HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERIOR SUGGESTS THAT IT WILL REJECT ADMINISTRATION'S PROPOSED CUTS FOR U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY - In recent testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, U.S. Geological Survey Director Chip Groat stressed the positive aspects of the Administration's budget request for his agency, but subcommittee members focused on the proposed cuts, saying that they were "extremely disappointed" by the request. Norman Dicks (D-WA) said that the Administration's attempt last year to cut the USGS budget by $69 million was rejected by appropriators, who in fact increased the budget by $31 million. His questions and those of other subcommittee members suggested that the proposed cuts for FY2003 would meet a similar fate. Dicks said he was concerned about proposals that would disrupt a successful program and noted the widespread support for USGS from other federal agencies, academia, and the Congress. Groat acknowledged that it is difficult to be positive about budget cuts, but said that the Administration's priorities, particularly with regard to the response to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, made it necessary to make difficult choices. He noted that the budget gives USGS some new starts in areas of its core capabilities, including a joint program with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to develop maps that relate environmental stresses to environmental and human health. This pilot project will focus on the U.S.-Mexican border in New Mexico and Texas. He also spoke about increased funding for coastal research to start a pilot program in Tampa Bay and to work with the Ocean Commission, and the retention of the $3.4 million in funding for the Science Centers of the Biological Resources Division for priority research for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with continued funding for the GAP Analysis and the National Biological Information Infrastructure.
The committee members, however, repeatedly pressed Groat to discuss how the proposed cuts would affect USGS research. They were particularly concerned about the proposed transfer of the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program to the National Science Foundation. Groat said that under USGS, the Toxics research program is not a grant program but comprises a number of laboratories and long-term field tests, and acknowledged that there is no guarantee that this research would continue under NSF. Dicks praised the program, saying that it has produced top quality research and that this work is of great importance in supporting programs to clean water of toxics, particularly the high-profile Everglades restoration work. Members were equally concerned about the proposed reduction in funding research under the National Water Quality Assessment Act. Groat acknowledged that the reduction would eliminate six of 42 study units, and that some basins would be entirely eliminated from the program. Dicks pointed out that 42 units is already below recommended levels and that this particular program had received high praise from the National Research Council in its recent review of USGS programs. Several members expressed concern about reductions in streamgaging that would result from the cuts, saying that the role of streamgaging is critical in flood prediction. Jack Kingston (R-NC) asked Groat about the proposed cut of the $0.5 million added to the USGS FY2002 budget for amphibian research. Groat replied that the amphibian research is important because amphibians are indicators of environmental health and that thorough research is necessary to understand what is happening and why. The research program has nearly completed its monitoring and survey work and has started to look at environmental stressors, but is not even half complete yet, in Groat's estimation. However, he said that while the cutback would not eliminate this research, it would slow it. Finally, Dicks asked about the proposed elimination of funding for the State Water Resources Research Institutes (SWRRI). Groat said that the SWRRI gives the USGS the benefit of the additional scientific expertise of the many state scientists in land grant universities and that the funding is distributed through a peer-reviewed competitive process.
Another, non-research funding issue was also of concern to the subcommittee. Dicks asked how many jobs would be cut as a result of the reductions. Groat said that it could be as many as 249, but that they hoped to achieve this reduction through attrition and early retirements. He acknowledged that the cuts would affect USGS' ability to cover as many areas of research and to sustain the current level of production of research.
HOUSE RESOURCES COMMITTEE HEARING ON NAS KLAMATH BASIN REPORT LAUNCHES DEBATE ABOUT PEER-REVIEW AND "SOUND SCIENCE"- The House Resources Committee held an oversight hearing on the National Research Council's report on the government's management of water in the Klamath Basin. The NRC report, released in February, concluded that the actions of the federal agencies were not scientifically justified. Members of Congress reacted immediately to the release of the report by introducing bills requiring the use of "sound science" in management of endangered species management. Other members of Congress have launched an all-out attack on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Chair of the House Resources committee James Hansen (R-UT) said, "This latest travesty in the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act should be one more nail in the coffin of that broken law."
