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Public Policy Report for 30 December 2013

Congressional Champion of Science to Retire

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), a key supporter of federal funding for basic research, will retire at the end of 2014. Wolf has led the effort in recent years to sustain federal investments in critical research programs. He currently chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

Wolf was one of the creators of the National Academies commission that produced the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report, which sparked a national effort to strengthen U.S. research and education programs. Rep. Wolf is also responsible for the generation of a recent report by the National Science Foundation on best practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

In 2012, Congressman Wolf was a recipient of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Award. The award is given to recognize congressional leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing science policy and research. BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

The 17-term Representative has served his northern Virginia district since 1980. After retirement, Wolf plans to continue his involvement in advocacy in the areas of human rights and religious freedom.

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Coalition Comments on Draft NSF Reauthorization Bill

The Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) has sent Representative Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, a letter outlining community concerns with draft legislation being developed by the committee. The legislation, the Frontiers in Research, Science and Technology Act of 2013 would, among other things, reauthorize the programs of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). AIBS and nearly 90 other organizations signed the letter, including several AIBS member societies.

The multidisciplinary coalition of scientific organizations and universities expressed concerns about the lack of funding authorization levels for NSF in the bill. Past authorization bills have set explicit funding goals for the agency.

The letter also suggests revising a provision that 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. “We are concerned that the language as currently written in Section 104 is overly prescriptive, will add unnecessary burdens to the award process, and will not significantly increase public accountability and transparency beyond policies already being developed by the NSF,” stated the CNSF letter.

NSF would also be required to publish online a written justification for award funding. The letter calls for the legislation to be modified so that this information is released at the time of the public announcement of the award, not beforehand.

Additionally, the letter addresses the proposal for funding to be limited for scientists who have received more than five years of NSF support. “While we recognize that the [Science] committee is interested in ensuring that innovative ideas are supported during fiscally constrained times, we are concerned that many areas of long-term research that may take decades to reach fruition would not be supported if section 114(4) were to become statute.”

Read the complete letter at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20131220cnsffirst_act.html.

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Senators Propose Reforms to EPA's Science Advisory Board

A bipartisan pair of Senators recently introduced legislation that would reform the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) scientific review panels. “The EPA Science Advisory Reform Act” is sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Boozman (R-AR).

The bill would allow some industry-affiliated members on the Science Advisory Board (SAB) panels. The SAB panels are responsible for providing scientific assessments that justify EPA regulations. This has raised concerns by some environmental groups that these members could weigh in on regulations on which they have an interest. Others counter that an industry perspective has been lacking from the panels.

The bill would also make the scientific review panels more transparent. A list of nominees to serve on the panels would be publicly released and nominees would have to submit a public disclosure report. If enacted, the legislation would also provide more opportunities for public hearings and input.

Similar legislation passed the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee last spring.

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Senate Bill Resurrects Idea to Move NOAA to Interior

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has introduced legislation (S. 1836) to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Department of the Interior. If the reorganization proceeds, NOAA would become the largest agency within the Department of the Interior. The proposed change is part of a plan to consolidate the Department of Commerce, where NOAA is currently housed, with the Department of Labor.

“Duplicative programs cost the federal government staggering amounts of money every year,” Burr said in a statement. “The president has proposed merging and consolidating federal agencies several times over his two terms, and this bill advances that proposal. Combining offices with similar functions within these two agencies is a common-sense approach that reduces wasteful spending and would streamline our approach to comprehensive economic policy.”

President Obama has repeatedly asked Congress for the authority to reorganize federal agencies. Although past Presidents have held the power to restructure the Executive Branch, President Obama does not have this authority. Moving NOAA to Interior is one of the President’s expressed goals.

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Deadline Approaching: Graduate Student Science Policy Award

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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Now 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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Short Takes

  • Dr. France Cordova was approved to serve as director of the National Science Foundation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on 18 December 2013. Dr. Cordova was nominated to lead the science agency in July. Before Cordova can take office, the full Senate must approve her.

  • The National Institutes of Health has announced $40 million in research solicitations in support of President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Six new solicitations will provide research funding to inventory the types of cells in the brain and develop new tools to analyze neural circuits, among other topics.

  • The Department of the Interior’s regional Climate Science Centers have awarded nearly $7 million for climate research. The funding will support more than 50 studies on the impacts of climate change on natural resources. This information will be used by natural resource managers to plan climate adaptation activities.

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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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