SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE GIVES NSF RESEARCH A 15% BOOST AND RAISES STIPENDS TO $30,000; BIO RECEIVES SMALLEST INCREASE FOR DIRECTORATES - July 25 -Referring to NSF as "a key investment in the future," the Senate Appropriations Committee provided NSF with a 15% boost in Research and Related Accounts (RRA), which funds the discipline-oriented directorates of NSF. The 15% increase is consistent with proposals to double the agency's budget over five years. The full Senate must now consider the bill. The House VA-HUD Appropriations subcommittee is not expected to mark-up their version of the bill until late September.
In total, the appropriations committee provided RRA with $348 million over the President's request, to bring it to a total of $4.13 billion. Within that amount, the GEO directorate will receive $684.5 million, an increase of $75 million over the administration's request. In addition, all transfers of programs from other agencies were rejected within the bill, restoring an additional $ 74.1 million to GEO's budget.
Graduate Student Stipends: The Senate surpassed NSF's request to boost graduate student fellowship stipends to $25,000, providing an additional $25 million to be used to increase graduate student stipends in the fellowship programs and the traineeship program to a level of $30,000 per year. The Committee noted "graduate stipends in science and engineering need to be made more attractive to students to compensate for the cost of education and mounting student debt, and to offset opportunities for higher salaries offered by employers to science and engineering baccalaureate degree holders."
Ocean Observing Initiative: The committee also encouraged NSF to move forward on an ocean observatories initiative, saying they "recognize the Nation needs substantially better information on the current and future state of the ocean and its role in environmental change. Adequate predictive capability is a prerequisite to the development of sound policies at the national and regional level, policies ranging from maritime commerce to public health, from fisheries to safety of life and property, from climate change to national security."
Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO): Despite the generous increases in all other directorates, BIO was funded at the level requested by the President's budget, a mere 3.4% increase over FY2002 (all other directorates increased by 12.8-19.9%). Within the amount provided for BIO, the committee provided $26 million for the Biocomplexity initiative, a 53% increase over FY02. $85 million was provided for the Plant Genome research project. The committee directed NSF to fund one or more projects to sequence the genome of economically important crops and requested that the sequence of at least one crop species be completed by 2004.
The low increase for BIO was not a total surprise to DC science policy circles. Much has been said in congressional hearings about the "imbalance" of funding between the life and physical sciences. Graphs showing dramatic increases in funding for the "life sciences" have been presented repeatedly - unfortunately for biologists funded by NSF, those graphs are dominated by the increases at NIH (NSF's BIO budget is ~2% of that granted to NIH, for comparison). These graphs have left Congress with the mistaken impression that biology is well funded, even though the proposal success rates for the BIO directorate are consistently among the lowest and are usually several percentage points lower than the overall success rate for NSF. The AIBS Public Policy office has been coordinating efforts among scientific societies to promote non-biomedical biology and is in the process of preparing a letter to Congress for individual scientists to sign (watch your email for an action alert).
Major Research Equipment (MRE): The Major Research Equipment account (MRE) continues to cause headaches at NSF. Director Colwell was repeatedly questioned about NSF's management of MRE facilities at House and Senate hearings this year. (For more information see Science 297 (5579): 183). The Senate appropriations committee cut the MRE budget in half. In doing so, the committee eliminated funding for the BIO directorate's project, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). In discussing NEON, the committee wrote that NSF is proposing to spend $40 million over the next 3 years to develop two NEON sites, but "information on the full NEON concept, including cost estimates, has yet to be provided to the Committee. In the absence of such information, and without prejudice, the Committee is not prepared to recommend funding for NEON at this time." (When an appropriations committee defers a project "without prejudice" that indicates that they are not opposed to the project, just not prepared to fund it at that particular time. This language is often useful when the administration is deciding whether or not to request a project the following year.) It is unclear if the House Appropriations committee plans on including NEON in their version of the bill.
HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE DISCUSSES THE ISSUE OF OVERWHELMING AMOUNTS OF DATA COMING FROM SATELLITES - July 23 - The House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards held a hearing to examine satellite data management at NOAA. NOAA, through its line office, the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), procures and operates the nation's environmental monitoring satellites, processing raw satellite data into products such as maps and charts of atmospheric ozone measurements, snow and ice cover, and sea surface temperatures. NESDIS is also primarily responsible for the long-term archiving and managing of environmental satellite data from all NOAA satellites and for many of the research satellites flown by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) for use by researchers and others. Witnesses at the hearing were: Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, NOAA, Department of Commerce; Ms. Linda D. Koontz, Director, Information Management Issues, General Accounting Office; and Dr. Mark Abbott, Dean, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, and Chair, Committee on Earth Studies, National Research Council.
The committee explored several issues of concern at the hearing. Among these concerns is that NESDIS is not delivering all the weather satellite data products requested by the National Weather Service and the Department of Defense in a timely manner. Also, NESDIS is having great difficulty in maintaining, archiving, and distributing satellite data and data products for researchers primarily because of the tremendous increase in both the volume of data produced by currently deployed satellites and the demand for archived data during the past few years.
Additionally, NOAA is in the final planning stages for the new National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), which will cost $6.5 billion and produce hundreds of times more data and subsequent information than today's satellites. Dr. Mark Abbott told the committee that "the existing data management system is designed to accommodate ~2 terabytes of data per year. NPOESS will produce more than 200 terabytes per year." In the words of committee member Mark Udall (R-CO), "The good news is that we have a lot of data. On the other hand, the bad news is we have a lot of data."
The $6.5 billion NPOESS budget plan does not include funding or specific upgrades of NESDIS' satellite data management capabilities either for producing products used in real-time weather operations or for long-term archiving of data for retrieval by researchers. The Science Committee asked the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) to examine these issues. Witness Linda Koontz (GAO) summed up the challenges saying, "Each of the [NOAA and Department of Defense] processing centers is planning activities to build its capacity to handle increased volumes of data, but more can be done to coordinate and define these plans. Unless more is done...the centers could risk delays in using NPOESS data in operational weather products and forecasts."
Lautenbacher told the committee that NOAA is facing a major challenge in handling its satellite data: "With improvements in satellite instrumentation, and the growth of a more sophisticated and knowledgeable user community, NOAA faces major challenges to provide an ever increasing number of satellite products to a broader and more demanding user base. Explosive growth is occurring in both the number of research and operational environmental satellite missions in orbit." While NOAA's FY03 budget contains funding that will help alleviate some of their data management problems, Lautenbacher acknowledged that NOAA does not yet have clear plans to ensure that data from new satellites will be available for use. The hearing charter, prepared testimony and a webcast of this hearing can be viewed at: http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/ets02/index.htm
SENATE APPROPRIATIONS RESTORES FUNDING FOR EPA STAR FELLOWSHIPS, BUT REMAINDER OF RESEARCH FUNDING IS FLAT - July 25 - The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the FY2003 VA-HUD and Independent Agencies funding bill, which funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The committee approved $8,3 billion for the agency - an increase of $220 million above the FY2002 enacted level and an increase of $678 million above the budget request. Major changes from the President's request include an increase of $238 million for clean water State revolving funds. EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) was allotted $710 million for science and technology, $40 million above the budget request, but $78 million below the enacted level for FY2002 (including supplemental funding). In addition, the Committee recommends the transfer of $86 million from the Superfund account.
Earlier this year, the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards held a hearing regarding the FY03 budget request for science and technology at EPA (see April issue of AIBS Public Policy News). During that hearing, members and witnesses voiced their concern that EPA's R&D budget has remained relatively flat over the past decade while demand on EPA's expertise and resources has increased dramatically. The committee was particularly concerned that the Administration's budget had eliminated congressional earmarks and that if Congress restored those earmarks, EPA's bottom line would be negatively affected. As predicted, the Senate committee restored many of those earmarks.
