CONGRESS INUNDATED BY E-MAIL - The Washington Post reported on March 19 that Congressional offices are receiving 80 million e-mail messages a year. Senators receive as many 55,000 messages a month while House members receive as many 8,000. In a study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts entitled the Congress Online Project, which is designed to improve communications between members of Congress, the public, interest groups, and lobbyists, the e-mail deluge was blamed in part on "the indiscriminate practices of grass-roots lobbying organizations and companies that are spamming congressional offices with millions of e-mails that they cannot possibly respond to." Congressional offices routinely ignore these e-mails, especially because many come from outside their districts or states. The Congressional Management Foundation and George Washington University conducted the study, which also suggested that the Congressional offices set up special addresses for specific issues.
HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE APPROVES FY2002 BUDGET RESOLUTION - The Congressional budget committees annually propose funding levels for federal spending; these budgets purport to set upper limits for categories of spending. These limits are intended to limit actual spending by the Appropriations committees; in recent years, efforts to hold these lines have been unsuccessful. The House Budget Committee reported its FY2002 budget resolution on March 22; the full House passed the resolution on March 28.
The House budget closely followed the President's $1.96-trillion budget outline. For what is known as Function 250 or funding for General Science, Space, and Technology, the budget authority came to $22.2 billion, $1.2 billion, or 5.7 percent, above FY2001. The President proposed the same figure. The resolution assumes the President's proposal to give the National Science Foundation an increase of $56 million, or 1.2 percent, in FY2002. It also incorporates his proposals for a new, $200 million Math and Science Partnership and a $20-million expenditure on multidisciplinary mathematics research. The Briefing Points document, which offers rationales and addresses possible criticisms, states that the resolution envisions $45 million in NSF savings derived from "not renewing earmarked and lower-priority projects," and another $13 million in NSF savings from "not starting any new major facility projects in 2002." Report language states "The committee recognizes the importance of research in the physical sciences and engineering and will revisit these funding levels in the future to ensure that there are adequate resources in the science function." Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) twice offered an amendment to add $1 billion to the Function 250 budget authority but it was defeated along party lines.
House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), submitted comments regarding the National Science Foundation, saying that, "In fiscal 2001, NSF received a 14 percent increase, the largest dollar increase in its history, and some Members of Congress, on a bipartisan basis, have called for doubling NSF's budget over five years. President Ronald Reagan called for such a doubling in the 1980s. The Committee is concerned that the Budget Blueprint calls for only a miniscule increase in the NSF budget for FY 2002, and appears to cut funding for research grants and/or research equipment (even in current dollars). While the Committee understands that macroeconomic constraints may prevent NSF from increasing at last year's unprecedented rate, NSF should continue to grow in FY 2002 and future years. The Committee looks forward to working with the Administration, which has expressed support for NSF's mission and programs, to ensure that its funding is commensurate with its importance." Science Committee Democrats released a more critical statement that specifically calls for an increase of at least 15 percent in the NSF budget in FY2002.
Rep. James Walsh (R-NY), who chairs the VA-HUD-Independent Agencies appropriations committee told Syracuse University chancellor Kenneth Shaw and Association of American University President Nils Hasselmo that he believes the National Science Foundation budget has to increase more rapidly than President Bush has proposed. He said he had recently told Office of Management and Budget director Mitchell Daniels that the Administration's proposed NSF appropriation is "totally insufficient." However, Walsh expressed skepticism about doubling. He said the NSF doubling effort sounded too much like a "me too" attempt to mimic the National Institutes of Health doubling effort.
Chairman Walsh plans to circulate a "Dear Colleague" letter in the House advocating increases above the President's budget request for NSF. A similar letter has already been circulated by Science Committee members David Wu (D-OR), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Ralph Hall (D-TX). A version of this letter, including the signatures of 78 Democrats, was transmitted to House Budget Committee Chairman James Nussle (R-IA) earlier this week and another version will be transmitted to the President.
Both the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA are covered by Function 300 the natural resources and environment category, which also includes the USDA Forest Service and the EPA. The Committee's briefing book states that the $3.7 billion budgeted for the EPA is that agency's second highest budget ever. By providing an additional $20 million for implementation of the National Park Service's Natural Resource Challenge, the budget is intended to accelerate the NPS natural resource inventory, control non-native invasive species, and preserve endangered and threatened species on park lands. However, the budget says nothing about USGS funding or funding for the other Department of Interior natural resource and land management agencies. The House Science Committee Democrats expressed concern, saying, "What we are hearing about the treatment of research accounts at the Department of Energy and Interior also concerns us. The budget lacks much detail on these areas, but rumors of cuts up to 20 percent seem to be dominating the specialized press for these agencies." Like last year's CARA substitute, this budget plan would give $50 million in grants to the States to protect "imperiled species and their habitats." In addition, the House would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million (an increase of $356 million over FY2001).
