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HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE OPPOSES CUTS TO EPA STAR PROGRAM
A proposed 35 percent reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program "should not be allowed to take effect," stated Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards (ETS), at a hearing on March 11. Ehlers and some witnesses also criticized the application of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) new Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) in evaluating EPA's research and development (R&D) programs.
The STAR program supports research at colleges and universities on a wide array of environmental science issues. Dr. Genevieve Matanoski, Chair of the EPA Science Advisory Board's Review of EPA's fiscal year (FY) 2005 budget request testified that "STAR is recognized by this Board as a science program of major importance to the Agency." And Dr. Costel Denson, member of a National Academy of Sciences panel that authored a 2003 National Research Council (NRC) report on the STAR program, noted, "The NRC committee stated in its conclusions that the STAR program 'compares favorably with and in some cases exceeds that in place at other agencies that have extramural research programs, such as NSF and NIEHS (NIH).'"
"I have not heard a convincing reason today for why the STAR program was cut so dramatically. By all accounts, it is a well-run, competitive, peer reviewed program that produces high quality research. These proposed reductions should not be allowed to take effect," said Ehlers. He continued, "I also learned that the PART review was directly responsible for funds being cut from the ecological and pollution prevention research programs, but that it doesn't seem to be directly related to the proposed STAR cuts; I can't really say that I understand why these programs were cut while others that couldn't demonstrate results were not."
Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) called the cuts "unacceptable" and noted it was "difficult to understand" why a program, "which had received high marks in external reviews by the Science Advisory Board and the National Academy of Sciences is rewarded with a disproportionate cut of about one third. During the same month the Senate was closed due to contamination from ricin, the Administration released this budget terminating its research on building decontamination. This budget does note serve the needs of our constituents or maintain a healthy research and development program."
In response to a question from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-GA) about what research would not be conducted if the STAR program was cut, Dr. Paul Gilman, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development, defended the President's budget request stating, "In substance there's no one particular body of research that won't go forward. It's the supplemental work that would be done by extramural researchers. There's no question that that supplemental research would be of value to us, but it's not anything that we can't make up for in the future, in my opinion."
Mr. Clay Johnson, Deputy Director for Management at OMB, discussed the role of the OMB PART in the decision to cut funding from the EPA Ecological Research and Pollution Prevention programs. He testified that PART is helping the government to "focus more and more and with increasing proficiency as to what are we getting for our money. Nothing happens automatically as a result of a PART evaluation, but the information that comes out of the PART assessment is used to help inform decisions about how to better manage, better structure, and better fund programs, including research programs." He continued, "The PART was used to inform this budget proposal, but there was nothing automatic that flowed out of this PART assessment."
Matanoski criticized the use of tools, such as PART, in evaluating scientific research programs such as those at EPA. "All the pieces that have to go into that research become too complicated to measure, simply with a tool."
Denson agreed, noting that when reviewing the STAR program, the NRC Committee felt that such quantitative analysis was too limiting, "and instead concluded that complex research programs require a different kind of evaluation. And that evaluation means bringing in a panel of experts to peer review the program in all of its aspects."
Johnson disagreed, stating, "I believe the PART has a very substantial role in the assessment of R&D programs. There's nothing mechanistic about the use of PART. Nothing happens automatically as a result of a PART score." Johnson also noted, "[The General Accounting Office (GAO)] has made a number of recommendations for improving the PART, the vast majority of which we agree with and are addressing." Paul Posner, Managing Director of Strategic Issues for GAO testified at the hearing about GAO's recommendations.
Hearing testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be viewed at www.house.gov/science/hearings/ets04/index.htm.
OSTP CONVENES WORKSHOP ON BIOSECURITY
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has announced that it will convene a public workshop on "Laboratory Biosecurity: A Culture of Responsibility" on 12 April 2004. This half-day workshop is open to the public and will be held at the National Institutes of Health Natcher Conference Center in Bethesda, Maryland. According to OSTP, the workshop will be relevant to "all biological laboratory settings, from research to clinical laboratories, including laboratories which are not involved in work with select agents." This workshop provides the scientific community with an opportunity to provide comments on the successes and challenges associated with implementing biosecurity procedures and protocols. OSTP is particularly interested in receiving guidance on issues related to biosecurity risk assessment, what government supported outreach methods would facilitate the development of biosecurity plans, institutional needs for developing and implementing biosecurity protocols, the impact that costs associated with implementing biosecurity plans have had on institutions, among many other issues. Individuals or institutions wishing to provide comments at the workshop must submit a request at least five days in advance. Written comments will also be accepted and if electronic copies are provided five days in advance will be distributed at the meeting. For more information about requesting time to provide oral comments or to submit written comments, contact Rachel E. Levinson of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax your request/comments to (202) 456-6027. More detailed information about the meeting is available online at //a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/14mar20010800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2004/04-6517.htm.
