Appropriations update

On 30 June 2005 the House of Representatives completed work on all fiscal year (FY) 2006 appropriations bills except for the measure providing funding for the District of Columbia. Much of the attention now turns to the Senate, which has only approved three appropriations bills (Energy and Water, Interior and Environment, and Legislative Branch).

The Senate Appropriations Committee has reported H.R. 2862, "Making appropriations for Science, the Department of State, Justice, and Commerce, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 20, 2006." Among the science programs covered by the legislation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $4.5 billion, 31 percent more than the House provided and 25 percent more than the President's budget requested. The Senate funding level would provide the agency with a 15 percent bump over the current fiscal year. While House and Senate funding levels often differ, the large discrepancy between the two chambers was due to the House adoption of the Drier Amendment which transferred $50 million from NOAA to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. The differences between the House and Senate numbers must now be resolved by a conference committee.

National Science Foundation funding fared slightly worse in the Senate version of H.R. 2862, receiving $5.5 billion--$58 million more than the FY 2005 budget, but $112 million short of the funding the House would provide, and $74 million less than President Bush's request. The Senate would provide the Biology Directorate with $584 million, $7 million more than FY 2005 but $4 million less than the House recommended. The Senate Appropriations Committee further recommended $747 million for NSF's Education and Human Resources activities, 1.4 percent more than the budget request, but $60 million less than the House appropriated. At this level, NSF E H R would receive $94 million (11 percent) less than the FY 2005 appropriation. The discrepancy between the budget request and the Senate mark is partially attributable to the Committee's rejection of "the administration's continued request to have the Math and Science Partnership program only exist at the Department of Education."

In other appropriations news, on 30 June the Senate passed H.R. 2419, legislation making appropriations for energy and water programs. The $31.2 billion spending measure represents a 22 percent increase over the President's request and a 5 percent boost over the funding recommended by the House. The Senate approved $503 million for the Energy Department's Biological and Environmental Research programs, $48 million more than the budget request, but $22 million short of the House mark. Both the House and Senate declined to earmark funds for the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, instead they included language in the reports accompanying the legislation saying "within available funds, the Department shall continue to fund" the SREL.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has also approved H.R. 2744, the Agriculture appropriations bill. The spending measure contained $652 million for Research and Education activities, $107 million more than the administration's request and $10 million less than the House proposed. Within the Senate's recommended funding level, the National Research Initiative would receive $190 million, $11 million more than the FY 2005 appropriation but roughly $60 million below the administration's budget request for FY 06.

Interior spending moves forward

The Senate overwhelmingly passed H.R. 2361, the FY 2006 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, making it the first piece of spending legislation to pass both chambers this year. The Senate's legislation would provide $26.2 billion to the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and arts and cultural programs. The legislation now heads to a conference between the House and Senate to resolve any differences.

The Senate version (Senate Report 109-80) would provide $963 million for the United States Geological Survey (USGS), $28 million above the FY 2005 enacted level and $30 million (1.7 percent) above the President's request, but $12 million (1 percent) short of what the House approved. In the Biological Research account, the Senate approved $174 million, $1 million more than the President's request. Following the House's lead, the Senate restored funding for mineral research programs for which the administration proposed deep cuts and $6.5 million to restore the Water Resources Research Institutes.

Senate appropriators were more generous with the EPA this year than their House counterparts. The Senate approved $7.88 billion in FY 2006 EPA funding, $311 million (4.1 percent) more than the President's request, and $174 million more than the House provided. However, this level remains $144 million (1.8 percent) below the FY 2005 appropriation. The Science and Technology account, received $552 million in the Senate version, $16 million less than the President's request and $24 million less than the House version.

Science on Capitol Hill

AIBS recently joined other scientific professional societies to cosponsor the 11th annual Coalition for National Science Funding reception on Capitol Hill. This year's event, entitled "Science @ Work," drew attention to the myriad of scientific research projects made possible by NSF grants. Roughly 30 grant recipients were on hand to explain their research findings and how NSF support makes their work possible. At least one dozen members of Congress and dozens of congressional staffers attended the exhibition and reception.

Evolution update: Kansas and Pennsylvania

Following the "kangaroo court" style hearings on evolution, the Kansas state board of education voted 7-3 last month to adopt a draft version of science standards that are critical of evolution. The outcome is not a surprise; members of the board's conservative majority had previously expressed their predisposition to including the teaching of intelligent design in science classrooms. According to the National Center for Science Education, the May court hearings cost Kansas taxpayers roughly $17,000.

Next month the writing committee will review the latest draft of the science standards. The board will then evaluate the standards again after reading the writing committee's comments and send them on to an external reviewing body. A final vote will likely occur in September.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania a House education subcommittee held hearings on 20 June on a bill that would allow local school boards to include intelligent design in their science curricula. Detractors of the bill included the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Observers are uncertain about the bill's prospects; so far it has not moved on to the full education committee.

New in BioScience: "The Summers Affair: Has It Prompted an Effective Plan for Harvard?"

The July 2005 Washington Watch article considers the recent gender equity debate at Harvard University. An excerpt of the article follows:

In May, with his job on the line, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers pledged $50 million over the next decade for initiatives to help recruit, support, and promote women and members of underrepresented ethnic groups on the university's faculty. "We have to do better," Summers admitted; last year only 4 of 32 professors offered tenure on Harvard's faculty of arts and sciences were women. He observed that "universities like Harvard were designed a long time ago, in many respects, by men and for men. To fully succeed on these issues we're going to have to address issues of culture."

Several women leaders in the biological sciences say they are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Harvard's new diversity initiative and its possible repercussions at other US research universities. Even though women have nearly achieved parity with men in earning doctorates in the life sciences, at many prestigious universities they still lag far behind male colleagues in becoming full professors, department chairs, deans, and senior administrators.

"There is a subterranean prejudice now," says Rita Colwell, chair of Canon US Life Sciences. "No one is going to say, like they said to me when I was asking to go to graduate school, that they don't waste fellowships on women. They don't say that now. But there's still discrimination."

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