The Department of Agriculture's overall funding is reduced by $1.5 billion, but the Committee counters that it was assuming that the very high level of emergency funding needed in FY2001 will not be repeated. No specific figure is given for the National Research Initiative or the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service's research programs, but the USDA is directed to provide new emphasis in key areas such as biotechnology, the development of new agricultural products, and improved protection against emerging exotic plant and animal diseases as well as crop and animal pests.
BOND AND MIKULSKI RENEW EFFORTS TO DOUBLE NSF FUNDING - The chairman and ranking member of the Senate VA/HUD appropriations subcommittee, Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), have again circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter supporting a doubling of the National Science Foundation budget over five years. Senators Bond and Mikulski are asking their Senate colleagues to cosign a letter to be sent to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Democratic Minority Leader Thomas Daschle advocating a doubling of the NSF budget over five years.
PLEASE WRITE OR CALL YOUR SENATORS AND URGE THEM TO COSIGN THIS LETTER TO SENATORS LOTT AND DASCHLE.
AIBS SUBMITS WRITTEN TESTIMONY TO HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON NSF FUNDING - Each year, some Congressional appropriations subcommittees offer the public an opportunity to testify on funding levels for the agencies and departments within their jurisdication. AIBS has submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD-Independent Agencies regarding funding levels for NSF. Like the submissions by other members of the Coalition for National Science Funding, we urged a 15% increase for NSF. Our testimony, which was submitted in written form, addressed the question often asked by Congressional staffers about why grant length needs to be extended. We explained that much biological and ecological research is inherently long-term research. Two NSF programs - Long-term Ecological Research Network and Long-term Research in Environmental Biology (LTERB)- recognize the need for sustained funding for biological research. The AIBS testimony noted that is often said that research awards need to be longer so that scientists won't have to spend all their time writing grant proposals. While we share this valid concern, the justification for longer grants in the biological sciences is actually scientifically appropriate. AIBS also stressed the importance of the Biocomplexity in the Environment Initiative and urged start-up funding for the National Ecological Observatory Network.
BUSH EDUCATION PLAN DEBUTS IN THE HOUSE AS H.R.1 THE NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT - On March 22, members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce today formally introduced President George W. Bush's education plan in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 1 - The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The House legislation, a comprehensive reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, reflects President Bush's efforts to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers and to work with states to push America's schools to be the best in the world. The measure, sponsored by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) and more than 70 original co-sponsors, would refocus federal efforts to close the achievement gap by giving states and local schools greater flexibility in the use of federal education dollars in exchange for greater accountability for results. The bill also includes a school choice "safety valve" for students trapped in chronically failing schools that fail to improve after three consecutive years of emergency aid; it opens to door to school voucher programs by establishing an Educational Opportunity Fund to demonstrate and research the effectiveness of school choice programs in improving the academic performance of disadvantaged students It also asks states and schools to begin annually testing public school students in reading and math every year in grades 3-8 through tests built on existing state tests or developed by the states within three years and prohibits federally sponsored national testing. The bill also allows states the flexibility of using the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or another assessment, selected by the state, that meets widely recognized professional and technical standards.
Like its Senate counterpart, Title II of the bill also authorizes teacher quality programs; subpart 2 establishes a math and science partnership program to improve the quality of teaching in these subjects. Funds would be distributed through competitive grants for states to join with institutions of higher education in strengthening K-12 math and science education. Partnerships will focus on strengthening the quality of math and science instruction in elementary and secondary schools and could include such activities as making math and science curricula more rigorous, improving math and science professional development, and attracting math and science majors to teaching. At the same time, the bill also consolidates and streamlines the Eisenhower Professional Development program and the Class Size Reduction program to provide states and local schools additional flexibility in the use of these funds in exchange for increased accountability for results.
The bill would eliminate Goals 2000 from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Goals 2000 law, enacted by the 103rd Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1994, established educational goals for for education reform; promoted research, consensus building, and systemic changes needed to ensure equitable educational opportunities and high levels of educational achievement for all students; provided a framework for reauthorization of all Federal education programs; and promoted the development and adoption of a voluntary national system of skill standards and certifications; and for other purposes.
