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Public Policy Report for 01/21/2003

  • Congress finally makes progress on FY03 appropriations; Senate proposes 13.4% increase for NSF Research
  • Smithsonian Science Commission report cites urgent need for improved coordination and funding of scientific research
  • Committee Chairs for 108th Congress announced
  • Final report on the outlook for future of environmental research and education at NSF released
  • AIBS submits comments on NSB report on scientific infrastructure

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].


CONGRESS FINALLY MAKES PROGRESS ON FY03 APPROPRIATIONS; SENATE PROPOSES 13.4% INCREASE FOR NSF RESEARCH

After reaching an agreement on committee funding ratios, the Senate finally began work on finishing the remaining 11 appropriations bills for FY03. With Congress failing to complete the budget process on time, agencies funded by those bills, including NSF, have been operating at FY02 levels for the first 3.5 months of FY03. Rather than debating and passing the bills individually, Congress is considering the bills in bulk as an omnibus appropriations bill. The text of the omnibus appropriations bill was proposed as an amendment by appropriations committee chair Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) to House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2). The Senate is currently considering amendments to the bill. The bill will not see floor action in the House since it originated from there and was passed. However, the two houses of Congress will conference the bill and then each house will have a yes/no vote (with no amendments) on the final version. Sources say that the administration has asked for Congress to finish its work on the budget in time for his January 28 State of the Union address.

While the complete breakdown of funding was not available, the Stevens amendment proposed an increase of $479 million (10%) over the FY02 level for NSF. That brings the total funding for the agency in FY03 to $5.27 million. Within NSF, Research and Related Accounts made the biggest gains, increasing 13.4% above FY02 levels to a total of $4.08 billion. As expected, that figure is slightly less than what had been proposed for NSF by the House and Senate Appropriations committees. However, in order to reach agreement with the White House and complete the appropropriations process, legislators had to cut $9 billion from the total approved by the Senate Appropriations committee last year. The Stevens amendment allotted $59.28 million for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction. This amount is lower than both the earlier House and Senate marks which did not fund the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), so it is highly unlikely that NEON will be funded for FY03. Other funding levels proposed by the amendment are $932 million for Education and Human Resources, $182 million for salaries and expenses, $9.7 million for the Office of Inspector General, and $3.5 million for the National Science Board. Thus the total for NSF would be $5,268.98 million, an increase of $479.74 million or 10.0% over FY02.

It is important to note that the figures above may be reduced by amendments to increase spending on other programs. Several amendments have already passed that would require across-the-board rescissions, however it is unclear if these amendments will be accepted in conference. We will continue to provide updates in future reports.


SMITHSONIAN SCIENCE COMMISSION REPORT CITES URGENT NEED FOR IMPROVED COORDINATION AND FUNDING OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

The Smithsonian Institution Science Commission released its final report on scientific research on January 7. The 18-member Commission was established in May 2001 to advise the Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Board of Regents. The commission members, whose areas of academic interest span the disciplines from anthropology to zoology, come from universities, research institutions, museums and government agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as from the Smithsonian.

The report echoes and endorses many of the main themes of recent reports by the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Public Administration (see story in 8 Nov 2002 AIBS Public Policy Report). The commission noted that Smithsonian science is "facing the most critical time in its 156-year history" and outlines steps to "reverse the long-term trend of declining support and relative neglect of scientific units."

The Commission noted that despite a rising budget for the Smithsonian as a whole, the overall science budget has steadily declined. The committee found that this decline in funding has led to a decrease in the number of research scientists and staff, especially at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH); a reduction of program support (e.g., fellowships, grants, libraries, and publications); and reduced flexibility, which has inhibited new initiatives and appointments by limiting the funds available for major scientific instrumentation, research equipment and for staff renewal. The report notes that in addition to declining financial support, there are other challenges to science at the Smithsonian including "lack of broad Institution-wide strategic planning for Smithsonian science and lack of significant links between Division or Unit planning and central planning; poor communications in administrative operations between top Smithsonian officials ("the Castle") and Units and within the Units themselves; and lack of involvement of Unit Directors and senior administrators in financial decision-making."

The Commission found that the diversity of research at the Smithsonian may make the science program appear "diffuse and lacking in focus." To counteract this perception and to encourage better coordination between the scientific units of the Smithsonian, the Commission recommended that Smithsonian science endeavors be organized into four themes: the origin and nature of the universe; the formation and evolution of the Earth and similar planets; discovering and understanding life's diversity; and the study of human diversity and culture change. The Commission argues that organizing programs around these themes would not require costly, large-scale administrative reorganization.

