Head of NSF to Step Down

Dr. Subra Suresh, the director of the National Science Foundation, announced on 5 February 2013 that he will leave the agency at the end of March. Dr. Suresh has accepted an appointment as the ninth president of Carnegie Mellon University.

“It has been my extraordinary honor to lead the National Science Foundation, which is blessed with a marvelous cohort of highly talented and devoted staff, as well as hundreds of thousands of innovative grantees and investigators from every field of science and engineering,” said Dr. Suresh in an email to staff. “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the country in this capacity.”

Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said, “Subra has made critical contributions to a broad range of science and technology priorities, including expanding federal investments in fundamental research, accelerating the commercialization of university research, and strengthening our scientific collaborations with partners around the world. He also leaves a crucially important legacy of having expanded NSF’s family-friendly policies, which make it easier for young scientists to balance the challenges of furthering their careers while raising a family.”

Dr. Suresh was confirmed for a six-year term as director of NSF in September 2010. Prior to assuming his current role, Suresh served as the dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Lawmakers Ponder Alternatives to Sequestration

President Barack Obama and members of Congress are floating ideas to prevent $85 billion in automatic budget cuts from occurring this year, starting on 1 March.

Last week, the President urged lawmakers to avert budget sequestration in the short-term through a package of smaller budget cuts and tax reforms. Such a move would buy time for a larger, more comprehensive package to be prepared.

House Republicans criticized President Obama’s call for new revenues. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that Republicans would oppose additional tax increases and instead pursue more spending cuts.

Legislation introduced by House and Senate Republicans would forestall the across-the-board cuts to federal agency budgets for a year by reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent. The staff reductions would occur by attrition, with only one out of every three employee vacancies being filled. The measure would save about $85 billion a year, which is enough to delay sequestration until 2014. S. 263 is sponsored by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and the House version, H.R. 593, is sponsored by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA).

Democratic leaders in the Senate are also working on an alternative to sequestration. Details of that plan have not yet been settled. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said that she would prefer a longer-term package to address all years of cuts, instead of a temporary fix. In the meantime, however, the Senator will support a short-term solution to looming sequestration cuts.

Sequestration would impact nearly all federal programs. Research grant programs would be cut by 5 percent this year and by a higher percentage over the next decade unless current law is changed. According to the White House, the National Science Foundation would issue nearly 1,000 fewer research grants and awards, impacting an estimated 12,000 scientists and students.

Federal agencies have begun to alert their employees of possible furloughs if sequestration begins as scheduled. Agencies are also weighing options to cut back spending on travel, training, facilities, and supplies.

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Action Alert: Tell Lawmakers about the Value of Science

Nearly one hundred new lawmakers were elected to Congress in November. Let them - and their returning colleagues - know the value of federal investments in science.

Please take a minute to send a letter to your members of Congress about the importance of biological research and education to our nation.

Take action at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=62388191.

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REI CEO Nominated for Secretary of the Interior

Sally Jewell, chief of the outdoor retailer REI, has been nominated to become the 51st secretary of the Department of the Interior. Jewell has never held a major public office. Instead, she has worked in corporate banking for roughly two decades. She started her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil Corp.

Given her few interactions with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, members of Congress are eager to question Jewell about how she will lead the department that is responsible for oil drilling on federal lands and in federal waters, management of public lands, and conservation of endangered species.

Secretary Ken Salazar is stepping down after four years on the job.

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Oklahoma Senate to Consider Anti-Evolution Bill

The Oklahoma Senate Education Committee is poised to consider a bill that threatens the teaching of evolution in the state’s public schools. Senate Bill 758 would require science teachers to help students evaluate the scientific strengths and weaknesses of “existing scientific theories.” Although evolution and climate change are not directly mentioned in the legislation, the bill is similar to efforts in other states to introduce creationism into the classroom.

The bill is sponsored by Oklahoma State Senator Brecheen. Senator Brecheen previously sponsored legislation to weaken the teaching of evolution in Oklahoma. In 2010, he wrote in the Durant Daily Democrat about a bill he sponsored: “I have introduced legislation requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.”

The American Institute of Biological Sciences wrote to the members of the Oklahoma Senate Education Committee about SB 758, the Oklahoma Science Education Act. The letter urges the committee to oppose the bill.

Read the full letter at www.aibs.org/position-statements/20130206okeducation.html.

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Join Us for the 2013 BESC Congressional Visits Day

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are encouraged to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress about the importance of federal support for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, such as that supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other federal agencies.

BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

This year’s event will be held on 10-11 April 2013 in Washington, DC. The first day of the event is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their expenses.

Learn more about the event and register to participate at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html. Registration will close on 7 March 2013.

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Toolkit Details How to Become an Effective STEM Mentor

Citing President Obama’s recognition of the importance of mentorship in the nation’s quest to produce top students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, the Corporation for National and Community Service has released a toolkit detailing strategies to become an effective organizer of STEM mentorship within the community.

The toolkit lays out a step-by-step guide to getting started, including identifying local partners, building a team, and setting goals. The toolkit provides thorough guidance for each step, including online resources for finding STEM mentoring organizations, strategies for building mentorship teams and conducting meetings, worksheets to track progress of set goals, and guides describing how to be a good STEM mentor. Success stories will be highlighted throughout the year at serve.gov.

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Short Takes

  • Celebrate the life and scientific contributions of Charles Darwin on 12 February. The date marks the birthday of the famous evolutionary biologist. Events will be held around the world to celebrate the occasion. Learn more at http://darwinday.org/.

  • A new, free online biology course aims to teach the basics of biology and inform students about the coming revolution in our understanding of biology. The course is taught by Dr. Eric Lander, a professor at MIT and Harvard Medical School and a co-chair of President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Learn more at https://www.edx.org/courses/MITx/7.00x/2013_Spring/about.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking technical experts to serve on its Board of Scientific Counselors. The federal advisory committee provides independent scientific and technical peer review, advice, and recommendations on climate, chemical safety, human health risk assessment, and safe water resources. Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/osp/bosc/nomination.htm.

  • Six scientific societies are pressing for the White House to hold a national summit on climate change. The groups aim for the summit "to identify policies and actions that can be taken by each Federal agency and by state and local governments to address the causes and effects of climate change." Six scientific organizations signed the letter, including the Ecological Society of America and the Society for Conservation Biology.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today! (www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html)

The AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues. These exciting new advocacy tools allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Entomological Society of America, Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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