Congress Enacts Stopgap Spending Bill
The House and Senate have approved a measure to keep the government funded through 11 December 2014. President Obama signed the bill into law last week. The plan was the last piece of legislative business Congress addressed before leaving town to campaign for the upcoming mid-term elections this November.
The continuing resolution will fund nearly all government programs at approximately their current level. One notable exception is increased flexibility in funding for weather satellite programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill includes an across the board cut of 0.0554 percent to all discretionary spending programs, which includes science, education, environment, defense, and a multitude of other programs. The reduction was required to keep spending in line with the budget cap for fiscal year 2014.
A request by the White House to arm rebel groups fighting terrorists in the Middle East became a last minute hurdle for the legislation. In both chambers of Congress, some Democrats and Republicans opposed the measure over concerns about anti-terrorism funding.
The new fiscal year begins on 1 October 2014. Due to ongoing fights about government spending, legislators have been unable to enact the 12 appropriations bills that collectively fund the federal government.
Congress is expected to return for a post-election, lame duck session starting in mid-November.
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Leaders in Innovation Call for Renewed Investments in U.S. R&D
A new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences calls for annual U.S. investments in research and development (R&D) equal to 3.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The risk if such a goal is not met are long-term changes in “the trajectory of American innovation for many years to come,” according to the report.
The United States ranks tenth globally in total R&D investments as a percentage of GDP. As the report points out, China is expected to invest more in science than the U.S. within a decade, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of economic output.
“Innovation relies on breakthrough discoveries that are primarily the products of fundamental, curiosity-driven research. Yet companies—finding it increasingly difficult to justify such long-term investments in a market environment focused on short-term results—have made it clear that the federal government must continue to be the primary funder of basic research. It is therefore worrisome that federal support for basic research has dropped 13 percent below the level measured ten years ago as a percentage of GDP.”
The committee calls for federal investments in basic research to grow by at least 4 percent annually. This is the same rate of growth as American science grew on average between 1975 and 1992.
The report was prepared by a group of notable players in the U.S. innovation ecosystem, including Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin; Neal Lane, former director of the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Steven Chu, former Secretary of Energy; and Bart Gordon, former chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
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Call for Local Knowledge on Pollination and Food Production
The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is requesting information on indigenous and local knowledge of pollination and pollinators associated with food production. The request for information will inform a global assessment of the topic. Desired information includes past or ongoing projects on indigenous and local knowledge about pollinators, scientific and grey literature, and researchers and other knowledgeable individuals. For more information about how to participate, visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/links_call.
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Senators Launch National Lab Caucus
A new coalition has formed in the U.S. Senate to promote issues related to the Department of Energy national laboratories. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Jim Risch (R-ID) lead the bipartisan caucus, which will work to ensure that the labs receive sufficient funding and supportive policy changes. The other founding members of the caucus are Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Mike Crapo (R-ID).
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Report Calls for Changes in Agriculture Research Program
A recent report released by the National Research Council highlights the value of research conducted by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), but calls for programmatic changes. A major shift would be realignment of the program structure to “more clearly address its specific mission and mandates as defined in authorizing legislation,” states the report.
This change would result in the termination of the challenge-area program within AFRI, which take a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. The program emphasized a high-stakes, potentially high-rewards approach to solving grand problems. According to the report, a major barrier to success of the program has been lack of new funding. “While the goal of AFRI’s new Challenge-area program is worthy, the size of AFRI’s budget does not allow a reasonable prospect of satisfying its congressional mandate to focus research on the six discipline areas of the 2008 Farm Bill.”
Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture also calls for a shift in funding back towards basic research, with extension and education included as supporting elements of research grants.
AFRI is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was created in the 2008 Farm Bill. The program supports competitively awarded research grants in the areas of plant health and production, animal health and production, food safety and nutrition, renewable energy, natural resources, and agriculture systems and economics.
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NSF Launches Community College Innovation Challenge
The National Science Foundation is challenging students enrolled in community colleges to propose innovative science-, technology-, engineering-, and mathematics-based solutions to real-world problems. Ten finalists will reach professional coaching and cash prizes.
The competition is designed to engage the more than 40 percent of U.S. undergraduates who are enrolled at community colleges. Teams of students will work with a faculty mentor and a community or industry partner to identify a solution in one of the following themes: big data, infrastructure security, sustainability, broadening participation in science, and improving science education.
“Engaging the talents of these students is a priority for us,” said Susan Singer, who leads NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education. “Through this competition we would expect to not only identify innovators but also to see new ways for students, faculty, community and industry to work together.”
Learn more about the challenge at http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/communitycollege/.
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Deadline Approaching: 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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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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