NSF Budget Proposal Would Boost Education, Operations Funding But Cut BIO

President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2015 requests $7.255 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This is a proposed increase of $83.1 million, or 1.2 percent over the FY 2014 appropriation.

The proposed funding increase would be directed to education activities and for agency operations. Each of these budget accounts would increase by about $40 million, resulting in a 5.1 percent increase for Education and Human Resources and a 13.5 percent increase for Agency Operations and Award Management. Funding for the Research and Related Activities account, which includes funding for the various disciplinary directorates, would be cut by $1.5 million for a total of $5.8 billion. The agency’s funding rate for grants is expected to remain at 22 percent. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would also remain essentially flat; $96.0 million is proposed for the continued construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network.

The proposed $12.8 million reduction for Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) is the largest cut among all of NSF’s directorates. Two other directorates are facing cuts on the order of 0.1 to 0.3 percent. Three directorates would receive increases of 0.1 to 6.0 percent. BIO provides about 66 percent of federal funding for non-medical, basic life sciences research, including environmental biology, at academic institutions.

Within BIO, three major activities are emphasized: 1) increased investment in basic research on understanding the neural circuitry and activity that underlie cognition, behavior, and thoughts; 2) continued investment in the Biological, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences (BioMaPS) program, which seeks to discover fundamental quantitative knowledge at the intersections of biology, math, the physical sciences, and engineering; and 3) support for cyberinfrastructure and other BIO infrastructure, such as NEON, digitization of biological collections, field stations, and synthesis centers.

The number of BIO research grants awarded would increase slightly from the FY 2014 level, although median award size is projected to remain the same at $185,000 per year. The funding rate across the BIO directorate is expected to decrease from 22 percent to 21 percent.

NSF would continue its support for graduate students. The Graduate Research Fellowship program would award 2,000 new fellowships—700 fewer fellowships than the agency had hoped to award last year. The stipend level would also increase from $32,00 to $34,000. NSF Research Traineeships would continue for a second year; funding would be included to support continuing grants for the program it replaced, the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT).

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Senate Confirms NOAA Administrator

On 6 March, the Senate confirmed Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan as under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. Sullivan will serve as the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She has been the acting administrator of NOAA for the last year. Her nomination had been pending in the Senate since July 2013.

“NOAA provides the environmental intelligence that helps citizens, businesses, and governments make smart choices,” said Sullivan. “Mission first, people always - this is my commitment to the American people and to the NOAA workforce. I’m incredibly proud of our people, and it’s an honor to be at the helm.”

Sullivan is a former astronaut and was the first woman to walk in space. She previously served as Chief Scientist for NOAA, director of a science education policy center at Ohio State University, and as president and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry, a science museum in Ohio. She has a Ph.D. in geology from Dalhousie University.

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Report Finds Budget Sequestration Reduced Some Public Services

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlights the impacts of $85.3 billion in automatic, across the board budget cuts to federal agencies in 2013. According to the GAO, “Sequestration reduced or delayed some services to the public, including benefit payments, and disrupted agency operations, despite actions taken by agencies to minimize sequestration’s effects.”

Sequestration required budget cuts on the order of 9 percent from non-defense agencies and 13 percent from defense programs. These cuts resulted in more than 80 percent of agencies curtailing hiring, reducing employee training, and decreasing employee travel. In additional, more than 770,000 employees were furloughed.

Approximately 70 percent of agencies reported rescoping or delaying contracts or grants for core mission activities. For instance, science agencies awarded fewer research grants as a result of sequestration. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded 690 fewer grants in fiscal year 2013. The National Institutes of Health reduced competing research project grants by 8.3 percent relative to 2012. The Department of Agriculture awarded approximately 100 fewer research grants.

In order to blunt the effects of sequestration, many departments and agencies transferred funding between budget accounts. At the NSF, $12.5 million was transferred from the Research and Related Activities account to support facilities construction and equipment acquisition. To avoid staff furloughs, $13.4 million from the research account and $2.0 million from the Education and Human Resources account were transferred to agency operations.

