Update on appropriations - The House Appropriations Subcommittee for Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies met on May 23 to decide how to distribute its budget allocation to the agencies for which it is responsible including NSF and EPA. Chairman James Walsh and other members of the committee lamented the tight budget allocations provided to the subcommittee, which were approximately $2.2 billion less than last year's figure. They then increased overall NSF funding by $167 million over FY00, bringing FY01 funding to $4.1 billion ($508 million less than the Administration's request), an increase of about 4.3%. Funding includes: $3.1 billion for research (an increase of $170 million from this year but $405 million less than the Administration's request); $77 million for research equipment ($18.4 million less than the current year and $62 million below President Clinton's request); and $694 million for education and human resources ($2.3 million less than this year's $34.7 million less than requested). Report language suggested that the Biology Directorate receive $450 million (about $36 million more than FY 2000 but about $61 million less than requested) and that integrated activities, including the Biocomplexity Initiative, receive $87.2 million. The proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project was not funded. Committee staffers say that they expect discussions between Congress and the Administration to result in increased funding, but it is not known if or how additional funding would be directed.

The Environmental Protection Agency is funded with an emphasis on the states, particularly in the areas of clean water and safe drinking water. At a total budget of $7.2 billion, most operating programs are preserved at FY00 levels. Although EPA's Congressional allotment is $125 million below the President's request, two programs - the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry - have been reassigned to another account. EPA Research will increase by $5 million over last year, bringing FY01 funding to $650 million, $24 million below the President's request. Although the Committee funded the Climate Change Technology Initiative at $103 million and the Global Climate Change Research is funded at $20.6 million, the report also includes language prohibiting the use of funds for proposing or issuing rules, regulations, decrees, or orders for the purpose of implementing or preparing for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol.

Research in the Department of Interior (the U.S. Geological Survey) is the only bright note in the Interior budget (by comparison to the rest of the Interior budget). On May 17, the House subcommittee that handles appropriations for the Department of the Interior provided $816.7 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This amount is a $3.3 million increase over FY 2000 levels, but it is nearly $80 million less than requested by the president and is a major blow to the survey's efforts to grow after years of budgetary stagnation and retrenchment. The Senate allocation for the Interior bill is somewhat higher holding out hope that some of the President's request will materialize in the Senate bill due out in the next month. The Biological Resources Division would receive $140.4 million, up $3.5 million over FY 2000 but down $18.4 million from the request. BRD's funds include some $3.4 million redirected from the National Mapping Division which will be used for research for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the House Appropriations Committee for Agriculture's bill, the National Research Initiative would receive only $97 million, far below $119 million in FY 2000 and more than a third below the $150 million request. Instead of competitively awarded grants, the House would direct funds toward Special Research Grants, which would receive $74 million, $10 million or 16.2 percent more than FY 2000 and $68 million more than the request. These funds would go to 132 itemized projects, all but six of which are for geographically specific congressionally designated projects. The House bill also contains nearly two dozen other congressionally designated projects in other parts of the CSREES budget.

On May 10, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY 2001 Agriculture appropriations bill. The Senate bill would provide $1.8 billion for USDA research and development in FY 2001, an increase of $54 million or 3.1 percent over last year but $7 million less than the President's request. Although the Senate would be more generous to NRI, with a $121 million appropriation, the extramural research grants received no increase, and, like House appropriations bill, the Senate bill favors congressionally designated grants over competitively awarded research grants - $62 million (a 16.2% increase) would go to for 129 Special Research grant projects, many of which are the same as in the House bill. The Senate bill would allow the mandatory (non-appropriated) Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems to spend its FY 2000 and 2001 funds. This competitive grants program was created in June 1998 as a mandatory program to spend $120 million a year for five years on competitively awarded grants for agricultural research, to be administered by USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES). The Appropriations Committees have blocked USDA from spending the first $120 million installment of these funds in FY 1999. But because these funds were made available by law for two years, the FY 1999 money became available in FY 2000. USDA earlier this year announced requests for proposals for these funds, and barring further congressional action the first grants should be distributed this summer. Last year, Congress blocked the use of the FY 2000 funds but again only for one year, so USDA anticipates that these FY 2000 funds will become available in October for the second round of grants. (Thanks to AAAS for details on the Agriculture budget).

