House passes FY 2006 Interior and Environment appropriations legislation

The House of Representatives has passed and sent to the Senate H.R. 2361, legislation that would make fiscal year 2006 appropriations for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and related programs. In brief, the funding levels for the US Geological Survey are largely the same as those reported in the 10 May issue of the AIBS Public Policy Report.

With respect to other programs of interest to the biological sciences community, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would receive a boost of roughly $42 million over the 2005 level, bringing the Service to just over $1 billion in FY 06. Within the Service's resource management account, the House appropriations committee proposed increasing funding for "Ecological Services" activities (i.e., endangered species activities, habitat conservation, environmental contaminants) by just over $12 million above the 2005 funding level, bringing the FY 06 level to roughly $260 million. The refuges and wildlife, and fisheries accounts would receive bumps of $18 million and $3.5 million over the enacted 2005 levels, respectively. However, the refuges and wildlife program would still be $2.7 million below the administration's requested funding level. For the Service's first request under the program heading of science excellence, the House would provide the Service with $500,000, $1.5 million below the agency request of $2 million.

Within the House's proposed funding for the National Park Service, NPS would receive roughly $350 million for its Resource Stewardship programs. This level is the same as that requested in the budget and $6 million above the 2005 level. The bulk of the increase (just under $5 million) would go toward natural resources challenge vital signs.

Information concerning the proposed funding levels for the Environmental Protection Agency will be reported in a future public policy report.

Members of Congress call for innovation summit

On 12 May 2005, Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) continued their effort to stimulate greater federal investment in research and development by announcing plans for a fall "Innovation Summit." The Summit would bring scientists, policymakers, and other participants together to discuss ways to maintain U.S. competitiveness and economic growth through basic research.

"America's dominance in science and innovation is slipping," Wolf said. "Many Americans are unaware of this trend. I know people in the scientific field and academia are aware - and have been voicing concern - but the average citizen has no idea. They also have no idea what this could mean to our economy and our national security."

The Congressmen included language in the supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2005, which was passed by the House earlier this month, to plan for the fall summit. According to Wolf, the cost of the conference will be covered by already-appropriated funds, not new money.

AIBS Members Support Science at 2005 Congressional Visits Day

Representatives of AIBS member organization, the Organization of Biological Field Stations, joined the 2005 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award recipient and other members of the science, engineering and technology research community to participate in Congressional Visits Day 2005. The event, held on 10-11 May 2005 in Washington, DC, was an opportunity for members of the STEM community to tell their members of Congress about the importance of increasing the federal investment in fundamental research and development.

On 10 May, participants attended various budget briefings held at the National Museum of Natural History. Following the briefings, participants traveled to Capitol Hill for a reception where Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) received the 2005 George E. Brown Jr. Award for their long-standing support for federal research programs.

AIBS public policy office staff coordinated the meetings for the AIBS contingent and also participated in the meetings. Participants included Robert Wyatt, vice president of the Organization of Biological Field Stations, and Matt Rahn, representing the San Diego State University field stations. Karen Laughlin, a Cornell University graduate student and recipient of the 2005 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award also met with her congressional delegation.

Aside from the widely covered Capitol Hill evacuation, highlights of the event included personal meetings between Wyatt and Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Rahn and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). Other offices visited included Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Darrell Issa (R-CA). The other notable highlight was when former AIBS public policy assistant, Kirsten Feifel, was called upon to introduce her hometown Congressman, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), at a breakfast reception on 11 May.

AIBS is currently working with other Washington, DC-based science organizations to explore the feasibility of hosting a second Congressional visits day this fall. Details about any future events will be announced in the bi-weekly policy report.

NOAA legislation moves forward in House

Thirty five years after it was established, a formal plan to define the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) organizational structure and functions has begun to move forward. On 17 May, the House Science Committee approved H.R. 50, the "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Act" that would make several changes to the agency's structure, including the creation of a Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere who would serve as the head of NOAA. The Deputy Secretary would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Legislation setting forth this structure was among the recommendations included in last year's U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report.

As articulated in H.R. 50, the mission of NOAA would be to understand the systems of Earth's oceans and atmosphere and predict changes in Earth's oceans and atmosphere and the effects of such changes on the land environment, to conserve and manage coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes ecosystems to meet national economic, social, and environmental needs, and to educate the public about these topics.

Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), sponsor of the legislation, said, "NOAA has operated under a confusing collection of issue-specific laws. Today we came one step closer to providing a comprehensive congressional vision for this agency." Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) is one of the members of Congress advocating for the legislation. "Our bill will do more than merely found NOAA in law. It will raise the profile of science at NOAA and improve its management." Boehlert added, "This is a solid bill that will strengthen the agency."


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