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AIBS Public Policy Report for 27 March 2006

  • Action alert: Please contact your members of Congress today to support NSF funding
  • Public comment opportunity: Ocean policy
  • Biologists visit Congress, honor Congressmen Ehlers and Holt
  • Lawsuit against UC evolution website dismissed
  • President nominates Idaho Governor for top spot at Interior
  • American Society of Mammalogists-AIBS Graduate Student Policy Internship
  • New in BioScience: "the Cost of Doing Business: Should the United States Create Incentives for STEM labor?"

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].


Action alert: Please contact your members of Congress today to support NSF funding

HOUSE:
During the appropriations process each year, members of Congress circulate "Dear Colleague" letters to build and demonstrate support for various federal programs. Currently, Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Bob Inglis (R-SC), and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) are circulating a Dear Colleague letter that will be sent to the Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce - the House subcommittee that will set the fiscal year 2007 funding level for the National Science Foundation. The Representatives are asking their fellow members of Congress to join them by signing their Dear Colleague letter. Members of Congress are often more likely to sign a Dear Colleague letter when asked to do so by a constituent.

Please take a few moments today to call your U.S. Representative's Washington, DC, office to ask your Representative to sign the "Ehlers-Holt NSF Dear Colleague letter." The deadline for signatures has been extended to Friday, March 31, 2006. It is imortant that a large number of scientists call Congress today.

You may call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative's office (note, you must know the name of your Representative). Contact information is also available at www.house.gov.

In short, the Ehlers-Holt Dear Colleague letter encourages the members of the appropriations subcommittee to support the President's FY 2007 budget request for NSF. In the President's budget, NSF would receive a record $6.02 billion. The budget request would provide the BIO Directorate with a 5.4 percent increase (31.1 million), putting BIO over $600 million for the first time. The request also includes $24 million in funding for the National Ecological Observatory Network -- $12 million of which is in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account, and $12 million from the BIO directorate. NSF is the principal federal supporter of the non-medical biological sciences, providing roughly 65 percent of the academic funding in these fields.

SENATE:
On the Senate side, NSF also needs support. Please e-mail or fax your two senators a brief letter asking them to support the President's FY 2007 budget request for NSF. Here is a sample letter:

"Dear Sen. [X],

I am a [scientist/professor/etc] at [fill in here] and I am writing to ask that you support the President's budget for the National Science Foundation.

The President is asking for $6.02 billion for NSF. This funding is important to our nation's continued competitiveness. Indeed, NSF now provides roughly 65 percent of the federal investment in fundamental research in fields such as botany, ecology, microbiology, and zoology. This funding is vitally important to our research enterprise. Additionally, through programs supporting research opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers, NSF is central to our ability to recruit and train the next generation of scientists. NSF supported initiatives also provide informal science learning opportunities, such as programs at local museums, botanical gardens, or biological research stations, that improve the public understanding of science.

Once again, please do all you can to provide the NSF with at least the President's request for FY 2007.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, [your name here]"

To find your senator's contact information, please visit www.senate.gov.

As always, please feel free to send a blind copy of your message to the AIBS Public Policy Office. Please bcc or fax a copy to or 202-628-1509.


Public comment opportunity: Ocean policy

The National Science and Technology Council's Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) has announced that it is now accepting public comments on the development of the Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP). All interested parties are encouraged to review the planning document and provide input. Please visit http://ocean.ceq.gov/about/sup_jsost_public_comment.html for more information.

In addition to the public comment period, the National Science and Technology Council Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology is holding a public workshop on April 18-20, 2006 in Denver, CO, to solicit input and guidance from the ocean science communities on the development of the ORPP. For more information, please visit http://ocean.ceq.gov/about/jsost_workshop/welcome.html.

Called for in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan, the ORPP, in conjunction with a follow-on Implementation Strategy, will describe a vision for U.S. ocean science and technology, describe the challenges to be addressed, identify key themes, specify goals for each theme and a time frame for their achievement, and address implications for the use or prioritization of resources. The draft Ocean Research Priorities Plan will be formulated using the input from both the workshop and the public comment period.

Members from the research community, ocean educators, government representatives (federal, state, tribal, and local), industry groups, international representatives, non-governmental organizations, and any individuals interested in helping guide national ocean research are invited to attend the workshop and contribute to the public comment.


Biologists visit Congress, honor Congressmen Ehlers and Holt

On 14 and 15 March, more than 50 scientists from 20 states came to Washington, DC, to educate their members of Congress about the importance of federal funding for basic research. The scientists were part of a Congressional visits event cosponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM). AIBS is a member of both organizations. AIBS, the Ecological Society of America, and the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography are co-chair of BESC.

