Back at it, a look at the 109th Congress thus far

On 4 January 2005 the 109th Congress convened. Thus far, Congress has been focused on electing leadership, selecting committee chairpersons, establishing procedural rules, and considering assorted proposals to reorganize some committee jurisdictions. This week Senate committees will begin the process of holding hearings on President Bush's nominees for various Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions during his second term.

In the House, Representative Dennis J. Hastert (R-IL) retained his position as Speaker of the House, and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) was re-elected Majority Leader. For their part, House Democrats re-elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as Minority Leader and Democratic Whip, respectively. Other key House leadership positions include committee chairpersons, particularly for the House Appropriations Committee which is now lead by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). Rep. David R. Obey (D-WI) retained his post as the committee's senior Democrat. Chairman Lewis battled fellow long-time appropriators Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH) and Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) for the top post. In outlining some of his goals for the spending panel, Chairman Lewis said, "We have a historic opportunity and a unique responsibility to reform the appropriations process and change the culture of the committee. I intend to lead a committee that is dedicated to fiscal restraint and committed to being an integral part of our Republican leadership's effort to rein in spending and balance the federal budget." Chairman Lewis further expressed his commitment to this objective stating, "Shortly after I became chairman of the subcommittee on Veterans Affairs and Housing in 1995, I conducted a top-to-bottom review of the spending plan for that fiscal year, and recommended a package of $10 billion in cuts - half of all rescissions that were approved after Republicans became the majority. We reduced spending in that subcommittee by an additional $9 billion in the following fiscal year." The chairman has already begun to make some committee staff changes, naming a former VA/HUD subcommittee staff director as the new director of the full committee. Rumors of various proposals to restructure the number and jurisdiction of subcommittees are now circulating through the Capitol. Proposals to reduce the number of subcommittees from 13 to 10, or alternatively to add a fourteenth subcommittee with jurisdiction over homeland security and intelligence matters are reportedly on the table for discussion. Chairman Lewis has also stated his intent to return the House to the practice of passing individual appropriations bills, rather than the recent practice of combining multiple pieces of legislation into huge omnibus spending packages. Not long ago, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a member of the Science Committee and a vocal advocate for basic research, noted that the fiscal year 2005 omnibus spending bill contributed to the deep cuts made to the NSF budget. The size of the omnibus legislation essentially hid the cuts to NSF until it was too late for members to act to restore the cuts.

Leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees programs in the Department of Energy, EPA, and NIH, remains with Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and ranking minority member John Dingell (D-MI). Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) retained his post as Chairman of the House Science Committee and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) will again serve as the committee's ranking Democrat. On 6 January 2005, Chairman Boehlert thanked House leadership for returning him to the post. Chairman Boehlert remains the only northeastern Republican in the party's leadership. Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA) retained his post as Chairman of the House Resources Committee. Chairman Pombo has already outlined his priorities for the 109th Congress, stating that "strengthening the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and increasing domestic energy supplies" will be top priorities. Chairman Pombo promised that, "we will get to work right away and build on our great record of accomplishment during the last Congress. I want to change the debate on the challenges that lie ahead of us. The discussions on updating the ESA and producing energy in ANWR have been so mired in inane hyperbole that facts and true analysis have completely escaped the debate." The chairman further stated that he would continue the committee's "bipartisan efforts to strengthen and update the ESA, which has posted a less than 1% success rate for species recovery in the last thirty years."

Across the Capitol, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) returns as Majority Leader, while Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) replaces former Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). As the Republican majority expanded to 55 seats, the body has reorganized giving Republican committee staff control of 60 percent of committee budgets and space allocations. Consequently, some changes in Democratic committee staff are likely. With respect to committee leadership, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee, while Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) remains the senior Democrat on the spending panel. Still under discussion is how Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the new chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, may reorganize the committee formerly chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) is the committee's ranking Democrat.

Graduate Students: Apply for the 2005 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award, an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS will pay travel costs and expenses for 1 recipient of the award to participate in the Science, Engineering and Technology Working Group's annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on May 10-11, 2005. The CVD is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for scientific research funding. CVD is hosted by more than 30 organizations spanning all scientific disciplines. During the CVD, participants will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a reception honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of science and biology; they will also participate in meetings with members of Congress and their staff.

AIBS is accepting applications for the Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to Kirsten Feifel () NO LATER than 5 p.m. EST on Friday, 1 April 2005. The award will be announced by 15 April.

Applications should include the following materials:

  1. Cover letter. Applicants should describe their interest in science policy issues and how participation in the CVD would further their career goals. Applicants should also confirm their availability to attend the May 10-11 event.

  2. Statement on the importance of biological research (max. 500 words). The objective of CVD is "to underscore the long-term importance of science, engineering, and technology to the Nation through meetings with congressional decision makers." How would you convince your congressional delegation of the importance of biological research? Prepare a statement that emphasizes the benefits of biological research, drawing on your own experience and/or research area, and referencing local issues that may be of interest to your congressional delegation as appropriate. You may want to address why Congress should increase funding for research when overall funding for federal programs is declining.

  3. Resume (1 page). Your resume should emphasize leadership and communication experience - this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. Please include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, and memberships. Please do not list conference presentations, abstracts or scientific manuscripts.

  4. Letter of reference. Ask an individual who can attest to your leadership and interpersonal and communication skills to send a letter on your behalf to by the stated deadline. This individual should also be familiar with your interest in or experience with science or education policy issues.

Questions about the award should be addressed to AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Adrienne Sponberg at or by phone at (202)-628-1500 x232.

