Despite Myriad Proposals to Avoid Sequestration, No Deal Expected
Several plans have been floated to delay the impacts of $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to begin on 1 March 2013. Despite the abundance of competing proposals, DC insiders are skeptical that a deal will be done before the cuts take effect.
Senate Democrats plan to consider a measure this week that would avert sequestration for the remainder of the year through higher taxes on the wealthy, new tax revenue from oil extraction from tar sands, and spending reductions in agriculture subsidies and defense. The American Family Economic Protection Act would reduce the deficit through equal parts spending cuts and new revenue. In addition to completely offsetting the cost of sequestration this year, the plan would raise $25 billion to replace additional spending reductions. The White House has voiced its support for the plan.
Republican Senators have expressed opposition to the Democrats’ plan on the grounds that a deal should not include new tax revenue. Instead, the GOP is considering a proposal to grant federal agencies additional flexibility in how to apply the spending cuts. Current law requires that all budget accounts be cut by a fixed percentage—5 percent for non-defense and 8 percent for defense.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has expressed openness to finding a way to replace sequestration if the Senate can pass a solution. “If they’re willing to pass a bill, we’ll find some way to work with them to address this problem,” Boehner said. Some House Republicans are insisting that such a deal include a plan to balance the budget within 10 years.
Outside of Congress, another deficit reduction plan is being offered by former Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. In 2010, the duo co-chaired a presidential commission to cut the deficit. Their newest proposal would cut the deficit by $2.4 trillion over 10 years. One quarter of this sum would be raised through additional revenue generated by overhauling the tax code. The remainder would come from cuts to health care and mandatory and discretionary programs. The Simpson-Bowles plan would avert sequestration through other spending cuts.
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Agencies Detail Impacts of Sequestration on Research and Science Education
A number of federal departments and independent agencies released revised information on the likely impacts of budget sequestration at the request of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski. Many agencies face cuts that would be especially damaging for research and development (R&D), as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
Sequestration would have drastic impacts on the National Science Foundation, hurting vital investments in basic research and cutting-edge technological development, and jeopardizing STEM education. It would require a reduction of roughly 1,000 research grants, directly impacting nearly 12,000 people, including professors, graduate students, undergraduates, K-12 teachers and students, and technicians.
Funding cuts at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would curtail operations at numerous facilities, potentially impacting more than 25,000 researchers and personnel. It would also cause schedule delays and increased construction costs. Finally, sequestration would result in reduced research grants, affecting scientists around the country.
R&D at the Environmental Protection Agency would be diminished as a consequence of sequestration, forcing the agency “to make cuts we believe will directly undercut our congressionally-mandated mission of ensuring Americans have clean air, clean water and clean land,” according to a statement from the agency.
Agricultural research would be cut by more than 100 grants, disrupting progress in research on water, bioenergy production, animal and plant disease, and other topics. The Natural Resources Conservation Service would additionally curtail technical and financial assistance to approximately 11,000 landowners and producers for environmental conservation efforts.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would also see significant impacts. Up to 2,600 NOAA employees would have to be furloughed and approximately 2,700 vacant positions would not be filled. Moreover, 1,400 contractors would be laid off.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would have to cut 10 percent to 15 percent of the budget for new Explorer and Earth Venture Class missions, and reduce by approximately 5 percent new awards supporting jobs at universities, businesses, and other research entities.
The Department of Education would face tough decisions as a result of funding cuts. Approximately 80 percent of school districts would reportedly not be able to make up the losses from sequestration, putting at risk both student progress and teachers’ jobs. “I can assure you that our economic competitors are increasing, not decreasing, their investments in education, and we can ill afford to fall behind as a consequence of the indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts that would be required by sequestration,” stated Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a letter to Chairwoman Mikulski.
At the 14 February 2013 Senate Appropriations hearing on “The Impacts of Sequestration,” Chairwoman Mikulski summarized her thoughts on sequestration: “I think it’s bad economic policy, I think it’s bad governance policy, and I really don’t like it.”
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AIBS Joins With Diverse Groups to Oppose Sequestration
AIBS joined more than 3,200 organizations from all sectors of the economy and society to urge Congress and President Obama to put an immediate end to sequestration budget cuts that threaten to send the economy reeling back into recession and destroy more than two million American jobs.
The Nondefense Discretionary (NDD) United community delivered a letter to Congress, urging leaders to avert sequestration by adopting a “balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to NDD programs.” Joining together in this effort are national, state, and local organizations from all fifty states representing the health, education, law enforcement, science, housing, workforce, transportation, and faith communities, among others. Despite their diverse priorities, these organizations share a common purpose of protecting core government functions.
