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CONGRESS FINALLY PASSES FY2004 BUDGET
More than a quarter into FY2004, Congress finally passed the remaining appropriations bills for the federal government on January 22. After a few days of political disputes over controversial provisions contained within the bill (country-of-origin labeling, media ownership, overtime pay, etc.), the $820 billion omnibus conference report (H.R. 2673) was adopted by the Senate 65-28. The House had passed the report in December before adjourning for the holidays. See the December 8 issue of the AIBS Public Policy Report for analysis of final funding levels for NSF, including NEON, at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2003_12_08.html.
Details and analysis of the final funding levels for science programs for FY2004 are available on the AAAS website at: http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/caprev04.htm
WHITE HOUSE PROPOSES 0.37% INCREASE IN BASIC RESEARCH FOR FY2005
The administration's budget request for FY 2005 was released on Monday, February 2. While the Administration touted its favorable treatment of research and development in the FY2005 budget, the majority of good news is on the "development" side. Basic research is slated for a mere 0.37% increase over FY 2004 levels; once adjusted for inflation, that increase will result in a cut in real dollars.
The primary home of basic research for the U.S., the National Science Foundation (NSF), is requesting a $167 million (3%) increase for a total of $5.7 billion. The request, coupled with the final budget numbers for FY2004, essentially derails the effort to double the agency's budget over five years. In fact, there is a less than 1% difference between the total request for FY2005 and the amount authorized for FY2003 ($5.515 billion) under the NSF Reauthorization Act passed in 2002. Thus, the agency is already two years behind the amount that would have put it on a 5-year doubling track. Citing "significant challenges that face the nation in security, defense and the economy, " NSF Director Rita Colwell called the increase "a tribute to the 200,000+ students, teachers and researchers who are supported by NSF each year."
House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), however, had a different view, saying he was "very disappointed" with the Administration's proposed fiscal year 2005 federal budget. "I understand that we are in a very tight fiscal situation and that the Administration has tried to treat research and development (R&D) as favorably as possible. But we just have to find a way to do better." Boehlert also expressed concern "about embarking on new missions for NASA at a time when other science agencies are being cut in real dollars." Even NASA, which has been charged with undertaking large, new missions, was only granted a 5.6% increase for FY 2005.
According to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten, government spending falls into three categories: defense, homeland security, and "everything else". Thus, the small increases for these programs follow the Administration's new guideline, as stated by Bolten, that "government spending should grow no faster than the average increase in American family incomes of approximately 4 percent. This budget proposes to hold the growth in total discretionary spending to 3.9 percent, and, again, to reduce the growth in non-defense, non-homeland security spending to half of 1 percent, below the rate of inflation."
NSF REQUESTS FUNDING FOR NEON, THREE NEW LTER SITES AND ANNOUNCES NEW FOCUS ON AQUATIC RESEARCH FOR FY2005
The NSF proposed budget for FY 2005 includes a 2.2% ($13 million) increase in funding for the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) to bring it to a total of $600 million. Major budgetary items and increases for BIO are in the chart below.
Activity, FY 2005 request ($ and % increase over FY2004):
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences $125 M ($3.2M, 2.6%)
Integrative Biology and Neurosciences $111 M ($3.2M, 3.0%)
Environmental Biology $111 M ($3.2M, 3.0%)
Biological Infrastructure $85M ($5.2M, 6.5%)
Emerging Frontiers (a cross-discipline, "virtual" directorate) $78M (-$1.9M, -2.3%)
Plant Genome Research $89M ($0M, 0%)
The increase for BIO includes an additional $2.3 million for the Long Term Ecological Research Network program. The increase, which brings the total for LTER to $22.8 M, is designated for the initiation of three new coastal LTER sites. Previous reviews of the LTER program have noted the need to diversify the ecosystems represented in the network. More information regarding proposals for the new sites can be found at http://lternet.edu/propinfo/.
Aquatic research was highlighted as a new focus for the Biocomplexity in the Environment program. Biocomplexity is one of five NSF budget priorities, and is funded jointly by all research directorates. Despite being a budget priority, biocomplexity was level-funded for FY2005 at $100 million ($0 increase). The budget documentation states that the aquatic systems studied in this new priority "may be at small scales, such as aquatic organisms and their effect on water flow and safety, or at large scales, such as interactions between the climate variability and aquatic ecosystem function and diversity. Processes that occur at interfaces are particularly attractive topics for investigation."
