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Public Policy Report for 09/13/2002

  • Senate Help, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee approves NSF reauthorization bill with budget-doubling provision
  • AIBS letter seeking increased appropriation for NSF Biology Directorate goes to Congress with more than 1,750 signatures
  • AIBS urges President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to recognize the need for increased funding for the nonbiomedical biological sciences
  • House appropriations subcommittee will soon determine appropriation for Environmental Protection Agency; sample letter provided by Ecological Society of America
  • Ecological Society of America issues action alert to boost Congressional support for NEON

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].


SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR, AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE APPROVES NSF REAUTHORIZATION BILL WITH BUDGET-DOUBLING PROVISION - On Thursday, 5 September 2002, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee approved a bill reauthorizing the National Science Foundation. The bill (S.2817) would authorize an increase of 105 percent or $5 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years, from $4.8 billion in FY 2002 to $9.8 billion in FY 2007. The NSF Doubling Act would authorize substantial budget increases for each of NSF's major spending categories over the next five years: Research and Related Activities would increase by 110 percent; Education and Human Resources would increase by 101 percent; and Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would increase by 61 percent.

The National Science Foundation Doubling Act, which was introduced by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Christopher Bond (R-MO), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced the NSF Doubling Act on July 29 - next goes to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which shares jurisdiction for the NSF with the Senate HELP committee.

As there is strong support for the bill in the Commerce committee, passage is expected. The bill would then go to the full Senate for consideration. However, with Congress focusing on completing appropriations bills and leaving town to campaign, it is possible that the Congress will adjourn without considering the NSF Reauthorization bill.

The House passed its version of the NSF reauthorization bill on 5 June 2002. The House bill also provides for a doubling of the NSF budget.

An amendment sponsored by Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH), revises the section on "Math and Science Partnerships" and adds a new section on "Establishment of Research on Mathematics and Science Learning and Education Improvement." The goal of the new section is to conduct, evaluate, and apply research in cognitive science, education and related fields associated with the science of learning and teaching mathematics and science.

The Senate bill also included a version of the Tech Talent proposal sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Christopher Bond (R-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Frist (R-TN), and Pete Domenici (R-NM). Like the Technology Talent Act, the NSF Reauthorization bill passed Thursday establishes a multi-year "Tech Talent" competitive grant program, that would award performance-based grants to institutions of higher education to increase the number of students studying toward and receiving undergraduate degrees in science, math, engineering, and technology disciplines. Recipients would be held accountable for increasing the number of students receiving degrees in these fields.

Under the NSF Reauthorization bill, undergraduate universities would be able to receive Tech Talent grants for a number of projects, including:

- Training for interdisciplinary instruction to improve college-level teaching;
- Undergraduate-conducted research to engage students in applied science;
- Mentor programs for students in groups historically under represented in the sciences;
- Internships with private industry to heighten the relevance of academic programs;
- Distance learning programs to further student access to science research.


AIBS LETTER SEEKING INCREASED APPROPRIATION FOR NSF BIOLOGY DIRECTORATE GOES TO CONGRESS WITH MORE THAN 1,750 SIGNATURES - Nearly 1800 biologists signed onto the AIBS letter to Congress seeking an increased appropriation for the NSF Biology Directorate (BIO). The letter, which was posted on the AIBS website, was delivered to every member of Congress earlier this week. Even though signatures are no longer being accepted, AIBS urges biologists to communicate with their own representatives and to ask their university federal relations officers to express support for an increased appropriation for the BIO directorate. Instructions for writing to members of Congress can be found at www.aibs.org/supportnsf.