The Commission was also charged by the Board of Regents to report on what qualifications should be required of those chosen to lead key scientific research units at the Smithsonian. An entire chapter of the report covers this topic, noting that the most critical problems with leadership are at the National Museum of Natural History, where "long-term instability in the Office of the Director has had a bad effect on every aspect of the Museum's work." The commission provides specific recommendations for improving the situation, and outlines qualifications for various leadership positions within the Smithsonian.

The report and further information about the Science Commission can be found at http://www.si.edu/sciencecommission/default.htm.

COMMITTEE CHAIRS FOR 108TH CONGRESS ANNOUNCED

The 108th Congress has made progress in organizing and appointing members to committees, the heart of congressional operations. Listed below are chairs of key committees.

Senate Committee Leadership:

Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Chair: Sen. Cochran (R-MS); Ranking Member: Sen Harkin (D-IA)

Committee on Appropriations. Chair: Sen. Stevens (R-AK); Ranking Member: Sen. Byrd (D-WV)
Subcommittee on VA-HUD and Independent Agencies (including NSF). Chair: Sen. Bond (R-MO); Ranking Member: Sen. Mikulski (D-MD)

Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Chair: Sen. McCain (R-AZ); Ranking member: Sen. Hollings (D-SC)
Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Technology. Chair: Rep. Allen R-VA; Ranking member: Sen. Wyden (D-OR)

Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Chair: Sen. Domenici (R-NM); Ranking Member: Sen. Bingaman (D-NM)

Committee on Environment and Public Works. Chair: Sen. Inhofe (R-OK); Ranking Member: Sen. Jeffords (I-VT)

Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Chair: Sen. Gregg (R-NH); Ranking Member: Sen. Kennedy (D-MA)

House Committee Leadership (as of January 21, 2003):

Committee on Agriculture. Chair: Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA); Ranking Member: Rep. Charles W. Stenholm (D-TX)

House Committee on Appropriations. Chair: Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL); Ranking Member: Not yet identified.
Subcommittee on VA and HUD (includes National Science Foundation): Chair: Rep. James T. Walsh (R-NY); Ranking Member: Not yet identified.

House Committee on Science. Chair: Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY); Ranking Member: Rep. Ralph M. Hall (D-TX)


FINAL REPORT ON THE OUTLOOK FOR FUTURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION AT NSF RELEASED

Recommendations for the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s next decade of environmental research and education programs, prepared by NSF's Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education, were released on January 8 in the report entitled "Complex Environmental Systems: Synthesis for Earth, Life, and Society in the 21st Century." The report concludes that NSF is uniquely suited to carry out fundamental, complex environmental systems across broad areas because it funds all fields of science and engineering, including the social sciences. In addition to disciplinary-based research, NSF supports programs for crossing disciplinary and organizational boundaries and integrating new knowledge in education.

To advance the fundamental scientific knowledge necessary to address environmental challenges, the Advisory Committee recommended increased attention in three themes: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Coupled Biological and Physical Systems, and People and Technology. For each theme, the report lists several subthemes and provides examples of past and future work that demonstrates the need for and value of such research. The report also describes programs and funding needs for building capacity to address environmental research challenges, including improvements in environmental education, training, infrastructure, and technical capacity.

Noting that new instrumentation, data-handling, and methodological capabilities have expanded the horizons of what we can study and understand about the environment, the report puts a heavy emphasis on collaboration and crossing disciplinary boundaries. Advisory committee members noted that these technological advances create the demand for collaborative teams of engineers and natural and social scientists that go beyond current disciplinary research and educational frameworks.

The report concludes with mention of the need for stability in funding: "To move ahead in this next decade, environmental researchers need clearly articulated programs with sufficient long-term funding horizons so that they can incorporate interdisciplinary approaches and address complex environmental problems. Programs must respond to the needs of individuals, small groups, and large groups, as well as collaborations within and among institutions. It often takes several years for interdisciplinary teams to learn how to work together, make progress in innovative directions, and synthesize the results. The need for long-term funding is therefore particularly acute for environmental research and education."

The full text of the report can be accessed at: http://www.nsf.gov/geo/ere/ereweb/advisory.cfm. To obtain copies of either the Full report or the Summary report, email ere-info@nsf.gov.

AIBS SUBMITS COMMENTS ON NSB REPORT ON SCIENTIFIC INFRASTRUCTURE

AIBS submitted comments to the National Science Board on their draft report "Science and Engineering Infrastructure for the 21st Century: the role of the National Science Foundation." The report is based on a study conducted by the NSB Task Force on Science and Engineering Infrastructure (INF). In the report, 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 AIBS supports the need for increased infrastructure, we expressed our concern over the NSB's recommendation that the proportion of NSF funding dedicated to infrastructure be increased, as doing so would require cuts in existing programs. The full text of AIBS' comments can be viewed at http://www.aibs.org/publicpolicy/resources/NSB_Infrastructure_Comments.pdf. The draft infrastructure report can be downloaded from the NSF website at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/.


- 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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