The event kicked off with a budget briefing and policy training session. During this event, participants received insights about the federal R&D budget from: Kei Koizumi, budget analyst from the American Association for the Advancement of Science; James P. Collins, assistant director for biology at the National Science Foundation; Anna Palmisano, deputy administrator for competitive programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Dan Byers, deputy chief of staff at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and David Goldston, chief of staff for the House Science Committee.

Scientists then attended a Capitol Hill reception honoring Representatives Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) for their work on behalf of the biological and agricultural sciences. Ehlers and Holt, two former research physicists, have both been strong champions for science and education. Among his many efforts to advance science education, Rep. Holt has publicly defended the teaching of evolution and opposed efforts to introduce intelligent design/creationism into the science curriculum. Among a long list of policy accomplishments, Rep. Ehlers has lead an effort to advance legislation addressing aquatic invasive species. Both members have been staunch supports of increased funding for the National Science Foundation.


Lawsuit against UC evolution website dismissed

A U.S. District Court in California dismissed a lawsuit alleging that Understanding Evolution, a website sponsored by the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education, endorsed religious doctrines.

The suit was filed by Jeanne Caldwell, the wife of anti-evolution activist Larry Caldwell, who objected to site language that called attention to the fact that evolution does not conflict with most religions. The site said, "Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings." Caldwell claimed language such as this favored certain religious groups over others, thereby violating the Constitution's Establishment Clause.

Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton did not consider the merits of Caldwell's claim; rather she dismissed the case because Caldwell lacked standing, or a sufficiently strong personal interest in the outcome of the case.


President nominates Idaho Governor for top spot at Interior

President Bush has nominated Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne (R) for the post of Secretary of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Kempthorne would replace Gale Norton. In a statement announcing the nomination, President Bush said, "Dirk will continue my administration's efforts to conserve our land, water, and air resources, reduce the maintenance backlog of our national parks, support historic and cultural sites through our Preserve America Initiative, and develop the energy potential of federal lands and waters in environmentally sensitive ways." According to a White House press release, Secretary-nominee Kempthorne "brings wide experience to these important tasks. He has served at every level of government: as Mayor of Boise, as Governor of Idaho, and as a United States Senator. While in the Senate, he chaired the Subcommittee on Drinking Water, Fisheries, and Wildlife, and he chaired the Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee."

In accepting the nomination, Secretary-nominee Kempthorne said: "I heard a clear direction from you, Mr. President, when we met earlier today. You stated that if confirmed, you want me to reach out to all constituent groups, to seek bipartisan support, to find common ground, and to build consensus."

With a number of environmental groups criticizing Kempthorne's past pro industry policies, the Senate confirmation process could become complicated. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is reportedly considering placing a "hold" on Kempthorne's nomination, an action that would require 60 Senators to vote affirmatively to bring the nomination before the Senate for a vote on whether Kempthorne should be confirmed. According to one report, a senior staffer for indicated that it was almost certain the Senator would seek to stall the nomination, arguing that the Senator believes that a full debate on Kempthorne's environmental record and due deliberation on a proposal to expand drilling off the coast of Florida is appropriate. Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), whose committee will conduct confirmation hearings on the nominee, is apparently less than concerned by Sen. Nelson's threat to place a hold on the nomination, according to a news report quoting one of his aides.


American Society of Mammalogists-AIBS Graduate Student Policy Internship

The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of a graduate student public policy internship. For more information and application instructions, please see the full announcement in the Classifieds section of the AIBS website at http://www.aibs.org/classifieds/other_positions_available.html#1753.


New in BioScience: "the Cost of Doing Business: Should the United States Create Incentives for STEM labor?"

In the March issue of BioScience Gillean Andres reports on the growing momentum for new federal incentives to attract new students into careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The article is available at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

Following is a brief excerpt from "The Cost of Doing Business: Should the United States Create Incentives for STEM Labor?"

"Academics, business leaders, and policymakers have all issued the warning: The United States is facing an imminent workforce shortage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that threatens the country's economic competitiveness in the global marketplace. Some nonprofit research groups and members of the science community, however, are chary of adding their voices to the chorus because past predictions concerning the STEM workforce have proved erroneous."

"According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), STEM employment will grow three times faster than employment in other fields, with the total number of STEM jobs increasing by 47 percent between 2000 and 2010. If STEM employment does grow as expected, can US universities produce enough skilled graduates to meet the demand? Many fear the answer is no: From 1994 through 2003, reports the Government Accountability Office, the number of STEM degrees earned failed to keep pace-by 22 percent-with the national average increase in all degrees earned, a possible early indicator of future STEM labor shortages.""



 


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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