The House of Representatives passed a spending plan in mid-April that would steeply cut funding for science and environmental programs. The budget proposal, sponsored by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) would balance the federal budget by 2024, largely by reducing spending by $5.1 trillion over the next decade.
The budget resolution passed the House with the support of all but 12 Republicans. No Democrats voted for the measure. Prior to passage, there had been concern that some conservatives would oppose the plan because it allowed for a modest increase in discretionary spending in fiscal year 2015. The Ryan plan outlines total funding that is in line with the bipartisan budget deal reached in December 2013.
Although the budget resolution does not specify funding for individual agencies, the measure does outline spending in broad categories. For science, the House budget would provide $1.7 billion less than President Obama’s request. This budget category includes the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Energy Office of Science.
The Ryan plan would emphasize basic research while shifting funding away from applied research. The plan claims to provide “stable funding for NSF” for research and education. The plan also calls for paring back spending for biological and environmental research within the Department of Energy due to the potential to “crowd out private investment.”
In terms of natural resources and environment: “The budget resolution recognizes the importance of … water-resources, conservation, environmental, land-management, and recreational programs—but bigger government has not led to better government, and the increase in spending in this function has only invited mismanagement and duplication.” Approximately $2.5 billion would be cut from the current budget authority for the Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and other environmental programs. The plan also calls for climate change activities to be streamlined and reduced funding for international climate activities.
The budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 96) is dead on arrival in the Senate, as the upper chamber plans to follow the spending caps set in the recent budget deal in lieu of formulating a budget resolution for 2015.
Scientists traveled to Washington, DC on 9-10 April 2014 to communicate to members of Congress the importance of sustained federal investments in the biological sciences. The group was in the nation’s capital as part of the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day.
Among the participants were researchers affiliated with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and its member organizations, including the Organization of Biological Field Stations, Botanical Society of America, American Society of Mammalogists, and the Ecological Society of America. The 2014 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award recipients, Amalia Aruda Almada and Andrew Adrian, also participated in the event.
The two-day event began with a training session for the thirty participants. Policy staff from AIBS and the Ecological Society of America provided an analysis of the federal budget and advocacy training. Participants also had the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of a senior White House staffer.
On 10 April, participants fanned out across Capitol Hill for meetings with members of Congress and their staff. This year, the group emphasized the importance of sustained federal investments in research that help the nation create new jobs and respond to society’s needs, such as food security, maintaining healthy ecosystems, and improving human health. Participants highlighted the importance of the NSF in fostering economic growth. The agency’s Biological Sciences Directorate funds about 66 percent of fundamental, non-medical biological research.
Download a copy of a BESC fact sheet on the importance of federal investments in biological research at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/BESC2014Leave_Behind.pdf.
On 10 April, the director of public policy for the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) was a witness on a panel testifying before the House Subcommittee on Interior and Environment Appropriations. Dr. Robert Gropp testified in his capacity as Chairman of the USGS Coalition, an alliance of organizations united by a commitment to the continued vitality of the United States Geological Survey. He called for Congress to work to provide additional funding in fiscal year 2015 for the United States Geological Survey. The mix of biological, geological, hydrological and geospatial sciences makes the USGS a unique science agency.
The National Institutes of Health will no longer limit researchers to one chance to resubmit a rejected research proposal. In the future, applicants will be able to repeatedly resubmit the same proposal as a new submission.
Under existing agency policy, researchers who have had a proposal rejected could resubmit that proposal once before they had to submit an entirely new grant application. Reviewers closely evaluate the new proposal and the rejected version to make sure that they are substantially different. The new policy retains one chance for resubmission, but also allows an applicant to resubmit the grant proposal and have it considered as a fresh proposal.
A group of 21 Senators have signed a letter to the Appropriations Committee in support of increasing funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year 2015. Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) initiated the dear colleague letter. The proposed funding level of $7.5 billion is the same as the level supported in a letter circulated in the House that was signed by 133 Representatives. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have yet to announced a 2015 funding level for NSF. The House is scheduled to consider legislation to fund NSF and the Departments of Commerce and Justice in early May.
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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.
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