Among cuts restored by Congress within the appropriations for ORD, was the Science To Achieve Results (STAR) fellowship program, which received $9.75 million for a slight increase over the $9.7 million provided in FY2002. The proposed elimination of the program led to the termination of competitions for 2002 fellowships, which were expected to fund 100 new fellows from the more-than 1,400 applications received. The proposed cut also stirred a firestorm of letters to Capitol Hill from scientists and professional societies, including AIBS, requesting that the funds be restored. Congressional attention followed as Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), House Science Committee chair, and Rep. James Barcia (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards, and 52 other Representatives signed a letter expressing their "strong support for EPA's unique and invaluable Science To Achieve Results (STAR) graduate Fellowship program."
The full Senate must now consider the bill. The House VA-HUD Appropriations subcommittee is not expected to mark-up their version of the bill until late September.
SENATE APPROPRIATORS REJECT ADMINISTRATIONS "ILL CONCEIVED" TRANSFER OF SEA GRANT - July 18 - The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $43.5 billion appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary for FY2003. Within this bill, the committee allotted $3.35 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a $88.5 million increase above the fiscal 2002 level and $216 million above the level requested by the administration. Within that amount is included a 4.1 percent pay adjustment for federal employees.
Funding for the line offices is as follows: $506 million for the National Ocean Service (NOS), $612 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), $413 million for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), and $742 million for National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS). In a separate account, $95 million was provided for Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, $20 million for the Pacific Salmon Treaty within NOAA and an additional $20 million for the treaty within the Department of State.
Within OAR, the Senate rejected the Administration's "ill conceived" attempt to move the National Sea Grant program to NSF by including $63.4 million for the program. The committee explained its rationale: "Under the NSF, Sea Grant would lose its State matching requirement and it would lack authorization to continue its successful Extension Program. The Sea Grant program has a long-standing Commitment to problem-oriented scientific research and education that responds to the needs of industry, government, resource managers, university scientists, and the broader public. The outreach and technology transfer services of the Sea Grant program have improved science-based fisheries management, pollution remediation, seafood safety, marine safety, and marine engineering. The Committee is concerned that NSF, with its tradition of funding basic science, will be less responsive to the research agenda successfully developed by Sea Grant."
Also within OAR, the committee increased funding for ocean exploration by $6 million to a total of $20 million. The committee provided no funds for the administration's global change climate initiative, however, arguing it was "an ill-defined program established through the political process". The committee opted instead to provide $159.2 million for climate change "research priorities established under the U.S. Global Climate Research Program decision making structure."
The committee also stated its support for an integrated ocean observing system, noting "Adequate predictive capability is a prerequisite to the development of sound policies at the national and regional level, policies ranging from maritime commerce to public health, from fisheries to safety of life and property, from climate change to national security." The committee encouraged NOAA to work with its partners on the National Ocean Research Leadership Council (NORLC) to submit a plan to the Committee prior to the release of the President's budget for fiscal year 2004.
NSF BRIEFS SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES ON ITS 10-YEAR AGENDA FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION - July 24 - Members of the NSF Advisory Committee on Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE) presented their "10-Year Agenda for Environmental Research and Education at NSF" to professional societies during a briefing at NSF. Committee members present at the briefing were: Stephanie Pfirman (chair), David Skole, Mary Jane Perry, Rosalyn McKeown and Jim Collins. Margaret Leinen, NSF Coordinator of Environmental Research and Education, was also present at the meeting. AIBS Director of Public Policy Adrienne Froelich represented AIBS at the briefing.
