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Public Policy Report for 7 April 2014

133 Representatives Sign Letter in Support of NSF

Thanks to action by scientists and educators across the nation, thirty percent of U.S. Representatives signed a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter in support of increasing funding for the National Science Foundation in fiscal year 2015.

The bipartisan letter, led by Congressmen G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV), requested that the House Appropriations Committee provide $7.5 billion for NSF next year, a 4.6 percent increase over the 2014 enacted budget. President Obama’s budget request included a 1.2 percent increase for NSF, but proposes $12.8 million in cuts to the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

See the complete list of Representatives who signed the letter at http://butterfield.house.gov/press-releases/butterfield-and-mckinley-push-for-full-funding-of-the-national-science-foundation/.

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AIBS Provides Testimony to House, Asks for New Funding for NSF

On 31 March 2014, the American Institute of Biological Sciences requested that the House Appropriations Committee provide $7.5 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year 2015.

“The budget request for FY 2015 will flat line investments in foundational research at a time when other nations are accelerating their commitments to science,” states the testimony. The President’s budget request would cut $1.5 million from the Research and Related Activities account, which funds the various research directorates, including Biological Sciences. Coupled with an anticipated 1.7 percent increase in inflation, NSF research funding would significantly decline next year.

“The scientific community recognizes that current fiscal conditions have necessarily constrained federal funding, but NSF is a sound investment that pays dividends.”

Read the testimony at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20140331nsffy2015_house.html.

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DARPA Creates Biotechnology Office

The military’s research and development division, DARPA, has announced plans to establish a Biological Technologies Office. The program will handle all existing and future biotech research and development for the Pentagon.

“Biology is nature’s ultimate innovator, and any agency that hangs its hat on innovation would be foolish not to look to this master of networked complexity for inspiration and solutions,” DARPA director Arati Prabhakar told the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities last month.

The new office will design “next-generation technologies that are inspired by insights gained from the life sciences,” according to an agency press release. The program will focus on multiple scales, from individual cells to organisms to entire communities.

The initial research focus will be on developing new therapies for addressing current and emerging threats to military personnel health, harnessing biological systems in developing new products, and applying biological complexity at scale.

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EPA Science a Bright Spot in Agency Budget Request

President Obama’s budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would continue the downward trend of the agency’s budget. Spending at EPA would decline by nearly 4 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2015. The anticipated staffing level is 14 percent lower than a decade ago. Funding for science and technology programs, however, would increase by $4.6 million (+0.6 percent).

Within the Office of Research and Development, funding for research for sustainable and healthy communities—a program that includes some ecosystem research—would decline to $144.1 million (-7.0 percent). EPA proposes to repurpose $7.8 million in funding from ongoing, but unspecified, research to develop decision-support tools for communities on the issues of ecosystem services, contaminated sites, pollution and environmental justice, and beneficial use of sustainable materials. An additional $1.3 million is proposed for development of tools to examine the impacts of climate change adaptation on ecosystem goods and services in at-risk communities. A savings of $4.4 million is projected from workforce attrition and other programmatic efficiencies.

Research on safe and sustainable water resources would increase by 2.8 percent. Despite an overall increase in this programmatic area, some research programs would have less funding in FY 2015. One area targeted for reduction is water quality research on combined sewer overflows and wastewater systems. Additionally, $1.3 million would be saved by reducing ocean monitoring activities through “strategic targeting” of ocean dumpsites.

A proposed $4.3 million increase would allow the EPA to expand its work with the Department of Energy and United States Geological Survey to understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water quality and aquatic ecosystems. The agencies are currently studying the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

Increased funding would be available for research addressing climate change and improving air quality (+$7.0 million), including an additional $1.0 million for research on the environmental and human health impacts of biofuels.

Within the area of chemical safety and sustainability, $2.5 million in new funding would be used to apply novel methods to monitor chemical stressors in the Great Lakes and to increase research on the environmental fate and transport of nanomaterials. A savings of $1.2 million would be achieved by delaying planned activities to develop biological systems to test the effects of chemicals on human health without using animal models.

The budget would be zeroed out for EPA’s Science to Achieve Results graduate fellowships and Greater Research Opportunities undergraduate fellowships. The proposed $11.1 million decrease would facilitate the Administration’s consolidation of STEM education programs.

The budget for environmental education would once again be eliminated, however, EPA asserts that it is not ending the program. Instead, the agency would pursue a decentralized approach “in order to focus limited resources on integrating environmental education activities into existing environmental programs.” The education program was funded at $8.7 million in FY 2014.

The EPA Science Advisory Board would receive an additional $1.0 million (+19.7 percent) to conduct peer reviews and host meetings.

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Increased Funding Proposed for NOAA Research

In the President’s budget, funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would increase by 3.2 percent to $5.5 billion. Although the trend of escalating procurement costs for weather and climate satellites continues, funding would also rise for many research and natural resource management activities.