The letter pointed out that the Senate appropriation for the biological sciences (BIO) directorate is significantly lower than would be awarded to the other disciplines. While the other directorates within RRA are slated for increases ranging from 12.8 - 19.9 %, the BIO directorate would receive only 3.4%. In fact, of the $348 million that the Senate appropriated above the President's request for Research and Related Accounts, BIO would receive none.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on VA-HUD, which also funds independent agencies such as the NSF and the Environmental Protection Agency, is scheduled to "mark-up" its appropriation bill on or about September 18, and it is expected that the full House appropriations committee will consider the bill shortly thereafter. Unless the House bill gives BIO a larger increase than the Senate bill, there will be no chance more than a 3.4% increase for BIO for FY2003. The House appropriations committees are working under extremely tight fiscal constraints, and while there are indications that House members are willing to exceed the budget limits, it will be difficult to find additional funding for any program.

A pdf version of the letter and signatures can be downloaded from the AIBS website at www.aibs.org/supportnsf.


AIBS URGES PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL OF ADVISORS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY TO RECOGNIZE THE NEED FOR INCREASED FUNDING FOR THE NONBIOMEDICAL BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES - Our last report detailed a letter drafted by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) stating that "all evidence points to a need to improve funding levels for physical sciences and certain areas of engineering. Testimony from public and private sector representatives indicated that of greatest concern to the scientific community is the balance between the physical and life sciences." The letter resulted from a PCAST subcommittee tasked to assess the federal investment in science and technology and its national benefits.

In that PCAST called for public comments on its draft letter, AIBS submitted a letter expressing concern that the heavy focus on the physical sciences and engineering in the PCAST letter would result in other disciplines that have not shared in NIH's wealth being unjustifiably ignored. The AIBS letter pointed out that PCAST's use of the term "life sciences" seemed to be used interchangeably with the discipline of biology. The premise that increased funding for the life sciences had outpaced other disciplines thus implied - however inadvertently - that biological research was also amply funded. In fact, we noted, funding for the remainder of biology, including environmental biology, ecology, taxonomy, systematics, fundamental cellular and molecular biology, have been just as underfunded, if not more so, as the physical sciences.

We pointed out that:

- The entire FY02 budget for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) came to $949 million. Of this amount, biological research received only $166 million. Given that the FY99 enacted budget for USGS Biological research was $162 million, it should be evident that this extremely valuable research program, which provides the scientific expertise for the entire Department of Interior, is being badly eroded due to lack of adequate funding.

- At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, biological research is funded primarily by the Sea Grant Program, the Coastal Ocean Program and the National Marine Fisheries Service. For FY03, the Administration proposed a decrease of $85 million, which included a transfer of the $62 million Sea Grant program to the National Science Foundation. Congress has rejected this proposed transfer, but the Sea Grant budget has been eroded due to increases lower than the rate of inflation. Research funded by Sea Grant is primarily applied in nature and focused on current issues, such as invasive species and the impacts of aquaculture, which have major economic consequences for coastal areas.

- At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the only program slated to receive a significant increase is the National Research Initiative. The Administration sought to double the size of this program - to $240 million - but at this point, it appears that the Congress will probably appropriate approximately $160 million. Funding for Forest Service Forest and Rangeland Research was $252 million, although this sum includes forest products research. Based on data from the FY2001 budget, the portion attributable to wildlife, fish, watershed and atmospheric research or vegetation management and protection is approximately $200 million.

- Nonmedical biology relies most heavily on the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) at the National Science Foundation, which funds nearly every aspect of biology - including neurobiology, ecosystem science, plant genomics and cellular biology. Over the past decade, the funding rate for grants submitted to BIO has been 5-10% lower than NSF's overall funding rate, which itself has been referred to as perilously low by the House and Senate authorizing and appropriations committees with jurisdiction over NSF.

AIBS urged the committee to recognize that ignoring disciplines such as environmental biology, basic taxonomy and plant sciences will only hinder our efforts to achieve sustainable development and will result in logjams in environmental decisions due to a lack of scientific information. We reminded PCAST that the federal government has legal mandates to protect our natural resources - the air, water, and natural resources such as wildlife and wildlife habitat and that a foundation of rigorous, peer-reviewed studies on the basic biology of the species and ecosystems managed by the federal government is essential for agencies that implement programs created to comply with these mandates.

