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Public Policy Report for 02/03/2003

  • Senate shuns biology in handing out NSF research funds -- again
  • NRC Panel Proposes Elimination of "Evolutionary Biology" from Biological Research Taxonomy
  • President's budget request for FY04 released today
  • Biologist to direct the National Museum of Natural History
  • US Commission on Ocean Policy deliberates policy recommendations
  • AIBS accepting applications for Emerging Public Policy Leader Award

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 SHUNS BIOLOGY WHEN HANDING OUT NSF RESEARCH FUNDS - AGAIN

The long road to a completed budget for FY03 appears to be coming to a close, although the final chapter may not be a pleasant one for biologists. Due to the convoluted process the Senate used to introduce and pass the omnibus appropriations bill, there was no committee report filed (reports aren't filed on amendments). However, Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) filed what would have been the committee report as an item in the Congressional Record. It is the committee report that has laid out the division of research funds among the disciplinary directorates, including the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO). As it turns out, history repeated itself and the Senate again chose to distribute the bulk of the increase to the other directorates. The only increase granted to BIO was a $10 million boost, to a total of $85 million, for the Plant Genome Research project. That boost earned BIO a 3.9% increase over FY2002 levels. All other directorates, however, received increases between 10.1% and 18.4%.

This unequal distribution of funds comes counter to that requested by many biological societies (including AIBS, FASEB, the Ecological Society of American, American Society of Plant Biologists and the American Society for Microbiology) last summer when the Senate first left BIO out of the generous increase to NSF Research. Biologists weren't the only group to voice their concern, however. The Coalition for National Science Funding, a group of over 90 organizations representing the many disciplines of science and technology, wrote to congressional appropriators last fall and asked that all research directorates at the NSF share in any increase above the President's request.

Last summer, the House Appropriations Committee came to the rescue of the BIO Directorate, providing for an increase on par with that given other directorates. This week, the House and Senate will begin work on conferencing the FY03 omnibus appropriations bill. Chairman Stevens announced that he hopes to have only one formal conference committee meeting on Thursday, February 6. Biologists concerned about the level of funding for the BIO Directorate should contact members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee immediately. Contact AIBS Director of Public Policy, Adrienne Froelich (afroelich@aibs.org), for further information and suggested talking points. Biologists in the states of Missouri and Maryland are particularly encouraged to contact Senators Bond or Mikulski, the chair and ranking member (respectively) of the subcommittee handling the NSF budget.


NRC PANEL PROPOSES ELIMINATION OF "EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY" FROM BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH TAXONOMY

The National Research Council's (NRC) Board on Higher Education and Workforce, Committee for Examining the Methodology for Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs is beginning a study of the quality of research doctoral education at academic institutions in the United States. Among the Committee's panels working on this project is the Panel on Taxonomy and Interdisciplinarity (PTI). The PTI will: 1) Develop criteria to include/exclude fields. 2) Determine ways to recognize sub-fields within major fields. 3) How can the faculty associated with a program be identified? 4) Determine issues that are specific to broad fields: agricultural sciences, biological sciences, arts and humanities, social and behavioral sciences, physical sciences and mathematics, and engineering. 5) How can interdisciplinary fields be identified? 6) What emerging fields need to be included in the study and how much information on these fields should be incorporated in the study? and, 7) Can some fields with a small number of degrees and programs be aggregated together?

The PTI has identified 57 fields of study among four major areas: Life Sciences; Physical and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering; Social Sciences; and Humanities. The next assessment will gather quantitative information and generate reputational measures for programs in each of these fields. The current list of fields is different from that used during the last study in 1995. As stated on the Panel's website, the changes arise from the desire to include major areas of traditional activity that were not part of the previous study, such as agricultural studies, and the need to acknowledge the reorganization and rationalization of existing fields, such as the life sciences and engineering.

AIBS has reviewed the Draft Taxonomy and is preparing to submit comments to the Committee that express concerns with the Panel's treatment of key biological disciplines, such as evolution, ecology, and integrative biology. For example, evolutionary biology is not included as a discipline and ecology is in the same discipline as environmental science. Once AIBS' comments are submitted, they will be posted to AIBS' Public Policy webpage accessible from www.aibs.org. If you wish to comment, please submit your remarks directly to NRC staff working on this project at resdoc@nas.edu. The Panel is scheduled to meet via teleconference during the first week of February, but the Panel will accept comments through March 1, 2003. You may access the Draft Taxonomy at www7.nationalacademies.org/resdoc/Draft_Taxonomy.html.

Draft Taxonomy for the Life Sciences
Biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology (Subfields), Genetics, Molecular biology (Subfields), Cell biology (Subfields), Developmental biology, Neuroscience and neurobiology (Subfields), Microbiology (Subfields), Immunology, Pharmacology and toxicology (Subfields), Ecology and environmental science (Subfields), Physiology, Plant Science (Subfields), Food science and food engineering, Nutrition, Animal sciences (Subfields), Entomology
Emerging Fields
Genomics, computational biology, and bio-informatics


PRESIDENT'S BUDGET REQUEST FOR FY04 RELEASED TODAY

Even as Congress continues working on last year's budget (see first story), the Bush administration has released its proposed budget for FY04.

At press time, we can tell you that the President has requested a total of $562 million for the Biological Sciences Directorate of NSF, an approximate 7% increase over his request for FY03. It's unclear whether or not that figure will represent an increase over the actual FY03 budget, though, as the House had last proposed $585 million for BIO and the Senate has proposed only $535 million for BIO. The proposed budget also includes $12 million in the Major Research Equipment line for the proposed National Ecological Observatory Netowork and $6 million within BIO for NEON operation support ($3 million was requested in the FY03 budget). More information regarding the budget for NSF and other agencies will be available in future editions of the AIBS Public Policy Reports.


