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Public Policy Report for 3/16/2001

  • The budget: waiting for the other shoe to drop
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization
  • Revisiting the data release issue
  • Will the new data quality law muzzle government researchers?
  • HHS Office of Research Integrity suspends its new Policy on Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research

The AIBS Public Policy Report is distributed broadly by email every two weeks to AIBS membership leaders and contacts, including the President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Director, AIBS Council Representative, Journal Editor, Newsletter Editor, Public Policy Committee Chair, Public Policy Representative, and Education Committee Chair of all AIBS member societies and organizations (see the Membership Directories for contact information).

All material from these reports may be reproduced or forwarded. Please mention AIBS as the source; office staff appreciate receiving copies of materials used. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact the AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Robert Gropp [publ...@aibs.org; 202-628-1500 x250].


THE BUDGET: WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP - The Bush Administration's full, detailed budget is due to be released April 3. Office of Management and Budget staff maintain that there will be no change in the "top-line" figures given in the "blueprint budget" released in February, meaning that while funds may be shifted around within a Department or agency, the total allocations will remain as planned. Efforts by scientific organizations to persuade the Administration to increase the total funding available for both extramural and intramural scientific research have had some effect, but it is thought that the net result is that funds will be moved into scientific programs at the expense of other programs. For instance, at the Environmental Protection Agency, additional funding for research and development may come at the expense of regulatory functions, monitoring, or enforcement. It has been reported that members of Congress and staffers are concerned that the Administration's budget request for scientific research is inadequate; some have suggested that Congress will give the National Science Foundation a much larger increase than the Bush administration is apparently seeking.

ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT REAUTHORIZATION - After a rush by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to mark-up the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorizing legislation on March 7, the bill is now on hold. In fact, the bill will not be formally introduced until late April or early May, when the full Senate will consider it. Known as the Better Education for Students and Teachers Act (BEST), the bill includes two titles pertaining to professional development for teachers. The first applies to all teachers, while the second is specifically intended for science and math teachers. The K12 Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology Coalition (K12SMET) has prepared a statement identifying possible areas of concern about the draft legislation and suggesting ways to improve the legislation. AIBS, as a member of that coalition, is studying the legislation with aid from AIBS member society National Association of Biology Teachers Executive Director Wayne Carley and Education Director Kathy Frame.

REVISITING THE DATA RELEASE ISSUE - Last year, the Office of Management and Budget issued the final revisions to Circular A110 to implement the "Shelby Amendment" the provision in the 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act that required the release of all data produced in federally-funded research if requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While Congress is apparently not planning to revisit this law, scientists continue to explore its ramifications on their work. At a March 12 meeting at the National Academy of Sciences entitled Seeking Access to Research Data in the 21st Century: An Ongoing Dialogue Among Interested Parties, panelists considered the need for data release. They concurred that when public policy is based on scientific studies, the data should be available for review and reassessment, to guard against fraud and to validate the findings. However, most felt that FOIA was not the appropriate device for the sharing of data for these purposes. Instead, they suggested various sharing mechanisms with appropriate safeguards to protect the identity of human medical subjects, to prevent harassment of researchers, and to protect the proprietary interests of the researchers. If the goal is to permit validation of research findings, then access by the general public as permitted by FOIA - is not served by the Shelby law. David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that the new rules apply only to nonprofit organizations. Data and research findings submitted to federal agencies by private corporations is not subject to this new law. Therefore, the goal of assuring that policy is based on sound science is not fully served by the Shelby law.

WILL THE NEW DATA QUALITY ACT MUZZLE GOVERNMENT RESEARCHERS - At the National Academies meeting on data release, Jim Tozzi of the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness spoke of the new Data Quality Law enacted by Congress as part of the FY2001 Consolidated Appropriations Act. This new provision requires OMB to develop government-wide standards for the quality of information used and disseminated by the federal government, with such standards to be completed not later than September 30, 2001. OMB must also include a mechanism through which the interested public can petition agencies to correct information which does not meet the OMB standard. Congress has provided for broad input in developing the Data Quality standard, mandating that OMB shall seek "public and Federal agency involvement." In implementing the Data Quality provision, the Act directs OMB to issue guidelines for Data Quality which define four key terms "quality," "objectivity," "utility," and "integrity"-- and for other federal agencies to issue their own conforming guidelines within one year of the issuance of the OMB guidelines. In addition, agencies are to report periodically to the Director of OMB regarding the number and nature of Data Quality complaints received by the agency and how such complaints were handled. While the law does not prohibit agencies from disseminating information that does not meet agency or OMB standards, it is likely that the data quality reviews will delay dissemination of information and could lead to the suppression of information. AIBS will closely monitor the development of these regulations to be sure that they do not limit the ability of government scientists to share information through academic journals or otherwise; we are concerned that the judgment of non-experts or even non-scientists will prevent the dissemination to the public of scientific information.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES OFFICE OF RESEARCH INTEGRITY SUSPENDS ITS NEW POLICY IN THE RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT OF RESEARCH - On Feb. 5, the Public Health Service's Office of Research Integrity (ORI) received a Congressional inquiry raising concerns about the "PHS Policy on Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research" that was announced on Dec. 1, 2000. The letter from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce stated that it strongly supported federal efforts to encourage responsible and ethical scientific research practices, but that the Committee was troubled by ORI's process in implementing such efforts. The Committee was concerned that a policy aimed at improving the ethics of those outside government may have been issued by a government agency in apparent disregard of federal law, including the public notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. Neither the texts of the proposed policy nor the final policy were never published in the Federal Register, as required by the APA. Instead, ORI announced the existence of the policy on its website through a document in the Notice section of the Federal Register. In response, ORI announced that the policy would be suspended while it was under review. A notice of the suspension (http://ori.dhhs.gov/) was posted on the ORI website on Feb. 20 and submitted for publication in the Federal Register. That Congressional inquiry can be found at www.house.gov/commerce/letters/02052001.htm. The ORI policy can be viewed at http://ori.hhs.gov/html/programs/rcrcontents.asp. Note that while the policy would directly affect only those receiving Public Health Service funding, it would likely be followed by other federal funding agencies as well.


 


The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association headquartered in Washington DC, with a staff of approximately 30. It was founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences and has been an independent organization since the mid-1950s, governed by a Board of Directors elected by its membership. The AIBS membership consists of approximately 6,000 biologists and 80 professional societies and other organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 240,000 biologists. AIBS is an umbrella organization for the biological sciences dedicated to promoting an understanding of the natural living world, including the human species and its welfare, by engaging in coalition activities with its members in research, education, public policy, and public outreach; publishing the peer-reviewed journal, BioScience; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening scientific meetings; and performing administrative and other support services for its member organizations.


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