NSF also awarded a higher percentage of continuing awards instead of grant awards that are fully funded up front. Agency officials told GAO that this strategy allowed more awards to be made in a particular year since not all of the funding is obligated in the initial year.

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U.S. and U.K. Scientists Present Joint Report on Climate Change

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.K.’s Royal Society released a publication in late February that makes clear that humans are causing climate change. The report attempts to dispel myths about climate science while setting the record straight on where scientific uncertainty still exists.

“As two of the world’s leading scientific bodies, we feel a responsibility to evaluate and explain what is known about climate change, at least the physical side of it, to concerned citizens, educators, decision makers and leaders, and to advance public dialogue about how to respond to the threats of climate change,” said National Academy of Sciences President Ralph J. Cicerone.

“Our aim with this new resource is to provide people with easy access to the latest scientific evidence on climate change, including where scientists agree and where uncertainty still remains,” said Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society. “We have enough evidence to warrant action being taken on climate change; it is now time for the public debate to move forward to discuss what we can do to limit the impact on our lives and those of future generations.”

Download the booklet at http://nas-sites.org/americasclimatechoices/events/a-discussion-on-climate-change-evidence-and-causes/.

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Senators Plan All-Night Speeches on Climate Change

At least half of Democratic Senators plan to spend tonight talking about climate change. The marathon of speeches from the Senate floor will start after the last votes of the day and last until 9 am on 11 March. At least 28 Senators plan to take part in the event, which is designed to spotlight the need for action on climate change. The public can participate by using the hashtag #Up4Climate in their tweets.

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NSF Launches Pilot Program for US-UK Collaborative Research

Scientists in the United States and United Kingdom may have an easier time managing international collaborations on biological research as the result of a new joint program between the nations. The pilot opportunity is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences and the U.K.’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

U.S./U.K. research teams will be able to submit a single proposal that will undergo a single review process by one of the partner agencies. Successful proposals will be funded by both agencies.

Cora B. Marrett, acting director of NSF, said, “Although NSF has always funded U.S. scientists involved in international collaborations, such collaborations have become increasingly important, partly because of the rapid globalization of research. The many benefits of this Pilot opportunity will include better coordination of funding for U.S./U.K. research teams and increased bilateral awareness of scientific strengths and advancements between the U.S. and U.K. funding agencies.”

Proposals that cover systems biology, computational biology, bioinformatics, and synthetic biology will be eligible for consideration.

More information is available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsf14034/nsf14034.jsp.

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Now in BioScience: Congress Considers NSF Legislation

In the Washington Watch column in the March 2014 issue of the journal BioScience, Robert Gropp highlights congressional efforts to craft legislation to reauthorize the National Science Foundation.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

Beyond making appropriations to fund federal research programs, Congress is responsible for authorizing the activities and funding levels for federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). Last renewed by the America COMPETES Act reauthorization of 2010, the agency’s authorization is set to expire in 2015. In anticipation, Congress has started work on NSF reauthorization legislation.

Amid a sluggish national economy and concomitant contentious political debate about federal budget priorities, some in Congress have questioned in recent years what types of research the government should fund and, periodically, specific research projects. Therefore, as Congress considers the future of the NSF, the science policy community has prepared for potential battles.

Continue reading the article for free at https://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/02/13/biosci.biu014.full.

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Short Takes

  • The Ecological Society of America is offering a short course on "Sustaining Biological Infrastructure: Strategies for Success." This hands-on course will provide project directors with the key business planning, marketing, and communications skills they need to enhance their project's continuing development and sustainability. Learn more at http://esa.org/sbi/.

  • A new network is being formed to bring scientists and their local communities together for a real dialogue on climate science. Volunteers will be provided materials for context-setting presentations, as well as coaching regarding how to begin conservations about climate change. Sign up to volunteer at climatevoices.org.

  • The National Science Foundation is working with the University of Missouri to hold an event on 16-18 April 2014 on broader impacts of research. The summit aims to bring broader impacts professionals together to share best practices, ideas, and challenges; set the course for future infrastructure support; and increase interaction with the National Science Foundation. Learn more at http://www.broaderimpacts.net/index.php.

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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 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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