To learn about previous EPPLA recipients and other AIBS public policy training initiatives, please visit

OMB releases new peer review guidelines

In mid-December 2004 the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum to heads of federal departments and agencies implementing OMB's "Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review." Briefly, the stated purpose of the Bulletin is to enhance the quality and credibility of the federal government's scientific information that represent findings or conclusions that are the official position of one or more agencies. A highly criticized draft of the Bulletin was first released for public comment in 2003 (see the September 2004 Washington Watch report). The final Bulletin includes significant changes and improved guidance suggested by federal agencies and external stakeholders in two rounds of public comments.

The Bulletin outlines several forms of peer review that agencies should consider using to evaluate the quality of "information" and "significant information" — information that can have an annual economic impact of greater than $500 million, but provides agencies with a degree of flexibility in determining the most appropriate form of peer review to utilize for various types of information products. The peer review procedures of the National Academy of Science are frequently referenced and used as a model throughout the Bulletin. The document should result in increased public disclosure of information about reviewers and the findings of review panels. Additionally, the Bulletin provides for agencies to establish a peer review planning process which should ultimately produce an online, annual agenda of agency peer review activities. Importantly, the Bulletin provides for exemptions for time sensitive public health and safety information, as well as for other categories of information. The complete 45-page document is available on the Information Policy, IT and E-Gov page of the OMB website (

President responds to Ocean Commission report

On 17 December 2004 President Bush formally released his Administration's response to the recommendations made in the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report "An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century." The President signed an Executive Order creating a cabinet-level Committee on Ocean Policy tasked to codify and coordinate federal ocean policy and management. The Administration concurrently released the "U.S. Ocean Action Plan" to help guide the Committee on Ocean Policy when developing the subsidiary infrastructure and setting future priorities and goals.

The newly formed Ocean Policy Committee will be chaired by the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality and have a membership of Cabinet secretaries of departments and the directors of independent agencies with ocean-related oversight. The new panel will report to the Presidential Aid on Domestic Policy on all pertinent national ocean issues. This new national ocean policy framework is designed to create a direct communication line between the president and the agencies that perform ocean related research; something the Commission report found was formerly lacking.

To support the Cabinet-level Committee on Ocean Policy a pyramid of interagency sub-committees will be formed to focus on specific issues. In particular, the action plan calls for a new "Interagency Committee on Ocean Science and Resource Management Integration" with a membership of Under/Assistant Secretaries from the Executive branch agencies and departments of the Committee on Ocean Policy. Advising them will be two sub-committees: one focused on resource management issues and one on science and technology issues.

Creating the Cabinet-level oceans committee is one of the suggestions made by the Ocean Commission. As the first order of business, the new committee is mandated by the Executive Order to not only define the new framework of national ocean policy but to also create a triage of the Commission's remaining 214 recommendations when it meets for the first time in early 2005.

For more information, go to

Philadelphia Academy of Science cuts curators

According to a 7 January 2005 report in Science magazine, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has joined a growing list of natural science collections reporting budget shortfalls and, consequently, staff layoffs. The Academy, whose museum is home to more than 17 million specimens, has faced chronic budget problems over the past decade said James Baker, the Academy's president and CEO. According to published reports, the institution has experienced annual budget deficits of between $500,000 and $1 million. To compensate, the decision has been made to lay off 13 of the 250 employees. Among those losing their position are three curators - the assistant curator and chair of ornithology, an associate botany curator, and an associate curator of ichthyology. According to the Science magazine report, Baker did not deny a claim that those let go were not generating adequate grant revenue. Baker noted that it might be possible to grow the number of curators in the future if the budget outlook improves, but he would expect to see a greater research emphasis in areas, such as watershed management and molecular systematics.

Recent Washington Watch articles from the journal BioScience provide additional information about the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for natural history collections.

May 2004: Expanding Access to Natural History Collections

June 2003: Are University Natural Science Collections Going Extinct?

Court: Disclaimers must come out of Cobb County textbooks, but...

On 13 January 2005, United States District Judge Clarence Cooper issued a 44 page ruling in the case of Selman et al versus Cobb County School Board. Briefly, the case was brought by parents that objected to the Cobb County School Board's decision to place anti-evolution stickers in textbooks. In essence, the parents argued that the stickers are a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause, which prevents the government from intruding on religion. Judge Cooper's ruling found that the school board's actions are unconstitutional and ordered that: "1. Defendants shall immediately remove the Sticker from all science textbooks into which the Sticker has been placed 2. Defendants are permanently enjoined from disseminating the Sticker in any form." Finally, the Defendants were also ordered to pay plaintiff's court costs.

According to an 18 January 2005 report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, it seems that the Cobb County School Board has not yet enjoyed enough time in the national spotlight. Following Judge Cooper's ruling, the board met with its lawyer and promptly voted 4-2 to pursue an appeal of the federal court's ruling. Reportedly, the board members feel the court overstepped its bounds by ruling on a local school control issue. The board's attorney, who has pledged to pursue the appeal at no additional cost to the district, plans to file a motion on 18 January 2005, seeking a stay of the order to remove the stickers.

New in BioScience: "Environmental Science Sacrificed in Latest US Budget"

The January 2005 Washington Watch column in BioScience explores how research funding for key environmental biology programs was cut in final FY 2005 spending bill passed by Congress.

"In early December, President George Bush told Canadians that by 'relying on sound science and mutual goodwill, we can resolve issues.' One week later, he signed a budget for fiscal year 2005 that slashes funding for the federal programs providing the bulk of scientific knowledge on our environment. Together, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) account for 52 percent of all federal spending on environmental science. NSF and NASA's environmental science programs were cut by more than $200 million in the most recent budget."

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