Small increase for NSF research, but education account suffers
On February 7, NSF Director Arden Bement unveiled the FY 2006 budget for the National Science Foundation. The Bush administration is requesting $5.605 billion for the agency, a $132 million or 2.4% increase over the current fiscal year. However, the total funding is essentially the same as that of FY 2004, when the agency was provided with $5.578 billion. The request puts the agency nearly $3 billion behind the benchmark set in the NSF doubling act, passed by Congress in 2002. Most of the supporters for the NSF doubling have conceded that doubling the agency's budget is an intractable goal and the timeline for such an increase will obviously need to be expanded.
A significant amount of the $132 million increase for NSF comes from the transfer of $48 million from the Coast Guard to cover the operation and related expenses of ice breakers used to service the Macmurdo station in the Antarctic. Without the transfer of funding for the ice breakers, NSF's budget is actually increasing by 1.5%. Below is a brief summary of the major accounts of NSF.
Increases for the disciplinary directorates ranged from 0.9% (Biological Sciences Directorate - BIO) to 3.7% for Engineering. NSF has requested a 2.2% increase for the Geological Sciences Directorate (GEO), which funds several aquatic research programs. (Note: An analysis of the BIO and GEO directorates request will appear in upcoming editions of the AIBS Public Policy Reports.)
Research and Related Activities: In addition to the transfer of $48 million for the operation of the Antarctic ice breakers, RRA will increase by $65 million (1.5%) over current year funding. Bement was frank with reporters at the release of the budget in noting that the increase will not fund many new grants. This presents an obvious quandary for the agency since it has the goal of maintaining grant size and duration, while increasing proposal success rates (which have fallen from 30% to 21% since the Bush administration took office). When asked how the agency plans on raising success rates without a substantial increase in funding, Bement responded that the agency will issue fewer solicitations.
Education and Human Resources: EHR will continue to decline in funding. The administration has proposed a decrease of 12.4% or $104 million for education and human resources. Bement noted that NSF is "leveraging resources by focusing investments on successful programs and developing closer links with research programs." Meanwhile, most science policy analysts see the cuts to EHR as NSF's only choice if they hope to maintain the current funding for research in the agency.
Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction: The agency requested the largest increase for the MRE account: 43.9% or $76 million over current funding for a total of $250 million. While the increase seems significant, it is not much higher than the $213 million NSF requested last year for this account. The MRE account was slashed by 18% to $174 million during the congressional budget process last year, hence the seemingly disproportionate increase to the MRE account. This year, NSF is requesting funds for five projects: Atacama Large Millimeter Array ($49.2 million), EarthScope ($50.6 million), IceCube Neutrino Detector ($50.5 million), Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel ($57.9 million) and Rare Symmetry Violating Processess ($41.8 million). NSF did not request construction funds for the National Ecological Observatory Network this year since the planning process is still underway (see www.neoninc.org for more information).
Between a mineral and a hard spot: a look at the USGS budget
On 7 February 2005, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced that the President has requested $10.763 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2006 funding for Department of the Interior programs and operations. The request is $101 million below the FY 2005 enacted budget, and $117 million below the FY 2004 funding level.
Included in the DOI budget is a request for $933,515,000 for the United States Geological Survey (USGS), $1.9 million below the FY 05 funding level and nearly $4.5 million below the FY 04 funding level. The FY 06 request remains well below the $1.0 billion advocated by the USGS Coalition. However, the budget shows some signs of life. Unlike recent years, the FY 06 budget would fund fixed or uncontrollable costs, such as salaries and office space rental costs. In previous years these expenses have not been fully budgeted, forcing program managers to reprogram funds that could have been used to support core science functions.
