion over the next two years. The measure, which already passed the House of Representatives, provides less funding than pre-sequester levels, but would increase federal spending from $967 billion to $1.012 trillion this year. The increase would be equally split between defense and non-defense programs. Unlike the across-the-board spending cuts imposed by sequestration, the new agreement would allow congressional appropriators to choose specific programs to trim.

The budget agreement was negotiated by Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). In addition to increasing funding for programs that have been squeezed by budget sequestration, the deal saves $28 billion over ten years by requiring the President to sequester the same percentage of mandatory funding in the years 2022 and 2023 as will be sequestered in 2021 under current law. Federal employees hired after 31 December 2013 would also have to contribute 1.3 percent more to their retirement programs than current employees.

“This agreement replaces a portion of the across-the-board spending cuts known as ‘the sequester’ that have harmed students, seniors, and middle-class families and served as a mindless drag on our economy over the last year,” said President Obama. “It clears the path for critical investments in things like scientific research, which has the potential to unleash new innovation and new industries. It’s balanced, and includes targeted fee increases and spending cuts designed in a way that doesn’t hurt our economy or break the ironclad promises we’ve made to our seniors. It does all this while slightly reducing our deficits over time - coming on top of four years of the fastest deficit reduction since the end of World War II. And because it’s the first budget that leaders of both parties have agreed to in a few years, the American people should not have to endure the pain of another government shutdown for the next two years.”

Despite objections from conservative interest groups, the House passed the budget deal last week in a bipartisan vote of 332 to 94. The measure had the support of three-quarters of Republican Representatives and more than 80 percent of Democrats.

The Senate is expected to consider and pass the bill this week before adjourning for the holidays.

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House Science Panel Resolves Differences Over Weather, Climate Funding

A bill that would prioritize weather-related activities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) passed the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in early December. The Committee reached a bipartisan deal to amend language in H.R. 2413 that had previously called weather forecasting the “top priority” of the agency and would have redirected funding from climate and ocean research towards weather-related activities. The new version of the bill calls for NOAA to “prioritize” weather forecasting.

“One of the things that we learned as we received expert advice on this legislation is that weather research can be strengthened, but that we cannot do it at the expense of ocean or climate research,” said Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “These are all pieces of the same puzzle, and progress in all of these areas is necessary for progress in any single area.”

The Committee approved H.R. 2413 by voice vote.

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Join Us for the 2014 BESC Congressional Visits Day

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are invited to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal funding for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation, as well as other federal agencies.

BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

This year’s event will be held on 9-10 April 2014 in Washington, DC. The first day is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their expenses.

Learn more about the event and express your interest in participating at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html. The deadline to sign up is 5 March 2014.

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Western States Launch Wildlife Mapping Tool

The Western Governors’ Association has created an online mapping tool that identifies crucial habitat for wildlife in 16 states in the western United States. The tool is intended to bring “greater certainty and predictability to planning efforts” by helping planners, energy developers, and conservationists incorporate wildlife into land-use decisions.

The Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool ranks areas on a scale of one to six: most crucial to least crucial habitat. Users can overlay other data, including species richness, habitat connectivity, or riparian and wetlands habitat.

Several federal agencies have agreed to use the tool in their planning efforts, including the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service.

Access the tool at http://westgovchat.org/.

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New in BioScience: Life Science Graduates Face Daunting Labor Market

In the Washington Watch column in the December 2013 issue of the journal BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr explores changing trends in the life sciences labor market resulting from saturation of the academic labor market and the Great Recession.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

Biology graduate students have a dizzying array of options after completing their degree, including settling on an initial career path. Although many young biologists hope to make these decisions on the basis of personal preference, changing labor market conditions are likely to influence the decision.

The employment prospects for biologists have changed significantly in recent decades. Until the early 1970s, a person with a doctorate in biology had a good chance of being hired in academia; nearly 70 percent of new PhDs who had a job lined up at graduation went to work in academia. Now, fewer than half of graduates with definitive postdegree plans find employment in academia, according to the federally sponsored Survey on Earned Doctorates. One driver of that precipitous drop was the saturation of the academic labor market as the number of trainees increased.

Continue reading the article for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2013_12.html.

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NSF Seeks New Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated a national search for a new Assistant Director for the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO).

Dr. John Wingfield has served as Assistant Directorate for BIO since September 2011. His replacement could serve on a temporary or permanent basis.

Candidates with the following qualifications are sought: outstanding leadership; a deep sense of scholarship; a grasp of the issues facing the biological sciences; and the ability to serve effectively as a key member of the NSF senior management team. Recommendations of individuals from academic, industry, or government sectors are welcome. The search committee is especially interested in identifying women, members of minority groups, and persons with disabilities for consideration.

Recommendations, including any supporting information, should be sent to biosrch@nsf.gov by 15 February 2014.

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Nominations Sought for Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel

The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is currently accepting applications for two positions from highly qualified candidates with outstanding academic and technical credentials, and a passion for advancing and improving the science/policy interface, in the areas of Biodiversity and Chemicals.

The successful candidate must have:

Professionalism:

  1. An advanced degree, preferably a PhD in a field directly related to the position;
  2. Minimum 15 years experience in scientific research - and the application of results to real-world issues;
  3. Ability to work cross-sectorally in areas of importance related to their field of expertise;
  4. Capable of bridging scientific, technological, and policy issues;
  5. Capable of linking bio-physical and economic, socio-economic/sociocultural issues;
  6. Experience working in developing countries and in the context of multi-lateral environmental assistance;
  7. Demonstrated ability to manage scientific research undertakings involving multiple stakeholders;
  8. Excellent communication skills, orally or written.
  9. Understanding of the assigned GEF focal area, its strategic objectives, and linkages with other GEF focal areas is an asset.

Leadership:

  1. Extensive access to scientific networks, and demonstrated ability to engage these networks;
  2. Demonstrated expertise and leadership in one of the thematic areas noted above, supported by (but not restricted to) the candidate’s peer-reviewed publication record;
  3. Knowledge of the scientific processes required for the implementation of relevant conventions in developing countries for which the GEF supports.

A STAP Panel Member is expected to provide 60 to 90 days per year to the work of STAP. Remuneration is based on UN scales for senior consultants. A full description of responsibilities, and application forms, are available at: http://www.stapgef.org/notice-of-recruitment-biodiversity-and-chemicals-waste-panel-members-2014/. Applications along with a cover letter should be sent to Recruitment.STAPGEF@UNEP.org, quoting the relevant vacancy reference number in the subject line of your email. All applications should be sent on or before the deadline of 31 January 2014.

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Applications are 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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Short Takes

  • The U.S. Geological Survey and Oregon State University have released maps of historical and projected temperature and precipitation changes at the county level for the continental U.S. This is the first time that information about actual and predicted changes in climate are available at this scale. The maps are based on downscaling of the 33 climate models used in the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report. Access the data at http://www.usgs.gov/climate_landuse/clu_rd/nex-dcp30.asp.

  • Nominations are being accepted for the third annual Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. The award recognizes outstanding K-12 teachers for excellence in integrating environmental education into the classroom. Learn more at http://www2.epa.gov/education/presidential-innovation-award-environmental-educators.

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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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