As of this date, AIBS has not received a response from PCAST and has been unable to determine if any changes were made to the PCAST letter to President Bush. The full text of the AIBS letter to PCAST will be published in the AIBS News section of the October issue of BioScience.


HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE WILL SOON DETERMINE APPROPRIATION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY; SAMPLE LETTER PROVIDED BY ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA - The House Appropriations subcommittee on VA-HUD will also be deciding on funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, including the science budget of that agency. The Ecological Society of America has provided sample letters for scientists who wish to voice support for increased funding for EPA science and other federal science agencies. The letters can be found at http://www.esa.org/pao/actionitems.htm. As the Senate is likely to complete the Interior appropriations bill this week or early next week, it is unlikely that a letter regarding the U.S. Geological Survey budget will be of help at this point. Note that while the Forest Service is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the appropriation for the Forest Service is part of the Interior appropriations bill.

As always, AIBS recommends that you fax your letters. Because Congressional offices are inundated by e-mail, it is more likely than not that your e-mail will be overlooked.


ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA ISSUES ACTION ALERT TO BOOST CONGRESSIONAL SUPPORT FOR NEON - On Sep 10th, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) issued an action alert regarding the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Because many AIBS member societies have a strong interest in NEON, we have reprinted the text of their alert below. Questions should be addressed to Nadine Lymn, Director of Public Affairs for ESA at nadine@esa.org or 202.833.8773, ext. 205.

"Dear ESA Member:

Your help is needed. The President's budget request for the coming fiscal year includes $12 million for a National Science Foundation National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). NEON would provide the scientific community with the first-ever capability to formally collate long-term ecological records and data in a comprehensive and uniform manner to better forecast ecological change.

Since the Senate Appropriations Committee cut NEON funding from its bill, support for NEON in the House is now critical. Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Brian Baird (D-WA) have prepared and are planning to send a letter (see below) expressing support for NEON to key House Appropriations Committee Members. It is imperative that as many Representatives as possible sign on to this letter to help ensure funding for NEON.
Please take a moment and contact your Representative (Click on www.visi.com/juan/congress to determine who your Representative is and to obtain email, phone or fax numbers). Ask your Representative to add his/her signature to the Ehlers-Baird NEON letter. Let them know that to have their signature added, they should contact Matt Reiffer of Rep. Ehlers office at 225-3831 or Alisa Ferguson in Rep. Baird's office at 225-3536. The deadline for Representatives to sign on to the letter is September 18.

Ehlers/Baird NEON Letter:

September 19, 2002

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We, the undersigned, hereby request your strong support for the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON), a National Science Foundation project for which the President has requested $12 million in his FY 2003 budget proposal.

Our world's ecology and the way ecological systems interconnect are becoming more and more important to all of us, but we currently lack a way to uniformly collect national data to allow us to better understand how humankind and environmental change influence ecological processes. NEON addresses this critical scientific need by linking current and historical data on climate, pollution, diseases, natural disasters, water, weather, forestation and natural resources. With this national ecological monitoring network, scientists will be more equipped to determine the causes of problems and to predict trends in ecological systems that could pay enormous dividends to our nation, our economy, and our health.

NEON provides for the first time a chance to collate long-term ecological records and data in a comprehensive and uniform manner. Using regional centers around the country, NEON will provide policymakers and scientists more accurate predictions of ecological changes and how they may impact all Americans. Whether it is bioterrorism attacks, climate change, migrations of key animals, or changes in forests and water supplies, NEON will allow us to better cope with and manage the changes that are occurring and will occur in the future, and thus improve the well-being and health of every American for generations to come.

As you prepare to mark up the FY03 VA-HUD-IA appropriations bill, we urge you to fully fund this important program as it begins to establish NEON as a critical part of our nation's scientific infrastructure. Thank you for your consideration.


-Link your website to AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/link/index.html

 


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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