Shake Ups Expected on Appropriations Committees

Major changes are expected in the next Congress on the House and Senate panels responsible for allocating federal funding. The results of the congressional mid-term elections and the retirement of several senior appropriators will prompt a shuffle in the membership of the Appropriations Committees in both chambers.

Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and Tim Johnson (D-SD) are retiring. The departure of Harkin and Johnson will free up top Democratic positions on the subcommittees responsible for labor, health, and education funding and for veterans affairs. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is the next most senior Democrat on both panels. If she decides to claim one of these subcommittee top spots - and if the Democrats retain control - her current position as chair of the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee would become available.

Other vacancies could arise on the Senate Appropriations Committee as the result of potential election losses. Five Democratic appropriators are considered among the most vulnerable members of the Senate up for reelection this year: Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Mark Udall (D-CO). Landrieu, Pryor, and Shaheen currently chair an appropriations subcommittee.

Fewer changes are expected for the Republican membership of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The biggest change is that full committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) could be replaced by Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) if Republicans win control of the Senate.

In the House, there is more uncertainty about the future leadership of the spending panels. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) will likely wait until December to make his recommendations about subcommittee chairmen. The retirements of three senior Republicans will open chairmanships on the panels that oversee spending on commerce, justice, and science; labor, health, and education; and transportation.

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) is retiring after serving for 17 terms, including his recent leadership of the panel that oversees funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Wolf has been an outspoken proponent of science and the work of NSF. Reps. John Culberson (R-TX) and Robert Aderholt (R-AL) have both expressed interest in taking over Wolf’s position in the new Congress. Culberson currently chairs the military construction subcommittee and Aderholt chairs the agriculture spending panel.

The departure of Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), who unsuccessfully ran for a Senate seat, results in an opening at the top spot on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee. This vacancy could prompt a shuffle in the leadership of other subcommittees if Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) is selected to replace Kingston.

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NOAA Releases Science Plan for Gulf of Mexico Restoration

Public comments are being accepted on a draft plan for science in support of restoration efforts of the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The federal government’s plan outlines long-term research priorities for the Gulf, including providing fisheries and natural resource managers with needed information for decision-making, better understanding the connections of Gulf physical and living systems, and improving predictions of climate impacts.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which drafted the science plan, states that it sought to avoid “duplicating the priorities of other Gulf of Mexico science programs especially those created in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, such as the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, the National Academy of Sciences Gulf Research Program and those funded through the on-going Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment.”

The plan will serve as the basis of NOAA’s future funding opportunities in the region. The program will be funded by the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, comprised of civil penalties paid by parties responsible for the oil spill. To date, NOAA has received $20 million from the settlement with Transocean, with more funding expected from the case against BP.

More information about the plan and how to submit comments are available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2014-25797.pdf.

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House to Vote on 'Secret Science' Bill

When the House of Representatives returns from recess, the chamber will vote on a bill regarding the transparency of scientific findings used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in agency rulemaking. HR 4012, the “Secret Science Reform Act,” is sponsored by Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ).

According to the blog of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), “The EPA proposes new rules that will cost billions of dollars and destroy thousands of jobs. Then, when questioned, they say it is all based on the best science but often refuse to share that science with the American people or even Congress.”

The legislation would prohibit EPA from proposing or finalizing any rule that utilizes research findings that are not “transparent or reproducible.” Critics of the legislation say that some research data are confidential and not suitable for public release. Other studies are not reproducible because they involved very large sample sizes, occurred over long durations, or gathered data in real time during a one-time event.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who serves as the top Democrat on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, called the bill “an insidious attack on the EPA’s ability to use the best science to protect public health.”

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USDA to Conduct First Ever Pollinator Surveys

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it will survey the abundance of honeybees on an ongoing basis. This is the first time bees will be monitored as other commodities, such as livestock numbers and crop prices. The quarterly and annual surveys will track colony losses and stressors associated with colony collapse disorder, such as parasites and insecticides.

The Department also announced the funding of $4 million in technical and financial assistance to improve bee habitat in the Midwest.

“The future of America’s food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area.”

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New Resource Visualizes STEM Data

The National Science Board has released an online resource with information about science education and workforce trends in the United States. The tool provides interactive charts and maps on student proficiency, college degrees, and jobs. Access the tool at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/edTool/.

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Election Day Approaching: Remember to Vote

Participate in democracy by voting on Tuesday, November 4th.

All members of the House of Representatives and one-third of Senators are up for re-election. In addition, there are many state and local races on the ballot.

Contact your state board of elections to find your polling location.

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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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