Bookmark and Share

Public Policy Report for 5/4/2000

Critical period for research funding; scientists' input needed on Capitol Hill by May 23- Congress returns from spring recess and turns its attention to the Fiscal Year 2001 budget. The "mark up" for the subcommittee bill that includes NSF (Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies) is scheduled for May 23. The mark up is the subcommittee's distribution of the funds allocated to it for the agencies under its jurisdiction. The subcommittee mark up is generally quite influential, and it is not uncommon for the full Appropriations Committee to accept the subcommittee mark up without making substantial changes.

The proposed federal budget for scientific research, with special emphasis on NSF, has met a warm reception on Capitol Hill from both parties. The words are supportive, but the actions are still tied up in election-year budget wrangles that are decidedly partisan. The time prior to May 23 is, therefore, an important window-of-opportunity for scientists to express their support for the Administration's proposed NSF budget that was sent to the Hill several weeks ago (calling for a 17.3% increase, see below for details).

Please consider writing to your representatives as well as to the VA-HUD-IA subcommittee to ask that they appropriate the full amount to NSF as requested by the Administration. The House subcommittee members are: Walsh, DeLay, Hobson, Knollenberg, Frelinghuysen, Wicker, Northrup, Sununu, Mollohan, Kaptur, Meek, Price, and Cramer. The Senate subcommittee members are: Burns, Shelby, Craig, Hutchison, Kyl, Mikulski, Leahy, Lautenberg, Harkin, and Byrd. If your representative is not on this subcommittee, write to ask that your representative express his or her support for the NSF budget request to the VA-HUD-IA subcommittee. You can use AIBS's online Legislative Information Center (in the Public Affairs section of to obtain contact information for members of Congress. Signed personal letters are much more effective than email.

One of the biggest factors influencing the difficult budget decisions that will be made in the next five weeks is constituent input. Members' staffs repeatedly stress the importance of communications from constituents in their decision-making process. This is particularly true during an election year.

Keep your letter short and to the point. State that you support the Administration's requested increase for the National Science Foundation in the amount of $675 million (a 17.3% increase) over FY00, bringing the NSF budget to a total of $4.572 billion and ask your representative to do the same. Explain that this requested increase, as well as the overall NSF budget, addresses the need for a balanced research portfolio. Call for Congress to support all scientific research within NSF's mandate--it is counterproductive play favorites by special pleading for your own subdiscipline of biology.

Over the past several decades, funding for biomedical research has increased steadily while funding for the nonbiomedical life sciences and physical sciences have remained constant. Recently, funding for technology has increased substantially (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Report XXV: Research and Development FY2001). Throughout the 1990s, NSF received little or no increase, with the exception of FY99 and FY00. The proposed FY01 budget for NSF will help to correct these imbalances.

The NSF, the only federal agency whose primary mission is the support of fundamental scientific research, is critical to the total research and development enterprise of the United States. Federal support for R&D has played a major role in the longest sustained economic growth in this country's history. Alfred R. Berkeley, III, President of the NASDAQ Stock Market, Inc., has recognized this fact: "Historically, we have seen that discoveries made in science and engineering arenas have propelled our economy forward by paving the way for breakthroughs in technology that in turn spawn entirely new industries." Investments in basic research result in healthy economies and budget surpluses.

Basic research funded 25 years ago is the backbone of the scientific and technological advances we enjoy today, including the MRI, Doppler radar, the internet, artificial organs, improved crop yields, and improved environmental hazard prediction. The basic research we fund today will lead to equally important developments.

Close by noting that AIBS consists of more than 70 member societies and organizations with a total membership in excess of 150,000 biologists--and be sure to note your own credentials and affiliations!

More public land, more debate - With President Clinton's April 15 declaration of National Monument status for 355,00 acres of the Sequoia National Forest, Congressional protest of the use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect public lands from resource use and recreation rose a few decibels. Republican representatives George Radanovich and Bill Thomas, along with Democratic representative Calvin M. Dooley, proposed legislation to stall the designation. The bill, which became moot when Clinton signed the Executive Order designating the area as a National Monument, was known as the Giant Sequoia Groves Protection and Management Act of 2000 (H.R. 4021), sought an 18-month National Academy of Sciences study to determine the best scientific method for the long-term protection of the rare groves. Other congressional representatives opposed H.R. 4021, including Rep. George Miller (D-California) who introduced legislation to provide permanent protection for the Sequoia forests using the Sequoia National Park management practices. Livestock grazing, recreational use, existing timber sales will continue pending the development of a management plan by the USDA Forest Service in consultation with the National Academy of Sciences. Clinton's 1996 designation of the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and subsequent use of the Antiquities Act, which bypasses the Congressional oversight and approval required for the creation of new national parks and wilderness areas, has prompted lawmakers, especially those in western states with large percentages of federal lands, to introduce legislation that would crimp the president's authority under the Antiquities Act. A bipartisan compromise stemming from Rep. Jim Hansen's (R-Utah) bill, H.R. 1487, aimed at guaranteeing public notification of potential monument designations, passed the House by an overwhelming margin last year and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, despite calls for a tougher bill. A recently introduced measure, H.R. 4121, from Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), would amend the Antiquities Act to say that "no land may be designated as a national monument under this section by the same president more than once," and impose other limitations.

Endangered species in Canada - Canada's first national endangered species legislation was introduced in the House of Commons on April 11 by Environment Minister David Anderson. The proposed Species at Risk Act (SARA, C-33) provides the authority to prohibit the destruction of endangered or threatened species and their critical habitat on all lands in Canada. Currently, Canada addresses endangered species issues through an interprovincial agreement known as the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. The Act will, for the first time, legally recognize the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and provide for rigorous, independent and public scientific assessments. In 1999, COSEWIC's central role in identifying species at risk was threatened when proposals were made to remove independent scientists from the committee and to give that authority to representatives appointed by the provincial governments, without any requirement of scientific expertise. Although that proposal was defeated, concerns were raised that the new legislation would likewise assign responsibility for the designation of species in need of protection to nonscientists. The legislation requires that each member of COSEWIC is to "have expertise drawn from a discipline such as conservation biology, population dynamics, taxonomy, systematics or genetics or from community knowledge or aboriginal traditional knowledge of the conservation of wildlife species." It further allows the COSEWIC specialist subcommittees to include persons who are not members of COSEWIC. The bill states that COSEWIC is to "carry out its functions on the basis of the best available information, including scientific knowledge, community knowledge, and aboriginal traditional knowledge." These provisions leave open the possibility that COSEWIC's decisions may be made on or influenced by factors other than an scientific assessment of the status of a species.


back to Public Policy Reports

Bookmark and Share