The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would see a sizeable increase next year. At $462.2 million, the budget request represents a 7.4 percent increase. The largest increase would be directed to climate research. Research on ocean acidification would jump 148 percent. Proposed cuts include 7.6 percent from ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes research and a 6.7 percent cut from the National Sea Grant College Program, funds that previously supported competitively awarded research.

The FY 2015 budget proposes increased funding for the National Ocean Service (+2.9 percent). In addition to supporting new investments in coastal management, a large increase is proposed for competitively awarded research to address coastal ocean issues including harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and coastal ecosystem management (+$6.0 million).

Funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service would decline by $79.5 million (-8.0 percent). Protected species and fisheries research and management would benefit from small increases in funding.

NOAA proposes to make a smaller contribution to education programs. Competitive education grants would be terminated (-$3.6 million), as would regional watershed education programs (-$7.2 million). NOAA would contribute $2 million in new funding to help NSF and the Department of Education to translate NOAA science into educational materials and strategies.

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Forest Service Research Funding Would Decline in FY 2015

The FY 2015 budget request proposes that funding for Forest Service research should decrease by 6.0 percent to $275.3 million, whereas the agency’s overall budget would decline by 2.6 percent. The Forest and Rangeland Research division would lose 114 employees as a result.

Forest Service research provides scientific information and new technologies to support sustainable management of the nation’s forests and rangelands. These products and services increase basic biological and physical knowledge of composition, structure, and function of forest, rangeland, and aquatic ecosystems. The agency is currently focused on seven research priorities: forest disturbances, forest inventory and analysis, watershed management and restoration, bioenergy and biobased products, urban natural resources stewardship, nanotechnology, and localized needs research.

All research program areas are targeted for budget cuts. Six of the seven research areas would be cut by 8 percent, including invasive species; wildlife and fish; water, air, and soil; wildland fire and fuels; resource management and use; and recreation R&D. The inventory and monitoring R&D account would be cut by only 1 percent.

Some priority research programs would be continued through reallocation of funds. Research on the introduction and spread of non-native species would be supported by eliminating some research on established species. In the resource management account, research on cellulosic ethanol, urban wood waste, pinyon-juniper restoration, and hardwood tree regeneration would be de-emphasized. Capacity for research and partnerships on wildlife and fish research would continue at a reduced level in some regions.

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USGS Ecosystems Would Benefit from President's Budget Request

The budget for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) would increase by 4.0 percent in FY 2015, if the President’s budget request were enacted by Congress. The $1.1 billion proposed funding level is $41.3 million higher than the current level.

The Ecosystems activity within USGS would receive an increase of 6.0 percent to $162.0 million. The new funding would be distributed across all six programmatic areas: Status and Trends (+2.2 percent); Fisheries (+6.6 percent); Wildlife (+0.8 percent); Environments (+3.6 percent); Invasive Species (+34.9 percent); and the Cooperative Research Units (+6.8 percent). Asian carp eradication and control would continue to be a priority. Additionally, a $2.0 million increase would support efforts to integrate ecosystem services frameworks into decision-making.

The proposed budget for the USGS includes an increase of $17.1 million above the FY 2014 enacted level for climate and land use change science. The Climate Science Centers would receive new funds for grants to support applied science on resource management and biological carbon sequestration. An increase of $2.3 million is proposed to support coordination with other federal agencies and to make scientific results and products available online. Three million would be spent on research on drought impacts and adaptive management.

The Water Resources activity would be funded at $210.4 million (+$3.1 million). Increased funding would be directed to groundwater monitoring and the streamgage network.

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AIBS Launches 4th Annual Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Biological research is transforming our society and the world. Help the public and policymakers better understand the breadth of biology by entering the Faces of Biology Photo Contest. The competition is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the contest must depict a person, such a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The depicted research may occur outside, in a lab, with a natural history collection, on a computer, in a classroom, or elsewhere.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The contest ends on 30 September 2014 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Research Council is seeking nominations for a committee that will review issues regarding genetically engineered crops, such as food safety and environmental and social issues. Potential committee members may be academics, government employees, and individuals from nongovernmental organizations or industry. To submit a nomination, send the nominee's name, affiliation, and a brief statement of expertise to GEcrops@nas.edu by 11 April 2014.

  • Dr. Simon Levin, a professor at Princeton University, has been awarded the 2014 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement for his research that revealed the multifaceted relationships between species and ecosystems. His work has played a foundational role in shaping environmental policy. Levin is a past recipient of the AIBS Distinguished Scientist Award.

  • The 2015-16 Fulbright Core U.S. Scholar Program is now open. The program offers teaching, research, or teaching/research awards in more than 125 countries. Opportunities are available for college and university faculty and administrators, as well as for professionals, artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers, independent scholars and many others. There will be at least 71 awards available in the field of biological science. The application deadline for most awards is 1 August 2014. U.S. citizenship is required. For other eligibility requirements and detailed award descriptions visit http://www.cies.org/us_scholars/us_awards/ or contact scholars@iie.org.

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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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