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Public Policy Report for 12/20/2002

  • President Bush signs bill to double NSF's budget - AIBS Executive Director O'Grady attends signing ceremony
  • Appropriations waiting game continues
  • National Science Board recommends that NSF spend a bigger share of its budget on infrastructure
  • HHS and APHIS establish new regulations for use of select biological agents
  • National Academies presidents say hurdles to the entry of foreign scientists are damaging US science

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].


PRESIDENT BUSH SIGNS BILL TO DOUBLE NSF'S BUDGET - AIBS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR O'GRADY ATTENDS SIGNING CEREMONY

At a White House ceremony on December 19, President George W. Bush signed into law far-reaching legislation to put the National Science Foundation (NSF) on a track to double its budget over five years and to create new mathematics and science education initiatives at both the pre-college and undergraduate level. The President signed the bill, H.R. 4664, into law in the Roosevelt Room of the White House as leaders of the scientific community watched on. Among those representing the biological sciences were AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O'Grady and Federation of American Scientists for Experimental Biology (FASEB) President Dr. Steven Teitelbaum. Following the ceremony, O'Grady noted "AIBS worked hard this year with its membership and partners to ensure that biology was represented in this bill. It was an honor to represent biology at the signing ceremony for this important piece of legislation that will pave the way for a brighter future for all of science." (For more information on H.R. 4664, please see the November 11 issue of News from the AIBS Public Policy Office.)

APPROPRIATIONS WAITING GAME CONTINUES

As 2002 draws to a close, funding levels for extramural biological research programs for fiscal year (FY) 2003 remain uncertain. After failing to agree on funding levels before the October 1 deadline, Congress called a "time out." The government is currently operating under a "continuing resolution" which funds the government at FY2002 levels. Unfortunately, the delay in appropriations means that agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which were slated to receive large increases (~15% for each agency) are still waiting for their increases.

Congressional sources tell AIBS that Congress intends to pass the remaining 11 appropriations bills for FY 2003 in January as part of an omnibus appropriations package. Due to strict budget limitations, however, the increases proposed for NSF and NIH in January may be slightly less than those proposed by Congress this summer. In the worst case scenario, Congress would not come to agreement on funding levels for FY2003 and would pass a continuing resolution for the remainder of the year. Under that scenario, both NSF and NIH would receive a 0% increase. Concerned biologists should contact their congressional delegation over the holidays (most should be in their home district) and urge them to complete their work on the FY03 appropriations bills, including the pending increases for research funding.

NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD RECOMMENDS THAT NSF SPEND A BIGGER SHARE OF ITS BUDGET ON INFRASTRUCTURE

In a report based on a study conducted by the NSB Task Force on Science and Engineering Infrastructure (INF), the National Science Board recommends that NSF spend more money on scientific infrastructure. Citing an "urgent need to increase federal investments aimed at providing access for scientists to the latest and best scientific infrastructure," the report's primary recommendation is that NSF not only increase the amount of funds for infrastructure, but also the proportion of the agency's budget devoted to infrastructure (suggesting that the amount spent on other programs would have to be cut).

While the committee notes, "the current 22 percent of the NSF budget devoted to infrastructure is too low," the report also acknowledges that the amount of funding spent on infrastructure varies widely by discipline. The Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) spends a relatively low proportion (9%) of its annual budget on infrastructure. Other disciplines that rely more heavily on large scientific equipment and observing facilities, such as the Geosciences Directorate (GEO) spend a much higher proportion of their annual budget, 39%, on tools. It is important to note that these figures do not include projects in NSF's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account (MRE), such as the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

The National Science Board is soliciting comments on the draft report. Comments are due by January 9, 2003 and should be sent via email to nsf-inf@nsf.gov. The draft report can be downloaded from the NSF website at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/.