NEW PCAST CHAIR NAMED - National Semiconductor founder Floyd Kvamme was named today as the new co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). He replaces former co-chair Neal Lane. The President did not mention an appointment to the role of Science Advisor, also vacated by Dr. Lane. The Science Advisor serves as the other co-chair of PCAST. Since March 1984, Floyd Kvamme has been a Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a high technology venture capital firm. He is responsible for the development of high technology companies from early start-up to publicly trade phase; he serves on the boards of a number of high-tech companies. Mr. Kvamme is Chairman of Empower America, a Washington based issue advocacy organization. He also serves as Chairman of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics Advisory Board at Santa Clara University and on the Executive Committee of The Technology Network. He holds two degrees in Electrical Engineering; a Bachelor's from the University of California at Berkeley and a Master's from Syracuse University. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, (R-NY), today made the following statement on the appointment of Floyd Kvamme to co-chair the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST): "I am very pleased with the President's appointment of Floyd Kvamme to co-chair PCAST. The scientific community will no doubt benefit from his impressive background in technology issues and close relationship with the President. With expertise in both the technological and financial sides of science policy, Mr. Kvamme possesses all the necessary qualifications to be a successful co-chair. PCAST plays a very important role in developing science and technology and I am anxious to begin working with Mr. Kvamme. The appointment of Mr. Kvamme also represents a significant step in the development of the President's science team. I look forward to working with the Administration in the coming weeks as they continue to assemble the team."
REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D-TX) READIES NSF REAUTHORIZATION BILL - The 106th Congress adjourned without passing reauthorizing legislation for the National Science Foundation. Now, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has drafted legislation that she plans to introduce in the House before the spring recess. It would authorize annual increases of 15% for each of the next five years. The specific authorizations include funding for the first three years of the National Ecological Observatory Network. The draft also directs NSF to assess the effectiveness of its pre-college and undergraduate programs aimed at increasing the numbers of individuals from underrepresented groups who enter science, mathematics, or engineering careers, identify what works and why, and develop recommendations for research required to improve NSF's assessments of program effectiveness. It also calls on NSF to scale-up and replicate the successful programs.
ARKANSAS ANTI-EVOLUTION BILL DEFEATED, MAY BE REINTRODUCED - On March 5, HB 2548 was introduced in the Arkansas legislature. On March 21, the bill was heard in committee. This particular bill introduced an interesting twist: it would make it illegal for the state or any of its agencies to use state funds to purchase materials that contain false or fraudulent claims. A list of such claims is provided in the text of House Bill 2548 (HB2548). Much of the text of those examples is either quoted verbatim from anti-evolutionary sources or is a close paraphrase of such materials. These examples include the following:
- Archaeopteryx as a missing link; (ii) An X-ray resonance spectrograph of the British Museum fossil showed that the material containing the feather impressions differed significantly from the rest of the fossil slab.
- Shells from living snails were carbon dated as being 27,000 years old;
Kent Hovind was "a key speaker" for the bill. "We're not against science. We're just against lies." He claimed that Haeckel's embryos helped spread belief in evolution in Germany, which led to belief in the superiority of the Aryan race, to Nazism and World War II. He stated that this bill is not aimed at removing evolution from classrooms, but it is wrong to teach children that scientists have evidence of evolution. Much of the so-called evidence has been disproven, and he will pay $250,000 to anyone who can prove the theory. The bill was passed with only one "no" vote, and sent back to the House.
Speakers against the bill included Rita Sklar, executive director, Arkansas Civil Liberties Union, and Dr. Robyn Hannigan, a geologist in the Dept. of Chemistry and Physics, Arkansas State University. Sklar was asked by a representative if she believed in evolution. She said yes. He then asked "So, you think you were descended from a monkey? Do you think if you teach children they were descended from animals they will act like animals?"
On March 23 the bill was debated in the House. This time there was a rather lively floor debate. One opponent used the economic argument: he had spoken to a legislator in Kansas who said that recruitment and business had been hurt there after 1999. At least some legislators seem to have learned from Arkansas' past. Said one, "This law is clearly unconstitutional. Folks, if we pass this, we will not be shooting ourselves in the foot; we'll be shooting our foot off."
In the end 45 members voted yes, 36 no, and 19 either present or not voting. Since 51 votes were needed to pass, it failed. Afterward, the bill's sponsor said he wasn't sure whether he would bring it back before the House. There are about three weeks left in the session during which this could happen. Obviously it would only take 6 more votes from the 19 to pass this. The sponsor repeated that he's only trying to set the scientific record straight. The bill cites evolution examples "because they are most apparently false".
Late Monday afternoon, March 26, Rep. Stovall "served notice that he will within the time prescribed move to reconsider the vote by which HB2548 Failed to Pass."
In Georgia, AIBS-NCSE Evolution listserv manager Sarah Pallas reports that the attempt by creationists to push creationism into the Georgia public schools (HB 391) has failed, at least for this year. She credited the members of the AIBS list in Georgia and many other organizations for their successful efforts.