With respect to the biological sciences, the President's budget would provide a $1.2 million increase to Biological Research and Monitoring activities and a $150,000 boost to Biological Information Management and Delivery, but would trim $142,000 from the Cooperative Research Units. All told, biological research activities would be funded at $172,925,000 in FY 06, an increase of $1.2 million over FY 05 but roughly $1.1 million below the FY 04 funding level. Within the Biological Research and Monitoring account, the budget proposes to increase funding for ecological systems mapping (up $250,000), for the Great Lakes Deepwater Fisheries Program (up $252,000), increased support ($750,000) for the Science on Interior's Landscape Initiative, to support biological and geological research for better decision making in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (up $750,000), and to support the development of innovative control methodologies for invasive plants (up $300,000). Just over $4.0 million would be cut from the BRM account by eliminating unrequested Congressional earmarks. These cuts include research on Mark Twain National Forest, pallid sturgeon, diamondback terrapins, the grizzly bear population in Montana, the ground-water supply at Leetown Science Center, fishery genetics research in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, manatees, the Delaware River Basin, and a portion of a general program increase. The administration has also proposed general funding cuts that would be used to fund other work. Included in this category is a $420,000 savings from improved management of the USGS vehicle fleet and reduced travel and transportation costs. Just over $828,000 would be added to the account to create a single consolidated budget line item for Science on the DOI Landscape. With respect to the Cooperative Research Units, the budget proposes to save $395,000 by eliminating the Nebraska Cooperative Research Unit.
The budget request includes a $12 million increase to the Landsat 7 budget. The increase would enable the earth-imaging satellite program to continue to provide critical information to scientists, emergency relief officials, land managers and planners. Half of the proposed increase would be used to ensure the continued operation of Landsat 7, while the other half would replenish funds from activities deferred as a result of a proposed reprogramming for 2005 Landsat 7 operations. The 2006 budget also requests $7.5 million so that USGS can begin work on an upgraded ground-processing system to acquire, process, archive and distribute data from a new generation of satellite-based land image sensors. This Landsat Data Continuity Mission is expected to begin operations in 2009. According to USGS Director, Charles Groat, "This increase will enable the USGS to not only continue current Landsat 7 operations but also provide long-term monitoring information that is critical for maintaining the health and safety of our communities, our economy and our environment." Landsat is the longest running civilian program providing vital images of Earth's land surfaces from space. The first Landsat satellite was launched in 1972 and the program took a giant leap forward technologically with the launch of Landsat 7 in 1999. Landsat satellites instruments have acquired more than 1.7 million moderate-resolution images of Earth's surface, providing a unique resource for scientists who study agriculture, forestry, mapping, and global change.
Although the budget request is better than recent years when administrations requested tens of millions less than the prior year appropriation, the budget does include several troubling provisions. Notably, the USGS funding plan would slash the USGS minerals program in half by cutting nearly $28.5 million. If enacted, the cuts would require the USGS to discontinue or reduce 38 "lower priority" projects related to basic geologic, geochemical, geophysical, and mineral deposit data for the nation. Also on the chopping block are the Survey's global mineral resource assessments of critical mineral commodities, research on aggregates and industrial minerals, research on inorganic toxins, and the Mineral Resources External Research Grant program. The proposed cut would also likely result in the elimination of roughly 200 federal science positions affiliated with the minerals program. Another perennial target for administration budget cuts are the programs authorized by the Water Resources Research Act. The FY 06 budget proposal would transfer the $6.4 million currently spent on these efforts to other areas in the USGS budget. If enacted, these cuts would eliminate 54 State Water Resources Research Institutes.
Senate committee criticizes EPA budget cuts
On February 9, 2005, two days after the President's budget was released, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works convened to consider the proposed fiscal year 2006 (FY 06) budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA Acting Administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, appeared before the committee to defend the budget proposal.
In the President's FY 06 request, the EPA budget falls 6 percent from FY 2005 levels to $7.6 billion. The spending plan includes major cuts to clean water programs, the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program, and the remedial Leaking Underground Storage Tanks program. The EPA Research and Development budget is down by 0.5 percent to $569 million with the elimination of select earmarks. EPA R&D programs focused on global change, particulate matter, and drinking water quality would receive small increases.
In general, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works was concerned with the proposed 42 percent funding cut slated for clean water programs. Committee Chairman Inhofe (R-OK) stated that he "like many of my colleagues on the Committee, continue to be troubled by the Administration's history of cuts to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the primary federal clean water mechanism." Because of the bi-partisan support for clean water, many in Washington expect Congress to restore funding for the clean water programs. During the questioning of EPA Administrator Johnson, Senator Inhofe pointed this out and criticized the Agency for cutting programs they knew Congress would reinstate, "I would prefer if the Agency would go back and make responsible cuts that you know are serious cuts because most of the current cuts will be reinstated by Congress." The $100 million dollar decrease in the Superfund is also expected to be remedied by Congress.