HHS AND APHIS ESTABLISH NEW REGULATIONS FOR USE OF SELECT BIOLOGICAL AGENTS

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established new safeguards for the possession, use, and transfer of select biological agents and toxins (select agents) that could pose a threat to public, animal and plant health and safety. The new rules are in accordance with the USA PATRIOT Act and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. The USA PATRIOT Act sets requirements for the appropriate use of select biological agents. It also specifies those persons who should be restricted from working with select agents, and imposes criminal and civil penalties for the inappropriate use of select agents. The Public Health Security Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 updated the existing Select Agent Rule by requiring facilities to register if they possess select agents. Previously, only facilities that wished to transfer select agents needed to register with CDC. The new regulation takes effect on February 7, 2003.

The newly released HHS and USDA regulations established tighter controls on potentially dangerous agents.The government anticipates that the new rules will affect more than 1,500 institutions nationwide, with approximately 20,000 staff needing to submit paperwork to the Attorney General for clearance. The median annualized cost of the rule is estimated to range from $9,300 to $201,000 (annualized over 20 years). The estimated first year cost of the rule ranges from $23,400 for a small commercial entity with a BSL 3 lab to $730,400 for a medium university with a BSL2-3 lab. The total annualized cost of the rule is estimated to be $41 million.

The HHS interim rule updates the previous select agent rule, released August 12, 2002, by requiring facilities to register with HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if they possess a select agent or agents that pose a potential threat to human health. The previous rule only required facilities to register with CDC if they intended to transfer a select agent. Similarly, the USDA interim select agent rule requires facilities to register with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) if they possess a select agent or agents that pose a potential threat to animal or plant health.

"Protecting the health of Americans is paramount, and this new rule strengthens our ability to ensure that essential research on these agents continues while making certain they don't fall into the wrong hands," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman echoed Thompson's sentiment: "This new rule will continue to strengthen programs aimed at protecting the American people from acts of terrorism. These safeguards will help protect the food supply without sacrificing valuable research being done on these agents."

Some of the select agents subject to these regulations appear on both the HHS and the USDA select agent lists. To reduce the burden on facilities required to register select agents in their possession that overlap both lists, HHS and USDA have worked together to establish a single unified reporting system that will be used by both agencies, thus eliminating duplication of effort. Each department will accept public comments on the new rules for 60 days, and those comments could result in regulatory changes in the future.

The HHS interim rule can be viewed at http://www.cdc.gov/od/sap/ and the USDA
interim rule can be viewed at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/webrepor.html.

NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESIDENTS SAY HURDLES TO THE ENTRY OF FOREIGN SCIENTISTS ARE HAMPERING US SCIENCE

The presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine released a joint statement on December 13 warning that current visa restrictions are interfering with U.S. science and engineering contributions to important national needs. The statement cautions "recent efforts by our government to constrain the flow of international visitors in the name of national security are having serious unintended consequences for American science, engineering and medicine" and urges the U.S. government to take prompt action.

Citing several examples of cancelled international conferences and hampered ongoing research collaborations, the presidents urged the U.S. Department of State to reexamine its current policies. Obtaining visas has been one of the most serious problems for international collaboration. Part of the difficulty in obtaining those visas is due to post-September 11 regulations that make consular officials criminally responsible if they grant a visa to someone who subsequently commits a terrorist act in the United States. In their statement, the presidents proposed several new procedures that could streamline the process without compromising security such as instituting a special visa category for established scientists, engineers and health researchers. They also noted that the U.S. research community could assist consular officials by providing appropriate documentation for those foreign citizens who are engaged in collaborations with U.S. scientists and engineers.

The statement warns that these new barriers to international scientific collaboration could cause problems outside of the scientific arena by hampering U.S. efforts to harness international cooperation for counterterrorism. "The U.S. scientific, engineering and health communities cannot hope to maintain their present position of international leadership if they become isolated from the rest of the world."


- Register for the 2003 AIBS annual meeting, Bioethics in a Changing World, at www.aibs.org/meeting2003

- IBRCS/NEON updates at www.aibs.org/ibrcs

- 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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