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Public Policy Report for 09/15/2003

  • Senate appropriations cuts funding for NSF BIO research; declines funding for NEON
  • ACTION ALERT: Your support could mean an additional $37 million (250 grants and two NEON prototypes) for the biological sciences!
  • Senate committee proposes increased funding for NSF education and human resources directorate
  • Plan to participate: 2004 Congressional Visits Day
  • White House issues draft guidance on peer review science in the regulatory process
  • State evolution items: Minnesota and Texas
  • NAS to hold convocation on facilitating interdisciplinary research

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 APPROPRIATIONS CUTS FUNDING FOR BIO RESEARCH; DECLINES FUNDING FOR NEON

Immediately following the August congressional recess, the Senate
Appropriations Committee got off to a quick start on trying to finish
the remaining appropriations bills. Among the bills on the
committee's agenda was the VA-HUD and Independent Agencies bill which
funds the National Science Foundation. The committee provided NSF
with a total of $5.58 billion, a $275.8 million (5.2%) increase over
last year's appropriation, but slightly less than the $5.68 billion
provided by the House committee in July. The number falls far short
of the amount ($6.39 billion) required to continue the 5-year
doubling path authorized by Congress last year. However, the
committee notes in accompanying report language that "the Committee
continues to be supportive of the pursuit of a doubling path for NSF
funding. However, due to funding constraints, the Committee is not
able to provide such funding at this time, but will continue to
pursue these efforts in the future."

Included in the total increase for NSF is a 4.0% increase for
Research and Related Accounts to a total of $4.22 billion for FY 04.
This amount is also slightly smaller than the amount provided by the
House appropriators. Even though the Senate provided an increase to
the BIO directorate this year, core programs in the directorate stand
to be cut by approximately $8.5 million. This is due to the committee
recommending $15 million more for plant genome than requested, but
only providing an additional $6.5 to the directorate. The House
provided only the requested $75 million for plant genome research, as
well as an additional $16 million to the directorate; thus, the House
bill provides $24 million more for core BIO programs than the Senate
bill. Unlike last year, BIO was not the only directorate to not
receive an increase. The Senate level-funded the Geosciences
Directorate (GEO) , which houses ocean sciences, at last year's
level. However, that amount is slightly more than $4 million higher
than requested by the administration.

The Senate also failed to provide funding for NEON. Citing budgetary
constraints, the committee declined to fund any MRE projects that are
not yet underway, such as NEON. The committee also expressed a desire
to hear the results of the NAS study on NSF's prioritization
procedure for large infrastructure projects.

ACTION ALERT: YOUR SUPPORT COULD MEAN AN ADDITIONAL $37 MILLION (250
GRANTS AND TWO NEON PROTOTYPES) FOR THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES!

As is customary in Congress, both the House and Senate Appropriations
Committees traditionally "mark up" their own version of spending
bills. Once both houses pass those bills, the houses will
"conference" a bill, working out differences in funding allocations
between the two versions.

As noted above, there is a significant difference in funding for
biological sciences research at NSF between the House and Senate
marks. The House version of the bill would provide $9.6 million more
to the Biological Sciences Directorate than the Senate. Because the
Senate designates an additional $15 million to plant genome, the
discrepancy in funding for core BIO programs is approximately $25
million. The House also provides $12 million in the Major Research
Equipment and Facilities Construction (MRE) account for the National
Ecological Observatory Network. NEON has been requested in three
budget cycles; this is the first time it has received funding in any
congressional mark. (For more information about NEON, visit
www.aibs.org/ibrcs).

WHAT TO WRITE:

Biologists interested in making their voice heard should FAX a letter
to their members of Congress. In all letters, be sure to thank them
for their support of the National Science Foundation. Below is a
suggested outline for your letter:

1. Thank them for their support of NSF in the past. Mention last
year's passage of the NSF Reauthorization Act, which authorized a
five-year doubling path for the agency. (You may want to acknowledge
that while current budget situations have put this year's goal out of
reach, you hope they will continue their strong support for
scientific research at NSF.)
2. Mention the benefits of NSF funding to your state/district. You
can get statistics on actual award amounts for your university and
state from http://dellweb.bfa.nsf.gov/.
3. Encourage the conferees to accept the House numbers for the BIO
Directorate and NEON. The median annual award for BIO is $94,000;
hence the House would provide for approximately 250 additional grants.
4. Offer to provide them with additional information as they find
necessary. A nice touch is to extend them (and/or their staff) to
visit your lab/department at their convenience.