The proposed $452 million slash to the EPA budget caused many Senators to question the Administration's priorities. Senator Clinton (D-NY) noted that "though budgets are only full of numbers and percentages, embedded in it are the Administration's values and priorities." Most of the Democrats questioned President Bush's commitment to the environment and public health during the hearing.
NIH issues open access publishing policy
On February 3, 2005, the National Institutes of Health released its long-awaited and final rule concerning publication of NIH sponsored research results. Not surprising given the controversy surrounding the NIH rule making process, the final policy drew criticism from supporters and critics of open/free access publishing. Effective May 2nd, the new policy requests that as soon as possible after publication, NIH-funded scientists on a voluntary basis deposit electronic copies of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts with the agency's PubMed Central database. Authors are given the flexibility to specify when their manuscripts would be released publicly, ranging from immediately to 12 months after publication. The policy also requires that individual scientists resolve any copyright disputes with journal publishers. In a recent public statement, representatives of seven scientific societies that combined publish nearly 30 nonprofit research journals described the new NIH policy as a waste of federal research dollars. These professional society representatives further noted that the public would be better served if NIH developed an improved search engine to index existing journal sites. Such an improvement would thus avoid the confusion likely to result from publishing two different versions of the same article, an unedited version on PubMed Central and the final edited journal version. The group went on to say that the new rule will not, as intended, provide the public better access to science and will place an unreasonable burden on researchers by requiring them to pursue a duplicative submission process. Supporters of open access accused NIH of retreating from its earlier draft version of the proposed rule which required public access within six months.
To read the policy in its entirety, go to:
House Appropriations Committee makes major changes: science programs shuffled
An early emphasis in the 109th Congress has been the reorganization of some powerful committees that have a strong say in how science will be conducted and funded. Last week, the new House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), announced a major reorganization of his committee, which is responsible for federal spending legislation. The House Appropriations Committee will now consist of ten subcommittees, down from 13. According to Chairman Lewis, the change will "allow us [the committee] to spend less time on the floor [of the House] and in committee and more time doing oversight over the expenditure of taxpayer funds. These changes will make it a little easier to get our work done on time and under budget." However, some in Washington question whether this will be the case given that the Senate Appropriations Committee has elected to retain its current structure with 13 subcommittees. While the new House committee structure may make it easier for the House to pass its version of spending bills, legislation may ultimately become bogged down in House and Senate conference committees because of differing subcommittee jurisdictions in the two chambers.
The greatest impact of the proposal falls on the two subcommittees that Chairman Lewis formerly chaired: VA/HUD and Defense. "My decade of experience with the programs funded by these two subcommittees provided the insight to make some common-sense changes that will improve our stewardship of discretionary spending," said Chairman Lewis. Appropriations Committee ranking Democrat, David Obey (D-WI) expressed skepticism about the motives underlying the reorganization. Rep. Obey argues that the plan that the House Republican leadership put forth "is not aimed at improving efficiency." According to Rep. Obey the plan is "simply payback. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is retaliating for cuts that the Republican-controlled VA-HUD appropriations subcommittee made to the NASA budget request." In a statement, Rep. Obey further noted that "During final negotiations on the spending bill, DeLay forced the Committee to add an additional $1.1 billion to the House mark for NASA. However, easing DeLay's local political concerns required across the board cuts to critical domestic priorities like education (-$456 million), veterans' health care (-$225 million), and basic scientific research (-$61 million)."
The new subcommittees and their chairman are:
-Agriculture, Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX)
-Defense, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL)
-Energy and Water, Rep. David Hobson (R-OH)
-Foreign Operations, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ)
-Homeland Security, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY)
-Interior and Environment, Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC)
-Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH)
-Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs, Rep. James Walsh (R-NY)
-Science, State, Justice and Commerce, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA)
-Transportation, Treasury and Housing, Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI)
Committee Democrats are expected to select their leadership later this week.
