AIBS MEMBER DAVID LODGE TESTIFIES AT HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE HEARING ON AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES - On June 20, the subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards of the House Science committee held a hearing on research priorities for aquatic invasive species. Panel members were Rep. Robert Underwood (D-Guam); Dr. Greg Ruiz, Senior Scientist, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Allegra Cangelosi, Senior Policy Analyst, Northeast-Midwest Institute; David Smith, Smith College; Maurya Falkner, Staff Environmental Scientist, California State Lands Commission, and Dr. David Lodge, University of Notre Dame. The AIBS Public Policy Office provided logistical support and assisted Dr. Lodge with acquiring information on funding for invasive species research, which he presented in his testimony.
Dr. Lodge told the committee that in terms of invasive species, "invasion is forever. Biological invasions are the least reversible form of pollution." Lodge also criticized the focus of current research programs saying, "Given the irreversibility of most species pollution, prevention should be the primary focus." Witnesses also said the Federal government needs an interagency effort that can coordinate with groups at the local level that would lead research. Dr. David Smith, Assistant Professor at Smith College, explained that while researchers at the local and regional level might be best equipped to conduct systematic studies, there must be a centralized way to collect, coordinate, and distribute the information.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), who chaired the hearing, announced that he would soon be introducing legislation on the research agenda for invasive species, but told the witnesses that the scientific community must back him up in his quest for increased funds by better publicizing the enormous threat of invasive species. "I am concerned that we only spend $21 million on research annually to combat aquatic invasive species when they cost the country billions of dollars each year," said Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). "Even more troubling is that we spend only $6 million annually on research to prevent these invaders from ever entering the country. I will continue to be very active in supporting the research needed to address the enormous threat that is posed by invasive species."
NSF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION ADVISORY COMMITTEE REQUESTS PUBLIC COMMENT ON THEIR WORKING DRAFT REPORT, "A 10-YEAR AGENDA FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION AT NSF" - In 2000, NSF established the Advisory Committee on Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE). NSF's Director, Dr. Rita Colwell, charged the Committee at its first meeting in October 2000. AC-ERE is to:
- Provide advice, recommendations and oversight concerning support for the NSF's environmental research and education portfolio.
- Be a base of contact with the scientific community to inform NSF of the impact of its research support and NSF-wide policies on the scientific community.
- Serve as a forum for consideration of interdisciplinary environmental topics as well as environmental activities in a wide range of disciplines.
- Provide broad input into long-range plans and partnership opportunities.
- Perform oversight of program management, overall program balance, and other aspects of program performance for environmental research and education activities.
The AC-ERE has now issued a draft report entitled "A 10-Year Agenda for Environmental Research and Education at NSF and is seeking public comment. The report can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/geo/ere/ereweb/advisory.cfm
Comments are due by August 10.
HOUSE VOTES OVERWHELMINGLY TO APPROVE SEA GRANT REAUTHORIZATION - By a vote of 407-2, the U.S. House of Representatives on June 19 voted to reauthorize the National Sea Grant program for another five years. The bill provides an increase in overall funding levels for the program, from approximately $80 million in fiscal year (FY) 2003 to approximately $100 million in FY 2008. Although the bill (H.R. 3889) rejects the Administration's proposal to move the Sea Grant program from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the National Science Foundation (NSF), its imposes reforms to address the Administration's concerns that prompted the proposal to move Sea Grant. Specifically, the bill addresses the Administration's interest in increasing competitive research by including a provision specifying that if the Sea Grant program receives a higher appropriation than it did for fiscal year 2002, the additional funds can be used only for merit-based, competitive grant programs, and cannot be distributed to the states by formula. Although the bill as passed dropped a provision in the Resources Committee version to offer $2.7 million to "make grants to an eligible Pacific Islands regional consortium for activities necessary for the consortium to qualify for designation as a Sea Grant College," it directs that NOAA report annually to Congress on the progress of the Pacific Islands Consortium and other colleges/organizations applying for Sea Grant College status. This replaces a specific earmark for these programs that was in the Resources Committee bill. Finally, the bill maintains the separate identities and functions of the Sea Grant program and the Coastal Ocean Program (COP), but strongly encourages cooperative work between Sea Grant, the COP and NSF. The bill also increases funding levels for the COP to $35 million.
PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL OF ADVISORS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ASSESSING FEDERAL INVESTMENT IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY; WILL MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FY04 BUDGET - At its June 12 meeting, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) announced that it is studying the federal investment in science and technology research and development. A subcommittee has contracted with the RAND policy research consortium and is also consulting with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which has been tracking these data for many years. It is the intent of PCAST to use the results of the study to make recommendations to the White House on the FY2004 budget for science and technology. To assure that the PCAST subcommittee recognizes the distinction between biomedical research and the biology of the natural world when assessing trends in funding in recent years, AIBS has communicated with both AAAS and PCAST to point out that the biology of the natural world tends to be overlooked because most measures of federal R&D lump this kind of biology with the "life sciences." Of course, the life sciences funding has soared in recent years, with the doubling of the NIH budget. Unfortunately, the kind of biological research funded by the NSF BIO division, or undertaken at the USGS, various USDA programs (including CSREES, NRI, and the Forest Service) has not enjoyed a fraction of those increases. AIBS has offered to provide data to the subcommittee regarding funding levels for "our kind of biology" and is working with several AIBS member societies, including the American Society of Plant Biologists and the Tri-Societies, to be sure that the subcommittee has adequate information to appreciate the importance of the biology of the natural world.