William M. Lewis, chair of the committee that wrote the report (and President of AIBS member society ASLO), testified on behalf of the NAS committee at the hearing. Dr. William Hogarth, Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and Sue Ellen Wooldridge, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, testified on behalf of their agencies. Last spring, NMFS and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued separate biological opinions that concluded that continued operation of the Klamath Project would lead to "jeopardy" for three endangered species, short nose and Lost River suckers (USFWS) and coho salmon (NMFS). As a result of the halt in irrigation waters delivered by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Basin Project, a system of dams and diversion structures that store water for use of irrigating agricultural areas, the Klamath region lost approximately $135 million. Farms and businesses closed, while birds at a nearby wildlife refuge died from the lack of water.
NAS Committee Chair for the Klamath Report, Bill Lewis told the Committee that, "The available scientific evidence does not support current proposals to change water levels or river flows to promote the welfare of the fish currently at risk, although future research may justify doing so." Lewis also told the committee that there are several "common sense" methods of conserving the fish, such as screening water diversions, that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been recommending for a decade, but has not yet received adequate funding to implement them. Both Wooldridge and Hogarth acknowledged that while the NAS found that there was a weak scientific justification for some of the specific recommendations by the committee, the agencies were acting based on the best available information. Lewis also clarified that the committee evaluated only the scientific basis of the recommendations, not the "jeopardy" findings which may often be based on professional judgment. Hogarth further noted that agencies can no longer delay action based on a lack of sound science, telling the committee that the agency has been sued and lost on every decision of that nature that they have issued.
There were a few substantive questions asked of the witnesses by the committee members, who turned much of the question and answer period into a heated debate between Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA) who represents California communities in the Klamath Basin and committee ranking member Rep. George Miller (D-CA) about the usefulness of the ESA. Herger argued that ESA is more vigorously applied in rural areas, while "radical environmentalists" in urban areas choose to ignore the law (citing the approval of several DC projects which will directly harm endangered species in the Potomac). Rep. Miller and other Democratic members expressed concern about the use of science, and the National Academy of Science in particular, as the next "battering ram" against environmental protections. Miller asked Lewis if the NAS committee plans to consider dissenting opinions from fellow scientists. Lewis noted that the report is an interim report and all information received prior to the release of the final report would be given due consideration. Other Democratic members of the committee pressed Lewis for information on how the NAS committee planned to deal with "factual errors." When Lewis explained the process of peer-review that all NRC reports undergo, several Democratic members stated that the anonymous peer-reviews are "critical information" and should not be withheld. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), whose district encompasses much of the Klamath Basin, jumped to the defense of the NAS report, asking Lewis for confirmation that the peer-review process used in this study is the same process that has been in place at NAS since the 1860s. While Democratic committee members were questioning the validity of the peer-review process, Rep. Walden said he hoped the hearing "will demonstrate the need to include peer-review of the science used in ESA decisions, which I've introduced legislation to do." Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) has introduced a companion bill to Walden's legislation.
FOREST SERVICE RESEARCH BUDGET REVIEWED BY HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERIOR AND BY HOUSE RESOURCES COMMITTEE - The Forest Service budget request for FY 2003 was reviewed by the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health late in the afternoon of March 12 and again the next morning by the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies [note that the Forest Service is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but its budget is provided for in the Interior appropriations bill, not the Agriculture appropriations bill]. In the Resources subcommittee hearing, there was essentially no discussion of the massive redirect ($35 million) of research funding into non-research projects such as forest assessment and inventory. However, on the following day, Norman Dicks (D-WA) questioned Forest Chief Dale Bosworth at length on this issue. In fact, Dicks raised the research re-direct in his opening statement, saying that while the FS budget seemed to be essentially flat over FY2002, the subcommittee was concerned about internal decreases in effective FS programs, including the research program. Holding a list of proposed lab and research station closures that would result from the redirection of research funding, Dicks asked if the list was accurate. Bosworth said that if the earmark programs were zeroed out, then these closures would occur. Dicks quickly corrected him, pointing out that the facilities and programs on the list were not earmark programs. He also noted that the list suggested a reduction of 125 jobs. Bosworth replied that these specific closures were not in the FS budget request; the list was only an assessment by the FS of the potential effects of the redirects. He acknowledged that some good research would be lost and good laboratories would be closed as a result of the redirection. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) pursued the issue, asking Bosworth how the 18% decrease in funding for the Forest and Rangeland Research program would affect the Wildlife, Fish, Water, and Air research program. Bosworth answered that research is extremely important and that the FS is a science-based agency, doing some of the best ecosystem research in the world. He said that it is easy to get passionate about every project, but that the forest inventory is also important, particularly to state and private forestry. He couldn't say what effect the cuts would have on that specific program, but admitted that the research that was to have been done proposed $10 million reduction has not been completed.
HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE CONSIDERS FUTURE FUNDING LEVELS FOR NSF - The House Science Subcommittee on Research held a hearing on how to determine future funding levels for NSF, including how to correct the imbalance in the federal research portfolio. The Committee is currently drafting legislation to authorize future funding for NSF and is trying to determine whether limited funds "are unduly constraining the research effort." The hearing, chaired by subcommittee chairman Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) addressed the following issues:
- What criteria should be used in setting NSF budget levels as well as priorities within the budget?
- Is the current federal research portfolio balanced and what criteria should be used to determine the appropriate balance between disciplines?
- What is the impact of current NSF funding levels on researchers in academia and industry and on the economy?
The subcommittee heard from four witnesses: Dr. Irwin Feller, Professor of Economics at the Pennsylvania State University; Dr. Stephen Director, Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan; Dr. Karen Harpp, Assistant Professor at Colgate University; and Scott Donnelly, Senior VP of Corporate Research and Development at General Electric.
Dr. Director told the subcommittee that of the NSF proposals that received "Very good" to "Excellent" reviews, only 56% are actually funded. Even more disturbing, 14% of the proposals receiving an evaluation of "Excellent" were not funded. Dr. Director noted that low funding rates "discourage faculty from submitting good ideas because of the low probability of success." Success rates below 1/3 are generally viewed as detrimental to encouraging the submission of best ideas, and the NSF rate is now below this level." The witnesses provided several examples of how the impacts of low funding affect the scientific community, including the pool of US researchers. Dr. Irwin Feller told the committee that the NSF Committee of Visitors reports for Behavior and Cognitive Sciences and Economics "reflect concern that some number of talented researchers are making mid-career decisions to shift out of basic research because of limitations on the funding of their research." Dr. Director told the committee that another impact of low NSF funding is that researchers are tailoring their research programs to meet the needs of more "mission-oriented" research agencies such as the Department of Defense.
Regarding the balance of funding between disciplines, panelists and committee members brought up the disparity between funding levels for NIH and NSF, noting that the proposed increase alone for NIH this year is greater than the total funding for NSF. Scott Donnelly noted that the same is occurring in the physical sciences, showing graphs of the relative change in bachelors degrees awarded since 1985-1986. Donnelly attributed this trend to students "following the money" which is currently at NIH, not NSF. He noted that physical sciences, math, engineering and computer science degrees have declined by 24% on average, while life science degrees have increased by 71%. Other graphs presented by the witnesses showed the trajectory of funding for all disciplines, each time with life sciences presented as a group. [A concern among AIBS, ESA and several member societies is that the lack of distinction between biomedical studies funded by NIH and the non-medical biological studies funded by NSF will limit increases granted to the BIO Directorate at NSF].
On several occasions, subcommittee members expressed support for putting NSF on a path to double their budget. Rep. John Larson (D-CT) noted that other than "ethereal academic discussions that circulate around important and dramatic issues," there seemed to be no sense of urgency for in increasing funds for research. He pointed out that other countries heavily subsidize corporate research with the intent of overtaking the US primacy in the field, and asked witnesses how we can overcome the fear of "corporate subsidies" and get on with the business of increasing funds and creating a stronger research enterprise. Subcommittee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) concluded, "Our witnesses at today's hearing provided ample evidence of the inadequacy of current funding for NSF. Their testimony makes the case for the 4-year NSF authorization bill I introduced last year that would have continued the budget-doubling path for NSF initiated by the agency's fiscal year 2001 appropriation."
NIH OFFICE OF LABORATORY ANIMAL WELFARE AND APPLIED RESEARCH ETHICS NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RELEASE REVISED GUIDEBOOK FOR INSTITUTIONAL ANIMAL CARE AND USE COMMITTEES - The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) and Applied Research Ethics National Association (ARENA) on 12 March 2002 announced the release of the 2nd edition of the ARENA/OLAW Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Guidebook. The updated 2002 IACUC Guidebook is the product of a joint effort between ARENA and OLAW, led by an Editorial Board and with the assistance of numerous contributing authors from the community. It addresses multiple issues facing IACUCs in their oversight of institutional animal care and use programs, and contains valuable guidance based on the collective judgment and experience of the authors as well as OLAW precedent and interpretation of PHS Policy. The revision of the original guidebook, first published in 1992, is notable because it incorporates more accurate, pertinent, and current information about field studies. Much of the new material was suggested by the Ornithological Council, a consortium of ten leading ornithological societies in North America, including the American Ornithologists' Union and the Cooper Ornithological Society - both AIBS members. The text of the earlier version, the work of eight authors and an editorial staff of forty - not one of them a wildlife biologist - addressed a seemingly random selection of issues, failed to recognize the critical distinction between laboratory animal studies and the study of wild animals in their natural habitat, and failed to address the role of federal permits - particularly with regard to birds and all endangered and threatened species - that indicate that the population-level effects, if any, of the proposed research are acceptable under the law.