AIBS COUNCIL BRIEFED ON "POLITICS AND SCIENCE"
Greg Dotson, Counsel on Energy and Environment Issues for the office of U.S. Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) briefed the AIBS Council on the 2003 House Government Reform Committee Report, "Politics and Science under the Bush Administration," on Monday, March 15, 2004. The August 2003 report, written at Waxman's request, criticizes the Administration for manipulating the scientific process and distorting and suppressing scientific findings. The report has been gaining attention in the media, particularly after over 60 leading scientists-Nobel laureates, leading medical experts, former federal agency directors, and university chairs and presidents-voiced their concern over the misuse of science by the Bush administration in a letter on February 18.
The report discusses several areas over which concern has arisen among scientists and policy makers alike. Some of these topics include climate change policy, stem cell research, abstinence education, missile defense, oil and gas exploration, the Freedom Car, and wetlands policy. Among the different topics, instances are cited where scientific advisory committees were manipulated, information was suppressed or distorted, and scientific research or analyses were disrupted, all to promote the Administration's agenda.
Dotson mentioned a few specific examples during the briefing. Dotson noted that the Bush Administration rejected the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, promising Americans that the Administration's climate change policy would be "science-based." However, the State Department successfully blocked the reappointment of Dr. Robert Watson, a leading U.S. climatologist, to a top panel position after he released a statement predicting that average global temperatures would continue rising and that the recent increase is linked by evidence to human activities. In addition, information was suppressed when a section on global warming was removed from the 2002 EPA annual report on the state of air pollution.
For more on Waxman's view on the state of science under the Bush Administration, and to view the full report, visit www.house.gov/reform/min/politicsandscience/index.htm.
EU CONSIDERING THE CREATION OF A FAST-TRACK SCIENCE VISA
The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a directive and two recommendations aimed at introducing a "scientific visa" to facilitate the movement of third country researchers to and within the EU." Raffaele Liberali, a Director within the European Commission's Research Directorate General, says the proposals are a significant step, and noted the contrast with U.S. policy: "The EU is taking steps to ease short-term visits by researchers from other parts of the world at a time when, for example, the United States is going in the opposite direction. This represents a real window of opportunity."
The EU proposals would introduce a fast track procedure for the admission of researchers, giving member states 30 days to deliver residence permits. Accredited research organizations would be required to certify the individual in a "hosting agreement," which confirms the existence of a valid research project. Once the researcher has gained their residence permit, they will be able to move freely within the EU member states. Additionally, if they wish to extend their visit, they no longer need to return to their country of origin to submit the application. Liberali hopes a political agreement on the issue will be reached by summer 2004. More information on EU policies on scientific visas can be found at //europa.eu.int/comm/research/fp6/mariecurie-actions/indexhtm_en.html.
TREASURY MAY BE BACKING DOWN ON SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHING ISSUE
As reported last week, the Department of Treasury released guidelines last fall for scientific publishers handling manuscripts from countries under U.S. economic sanctions. Scientific publishers and members of Congress alike have voiced their concerns about the new regulations. According to the journal Science, Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control "anticipates" providing a "general license" allowing all publishers to edit manuscripts from embargoed countries, the official said, effectively ending the ban. The March 19 article, "Editing Ban to Be Eased, But Cuban Travel Blocked", by Yudhijit
Bhattacharjee is available at www.sciencemag.org.
NEW DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR CODE OF SCIENTIFIC CONDUCT RELEASED AT 2004 AIBS COUNCIL MEETING
At the recently concluded 2004 AIBS Council meeting, Dr. James Tate, science advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, officially released the Department's new Code of Scientific Conduct. This one-page document is the result of a multi-year effort begun during the Clinton Administration. Generally, the Code is an articulation of scientific process, collegiality, and ethical standards already adhered to by most scientists. The Code may be viewed online in the Announcements section of the AIBS website at www.aibs.org.
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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.