Bookmark and Share


Public Policy Report for 30 June 2014

Senate Halts Consideration of Spending Package

After weeks of smooth sailing, the congressional appropriations process has hit metaphorical rocks. The Senate abruptly stopped consideration of a package of three spending bills when the political parties failed to reach an agreement on how to manage amendments to the bills.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) insisted that amendments had to gain at least 60 votes. Republicans countered that a simple majority of 51 votes should be the threshold. When no agreement was reached, the bills were pulled from the Senate floor.

Almost two weeks have passed since this dispute began.

The spending package would provide funding for fiscal year 2015 for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, and Transportation, as well as the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

Many policy experts see this development as a sign that this year’s appropriations process may not occur as smoothly as was hoped. Senior members of both parties had strived to return to regular order, where each of the twelve spending bills is debated, conferenced, and enacted prior to the start of the new fiscal year on 1 October 2014. For the past several years, Congress has been unable to complete this process on time, instead relying on a continuing resolution to keep the government operating until a catch-all omnibus is enacted.

link to this

Energy Appropriations Bill Advances in Congress

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have made progress on legislation to fund the Department of Energy in fiscal year 2015.

The House committee passed its bill on 18 June 2014. The House plan would flat fund the Office of Science, which is below the level requested by the President. Included is $540 million for the Biological and Environmental Research program. This is $70.2 million less than the 2014 funding level. Details on how the cuts would be allocated are not yet available.

The Senate bill would provide $5.1 billion for the Office of Science, which is $20 million more than the current level. After passing the bill from subcommittee, the Senate canceled a markup over concerns about possible amendments regarding climate change and clean water regulations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had threatened to offer an amendment that would have undermined a recent rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which proposed the rule, is not funded in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, leading some to question the appropriateness of the amendment.

“I can’t recall an amendment in the 21 years that I’ve been here that is so far outside the jurisdiction of this subcommittee — we don’t handle EPA,” said Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA).

link to this

EPA Transparency Bill Passes House Science Committee

A bill to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make its data more available passed the House Science Committee on a party line vote last week. HR 4012 would make the data underpinning EPA regulations more accessible to the public.

“The EPA’s regulatory process is both hidden and flawed,” said Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “Every major air quality regulation proposed by this administration has been justified by nontransparent data and unverifiable claims.”

The “Secret Science Reform Act” is sponsored by Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) and 46 Republican cosponsors.

Democrats objected to the bill on the grounds that the legislation would undermine the confidentially of public health data.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said that the bill would provide inappropriate access to data from studies conducted by the American Cancer Society and Harvard University.

“Since these studies involved hundreds of thousands of human volunteers who submitted sensitive personal health information to the researchers, the raw data is stringently protected from public disclosure,” Johnson said. “The EPA explained this to the chairman, but he nonetheless issued a subpoena to the EPA administrator to turn over data that EPA had no legal right to access and for which there are strict legal prohibitions against public disclosure.”

link to this

AIBS Releases New Science Advocacy Toolkit

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has launched a new website to help researchers participate in the development of the nation’s science policy. This free online resource is available at policy.aibs.org.

“AIBS has been a leader in its efforts to engage scientists in public policy,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis. “This new website continues this important work by making it easier than ever for researchers to be involved in the decision-making process.”

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

The Legislative Action Center is supported by AIBS, the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Botanical Society of American, and the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

Visit policy.aibs.org.

link to this

Recognizing Economic Impact, Shrinking Population, President Obama Announces Plan to Save Honey Bees

Timing his memorandum to coincide with National Pollinator Week, President Obama directed federal agencies to prioritize the health of honey bees and other pollinators in their research, land management, education, and public-private partnerships. Citing the economic value and declining population of pollinators, the President also created a new Pollinator Health Task Force, naming Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy as heads.

“Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States,” said the White House. However, the United States Department of Agriculture found that the number of managed honey bee colonies has dropped 58 percent nationwide since 1947. Citing this “significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies,” the memo stated that the health of pollinators is in need of “immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems.”

The key directive of the task force will be to create a national pollinator health strategy within 180 days. The strategy will include a research plan, proposal for public education, and recommendations for public-private partnerships to protect pollinators and their habitats.

The full Presidential Memo can be found at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-06-24/html/2014-14946.htm.

link to this

NSF Emphasizes Need for Clearly Defined Goals in Proposal Abstracts and Titles

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has updated its policy on grant titles and abstracts. Stating that the agency is “acting to ensure that our award Abstracts and Titles clearly convey to the public justification for our actions,” NSF will now place an emphasis on the need for the nontechnical component of the abstract to clearly define the need for the project.

NSF believes that clearly worded abstracts and titles will assist their goal of “improving public understanding of our funding decisions” and “ensuring that the broad areas of supported research… are aligned to the national interest, as defined by NSF’s mission, ‘to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare, to secure the national security and defense…’”

The need for researchers to clearly explain the purpose of their work has become more acute in recent years as conservative Republicans look to the NSF budget as a place to cut so called “wasteful spending.”

To that end, NSF is emphasizing the need for nontechnical portions of abstracts that clearly define “the theoretical or analytical foundation of the proposed research, the fundamental issues that may be resolved by the research, the project’s relation to NSF’s mission, the project’s place in the context of ongoing research in the field, the project’s impact on other fields, and the prospect that it will lead to significant advances or the integration of related lines of inquiry.”

link to this

Deadline Approaching to Register for the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits

The Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits is a national initiative is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

The 6th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected official to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office.

Participants will be prepared for their meeting with a lawmaker through an interactive training webinar. Individuals participating in this event will receive training on how to improve their communication skills and tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official. Information will also be presented about federal funding for biological research.

The event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, with the support of event sponsors Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Society for the Study of Evolution, and Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Participation is free, but registration will close on 13 July 2014. For more information and to register, visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

link to this

Short Takes

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has unanimously approved the nomination of Dr. Suzette Kimball to be director of the United States Geological Survey. Kimball is currently serving as acting director. Her nomination is subject to approval by the full Senate.

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) are collaborating to accelerate the process of moving biomedical innovations into the marketplace. The pilot program will bring NSF's I-Corps to NIH to help biomedical scientists become entrepreneurs.

  • NSF has published a letter to ensure researchers are aware of the many funding opportunities available for international and cross-disciplinary collaboration relating to the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. NSF is working with complementary programs such as the European Union's Human Brain Project to fund research on understanding the brain. The full letter and a list of available programs can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsf14082/nsf14082.jsp.

  • NSF has released a new toolkit that highlights the impact of the agency's investments in fundamental research and the resulting impacts. Resources include an animated video about NSF's merit review process and infographics about NSF's programs, funding, and impact. Access the toolkit at http://www.nsf.gov/about/congress/toolkit.jsp#overview.

link to this

Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

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 policy.aibs.org to get started.

link to this

back to Public Policy Reports

Bookmark and Share