WHO TO CONTACT:
ALL biologists are encouraged to contact their members of Congress to
express support for biological science funding. Unless you bring the
issue to their attention, they are unlikely to support increases.
Educating members of Congress on the value of biological science
research is essential to future growth.

If you live in any of the following states, calls or letters to the
Senators below (members of the Appropriations subcommittee handling
NSF) are especially valuable. Biologists in the states of Missouri
and Maryland are particularly encouraged to contact Sen. Kit Bond
(R-MO) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair and ranking member,
respectively, of the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF
funding.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R MT)
Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R AL)
Sen. Larry E. Craig (R ID)
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R NM)
Sen. Mike DeWine (R OH)
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R TX)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D VT)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D IA)
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D WV)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D SD)
Sen. Harry M. Reid (D NV)

Biologists living in the following districts are also strongly
encouraged to contact their representatives, who sit on the House
Appropriations subcommittee. Biologists from the 25th district of New
York and the 1st district of West Virginia are particularly
encouraged to contact Rep. James T. Walsh (R NY-25) and Rep. Alan B.
Mollohan (D WV-1), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the
House subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF funding.

Rep. David L. Hobson (R OH-7)
Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R MI-9)
Rep. Anne Meagher Northup (R KY-3)
Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R VA-5)
Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R AL-4)
Rep. Ray LaHood (R IL-18)
Rep. Dave Weldon (R FL-15)
Rep. Mike Simpson (R ID-2)
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D OH-9)
Rep. David E. Price (D NC-4)
Rep. Robert E. Bud Cramer Jr. (D AL-5)
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D PA-2)
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D GA-2)

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS: Do not hesitate to contact Robert Gropp (rgr...@aibs.org) if you would like assistance drafting a letter or finding contact information for
your representative and senators.

SENATE COMMITTEE PROPOSES INCREASED FUNDING FOR NSF EDUCATION AND
HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTORATE

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its version of a
funding plan for the National Science Foundation (S. Rept. 108-143).
The proposal must now be agreed to by the full Senate and any
differences between the Senate and House versions must be reconciled
before the final fiscal year 2004 spending bill is sent to the
President. The Senate would provide NSF's Education and Human
Resources Directorate (EHR) with $975.8 million, $72.7 million more
than the FY 2003 enacted level and roughly $37.8 million over the
administration's request for FY 2004.

In the report language that describes how the Senate wants the money
spent, the Committee expressed strong support for efforts to increase
opportunities for members of underrepresented groups in science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and to increase the
competitiveness of smaller higher-education institutions. The
Committee stated that it was "deeply disappointed by the
administration's lack of support in its budget request for assisting
smaller research institutions and minorities." Moreover, the
Committee expressed its frustration with the administration's
"continued lack of support" for the Experimental Program to Stimulate
Competitive Research (EPSCoR). To this end, the Senate Committee
proposal calls for funding EPSCoR at $100 million, an increase of
roughly $10.6 million over FY 2003 and $25 million over the
President's FY 2004 budget request. The Committee also noted its
expectation that States "will graduate from EPSCoR and instead States
have apparently begun to view the program as an 'entitlement'."
Thus, the Committee would have NSF provide the report by May 1, 2004
on the "status of all the States participating in EPSCoR."

The Committee would provide additional funding for several programs
designed to increase opportunities for members of underrepresented
groups in the sciences and technology, including Tech Talent and the
Advanced Technological Education program. The Committee would also
provide $25 million for the Historically Black Colleges and
Universities-Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP), an increase over FY
2003 levels by just over $6 million and just over $5 million more
than the FY 2004 budget request. The Committee also expressed its
intent that HBCU-Research University Science and Technology
initiative (THRUST) should receive $10 million above the budget
request, and that the increased funding should be used to fully-fund
multi-year awards to recipients of THRUST awards in the program's
first year. Recognizing the importance of recruiting qualified
individuals from underrepresented groups into graduate programs and
the professoriate, the Committee proposes spending $17.5 million for
the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP),
nearly $6 million more than the President's budget request and the FY
2003 enacted spending level.