In addition to the funding in BIO, which is part of NSF's Research and Related Activities Account, NSF has again requested $12 million for the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account (MREFC). This is the fourth request for NEON through the MREFC account; none of the previous requests have been granted. However, NSF is optimistic about the chances for NEON. In a budget briefing for the press and scientific societies, Director Rita Colwell pointed to language in the FY 2004 appropriations bill that directed NSF to spend funds from BIO to begin fully developing the NEON plan. While Congress did not specify a dollar amount to be spent, FY 2005 budget documents indicate that $4 million was set-aside for NEON out of the BIO allocation ($6 million was requested through BIO for NEON in FY 2004). Dr. Colwell also noted the very recent release of a RFP to develop a consortium that would effectively run NEON. The RFP is online at http://www.nsf.gov/pubsys/ods/getpub.cfm?ods_key=nsf04549
PRESIDENT PROPOSES TRANSFER OF NSF MATH AND SCIENCE PARTNERSHIP GRANT PROGRAM TO DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
The President's FY 2005 budget request would cut funding for the National Science Foundation's Math and Science Partnership grant program by just over 42 percent. The cut is the result of the administration's desire to transfer roughly $60 million to the Department of Education's Math and Science Partnership grant program. If the proposed transfer is successful, NSF would be left with $80 million to support current MSP grant activities.
NSF's MSP grant program is a national, competitive, peer review grant program that supports research on effective methods for improving science education. NSF's MSP grant program supports the development of innovative linkages between university researchers and science educators. The Department of Education, which administers its own MSP program, provides formula-based funding to state education agencies based on student population. Each state education agency disburses funds to partnership programs within the state. According to a recent report in Science magazine, "The phase-out of the MSP program would be a blow to university researchers, who use NSF funding to support programs in local school districts to train teachers, improve curricula, and devise better ways to measure student progress in math and science. NSF currently supports 52 such projects."
White House officials reportedly feel that NSF's MSP program too closely resembles previous systemic reforms and is not specific enough to the administration's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education policy. As part of NCLB, states must begin testing students in science and math by 2007 and some officials believe that NSF's program does not adequately prepare states for this testing requirement. Some policy analysts, however, suggest that the transfer of funds is merely an attempt by the administration to bolster its defense against arguments that it has not adequately funded NCLB.
INTERIOR SCIENCE: A FIRST LOOK AT THE DEPARTMENT'S FY05 BUDGET REQUEST
At a briefing on 2 February 2004, Secretary Gale Norton announced that the President has proposed just under $11.0 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2005 spending for the Department of the Interior. The request is a $250 million (2.3 percent) increase over the FY 04 funding level. When combined with funds that will become available to the Department during FY 05 without further Congressional action, the total Department budget would be roughly $15.3 billion. Departmental priorities include "supporting and enhancing cooperative conservation, fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, accelerating Indian trust reform, reforming the Abandoned Mine Lands program, implementing the Healthy Forests Initiative, Addressing the National Park Service's maintenance backlog, Enhancing the education of American Indian children, and advancing the goals of the National Energy Plan." Interior's cooperative conservation initiative "works with landowners and others to achieve conservation goals across the Nation and benefit America's national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands." For FY 05, the President proposes spending $507.3 million for cooperative conservation programs, an increase of roughly $84 million or 20 percent above the FY 04 funding level. To support the Healthy Forests Initiative "to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires, improve forest and rangeland health, and encourage public participation in project selection and implementation" the President proposes spending $209.3 million for hazardous fuels funding in the wildland fire program. This is a $25 million or 14 percent increase over current funding. Altogether, the President proposes spending $300 million to "reduce the build-up of hazardous fuels in the Nation's forests and rangelands, reduce risk of catastrophic fire to communities, protect threatened and endangered species, and support other activities under the Healthy Forests Act."
For National Parks Stewardship programs, the FY 05 budget request is $724.7 million for park facilities to address the deferred maintenance backlog in national parks. This figure includes a $10 million increase for park base operations to address facility maintenance and $13.2 million for repair and rehabilitation priorities identified through the facility condition index performance measure. The President's request also assumes that $310 million for park road maintenance will become available through legislation that would reauthorize surface transportation programs. The National Park Service's Natural Resource Challenge measures the health of park ecosystems and specific flora and fauna within park boundaries. To support the Natural Resource Challenge, the President has proposed a funding increase of $4.1 million to support six new vital signs monitoring networks. The additional six networks would bring the total to 28, four short of the planned 32. With this funding, the cumulative increase would be $149.4 million over 2001 levels and would fulfill "a presidential commitment to improve park management of natural resources."
The President proposes $58.3 million for Interior to use in coordination with the National Invasive Species Council for programs to assist in the research, early detection, rapid response, and control of invasive species. Interior's focus will include controlling brown tree snake infestations through research and detection; developing and implementing strategies to control Asian carp species and other fresh water habitat invaders; developing strike teams to respond quickly to infestations of brown tree snakes, tamarisk, leafy spurge, and yellow star thistle; and, working with State and local governments, private landowners, and private nonprofits in the eight southwestern States to pursue an integrated strategic approach to managing tamarisk.