The Energy and Water subcommittee will absorb all Department of Energy programs from the Interior subcommittee. The new Interior and Environment subcommittee will absorb several programs previously housed by the VA/HUD subcommittee, including Environmental Protection Agency, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Council on Environmental Quality, Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. Among the programs transferred from the Defense subcommittee to the Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs subcommittee are the environmental programs administered by the Department of Defense. The Science, State, Justice and Commerce subcommittee will now be responsible for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Science Committee elects leadership
The House Science Committee has announced its subcommittee leadership for the 109th Congress. Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) has retained his post as chairman of the Environment, Technology, and Standards subcommittee, and Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) retained her post as chairwoman of the Energy subcommittee. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) will assume the chairmanship of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee, replacing former chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Rep. Rohrabacher was ineligible to retain his chairmanship due to Republican rules limiting the time a member may chair a committee. Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), who previously served in Congress from 1993-1998, was elected to head the Research subcommittee. New Republican members joining the Science Committee include Rep. Inglis (R-SC), Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-IN), Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI), and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX).
Across the aisle, Science Committee ranking member, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) announced committee Democrat leadership on February 9, 2005. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) will serve as the ranking member on the Energy subcommittee and Rep. David Wu (D-OR) will lead the Democrats on the Environment, Technology and Standards subcommittee. Fellow Oregonian, Rep. Darlene Hooley will serve as the ranking member of the Research subcommittee, and Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) will be the senior Democrat on the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee.
AIBS Board Member elected VP of NAS
The members of the National Academies of Science (NAS) have elected Ralph J. Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California at Irvine, as the organizations 21st president. Cicerone replaces Bruce Alberts on July 1 and will serve a six-year term. The members of the Academy have also elected AIBS Board Member, Barbara Schaal of Washington University in St. Louis, MO, to a four-year term as Vice President of the NAS.
Cicerone studied atmospheric chemistry as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before pursuing graduate studies in electrical engineering and physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Cicerone has worked as a research scientist at the University of Michigan, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. From 1994-98, Cicerone was dean of physical sciences at the University of California at Irvine, where he was appointed chancellor in 1998. Cicerone's work has informed climate change and pollution policy.
Barbara A. Schaal, Spencer T. Olin professor of biology at Washington University, will also assume her post as Vice President on July 1, 2005. Schaal, earned a BS in biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an MPhil and PhD in biology from Yale University. In addition to her service on the AIBS Board of Directors, Schaal has held many posts in service to science; including, president of the Botanical Society of America, president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, service on the Scientific Advisory Council, Center for Plant Conservation, associate editor of the American Journal of Botany, chair of the National Research Council's Standing Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, Health and the Environment, and a member of the NRC Board on Life Sciences. Schaal's current research focuses on the evolutionary genetics of plants, often in collaboration with staff and students of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Research in her laboratory includes molecular evolution of genetics, systematics, and quantitative genetics.
New federal resources to identify false academic credentials
Recent media exposes have shown how individuals have been able to obtain fraudulent academic credentials. One report showed how some senior members of the federal government were able to obtain promotions based on these credentials. In response to the problem these investigations have illuminated, the federal government has developed resources that can help potential employers identify questionable academic credentials. Individuals may also use these materials to ensure they do not become the victims to a growing number of scam artists offering worthless academic degrees and certificates.
For its part, the United States Department of Education has announced an effort to combat the growth of "diploma mills". The department now maintains a master list of accredited colleges, universities, and career and trade schools (http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/). Diploma mills operate outside the purview of the accreditation process and the agency's oversight of federal student aid programs. Consequently, they threaten to devalue the genuine education credentials of millions of U.S. students. Of note, however, some institutions have elected not to participate in the federal student aid program and thus are not required to be accredited by a recognized accreditation agency. These institutions do not appear on the Department's list. The Federal Trade Commission has also recently released a new publication targeted at hiring managers and human resources professionals. "Avoid Fake-Degree Burns by Researching Academic Credentials" is available online at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/diplomills.htm).
New in BioScience: "White House Responds to Ocean Commission Reports"
The February 2005 Washington Watch column in the journal BioScience discusses recent developments in United States ocean research policy.
"As required by the Oceans Act of 2000, President Bush has formally responded to the final report of the US Commission on Ocean Policy. On 17 December 2004, the White House released the "U.S. Ocean Action Plan," a 40-page document summarizing the administration's immediate and long-term plans for addressing the recommendations of the commission."
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