With respect to other programs designed to recruit students into
graduate programs in STEM fields, the Committee acknowledged that it
"recognizes and is supportive of the request by the administration
for the Foundation's graduate research education programs." The
requested budget figures would enable NSF to increase annual stipends
for graduate student awards from $27,500 to $30,000. The Committee
also stated its intent that through the additional funds provided to
the Research and Related Activities account, NSF will also be able to
provide the same level of stipends for the existing Graduate Teaching
Fellowships in K-12 Education program, the Graduate Research
Fellowships program, and the Integrative Graduate Education and
Research Traineeship program.

Significantly, the Committee clearly stated its concern that some
grantees in the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program are not
able to provide documentation on how funds through this program have
been spent. The Committee urged NSF to prohibit grantees that have
"not been able to provide appropriate documentation from continuing
to receive funding, or to receive future funding for this program."
Despite its concerns with the program, the Committee would provide
$145 million for NSF's Math and Science Partnership grant program,
just over $18 million more than was appropriated in FY 2003.


PLAN TO PARTICIPATE: 2004 CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY

The Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group (SETWG), a
cross-disciplinary coalition of professional societies and
organizations (including AIBS) has announced that its annually
sponsored Congressional Visits Day (CVD) will be held on 3-4 March
2004 in Washington, DC. During Congressional Visits Day, scientists
and engineers meet with their members of Congress and key staffers to
educate them about the vital importance of federal support for
scientific research and development. CVD has grown over the years
and is increasingly recognized as a significant event by members of
Congress. Given the growing number of competing budget priorities,
record breaking budget deficits, and the 2004 elections, March 2004
will be a particularly important time for a large number of
biologists and biology educators to make their presence known in
Washington, DC. If you would like additional information about
participating in CVD 2004, please contact Robert Gropp in the AIBS
Public Policy Office at rgr...@aibs.org or (202) 628-1500 x 250.


WHITE HOUSE ISSUES DRAFT GUIDANCE ON PEER REVIEW SCIENCE IN THE
REGULATORY PROCESS

The Bush administration has been widely criticized by scientists and
others for using ideological litmus tests instead of technical
qualifications to select members of scientific advisory boards and
commissions. The administration has largely ignored this criticism
and has now released a new draft guidance it contends will ensure
significant federal regulations are based on the best available
science. Policymakers have long argued that decisions should be
based on the best available information. The draft guidelines
released by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
point to a decade of bipartisan reports and legislation calling for
regulatory processes to be based on peer reviewed data. OMB notes
that the plan would not impact the peer review processes or the grant
application process at the National Science Foundation or the
National Institutes of Health. The draft plan, expected to be
implemented in early 2004, would provide federal agencies and OMB
with the ability to ensure the regulatory process is more transparent
and free of conflict of interest, according to OMB. For example, OMB
notes that some scientists that receive funding from a regulatory
agency may review studies that agency may latter use to issue
regulations. OMB is concerned that these scientists may feel
compelled to favorably review information that supports the agencies
proposed regulations. Critics ranging from environmental groups to
civil rights advocates consider the peer review plan nothing more
than a tool the White House will use to impede the issuance of
regulations or to prevent new rules from being implemented
altogether. They point, in part, to the fact that the guidance was
largely crafted by OMB regulators favorable to big-business and who
have deep ties to organizations opposed to federal regulation.
Critics further argue that the peer review guidance would largely be
used to prevent the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers from issuing any regulations not friendly to supporters of
the Bush administration.

Briefly, as defined in the draft OMB peer review guidance, a peer
review relevant to the regulatory process "is a scientifically
rigorous review and critique of a study's methods, results, and
findings by others in the field with requisite training and
expertise." According to OMB, the new peer review guidance "would
'supplement' those requirements for the peer review of 'significant
regulatory information'." This refers to scientific or technical
information that (i) qualifies as "influential" under OMB's
information quality guidelines and (ii) is relevant to regulatory
policies. In general, the guidelines are designed to be used when a
regulation may cost a private sector entity an excess of $100 million
over a multi-year period. The entire draft proposal is available for
review at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/2003-34.pdf.

OMB will receive comments from scientists on the draft proposal
through October 28, 2003. Of particular interest to OMB are the
opinions of scientists on the breadth and scope of the proposal:
Should provisions be strengthened, modified, or removed? Will the
provisions (e.g., conflict of interest and disclosure requirements)
discourage qualified scientists from participating in the peer review
process? Would provisions of this proposal unnecessarily burden
participating scientists or discourage qualified scientists from
participating in agency peer reviews?