Congress needs to work with the White House to come up with a bipartisan, balanced compromise that does not deepen the cuts that discretionary programs have already sustained. In 2011, NDD spending represented less than one-fifth of the federal budget. Under strict discretionary caps in the bipartisan Budget Control Act, by 2021 NDD spending will decline to the lowest level in at least 50 years. If sequestration is allowed to take effect, cuts to NDD programs will be even deeper. Over the past two years, discretionary programs have already contributed substantially to deficit reduction through some $1.5 trillion in spending cuts. During that time, NDD programs were cut by 9 percent on average, with many programs cut by as much as 50 percent. Continued cuts will have consequences for every American, threatening the health, safety, and competitiveness of the United States.
The letter explains some of what Americans will lose if Congress and President Obama do not avert sequestration through a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Read the letter at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20130211_sequestration.html.
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Federal Agencies Directed to Develop Open Access Policies
On 22 February, the Office of Science and Technology Policy directed the heads of federal agencies to each develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the federal government. This includes any results published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and digital scientific data that are based on research that directly arises from federal funds.
The requirement applies to federal agencies that support over $100 million in annual research and development; this includes the National Science Foundation, Departments of Agriculture and Energy, National Institutes of Health, and Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
Agencies were instructed to leverage existing archives for posting final peer-reviewed manuscripts or final published documents. A 12 month embargo period after publication is suggested as a guideline, but agencies can tailor their individual plans. Moreover, agencies must provide a mechanism for stakeholders to petition to change the embargo period for a specific scientific discipline.
Agencies have six months to devise their draft plans for complying with the memo.
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Participate in 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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Federal Government Proposes New Rules for Risky Research
Researchers who work with 15 potentially dangerous agents and toxins would be subject to extra review if a proposed federal policy were adopted. Universities and research institutions that receive federal funding would be required to review their current life sciences research involving certain pathogens or toxins and to develop risk mitigation plans.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy claims that the new policy aims at “maximizing the benefits of life sciences research while minimizing the odds that the results of such research will be misused.” Specifically, the policy focuses on so-called dual use research, which can pose a significant threat to public health and safety, crops, livestock, or the environment.
The draft policy is open for public comment until 23 April 2013. More information is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/02/22/2013-04127/united-states-government-policy-for-institutional-oversight-of-life-sciences-dual-use-research-of.
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Entomological Society of America Launches Science Policy Program
The Entomological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) have announced a new partnership that will provide ESA members with an even stronger voice in the nation’s science policy debates.
The ESA is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA has more than 6,400 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, pest management professionals and hobbyists.
The AIBS is a scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society. AIBS works independently and in partnership with scientific organizations to ensure that the public, legislators, funders, and the community of biologists have access to and use information that will guide them in making informed decisions. The organization does this through informing decisions by providing peer-reviewed or vetted information about the biology field and profession and by catalyzing action through building the capacity and the leadership of the biological sciences community to address matters of common concern.
“We are pleased to offer our members a new voice in science policy,” said ESA Executive Director David Gammel. “Our members have a wealth of scientific information that can inform policy decisions. Through this new partnership with AIBS, our members can become effective advocates for entomology.”
Richard O’Grady, AIBS Executive Director, is pleased that ESA is increasing its presence in the nation’s science policy. “ESA is a well respected scientific society with a long history and a robust membership of professionals who have a lot to offer our nation’s policymakers,” said O’Grady.
In the coming weeks, ESA members will begin to receive new science policy analysis and information through a monthly newsletter prepared by AIBS. They will also begin to learn about opportunities to gain experience and training in communicating with policymakers, and opportunities to inform science policy debates in the nation’s capital and in the states.
“This new partnership coincides with the creation of ESA’s new Science Policy Committee,” said ESA President Rob Wiedenmann,” and it fits in well with this year’s Annual Meeting theme, which is ‘Science Impacting a Connected World.’ We look forward to working with AIBS in the future.”
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Interior Releases Strategic Plan for STEM Education
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is concerned about the pipeline of future employees who are scientifically literate. In response, the department has released a strategic plan for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to strengthen career pathways to fields of study that support Interior’s mission.
“Intentional and strategic alignment of existing resources, leveraging of current programs, and expansion of partnerships will allow DOI to strengthen those education and career pathways that will attract and prepare the future workforce and contribute to the development of a scientifically literate public with whom DOI must engage daily to address complex issues in their communities,” states the report.
Read the report at http://www.doi.gov/whatwedo/youth/education.cfm/index.cfm.
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- A new contest sponsored by the National Science Foundation will award cash prizes of $1,000 to $3,000 for innovative ideas to improve graduate education. The contest seeks to better prepare science graduate students for their future careers. Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/gradchallenge/index.jsp?WT.mc_id=USNSF_51.
- Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will resign after serving for four years in the Obama cabinet. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist will return to teach at Stanford University.
- The National Science Foundation is accepting applications for the position of director of the Division of Environmental Biology. A description of the position and information about how to apply is available at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/337479700?org=NSF.
- The Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a new blog, DEBrief. It is reportedly the first blog in the history of NSF. The site will share information about new proposal review procedures, news coverage of DEB-funded science, and other issues. Access the site at http://nsfdeb.wordpress.com/.
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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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