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Public Policy Report for 24 March 2014

AIBS Report Analyzes President's Budget Request for Science

A new report from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) analyzes funding for biological research in President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2015. The President’s plan would provide $1.014 trillion for discretionary spending, the same level agreed to in the December 2013 Ryan-Murray budget accord.

Most federal science agencies would receive a small budget increase if the President’s budget request were enacted. The administration proposes $135.4 billion for federal research and development, an increase of 1.2 percent relative to the FY 2014 enacted level. This is less than the anticipated 1.7 percent increase in inflation, but higher than the 0.2 percent increase proposed overall for discretionary spending.

Download a free copy of the AIBS report on science funding in the President’s budget request at www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_report.html.

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Senate Confirms New Director of NSF

France Anne Cordova, Ph.D. was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) on 12 March 2014. She is the second woman and the first Latina to lead the agency. Cordova is an astrophysicist by training. She is a former president of Purdue University and previously served as chancellor of the University of California, Riverside. Cordova also served as NASA’s Chief Scientist and worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She chaired the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents and was a member of the National Science Board. The last director of NSF, Dr. Subra Suresh, left in 2013 to serve as president of Carnegie Mellon University.

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House Panel Advances NSF Reauthorization Bill

On 13 March 2014, the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology approved legislation to reauthorize the programs of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The “Frontiers in Research, Science and Technology Act of 2013” would set recommended funding levels for NSF for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. H.R. 4186 would also change a number of policies at NSF, including requiring certification of grants as fulfilling one of six broad goals and limiting support for scientists who have received more than five years of NSF support.

Democrats on the panel expressed concerns with several provisions of the law and offered more than a dozen amendments to improve the bill. About half of the amendments were agreed to by the subcommittee, including expanding the NSF master teaching fellowship to include computer science and funding a study on the role of university-based business incubators in economic development.

One of the major issues debated during the mark-up was funding levels for the various research directorates within NSF. At $150 million, the proposed authorization level for the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) is well below the current funding level of $257 million. Ranking member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) successfully offered an amendment to increase the authorization for SBE to $200 million, even though he noted that this was still inadequate. Lipinski also offered an amendment to strip directorate funding levels from the bill, but it was rejected by voice vote. Past NSF authorization laws have not included this level of detail for funding.

Subcommittee chairman Larry Buschon (R-IN), a sponsor of the bill, offered to work with Democrats to improve the legislation in regards to two other issues. One is the proposed cap on salaries for temporary staff who retain their university appointments during their tenure at NSF (aka ‘rotators’). The other issue is a new requirement for researchers to sign a statement that they will not misrepresent their research findings.

A group of 75 scientific organizations and universities, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, sent a letter to the committee to express “serious concerns” with the legislation. Read the full letter at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20140312firstact_markup.html.

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USDA Budget is Mixed Bag for Research

The FY 2015 budget request for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is $23.7 billion, a cut of $971 million. The President’s budget proposes $2.7 billion for research, education, and economics, an increase of 2.4 percent from than the FY 2014 level.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) partners with extramural academic institutions to conduct research, education, and extension activities. NIFA would receive $1.3 billion (+4.6 percent). The increase would be directed to research and education activities.

Within NIFA, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive $325 million for competitive extramural research grants. At this level, AFRI would receive a 2.8 percent budget increase. Major initiatives include research on climate change and proliferation of invasive species and diseases that affect crops and livestock; water resources; and sustainable bioenergy. The budget would also continue foundational research in priority areas and support for interagency collaborations.

Three new Innovation Institutes would be funded at $25 million each. Pollinator health, antimicrobial resistance, and a national network for bioproducts manufacturing innovation would be the foci of the institutes.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) conducts intramural research in the areas of natural and biological science. It would receive $1.1 billion in FY 2015, $18 million less than FY 2014. Funding for seven of the eight research areas would be cut; human nutrition is the only research mission that would receive a small increase. Research in support of environmental stewardship would be trimmed by 0.5 percent to $200 million. Support for research on pollinator health and prevention of colony collapse disorder would increase by $4 million.

The ARS budget would reallocate $44 million to develop more climate resilient agriculture production systems. Reallocated resources would also be used to support new investments in the development of new plant breeds and strains that better adapt to climate change, drought, and disease while increasing nutritional value and reducing environmental impact.

The administration is once again seeking to consolidate six existing ARS research facilities. Congress rejected this proposal in FY 2014.