Committee chair Pfirman began with an overview of the organization and content of the Agenda. The report is divided into two major sections: Environmental Research Frontiers: 2003-2012, and Building Capacity to Address Environmental Research Challenges. Pfirman told the group that NSF had already received 40 sets of comments on the document, including 60 suggestions for sidebars. Throughout the briefing, it was apparent that the committee had already begun addressing many of the concerns of the scientific community, such as the need to include coastal sciences in the document and further clarifying that while the document emphasizes interdisciplinary studies, the disciplinary-oriented research funded by the directorates is critical to successfully addressing environmental issues.
When asked how the research topics suggested in the report will translate into Requests for Proposals, Leinen responded that these would help identify scientific areas which NSF currently has no way to address. Leinen used the field of limnology as a current gap in funding coverage and suggested that a new funding initiative for studies in limnology may appear in the future.
Another major issue raised by the audience and committee members was the ongoing cultural change in science, especially in terms of university reward systems and education. There was much discussion regarding the lack of ways to reward good mentors and educators. The committee acknowledged that this was a problem and said they had long discussions about it, but didn't find a "silver bullet" to solve the problem. NSF hopes that the Criterion 2 requirement for proposals, which asks investigators about the broader impacts of the proposed research, will help address this issue. NSF stated that as of October, they would no longer accept proposals that do not provide an explicit response to Criterion 2. Despite this move forward, a member of the audience noted that monetary awards for education grants are lower than those available on research grants, thus perpetuating the perception that education activities are not as profitable or valuable as research activities. NSF acknowledged this discrepancy and said they are considering policy changes to education awards (such as no longer requiring matching funds) to help alleviate some of these problems.
Comments on the document may still be filed online - the deadline is August 10. The report can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/geo/ere/ereweb/advisory.cfm.
EPA SCIENCE ADVISOR PAUL GILMAN BRIEFS SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES ON EPA'S RESEARCH AGENDA - July 26 - The National Council for Science and the Environment hosted a discussion with Dr. Paul Gilman, EPA Assistant Administrator for Research and Development, the scientific and technological arm of the Environmental Protection Agency. In May 2002, Gilman was named the EPA Science Advisor. In this capacity, he will be responsible for working across the Agency to ensure that the highest quality science is better integrated into the Agency's programs, policies and decisions. Representatives from over 20 associations and professional societies attended the meeting, including AIBS Director of Public Policy Adrienne Froelich.
EPA's Office of Research and Development funds both internal and external research in a wide range of fields, including human health and ecosystem science. The office manages 13 EPA facilities, as well as a $100 million extramural program that funds both centers and individual investigators. Gilman told the group that he sees one of his roles as the new EPA Science Advisor to provide "greater sense of order to creation and use of computer models within agency." He also hopes to address the issue of the use of "sound science" within the agency, which he believes is as applicable to the use of science within the agency, as the creation of scientific data. Gilman said his agency has interpreted the recent OMB data quality guidelines (see Jan 18, 2002 AIBS Public Policy Update for more information) to apply both to the research they produce internally and external research they may use in making regulations. Gilman said EPA is in the process of developing guidelines for external researchers who may want their research to be considered by the agency when making regulatory decisions so researchers know beforehand what is required for their research to "make the cut".
Gilman also discussed EPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), saying that the agency has worked hard to fix problems noted in a NRC analysis of the project. One part of the program is the EMAP National Coastal Database, which contains estuarine and coastal data that EMAP and Regional-EMAP have collected since 1990 from hundreds of stations between Cape Cod and the Mexican border. (These include water column data, sediment chemistry and toxicity data, demersal fish and invertebrate community and contaminant data and benthic invertebrate community data. See http://www.epa.gov/emap/nca/html/data/index.html for more information). Gilman said the revamped EMAP program is so successful, that several coastal states have adopted the sampling and statistical methods used by EPA resulting in a reduction in operations costs for the states between 25 - 90%. Gilman said EPA would like to extend EMAP to a Great Rivers Initiative, but has been turned down by the Office of Management and Budget. EPA has also recently been contacted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine if the EPA coastal monitoring system could be extended to offshore areas.
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