BIOLOGIST TO DIRECT NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

Only weeks after the Smithsonian Science Commission released a critical assessment of the leadership at the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution announced that Dr. Christian Samper, a 37-year-old biologist, has been named the new director of the National Museum of Natural History, effective March 31, 2003. The Costa Rican native was previously the deputy director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

As we reported in the last issue, the Smithsonian Institution Science Commission recently noted that leadership at the Smithsonian, especially at NMNH, was lacking: The most critical problems are at the NMNH, where long-term instability in the Office of the Director has had a bad effect on every aspect of the Museum's work. The frequent turnover of Directors appears to be at least partly attributable to the failure of previous SI leadership to delegate the degree of authority and responsibility necessary to attract the most highly qualified candidates. Until the current Interim Director was appointed, there was not one scientist at an administrative level above that of Department Chair. There was no voice for science in the inner councils of the Director's Office. The Commission understands the difficulty, but sees the need to bring vigorous scientific direction to NMNH. (This requires not only a vision for the future of science, but also the ability to develop strategies for collections management, the capacity to develop exhibit, educational and outreach strategies, and the skill to raise significant external funding.)

Samper sees the appointment as a great challenge and opportunity. The Smithsonian's Natural History Museum is one of the great museums of the world, and I look forward to helping make it even better in the coming years. I will move ahead to implement the recommendations from the Science Commission and strengthen collaboration with other units within the Smithsonian and around the world. Samper said that he will work to pull together the museums strengths in areas like biodiversity and climate change, and link them to public policy issues. He takes over a museum facing challenges resulting from leadership turnover, insufficient budget, and an unclear mission. The National Museum of Natural History's last director, Robert Fri, resigned in May 2001, expressing concern with how the museum's science programs were being reorganized. The National Museum of Natural History has had six directors since 1990.

Samper studied biology as an undergraduate at the University of the Andes in Bogota, Columbia, and earned his master's and Ph.D. in biology from Harvard. Before he joined the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute two years ago, he created an environmental education program for 10,000 schools in Columbia, and helped form Colombia's environment ministry in 1993.


US COMMISSION ON OCEAN POLICY DELIBERATES POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

After hearing from dozens of experts at more than 10 meetings across the country, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy is in the process of developing policy recommendations to address the many issues facing the oceans. While the Commission has not yet put forth any official policy recommendations, the panel recently discussed draft policy options at two public meetings in Washington, D.C. At the most recent meeting on January 24, the commission debated recommendations by its four working groups (Governance, Stewardship, Investment and Implementation, and Research, Education and Marine Operations). The meeting follows the format of the November 22 meeting of the commission, also held in Washington, D.C. Two documents provided the framework for the policy discussions: the Commission's draft Table of Contents and the Draft Policy Options for January 24, 2003. Both documents were distributed to the public at the meeting and can be downloaded from the Commission's website at http://www.oceancommission.gov/meetings/jan24_03/jan24_03.html#summary.

Central to all other recommendations, the Governance working group discussed "Setting a New Course for Ocean Governance: The Straw Governance Model" and presented the commission with a draft National Ocean Policy Framework that would create an Executive Office of Ocean Policy. The discussion draft called for the Office to be led by a presidential appointee (Assistant to the President for Ocean Policy). The Office would also staff a National Ocean Council, made up of the agency and/or Cabinet officials with jurisdiction over the oceans, and an Advisory Committee, comprised of state, local, tribal, private, research and non-governmental organization leaders. In proposing the draft framework, Governance Working Group chairman Bill Ruckelshaus noted that such an office would be critical in ensuring high-level attention to the issues and working towards implementation of the report's many recommendations. He also said that one of the Council's many activities could be to guide activities such as the creation of a National Ocean Research Plan and a National Ocean Data Center.

Other issues discussed by the Commission on January 24, 2003, included: Oceans & Human Health; Informal Education; Marine Transportation; Satellite Remote Sensing for Earth Observations; Watershed Management; A National Watershed Monitoring Strategy; Marine Mammal Protection; Essential Fish Habitat; Coral Reef Ecosystem Protection. During the November 22, 2002 meeting, the Research, Education and Marine Operations working group presented draft plans for: Rational Investment Strategy for U.S. Ocean Sciences, Research Partnership and Roles, Coastal and Ocean Observing and Prediction Systems and Data Management. Documents and meeting minutes regarding these issues can be downloaded from the Commission's website at: http://www.oceancommission.gov/meetings/nov22_02/nov22_02.html.

Following the policy option discussions, commission staff was directed to begin initial drafting of some sections of the Commission's final report. Based on information gathered at the public meetings and its in-depth analysis of U.S. coastal policies, the Commission will compile findings and recommendations that will be presented to Congress and the President in a final report in 2003.

The next full Commission meeting is scheduled for the last week of March/first week of April in Washington, D.C. The specific date has not been determined. The site will be the George Washington University Marvin Center.


AIBS ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR EMERGING PUBLIC POLICY LEADER AWARD

As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award, an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS will pay travel costs and expenses for 1-2 recipients of the award to participate in the Science, Engineering and Technology Working Group's annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on April 2-3, 2003. The CVD is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. CVD is hosted by more than 30 organizations spanning all scientific disciplines. During the CVD, participants will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and two receptions honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of science and biology; they will also participate in meetings with members of Congress and their staff. Recipients of the award will write a short article describing their experience at CVD to be published in the AIBS journal, BioScience.

AIBS is accepting applications for the Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to Dr. Adrienne Froelich, AIBS Director of Public Policy (afroelich@aibs.org) NO LATER than 8 a.m. EST on Wednesday, 5 March. Awards will be announced by 12 March. More information about the award, including required application materials, can be viewed at the AIBS website (www.aibs.org).



- 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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