Because of security-related delays in mail processing for the White
House, comments should be submitted electronically to:
OMB_peer_review@omb.eop.gov. Please put the full body of your
comments in the text of the electronic message and as an attachment.
Please include your name, title, organization, postal address,
telephone number, and e-mail address in the text of the message.
Comments may also be submitted via facsimile to (202) 395-7245.


STATE EVOLUTION

Minnesota-

The state committee charged with drafting new public school science
standards has issued draft standards. Interested Minnesota
scientists and educators may view the draft standards online at the
Minnesota Department of ITEMS Education website via
http://education.state.mn.us/stellent/groups/public/documents/translatedcontent/pub_038386.pdf.
Comments on the draft guidelines may be submitted electronically via
http://www.zoomerang.com/recipient/survey.zgi?ID=RXT8C51RVTL3&PIN=PY8C3A0FD127&PANEL=
or at one of a number of scheduled public hearings across the state
in coming weeks.

Recall that many education advocates familiar with the Minnesota
process have expressed concern with the State Education
Commissioner's previous public expression of support for the
inclusion of religious concepts in science courses. According to
reports from Minnesota media sources, these concerns may have been
realized when the standard-writing committee's draft standards were
made public. It seems the standards first made public did not
reflect the intent of the committee. Some committee members noted
that words were changed with the result being a weaker treatment of
evolution and encouragement for local schools to include alternative
information about evolution. According to news media reports, the
wrong version of the standards was accidentally made public but the
error has reportedly been corrected. According to a spokesperson for
the Education Commissioner, nothing nefarious was afoot.

Nonetheless, many science education advocates in the state are
remaining vigilant to ensure that no similar error occurs as the
standard adoption process continues. The Minnesota process is not
likely to end prior to next year when the State legislature must
adopt final standards. Minnesota residents interested in staying
appraised of developments in the state may wish to join the Minnesota
node of the AIBS/NCSE State Evolution List Serve Network by sending
an email to majordomo@lists.aibs.org with the message "subscribe
mn@lists.aibs.org email address" included in the body of the message.

Texas: Authors Say "Don't Mess with Textbooks"-

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is in the process of
reviewing and approving biology textbooks that local school districts
may adopt and use. On September 10th the SBOE heard testimony from
more than 100 citizens concerned about how evolution is presented in
Texas textbooks. Within the crowd were various pro-evolution science
advocates representing the University of Texas at Austin, National
Center for Science Education, Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens
for Science, Texas Association of Biology Teachers, parents, clergy,
and others. One of the messages they carried to the SBOE was written
by leading authors of biology textbooks-"Don't Mess with Textbooks."
In short, science textbook content is reviewed and evaluated as
science is done. Peer reviewed science should be the basis of
textbook content, not political or religious belief. There is no
credible or accepted scientific support for intelligent design.

For more detailed coverage of the developments in Texas visit the
National Center for Science Education online at www.ncseweb.org.
Texas residents interested in staying informed about
evolution-related education issues in Texas may wish to subscribe to
the Texas node of the AIBS/NCSE Evolution List Serve Network. For
more information visit
http://www.aibs.org/mailing-lists/the_aibs-ncse_evolution_list_server.html.
You may also wish to contact the Texas Freedom Network at
www.tfn.org, or Texas Citizens for Science at
http://www.txscience.org/.


NAS TO HOLD CONVOCATION ON FACILITATING INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH

On 29-30 January 2004, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative
and the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy will host
a meeting in Washington, DC to learn about effective practices for
overcoming barriers to interdisciplinary research. Educators,
students, researchers, academic administrators, government and
industry representatives, and other interested individuals are
invited to attend. The meeting will include plenary discussions,
opportunities for participants to share information and poster
sessions. Planned keynote speakers include Rita Colwell, Director of
the National Science Foundation. For more information or to register
for the meeting, please go to
http://www7.national-academies.org/interdisciplinary/Convocation_web.html.


- Support the AIBS Public Policy Office and gain important benefits
for your society or organization. Find out how at
http://www.aibs.org/publicpolicy/funding.html

- IBRCS / NEON updates online at http://ibrcs.aibs.org

- The plenary lectures from the 2003 AIBS Annual Meeting (theme:
Bioethics in a Changing World) are now online for free viewing at
http://www.aibs.org/pubaibs/virtuallibrary.html

- 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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