A common question facing the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is the balance between its activities in support of other Interior agencies and its broader role of providing science and information for the nation. Secretary Norton stated on 2 February 2004 that the overall USGS budget for FY05 is "being focused on working with land management agencies" to support Interior's science needs. Collectively, the USGS budget request for FY05 is slightly better than in recent years though still short of the $1 billion figure many USGS stakeholders would like to see. The President's request is for $919.8 million, $18.2 million less than the FY 04 funding level. According to Department of the Interior officials, $17 million of this cut arises from the elimination of Congressional earmarks that were included in the FY04 appropriations. In recent years, one of the significant challenges facing the USGS has been the lack of adequate funding to address "uncontrollable costs" (e.g., compensation and benefits). To a large degree, this has forced the Survey to cover these costs by utilizing science and program funds; effectively reducing the amount of science the Survey can conduct. The need to provide funds for these uncontrollable costs has been partially recognized in the budget request. A total of $17.2 million has been identified for uncontrollable costs. Of this, $9.1 million are budgeted funds. However, $8.1 million would still need to be absorbed from other sources if the President's budget were adopted as proposed.
Within the $919.8 million request, approximately $16 million would be allocated to new and expanded programs. The President has requested an increase of $1.2 million to support science for Interior bureaus. These funds would provide for enhanced earth and biological sciences to better meet the needs of other bureaus, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service. Funding for biological research activities has been reduced by $6.9 million to $167.6 million. USGS officials have noted that part of the reduction is the result of the Survey's coordinated effort to centralized information technology functions into an Enterprise Information Office, and that all science divisions received similar reductions. Additional funding cuts proposed for biological research activities largely come from the elimination of Congressional earmarks, such as the Nebraska Cooperative Research Unit and the termination of lower-priority research on pallid sturgeon, diamondback terrapins, grizzly bear population in Montana, fishery genetics research in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region, among others. A significant source for the budget reductions ($2.7 million) arises from the elimination of on-going USGS fire ecology and biological fire science research. While the above programs were targeted for elimination, funding for other biological programs remains generally unchanged or has been increased slightly. Among proposed increases are an additional $250,000 for ecological mapping; $500,000 for the Great Lakes deepwater fisheries large vessels program; $1 million for research within the Klamath River Basin, $350,000 to provide support for the Science on Interior's Landscape initiative; $1 million more to support invasive species work in brown tree snake control and innovative control methodologies for Asian carp; and $500,000 to conduct research related to carbon trading and storage in the Northern Prairie wetlands area.
POLITICAL SCIENCE: GEORGIA COULD REMOVE EVOLUTION AND INCLUDE CREATIONISM AND INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS
Georgia is again center stage in the political debate on K-12 science education standards. The state is in the midst of reviewing and adopting statewide science standards that will shape the content of middle and high school science courses and the content of statewide student assessments. The problem is that the Georgia Superintendent of Education, Kathy Cox (R), has stated that the standards should not include the term "evolution," but should instead refer to "changes over time." If this were not bad enough, Cox is on record as supporting the active presentation of 'alternative theories of evolution,' specifically creationism and intelligent design. Further, media reports indicate that references to the age of Earth and "long" Earth history have been removed from the standards to placate young-Earth creationists. Since the release of the draft standards and following a press conference in which Superintendent Cox referred to "evolution" as nothing more than a "buzzword," scientists, teachers and parents throughout Georgia have come together to actively oppose the standards. While the Governor has reportedly declined to make a detailed statement on the proposed standards, he has stated through a spokesperson that on such a controversial issue as evolution public debate is appropriate. Importantly, there is high-profile opposition to the Superintendent's proposed standards. Following the release of the standards, some Democrats in the State Senate took to the floor to criticize the proposed standards. Opposition has also come from Georgia's most recognized son, former President Jimmy Carter. "As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students," Carter stated. Carter further asserted, "There can be no incompatibility between Christian faith and proven facts concerning geology, biology, and astronomy."
For additional information about the Georgia science standards -
-Proposed Georgia K-12 curriculum: www.glc.k12.ga.us/spotlight/gps1.htm.
-The American Association for the Advancement of Science benchmarks: www.aaas.org/project2061/
-Online petition supporting sound evolution education standards: www.petitiononline.com/gasci04/
-President Carter's statement in defense of evolution:
"As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox's attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia's students. Her recommendation that the word "evolution" be prohibited in textbooks will adversely affect the teaching of science and leave our high school graduates with a serious handicap as they enter college or private life where freedom of speech will be permitted."
