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Public Policy Report for 3/9/2000


Science funding: going to Capitol Hill with the wind in our sails - Many of you have heard by now that the President's Budget Request for fiscal year 2001 seeks a gratifying 17.3% increase for the National Science Foundation. The additional $675 million would bring the total NSF budget to $4.68 billion. Nearly half the increase would fund core activities including an additional $96.71 million to the Directorate for Biological Sciences; $355 million would go to specific initiatives, including an additional $86 million for the Biocomplexity in the Environment initiative. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) effort would receive $12 million for purchase of major research equipment and additional funding for development and research under the aegis of the Interagency Science for Ecosystem Challenges initiative. Awards would increase in size by about 10%.

In her testimony to the House Subcommittee on Basic Research, NSF Director Rita Colwell stated that this record increase would not permit NSF to increase further the size and length of grants within NSF. She said that she would like to see NSF grants up to par with NIH grants, which have a median of $250,000 over four years. Dr. Colwell explained that the current request increases grants to a median of $108,000 over three years but that more is needed.

The trick, of course, is to persuade Congressional appropriators that these requested increases should be met. The President has proposed that the budget cap agreement reached in 1997 be modified to allow discretionary spending to rise. If the current caps are adhered to, spending would have to be cut by nearly 10%. Of course, the caps were exceeded by nearly $55 billion last year, so there is reason to believe that they will have only limited effect this year, too.

On February 29th, AIBS Executive Director Richard O'Grady attended a budget meeting at the White House convened by former NSF Director Neal Lane, now President Clinton's Science Advisor, and John Podesta, the President's Chief of Staff. The meeting assembled the leadership of national scientific associations to rally support for the President's FY2001 budget requests for scientific, engineering, and technical research. The attendees, in turn, expressed their members' appreciation of the Presidents' funding initiatives and general support. The month of March 2000 is seen as an important time for the fate of the FY2001 budget with respect to committee work in the current Congressional session.

The messages conveyed at the Lane/Podesta meeting that are intended to increase broad-based support for science among the American public--and therefore Congress--in the current climate of economic prosperity include: (1) because different areas of scientific activity are becoming ever so interconnected and complementary (e.g., NSF's Biocomplexity initiative), and because Congress and the general public tend to view science as a single cohesive enterprise, scientists from one discipline (e.g., biology) should be seen to support other scientific disciplines (chemistry, physics, etc.) as vigorously as they do their own--i.e., a rising tide lifts all boats; (2) scientists should better demonstrate the causal links between noteworthy instances of human benefit from advances in applied scientific research with the requisite long-term support of basic scientific research; (3) scientists should become more involved with their local print and broadcast media via letters and editorials--the forthcoming AIBS online Media Guide will facilitate making these connections; scientists should also visit their local elected representatives in their home districts; and (4) scientists should explain and defend science to Congress and the general public not in terms of ivory-tower detachment and special claims to knowledge, but in broader and more fundamental terms of freedom of inquiry, individual initiative, openness, accountability, and improvement of the human condition--i.e., in terms that will have resonance with voting constituents.

AIBS is one of many scientific organizations that work together with the Coalition for National Science Funding, which is about to release a statement urging the Congress to support an
increase of at least the amount requested by the administration. The CNSF believes that it is
important for Congress to sustain adequate expansion of the NSF budget over the next five years in order to reach the agency's budget goal of $10 billion. The statement emphasizes the contributions of NSF-funded research to the nation's economic growth and in developing a strong foundation for the most dynamic and innovative science and technology enterprise in the world.

At the Department of the Interior, the requested increase of $895.4 million (10%) for the U.S. Geological Survey is the largest ever requested, but on closer analysis, research funding would not fare as well as these figures might suggest. The proposed 13.6% ($22 million) increase for the Biological Resources Division leaves the organization's budget more than $20 million dollars below 1994 levels (adjusted for inflation). Only $15 million of this amount would actually go to research, including a $1.4 million increase for amphibian research and monitoring, $6.5 million for Department of Interior Science Priorities (such as strategies for ecosystem restoration, ecosystem monitoring protocols, declining and at-risk species, and impacts of invasive species), $1 million for fish and wildlife disease (primarily for West Nile Virus), and $700,000 for full staffing of the Cooperative Research Units. The National Biological Information Infrastructure would receive an increase of $4 million to establish information nodes to provide access to information on high priority topics such as invasive species, Pacific salmon, and amphibians.

The next AIBS report will look at funding for research in the proposed budget for the Department of Agriculture, including the USDA Forest Service.

Support for NSF from the scientific community - The CNSF media campaign to recognize NSF's 50th anniversary is gaining momentum with pledges and contributions totaling more than $10,000, including several hundred dollars from AIBS member societies and organizations. AIBS hopes that its member societies and organizations will contribute a total of at least $2,000 to this campaign. Contributions (we are suggesting $50 per society) should be made payable to CNSF but mailed to Ellen Paul at AIBS (1444 Eye Street, N.W., Suite 200, Washington, D.C.20005). AIBS is also beginning to plan for CNSF's annual Exhibit Day on Capitol Hill. The May 17 event will give scientific societies an opportunity to showcase to Congress the research that has been accomplished with NSF funding. This year, AIBS is planning to spotlight the Biocomplexity in the Environment initiative and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

Congressional Visits Day The Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group, a network of more than 60 professional, scientific, and engineering societies, higher education associations, and trade associations spanning a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including mathematics, physical sciences, life sciences, and a host of technologies, sponsors this annual event, scheduled this year for April 4 - 5 (see the CVD website: http://www.agiweb.org/cvd). AIBS members will be participating in this annual event, which gives members of Congress an opportunity to learn more about the value of scientific research from scientists from their own districts and states. Participants from a wide array of scientific disciplines attend a day of briefings from administration officials, learn how to communicate with Congress, and visit with their Congressional delegations. All participants deliver a common message that the federal investment in science and technology is vital to the future of our Nation's people and economy and that the science and technology partnerships between government, universities, and industries mean progress, economic growth and jobs. Although these messages are nonsectarian, participants illustrate these themes with examples from research in their own disciplines.

AIBS to participate in USGS "listening session" - The US Geological Survey has scheduled two days of listening sessions to obtain input on its future activities. The sessions, which will be held on March 22 and 23 are intended to give users of earth and life science data and research to
share their views on future science directions of the USGS. Many scientific organizations, including AIBS, are taking advantage of this opportunity to suggest research priorities for USGS. In order to best represent the views of AIBS member societies and organizations, we would like to hear your views on this topic. Please send your comments by e-mail to epaul@aibs.org.

Congressional news of interest to members - Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act (S.2080) which would amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act to require that food containing a genetically engineered material, or food produced with a genetically engineered material, must be labeled accordingly. It would also authorize $5 million in FY2001 for research into health and environmental risks associated with genetically engineered materials and/or foods containing or produced with such materials. The bill has been referred to the Agriculture Committee. It so far has no cosponsors. A similar bill (H.R. 3377) has been introduced in the House by Dennis Kucinich (DOH).


 


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