Six agricultural research education programs would be consolidated into the Department of Education and NSF, including graduate and postgraduate fellowship grants.

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Modest Increase Proposed for NIH in FY 2015

The President’s budget proposes a $200 million (+0.7 percent) increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). About half of the budget would go towards research project grants ($16.2 billion; +$119.5 million). Intramural research would receive $3.4 billion, a 1.2 percent increase.

One hundred million (+$60 million) is proposed for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. This multi-agency initiative, which is in its second year, seeks to accelerate the development and application of tools to construct dynamic pictures of the brain that reveal how brain cells and neural circuits interact in real time to produce human behaviors. Funding for another overarching initiative, the Big Data to Knowledge initiative would roughly double to $88 million.

Funding for Research Project Grants (RPGs) would increase by 0.7 percent. The number of new RPGs would increase by 329 over last year (+3.7 percent). At the proposed funding level, the funding rate would not change from the current rate of 17 percent. The average size of grants would decrease by 6.6 percent. According to NIH, the decline is due to the anticipated award of several very large grants this year; in FY 2015 these grants will become non-competing and tie-up a larger share of funding.

Training programs would increase slightly. Stipend rates would grow by two percent. The proposed $767 million funding level would support 108 additional full-time positions.

NIH plans to save $2 million by holding more virtual peer review meetings. The agency estimates that is has saved $13 million a year by holding more electronic meetings, using NIH conference space instead of rented space, and other cost saving measures.

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Climate Research Would Benefit from Department of Energy's Budget Request

The Department of Energy Office of Science is slated to receive a 0.9 percent increase (+$44.8 million) in the President’s budget request. Funding for Biological and Environmental Research would grow at a rate of 3 percent to $628.0 million.

The Biological and Environmental Research program supports fundamental research and scientific user facilities to inform our understanding of complex biological, climatic, and environmental systems as they relate to energy.

Biological systems science would receive $299.9 million, a cut of $11.9 million. Most of this reduction would come from research on the radiological sciences. Funding for the metabolic synthesis and conversion program would decline by $3.2 million. Most other programs would be flat funded, including foundational genomics research, computational biosciences, bioenergy research centers, and structural biology infrastructure.

The Climate and Environmental Sciences program would benefit from an increase of $30.2 million, for a total of $328.1 million. The largest increase would be directed to climate model development and validation (+$29.0 million), which would incorporate finer resolution (less than 10 km) scale physics into climate models. The terrestrial ecosystem science program, which supports research on Arctic and tropical ecosystems, would lose nearly a million dollars (-2.1 percent). Subsurface biogeochemical research would increase by 5.9 percent.

The President’s budget request would provide $2.5 million for graduate research fellowships. This level would support an additional 30 awards. The computational sciences graduate fellowship would be eliminated (-$8.7 million).

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Now in BioScience: Congress Considers NSF Legislation

In the Washington Watch column in the March 2014 issue of the journal BioScience, Robert Gropp highlights congressional efforts to craft legislation to reauthorize the National Science Foundation.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

Beyond making appropriations to fund federal research programs, Congress is responsible for authorizing the activities and funding levels for federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). Last renewed by the America COMPETES Act reauthorization of 2010, the agency’s authorization is set to expire in 2015. In anticipation, Congress has started work on NSF reauthorization legislation.

Amid a sluggish national economy and concomitant contentious political debate about federal budget priorities, some in Congress have questioned in recent years what types of research the government should fund and, periodically, specific research projects. Therefore, as Congress considers the future of the NSF, the science policy community has prepared for potential battles.

Continue reading the article for free at http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/02/13/biosci.biu014.full.

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Short Takes

  • The Environmental Protection Agency's plans to scale down its workforce are progressing. The agency is on track to lose 539 employees by 4 April as a result of employee buyouts. EPA hopes to reduce its workforce to 15,000 by 2015; this is about 1,200 workers less than were employed in September 2013.

  • Nominations are sought to serve on the board of the new Foundation on Food and Agricultural Research. The non-profit was created in the 2014 farm bill. The deadline to apply is 7 April. Learn more at http://dels.nas.edu/global/banr/ffar.

  • The U.S. Geological Survey has launched the beta version of its new website: http://beta.usgs.gov/. The agency is seeking feedback on the new design. Click on "send feedback" at the bottom of any webpage to submit comments.

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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 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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