In a June 14 letter to OMB Director Mitch Daniels, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Fritz Hollings (D-SC), and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), questioned the OMB's attempt to develop and implement criteria to guide investment decisions on federally-supported research. Among other things, the senators suggested that the credibility and acceptance of the proposed criteria by both internal and external audiences will be greatly enhanced if the OMB solicits and incorporates contributions from, and review by, non-OMB authorities at each stage of the development and evaluation process. They specifically asked if any scientific agencies or organizations had been asked to review the proposed criteria and provide input into their development. Also, the senators wanted to know if OMB intended to solicit outside expertise to assist during the actual evaluations of the various agencies.
WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET MEMO FORESHADOWS ADMINISTRATION'S SCIENCE PRIORITIES FOR FY04 - A May 30 memo from Presidential Science Advisor John Marburger and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels to all executive agencies and departments outlines the President's science agenda for FY04. According to the memo, the Administration will favor investments that:
- sustain and nurture America's science and technology enterprise through the pursuit of specific agency missions and stewardship of critical research fields and their enabling infrastructure
- strengthen science, mathematics, and engineering education by enhancing access and broad availability of excellent educational programs and establishing and encouraging best educational practices
- focus on long-term, potentially high-payoff activities that require a federal presence to attain national goals, including homeland security, environmental quality, economic growth and prosperity, and human health and well-being
- maximize efficiency and effective of federal R&D investments through means such as employing competitive, peer-reviewed processes and phasing out programs that are neither productive nor important to an agency's missions
- use, when appropriate, collaborations among agencies, industry, academia, and states, as well as with other countries to advance common S&T goals
Specific interagency priorities identified in the report include information technology and nanotechnology, homeland security and antiterrorism, molecular-understanding of life processes, climate change science and technology, and education research.
The memo goes on to specify that all programs must demonstrate relevance, quality, and performance, although it recognizes that expectations for long-term, high-risk basic research are not the same as those for applied research and development. Programs will be expected to define appropriate output and outcome measures and document program performance annually.
SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR, AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE HOLDS HEARING ON NSF REAUTHORIZATION - Although there is no pending legislation in the Senate to reauthorize the National Science Foundation, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) subcommittee on Education on June 19 held a hearing on the NSF reauthorization. The Senate HELP committee shares jurisdiction over the NSF with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee. Witnesses Rita Colwell, Sen. John Glenn (D-OH), and Keith Verner, a Penn State College of Medicine expert on childhood learning, focused primarily on the educational functions of NSF and the critical need for better math and science education at all grade levels. Verner is chief of the Division of Developmental Pediatrics and Learning in the College of Medicine. In 1993, he established Penn State LabLion, an Elementary School Science Center program, to improve science and health education in public schools. Glenn chaired the 2001 National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century
Hilary Clinton (D-NY) asked Dr. Colwell about the imbalance of funding for life science research in contrast to the physical sciences and mathematics. Colwell replied that NSF's funding is not imbalanced and that the NSF life science programs are unlike those funded by NIH; she specified bioinformatics, ecology, and plant genomics as examples.
No NSF reauthorization bill is presently pending in the Senate.
SMITHSONIAN SCIENCE COMMISSION ISSUES INTERIM REPORT; STILL CONSIDERING FUTURE OF CONSERVATION AND RESEARCH CENTER - On 20 May 2002, the Smithsonian Science Commission issued an interim report, explaining that, while the final report is not due until the end of the year, the Commission had "reached several unanimous conclusions, and the onset of the 2004 budget cycle and the pending departure of the Under Secretary for Science, Dennis O'Connor, make it appropriate to provide the Secretary and the Regents an interim report on our deliberations." The interim recommendations called for the immediate, international search for a new Under Secretary for Science and a new leader for the National Museum of Natural History. The Commission report goes into some detail as to the appropriate qualifications for the NMNH director's position, noting that : "With the imminent departure of Drs. O'Connor and Rubinoff, there will be no museum scientists at administrative levels above the Department Chairs and until recently scientific input to the Director's Office has been lacking." The Commission that the individual chosen as Director of the Museum be a scientist of stature with demonstrated museum experience, a clear understanding of the special opportunities for research in a natural history museum, and the ability to pursue strongly the financial and other support needed to realize these opportunities.
The interim report also stated that structural organization is not the primary problem confronting the Institution. Instead, the report says that, "it is the consensus of the Science Commission that there is an urgent need for greater transparency in the development of research priorities and budgets." As the Commission continues its work, it is investigating a "modest restructuring of the Smithsonian science efforts, with an emphasis on facilitating planning, communications, and performance assessment...The Commission is still deliberating on the most valuable and cost-effective way to implement these goals" and will present a detailed plan in its final report. However, structural aspects of the Conservation and Research Center at the National Zoological Park remain under study.
The Commission singled out the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center as a growing and vibrant organization doing excellent work at the forefront of ecological research on the coastal interface.
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