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Public Policy Report for 5 May 2014

House Advances Bill to Fund NSF at $7.4 Billion

A bill to fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.4 billion in 2015 passed by voice vote from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science last week. If enacted, the plan would provide NSF an additional $237.3 million above the fiscal year (FY) 2014 level. The proposed funding level is $154 million higher than President Obama requested for NSF in FY 2015.

The House bill would provide a three percent increase for NSF’s Research and Related Activities. This budget account funds the various research directorates at NSF, including the Biological Sciences Directorate. This is about $170 million more than the agency’s FY 2015 budget request.

Funding for Education and Human Resources would grow by 3.5 percent, less than the 5.1 percent increase proposed in the President’s budget request. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would be funded at the requested level of $200.8 million.

The House bill would also fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At $5.3 billion, the proposed funding level is roughly the same as the FY 2014 enacted level.

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Senators Extol the Value of Federal Support for Research

On 29 April 2014, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on “Driving Innovation Through Federal Investments.” The hearing was well attended, with half of the thirty Senators who serve on the committee present at the three hour long event.

Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) noted that this was the first hearing held by the full Appropriations Committee this year, despite having held dozens of subcommittee meetings. The Senator remarked that innovation is a topic of national interest, as “the hallmark of our DNA has always been in discovery, entrepreneurship, and the protection of intellectual property.”

Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) spoke about the need to control growth in mandatory spending, which is crowding out investments in research.

Several Senators raised the issue of an innovation deficit and asked witnesses from federal science agencies about the impacts of budget austerity on innovation and the scientific workforce.

Another issue of concern was U.S. global competitiveness, especially since several Asian nations are expanding spending on research and development.

The leaders of several federal agencies testified at the hearing, including Dr. John Holdren of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. France Cordova of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Frances Collins of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Ernest Moniz of the Department of Energy, and Dr. Arati Prabhakar of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and more than one hundred other organizations submitted written statements ahead of the hearing. You may read the testimony provided by AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20140423_innovation.html.

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NSB Report Calls for Time Savers for Researchers

A new report from the National Science Board recommends reducing the administrative workload for federally funded scientists. The report, released last week, calls for limitations on proposal requirements and reporting in order to decrease the time researchers spend on paperwork. Principal investigators spend an average of 42 percent of their time on administrative tasks related to federally sponsored research projects.

“Regulation and oversight of research are needed to ensure accountability, transparency and safety,” said Arthur Bienenstock, chair of the task force that examined the issue. “But excessive and ineffective requirements take scientists away from the bench unnecessarily and divert taxpayer dollars from research to superfluous grant administration.”

The National Science Board recommends that federal agencies modify proposal requirements to only include information collection essential to evaluating the merit of the proposal and making a funding determination. Annual progress reports should be limited to research outcomes and should be appropriate to the size of the award.

“Reducing Investigators’ Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research” also addresses federal regulations. The regulatory burden could be eased for research involving human subjects and animals. The report also calls for safety and security requirements to be re-examined.

Another problem is different grant management requirements among federal agencies. The Board recommends that agencies “accelerate efforts to harmonize and streamline the grant proposal and submission processes and post-award requirements.”

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NSF Seeks Community Input on Genomes-Phenomes Research Frontiers

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a Wiki to seek community input on the grand challenge of understanding the complex relationship between genomes and phenomes. The Wiki is intended to facilitate discussion among researchers in diverse disciplines that intersect with biology, such as computation, mathematics, engineering, physics, and chemistry.

The Wiki format encourages open communication, captures new viewpoints, and promotes free exchange of ideas about the bottlenecks that impede progress on the genomes-phenomes grand challenge and approaches or strategies to overcome these challenges. Information provided through the Wiki will help inform BIO’s future research investments and activities relevant to understanding genomes-phenomes relationships.

To provide comments, ask questions and view input from and interact with other community members, first-time users should sign up for an account at https://extwiki.nsf.gov/signup.action.

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New Model Simulates Global Interactions of Organisms

A new open source technology will allow scientists to simulate how all organisms on Earth interact in a changing environment. The model, called Madingley, was developed by Microsoft Research and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Madingley can predict human impacts on a diverse range of marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

“Anthropogenic activities are causing widespread degradation of ecosystems worldwide, threatening the ecosystem services upon all life depends,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner. “Madingley is an exciting new technology which offers the scientific community and world leaders a vital tool to predict how unsustainable development pathways would affect the natural world.”

Learn more at http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001841.

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USDA Report Highlights Agency's Scientific Breakthroughs

Research supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) led to 180 new inventions in 2013, according to a new report released by the agency. Innovations included the development of antimicrobial packets that keep food from spoiling and new processes for turning grass clippings into bioenergy.

“Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research returns $20 to the economy. We have accelerated commercialization of federal research and government researchers are working closely with the private sector to develop new technology and transfer it to the marketplace,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “USDA has a proven track record of performing research that benefits the public.”

Read the report at https://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2UserFiles/Place/01090000/FY13_TT%20Ann%20Rpt%20.pdf.

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AIBS in the News: AIBS Policy Director Talks about Economic Returns from Life Science Research

The 23 April 2014, online edition of the Kansas City Star reports on a celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Johnson County Education Research Triangle in Kansas.

According to the paper, Kansans agreed to a one-eighth-cent sales tax in 2008, which financed the KU Cancer Center’s clinical research center, a part of the Johnson County Education Research Triangle.

During the Wednesday event, leaders from University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Johnson County reflected on the first five years of the research triangle, the tax that built it, and the impact on the county.

“Research triangles…leverage regional resources and we are seeing more of them sprouting up, especially in the life sciences,” said Robert Gropp, director of community programs for the American Institute of Biological Sciences. “Life science research is moving really quickly, and not any one university is going to have all the tools and the experts.”

Where research universities are forming partnerships and “sharing the commitment and making strategic investments, you start to see spinoffs, more employment opportunities, and incubation of knowledge,” Gropp said.

That’s what has happened when similar research triangles and corridors formed elsewhere in the country, said Gropp.

The complete article is available at: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/04/23/4977355/research-triangle-has-made-250.html.

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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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