New audits critical of NSF grant oversight
The National Science Foundation's (NSF) grant oversight procedures are criticized in two recently released audits. In one, NSF's inspector general found that the agency should do more to ensure that principal investigators submit annual and final reports on time. These reports enable NSF to monitor the progress of grants, identify potential problems, and when appropriate provide necessary guidance to grant recipients. According to the inspector general's office, nearly half of final and annual reports required over the past five years were submitted late or not at all. NSF was also encouraged to develop new policies to determine when a principal investigator should be eligible to receive a new grant when a final report was not provided for a previous award.
In a separate audit conducted by KPMG, NSF was faulted for providing inadequate oversight of institutions at high risk for mismanaging grants. A recommendation for a new process to improve oversight of all institutions was included in the audit report.
Earmarked spending impacts post-secondary education grant program
For years the academic and public policy communities have considered the potential impact Congressional appropriations earmarks (i.e. specific project funding requirements) might have on funding for competitive grant programs. While not disputing Congress' authority to target funding to programs or for specific purposes, many in the public policy community have begun to sound an alarm about the growing number of academic earmarks in each year's spending bills. A core concern for many is that as budget conditions tighten the amount of funding available to support competitive grant programs will diminish as larger sums are committed to earmarks.
As the details of the recently passed fiscal year 2005 spending bill begin to emerge, it appears that those that have forecasted dire times for competitive grant programs due to increased earmarking of funds, may be correct. According to a 15 December 2004 report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the U.S. Department of Education has announced the cancellation of its annual grant competition for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) because the bulk of the program's $163.6 million annual budget has been allocated to "pork-barrel projects." According to the Chronicle's report, Congress directed $146.2 million of the program's budget to more than 400 projects. With only $17.4 million left to continue support for existing grants, FIPSE program managers will not be able to fund any of the 1,530 preliminary proposals that have already been peer reviewed.
For additional coverage on the topic of earmarked research funding, please see the July 2004 Washington Watch column in BioScience. The column, "Pork: The Other Research" is available online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2004_07.html.
Lawsuit against Dover, PA school board moves forward
As reported in the 6 December 2004 AIBS Public Policy Report, the Dover (PA) Area School Board has amended the school district's science curriculum to include intelligent design/creationism. Not surprisingly, a number of local parents have expressed their dissatisfaction with the school board's decision. Because the school board was unwilling to reverse its position, 11 local parents have filled a federal lawsuit against the district. The lawsuit was filed in Federal district court on 14 December 2004 on behalf of the parents by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and attorneys with Pepper Hamilton LLP. In part, the parents argue that presenting intelligent design in public school science classrooms violates their religious liberty by promoting particular religious beliefs to their children under the guise of science education. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, states "There is an evolving attack underway on sound science education, and the school board's action in Dover is part of that misguided crusade. 'Intelligent design' has about as much to do with science as reality television has to do with reality."
Treasury Department loosens restrictions on publication of research from Cuba, Iran and Sudan
In September 2003, the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a ruling that scientific publishers would need a special license to edit papers submitted by researchers from embargoed countries (Cuba, Iran, and Sudan). While the ruling is relatively recent, the prohibition is not. It is illegal for U.S. entities to provide services to persons living in countries embargoed by the U.S. The issue surfaced in the summer of 2001 when a bank identified an attempted transaction between the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and an institution in Iran. IEEE and other scientific organizations began working with OFAC to clarify the definition of "services," and learned that OFAC considered peer review and editing of scholarly manuscripts to fall under the category of prohibited activities. Until this time, scholarly publishers largely thought these "services" were not prohibited by Treasury Department regulations. However, the Treasury Department affirmed that its definition of services did include editing scholarly papers. "U.S. persons may not provide the Iranian author substantive or artistic alterations or enhancements of the manuscript, and IEEE may not facilitate the provision of such alterations or enhancements," wrote R. Richard Newcomb, director of OFAC. Trade policy prohibits "the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons," according to an OFAC guidance letter. U.S. entities, including scholarly publishers, would require a special license to provide these "services."
The ruling was OFAC's interpretation of an amendment to the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, known as the Berman amendment, after its sponsor Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). The amendment exempted from economic embargo "any information or informational materials including but not limited to, publications." However, Reagan administration officials interpreted that statement as banning publication of all but "fully created" materials that received no "substantive or artistic alteration or enhancement." The recent ruling recaptured the attention of Rep. Berman, who called the restrictions on editing "patently absurd." Rep. Berman requested that OFAC reconsider its decision to require a specific license for peer review and editing.
Throughout 2004, various representatives of the scientific publishing community have worked with OFAC to clarify Treasury Department requirements. On Friday, December 17, 2004, the Department of Treasury officially issued a new rule in the Federal Register (Vol. 69, No. 242), "revising the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, and the Iranian Transactions Regulations to add general licenses pertaining to certain publishing activities." The rule was effective on 17 December 2004, however, interested individuals wishing to provide OFAC with comments on the new rule or requesting further changes may submit comments at any time.
Briefly, the new rule still requires that U.S. entities obtain a general license from OFAC to provide certain services to Cuba, Iran and Sudan. However, the rule ensures that "certain activities relating to publishing" are permitted. "Each of the general licenses is similar in structure and scope, authorizing a variety of activities relating to publishing with appropriate exceptions, such as those for the governments of each of the sanctioned countries." The new rule specifically notes that the governments of Cuba, Sudan, or Iran" does not include any academic and research institutions and their personnel."
For more detailed information, the Federal Register notice is available in the AIBS Federal Register Resource at http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/federal-register-resource-2004_12_17.html
. Questions, requests for guidance, or information concerning the application for a license should be directed to the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
New center for synthesis of evolution research
The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), in Durham, North Carolina, has now launched. The NESCent website is www.nescent.org. Established with a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the center is a collaboration of Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is providing education and outreach services to NESCent on a sub-award to their grant. The National Science Foundation's (NSF) press release, issued on 16 December 2004, is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/newsroom/pr.cfm?ni=15300000000135 .
NSF's goals for this center--modeled after the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), at the University of California, Santa Barbara (http://www.nceas.ucsb.edu)--are as follows (from the April 2003 NSF RFP): "The National Science Foundation requests proposals to establish a center for synthesis in biological evolution. This center will serve the needs of the evolutionary biology community by providing mechanisms to foster synthetic, collaborative, cross-disciplinary studies. It will play a pivotal role in the further unification of the biological sciences as it draws together knowledge from disparate biological fields to increase our general understanding of biological design and function. Finally, the center will play a critical role in organizing and synthesizing evolutionary knowledge that will be useful to policy makers, government agencies, educators and society."
NESCent contact: Cliff Cunningham, NESCent Director, Duke University, firstname.lastname@example.org, AIBS contact: Richard O'Grady, AIBS Executive Director, rogr...@aibs.org.
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