"Nationwide ridicule of Georgia's public school system will be inevitable if this proposal is adopted, and additional and undeserved discredit will be brought on our excellent universities as our state's reputation is damaged."
"All high school science teachers, being college graduates, have studied evolution as a universal element of university curricula, and would be under pressure to suppress their own educated beliefs in the classroom."
"The existing and long-standing use of the word "evolution" in our state's textbooks has not adversely affected Georgians' belief in the omnipotence of God as creator of the universe. There can be no incompatibility between Christian faith and proven facts concerning geology, biology, and astronomy."
"There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat earth in order to defend our religious faith."
"Fortunately, it is the responsibility of the State Board of Education to make the final decision on the superintendent's ill-advised proposal."
MISSOURI: LEGISLATION WOULD MANDATE INCLUSION OF INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE COURSES
Legislation, HB 911, which has been introduced in the Missouri General Assembly would require the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design. According to the official bill summary, "This bill prescribes definitions for the teaching of standard science in public elementary and secondary schools by distinguishing the differences between scientific law, scientific theory, and hypothesis and by requiring the equal treatment of viewpoints in written and orally presented material." Unlike many legislative threats to science education, HB 911 is a seven page document that includes a long list of proposed definitions of terms and concepts such as "analogous naturalistic process", "biological intelligent design", "destiny", and "extrapolated radiometric data". If passed into law, the legislation would require that "if scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught, biological evolution and biological intelligent shall be taught and given equal treatment." Moreover, textbook publishers would be required to certify that their books meet the requirements set forth in HB 911, and the Commissioner of Education would be required to post a list of suitable textbooks by January 1, 2006. Illustrating the political agenda underlying HB 911, the legislation would require the Commissioner of Education appoint a committee of "no fewer than five supporters of intelligent design who are knowledgeable about science to develop supplemental materials for interim use by September 1, 2005," according to a bill summary prepared by the General Assembly. Teachers failing to comply with the requirements of this legislation would be fired. Finally, according to the bill summary, "State-controlled testing must conform with the bill, and a copy of the bill must be posted in each eighth through twelfth grade public school classroom in which only science is taught. "
Science education advocates in Missouri are monitoring HB 911 to determine whether the legislation has adequate support in the legislature to move forward.
OKLAHOMA: NEW YEAR, NEW THREAT TO EVOLUTION EDUCATION
According to Victor Hutchison, the Oklahoma node manager in the AIBS/National Center for Science Education Evolution-L List Serve Network, legislation (SB 894) that would allow local school district textbook committees to select textbooks that are not on the approved state list has been introduced in the Oklahoma State Senate. SB 894 would allow for 20 percent of the state funds given to the districts to purchase approved textbooks to be used to purchase these unapproved books. Currently, districts may not use state funds to purchase unapproved textbooks. Because previous legislative attempts to eliminate evolution or introduce religious concepts into science textbooks have failed, SB 894 represents a new approach to introducing non-scientific content into textbooks. In addition to enabling local school systems to purchase science textbooks that include unaccepted explanations for evolution, the legislation would enable school systems to purchase textbooks in other subjects (e.g., social studies) that include religious or political ideology.
In reality, the legislation may represent an attempt by a broader coalition of generally conservative groups that are dissatisfied with the state of public education. On 12 January 2004, the Cato Institute - a non-profit Washington, DC-based libertarian think tank - held a policy forum entitled "A Textbook Problem: The Politics of Textbook Adoption." Forum speakers included Diane Ravitch the author of "The Language Police," Frank Wang the former president and CEO of Saxon Publishers and now a mathematics instructor in Oklahoma, and Stephen Driesler of the Association of American Publishers. All panelists generally identified problems or frustrations with the current textbook adoption process, particularly in the 21 states that have a state-level process for identifying textbooks the state will help school systems purchase. However, Driesler generally contended that while the current system is challenging it generally works. Ravitch correctly noted that the textbook adoption process has become hyper-politicized. Political interest groups from the left and right have pressured states and thus publishers to alter the content of textbooks. Ravitch and Wang criticized the state adoption process and proposed that this level of government involvement is not necessary and impedes schools from selecting the best books for their community. In general, Ravitch and Wang suggested that local schoolteachers should be empowered to select textbooks. While this idea conforms to the Cato Institute's philosophy of less government and utilizing market pressure to ensure quality, many teachers, parents, and science education advocates express concern with such proposals. For example, teachers in some communities may select weak or incomplete textbooks to avoid harassment and pressure from interest groups within their community.
The Cato Institute's Policy Forum may be viewed or listened to online at
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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.