In his fifth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama vowed to take action on his priorities despite congressional inaction on a suite of issues. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Although much of the speech focused on income inequality, the President did address science. Acknowledging global competition in innovation, the President called for the U.S. to maintain its lead. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” stated the President. “This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones. And that’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery.”
The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) applauded the President for discussing the importance of scientific research in his State of the Union address. “I appreciate the President’s call for renewed investment in our nation’s research enterprise. Scientific research spurs innovation and will grow our economy. Scientific research and quality science education have contributed immeasurably to our nation’s economic growth and quality of life,” said Dr. Joseph Travis, AIBS president and professor of biological science at Florida State University.
“The scientific community is up to the challenge. A sustained commitment from the government for investing in science is essential,” stated Travis in a statement released immediately after the speech.
President Obama also addressed climate change. In his remarks, he reiterated his administration’s position that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. “[T]he debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
To view the AIBS press release on the State of the Union, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/news/biologistsapplaudpresidentforstatementonscience.html#033758.
After three years of negotiations, a bipartisan compromise to reauthorize agriculture and nutrition policy has become law. On 7 February, President Obama signed the farm bill. A few days earlier, the Senate approved the legislation with the support of 68 Senators. H.R. 2642 passed the House of Representatives on 29 January with a vote of 251 Representatives in favor and 166 against.
Partisan fights over funding for food assistance to the poor, as well as subsidies to farmers held up the measure’s progress. The bill commits $956 billion over a decade. Although 80 percent of that total will be directed to nutrition programs, some funding is included for conservation efforts. Notably, farmers will have to follow basic conservation requirements in order to receive federal crop insurance subsidies on highly erodible land and wetlands. The $57 billion allocated for environmental conservation is $6 billion less than what was included in the last farm bill.
Opposition to the bill came from Democrats who thought the cuts to food stamps and conservation programs were too steep, as well as from Republicans who sought larger funding reductions and more stringent reforms of crop subsidies.
With respect to research, H.R. 2642 extends through fiscal year 2018 grants for university agricultural research, fellowships for food and agricultural sciences education, and grants for international agricultural science and education. To the dismay of some in the research community, the bill also requires the recipient of a competitive grant that involves applied research or extension and that is commodity- or state-specific to provide matching funds or in-kind contributions.
The legislation also includes a Senate provision that will create a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to promote public/private partnerships and investments in research.
The final bill does not include a provision from the House version of the legislation that would have supported research on and protection of pollinators.
The United States is still the global leader in science technology, at least for now, according to the newly released Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. For those who prefer to see the glass as half empty, China and other Asian nations have continued to make significant gains over the last decade that jeopardize U.S. predominance in science. The major Asian economies collectively perform more research and development (R&D) than the U.S.
“The first decade of the 21st century continues a dramatic shift in the global scientific landscape,” said National Science Board Chairman Dan Arvizu. “Emerging economies understand the role science and innovation play in the global marketplace and in economic competitiveness and have increasingly placed a priority on building their capacity in science and technology.”
In addition to global competitiveness, the report addresses trends in federal research funding from 2001 to 2011. During this time period, federal support for R&D increased by 34 percent after inflation; that figure does not reflect budget sequestration or budget cuts implemented over the past two years. An increasing share of federal funding was allocated for development, rather than for basic or applied research. Although most scientific fields have seen little variation in federal funding over a decade, the environmental sciences saw the largest decline (-23.1 percent).
The report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/. Tools that analyze trends in each state are expected in late February.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the creation of seven Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change. The hubs will translate scientific information so that farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners can better manage their resources and mitigate risk in a changing climate.
“This is the next step in USDA’s decades of work alongside farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to keep up production in the face of challenges,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “If we are to be effective in managing the risks from a shifting climate, we’ll need to ensure that our managers in the field and our stakeholders have the information they need to succeed. That’s why we’re bringing all of that information together on a regionally-appropriate basis.”
Hundreds of employees at regional offices for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be offered incentive packages to leave the agency as a result of ongoing budget cuts. Over the next few months, each regional office will develop plans for reducing the workforce through early retirements and buyouts, in which the worker would be offered $25,000 to leave. Agency officials hope to restructure the workforce by reducing some higher-paid positions in order to make way for more entry-level employees. The changes would also result in a smaller workforce.
Nominations are sought for experts to serve as advisors to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The U.S. government and other nations are collecting the names of scientists who could serve on expert panels. The Ecological Society of America, a member of AIBS, is soliciting names and will forward its nominations to the U.S. government.
Nominations are sought in the following areas:
IPBES is a global program intended to strengthen the role of science in decision-making related to the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The deadline to apply to ESA is 14 February 2014. Learn more at http://www.esa.org/esa/?page_id=10615.
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.
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.