NSF Reauthorization Introduced in Senate

On 31 July, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation to authorize funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for the next five years. The plan would provide a five percent annual increase in the NSF budget through 2019, starting with a $7.65 billion authorization for fiscal year 2015, a significant increase over the $7.3 billion approved by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee in May in the “Frontiers in Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014.”

The Senate bill does not set funding at the NSF directorate level. It does include a statement of support for social and behavioral sciences. The legislation states: “if the United States is to remain innovative and globally competitive, the Foundation must continue to meet its legislative mandate through; (A) robust support for basic research across a wide range of science and engineering fields, including the social, behavioral, and economic sciences.” This is in contrast to the FIRST Act, which would cut social and behavioral science research funding by 40 percent in favor of increases for biology, math, computer, and engineering programs. Congress traditionally has not set funding at the directorate level, instead deferring to agency expertise.

Along with higher funding levels and refraining from setting budgets at the directorate level, there are several other differences between the Senate and House proposals.

  • The Senate legislation authorizes NSF funding through 2019, whereas the House bill only extends reauthorization through 2015.
  • The Senate bill defends the current grant system, stating, “peer review and merit review processes have successfully identified and funded scientifically and societally-relevant research and must be preserved.” In contrast, the House added a requirement that NSF must give priority to projects that have a clear “national interest.”
  • The Senate left out language prohibiting “falsification or fabrication” of research results that had been added by the House. Many in the scientific community viewed the House language as duplicating existing federal authority and signaling a fundamental mistrust of scientists.

The Senate bill, S.257, is expected to be taken up when Congress returns in September after the summer recess.

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Senate Panel Recommends Increased Funding for Interior

The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a draft funding bill for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for fiscal year 2015. In general, the Senate would be more generous than the House. For instance, many Interior bureaus would see an increase in funding from the Senate bill and a flat budget from the House bill. The most drastic difference is for EPA, where the House recommended $700 million in reductions, which is 40 times larger than the cuts in the Senate plan.

The bill would provide $1.05 billion for the United States Geological Survey, a 1.4 percent increase. The Ecosystems activity would receive $155.1 million (+$2.3 million). Increased funding would be directed to development of a national ecosystems services framework, support activities for preserving environmental capital, Asian carp monitoring in the Great Lakes region, and research on white nose syndrome in bats. Water Resources would receive $4.1 million in new funding for streamgage research, streamflow information, and groundwater studies.

Other Interior bureaus would benefit under the draft bill. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget would increase by 1.6 percent to $1.5 billion. The National Park Service would see an increase of $71.2 million for a total of $2.6 billion in funding.

The EPA would not be so fortunate. Funding for science and technology would decline by 0.8 percent. Overall funding for the agency would decline by 0.2 percent to $8.2 billion.

The Forest and Rangeland Research program at the Forest Service would remain at the 2014 funding level.

The Smithsonian Institution, which is largely supported by federal funding, would receive a $20.4 million increase. About half of that increase would be distributed among individual museums and centers.

The bill is largely a blueprint and is not expected to progress. It is generally anticipated that Congress will pursue a stopgap funding measure when it returns from its summer recess. Lawmakers will likely be in session for only a few weeks in September before adjourning in advance of the November mid-term elections. Passing a continuing resolution would buy some time before Congress has to pass a catchall funding bill to fund the entire federal government for fiscal year 2015.

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Survey Finds Researchers Still Spend Too Much Time on Administration

The administrative burden for researchers is unchanged since 2005, according to a recent report. A survey of 13,000 principal investigators at universities and research centers in the U.S. found that researchers spend an average of 42 percent of their time on federal projects on administrative requirements rather than on active research. Proposal and report writing; reporting on project finances, personnel, and effort; and compliance with research regulations are the primary time sinks. The full report is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/cs/groups/pgasite/documents/webpage/pga_087667.pdf.

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70 Organizations Express Concerns with Conference Restrictions

A group of 70 scientific organizations, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, have expressed concerns with a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that would further restrict the ability of federal employees to attend conferences. In a letter sent to members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the organizations stated, “The Coburn-Heitkamp substitute to S. 1347, Conference Accountability Act of 2013 would raise existing barriers and perpetuate unintended negative consequences the Administration’s regulations have already imposed on our scientific enterprise and national competitiveness.”

Existing regulations on conferences have resulted in decreased attendance by federal employees and contractors at scientific and technical conferences. Several scientific meetings were canceled in 2013 as a result. The pending bill would likely further diminish turnout.

S. 1347 was approved by the Homeland Security Committee on 30 July 2014.

Read the letter at www.aibs.org/position-statements/2014072970organization.html.

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Now in BioScience: Funding Rates a Concern Two Years after NSF Proposal Changes

An article in the July 2014 issue of BioScience looks at the impacts of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) changes to the proposal submission process in the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Two programs now require preproposals for a once-a-year submission deadline. NSF estimates that the funding rates for applications to the Division of Environmental Biology and Division of Integrative Organismal Systems is currently on the order of 5 to 8 percent. Many scientists have expressed concerns about the changes, both in terms of declining funding rates and increased workload of reviews. Read the article for free at https://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/7/563.full.

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Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Biological research is transforming our society and the world. Help the public and policymakers better understand the breadth of biology by entering the Faces of Biology Photo Contest. The competition is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the contest must depict a person, such a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The depicted research may occur outside, in a lab, with a natural history collection, on a computer, in a classroom, or elsewhere.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The contest ends on 30 September 2014 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • Collaborative research in environmental sustainability is being encouraged between researchers in the United States and China. A program jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China is seeking proposals from joint U.S.-China teams on combustion related to sustainable energy and sustainable manufacturing. Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsf14102/nsf14102.jsp.

  • The National Science Foundation has released a new video that explains the merit review process the agency uses to vet research proposals. Watch the video at http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=76467.

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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.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

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 policy.aibs.org to get started.

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