Maybe you should have listened to your mother - The Senate gave the National Institutes of Health a 15% increase. Says AIBS Executive Director Richard O'Grady, "Like last year's NIH increase of 14%, this sets a benchmark to strive for when the non-biomedical areas of biology, including the AIBS membership, attempt to inform Congress and the public at large of the importance and utility to the nation of their areas of biology. The fact that David Kaufman, President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (www.faseb.org), which usually focuses on NIH funding, has testified on Capitol Hill in support of increased funding for NSF--as has, for example, former NIH head Harold Varmus--demonstrates the need for scientists and legislators alike to appreciate the increasing linkages and inter-dependence that traditionally biomedical and non-biomedical areas of biology share with each other, as well as with other areas of science."

AIBS spotlights NSF programs in Biocomplexity in the Environment Initiative & NEON at Congressional Exhibits Day - AIBS took part in this year's Congressional Exhibition and Reception, an annual event at the Capitol organized and sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding (an alliance of more than 80 organizations united by a concern for the future vitality of the national science, mathematics, and engineering enterprise). Also exhibiting was AIBS member-society, the Ecological Society of America. AIBS President Alan Covich and Executive Director Richard O'Grady were among the many who had a chance to talk with House Science Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner, six other members of the House of Representatives, and over 92 Congressional staffers. The AIBS exhibit, designed and presented by Communications Manager Darlene Robbins and Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul, with assistance from Communications Assistant Casey Moulton, featured two projects. The first, which is underway and funded by NSF's Biocomplexity in the Environment Initiative, is a study of factors affecting, and the impact of, diazotrophic microorganisms in the western Equatorial Atlantic Ocean. This collaborative research project, led by Raleigh Hood, Victoria Coles, and Ronald Seifer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences (Horn Point Laboratory) centers on nitrogen fixing microorganisms as keystone species that have a major impact on other phytoplankton and trophic levels. Dr. Hood assisted AIBS staff in developing a poster presentation and joined us at the reception. AIBS also spotlighted the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), with a poster showing how the funding could make possible a virtual nationwide study of ecological processes with field and lab equipment, a computer network, and coordination. Martyn Caldwell, director of the Utah State University Ecology Center, did the honors in presenting this poster. The evening ended on a high note when NSF Director Rita Colwell stopped by for a few minutes to express her appreciation for AIBS's efforts on behalf of NSF.

National Research Council report on the USDA National Research Initiative - A new report from the National Research Council says that the U.S. Department of Agriculture should take steps to ensure that its National Research Initiative program of competitive research grants be given a much higher priority. The report suggests that the program should emphasize high-risk research with potential long-term payoffs, address critical issues identified by researchers as well as topics of concern to the public, and attract scientists outside the traditional agricultural disciplines, while emphasizing the importance of multidisplinary research and collaborations. Noting that NRI's 26 program areas "reflect neither a coherent long-term research agenda nor the generation of clear and observable outcomes," the Board recommended that the 26 programs be disbanded and replaced by six standing scientific-research review committees that would identify critical issues. Another key recommendation is that the NRI be moved to a new extramural research center, to be headed by a chief scientist who would report to the undersecretary for research, education, and economics and the establishment of an advisory board to represent NRI stakeholders. The report also recommends that be increased immediately to an average of $100,000 per year (total costs) over three years, that the overhead limit be replaced by the indirect cost standards used by other federal research agencies, and that the NRI budget be increased to a level equivalent to the $550 million recommended by NRC in 1989 (adjusted for inflation), but only if recommended changes in priority setting, organization, and documentation are implemented. [Note again that for FY2001, the House appropriations bill funds NRI at $97 million and the Senate appropriated $121 million; the Administration's request was $150 million].


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