Unfortunately, the new text neglects to mention that under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), field studies are exempt from IACUC protocol review. Of course, the AWA regulations define a field study as one that does not harm the animal, does not involve invasive procedures, and that does not materially alter the behavior of the animal is so broad - especially because these terms are not defined - that for all practical purposes, most field studies do not meet the tests for exemption from IACUC review. Nonetheless, it would have been desirable to have the guidebook that is relied upon by IACUCs at least explain the current law.
The Guidebook is not a regulatory document and neither establishes nor reflects a change in PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Following the recommendations of the Guidebook will facilitate implementation of institutional animal care and use programs, but is not required. PHS Policy does require compliance with the ILAR Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and Animal Welfare Act regulations. Printed copies of the Guidebook will be available shortly and one will be mailed to the IACUC Chairperson of each institution holding a PHS Animal Welfare Assurance. To order additional copies send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
ftp://ftp.grants.nih.gov/IACUC/GuideBook.pdf, and the HTTP link,
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/GuideBook.pdf, connect to identical files. The FTP link provides a faster connection for downloading. If your browser experiences problems with the FTP link, please try the HTTP link.
AIBS, ESA TEAM UP ON CHAPTER FOR AAAS BUDGET BOOK - Each year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science produces a book analyzing the Administration's proposed budget for science and technology research and development for the coming fiscal year. This year, ESA Public Affairs Director Nadine Lymn and AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul teamed up to write the chapter on biological and ecological sciences. Copies of the book, which will be available online at
http://www.aaas.org/spp/R&D, will be provided to each AIBS council representative and to each member of the AIBS Board.
USDA SEEKS NOMINATIONS FOR VACANCIES ON THE NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, EXTENSION, EDUCATION, AND ECONOMICS ADVISORY BOARD -
[Deadline for Advisory Board member nominations is June 3, 2002].
The Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (The Farm Bill) authorized the creation of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board. The Board is composed of 30 members, each representing a specific category related to farming or ranching, food production and processing, forestry research, crop and animal science, land-grant institutions, food retailing and marketing, rural economic development, and natural resource and consumer interest groups, among many others. The Board was first appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture in September 1996 and one-third of the 30 members were appointed for a 1, 2, and 3-year term, respectively. As a result of the staggered appointments, the terms for 10 of the 30 members who represent 10 specific categories will expire September 30, 2002. Nominations for a 3-year appointment for all 10 of the vacant categories are sought; the following are those likely to be of interest to AIBS members and member societies:
Category D. Plant Commodity Producers
Category M. 1862 Land-Grant Colleges and Universities
Category R. Scientific Community not closely associated with Agriculture
Category DD. National Organization directly concerned with REE
Nominations are being solicited from organizations, associations, societies, councils, federations, groups, and companies that represent a wide variety of food and agricultural interests throughout the country. Nominations for one individual who fits several of the categories listed above, or for more than one person who fits one category will be accepted. In your nomination letter, please indicate the specific membership category for each nominee. Each nominee must fill out a form AD-755, ``Advisory Committee Membership Background Information'' (which can be obtained from the contact person below or may printed out from the following Web site: http://www:fs.fed.us, then search AD-755). All nominees will be vetted before selection. Appointments to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board will be made by the Secretary of Agriculture. Send nominee's name, resume, and their completed AD-755 to USDA, Office of the Advisory Board, Research, Education, and Economics, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Room 344-A, JL Whitten Building, Washington, DC 20250-2255, postmarked no later than June 3, 2002. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Deborah Hanfman, Executive Director, National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Room 344-A, JL Whitten Building, Washington, DC 20250-2255. Telephone: 202-720-3684. Fax: 202-720-6199.