Senate Announces Committee Membership for 114th Congress

Key Senate committees with jurisdiction over research and science education will have new members in the next session of Congress, which starts in January.

The Appropriations Committee, which allocates federal funding, will experience significant changes to its membership. Senators Dan Coats (R-IN) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) are leaving for other committee assignments. Some have interpreted these departures as a sign of the diminishing status of appropriators in Congress. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) retired. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) were not reelected. Four freshman Senators will join the committee: Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), James Lankford (R-OK), and Steve Daines (R-MT). Three returning Senators will also join the panel: Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). As anticipated, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) will lead the committee, with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) serving as the top Democrat.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) will chair the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, with Bill Nelson (D-FL) serving as Ranking Member. The committee will have seven new members. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Tom Udall (D-NM) have joined the committee, as well as freshmen Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Gary Peters (D-MI). Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Tim Scott (R-SC) are departing the committee, which has jurisdiction over policy at the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV) and John Walsh (D-MT) did not seek reelection and Senators Mark Begich and Mark Pryor were defeated in the mid-term elections.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee will welcome Senators-elect Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Cory Gardner (R-CO), as well as Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dean Heller (R-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Tim Scott (R-SC) received new committee assignments and will not be returning. Three other members are not returning to Congress, including current chair Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will chair the committee next year and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will serve as Ranking Member.

The committee with jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency will have three new members. The Environment and Public Works Committee will retain familiar faces in its top spots. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) will chair the committee and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will serve as the top Democrat. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) will be new members on the committee. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) will not return to the panel.

The Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee will be led by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), with Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) as Ranking Member. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) is leaving the committee and Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and John Walsh (D-MT) did not seek reelection. New members include freshmen Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), David Perdue (R-GA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

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Many New Faces Expected on House Committees

Major turnover is expected on the House committees that set the nation’s science policy agenda. Many newly elected Republicans will be joining the committees with jurisdiction over research and education. Democrats have not yet announced their committee rosters.

Eight of 22 Republican members on the Science, Space and Technology Committee will be freshmen Representatives. The new members are Representatives Brian Babin (R-TX), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), Steve Knight (R-CA), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Gary Palmer (R-AL), and Bruce Westerman (R-AZ). Departing committee members include Paul Broun (R-GA), Larry Bucshon (R-IN), Chris Collins (R-NY), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ralph Hall (R-TX), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Steve Stockman (R-TX). Most of these members opted for a new committee assignment in the new Congress. Notably, Lummis and Bucshon chaired subcommittees in the 113th Congress; the new subcommittee chairs have not yet been named.

The House Appropriations Committee will have at least four new members: Representatives Evan Jenkins (R-WV), David Jolly (R-FL), Scott Rigell (R-VA), and David Young (R-IA). Jenkins and Young are both new to Congress.

Eight new members will join the Agriculture Committee, and one, Representative Jackie Walorski (R-IN), is a returning member of Congress. The others were recently elected to their first term: Representatives Ralph Abraham (R-LA), Rick Allen (R-GA), Mike Bost (R-IL), Tom Emmer (R-MN), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and David Rouzer (R-NC).

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Plan Would Expel Foreign Students from UK after Graduation

UK Home Secretary Theresa May recently released a plan to send foreign graduates back to their home countries immediately after completing their degree. The proposal has been widely criticized by scientists and leading universities in the United Kingdom.

Currently, graduates have four months to seek work after completing their degree. Under the new plan, foreign graduates from countries outside the European Union would have to return home before being able to apply for a job and work visa in the UK. The United States, Canada, and Australia allow foreign graduates to work for one year after graduation.

Critics have said that the plan would deter foreign graduates from working in the UK. “Forcing students to return home to apply for a work visa would put significant barriers of time and money in their way when they can least afford them,” said Dr. Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

“If the UK is to remain internationally competitive, it should be looking to broaden, not limit, the opportunities for qualified international graduates to stay in the UK to work for a period and contribute to the economy,” stated Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK.

About 120,000 students from outside the EU study in the UK each year. Seventy thousand of these students stay after graduation.

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Interior Announces New Scientific Integrity Policy

Three years after implementing a scientific integrity policy, the Department of the Interior is overhauling the policy. The department touts that the changes will create a new role of ombudsman, form an Interior Scientific and Scholarly Integrity Council, provide more clarity on the complaint and appeals process, and offer more employee training.

Secretary Sally Jewell released a statement on 17 December that stated “Science is at the heart of Interior’s mission, so it’s important that we continue to lead federal efforts to ensure robust scientific integrity. Today we are announcing an updated, strengthened policy to broaden, clarify and underscore our commitment to sound science and to reflect enhancements based on three years of experience with the current policy.”

Public reaction to the new policy is mixed. The Union of Concerned Scientists said the changes bring Interior “once again to the front of the pack in the Obama administration’s quest to create strong scientific integrity standards within federal agencies and departments.”

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claims that the revisions are actually a weakening of the current policy. The changes “narrow the scope of the rules, erect barriers against holding miscreant managers accountable and enshroud scientific integrity reviews in secrecy, preventing independent analysis of the facts,” the organization said in a statement.

Among the changes PEER objects to are the definitions of ‘scientific misconduct’ and ‘loss of scientific integrity,’ and the removal of language that stated that employees are responsible for reporting scientific misconduct.

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Government Conducts Biosecurity Sweep of Federal Labs

Eleven federal departments and agencies have conducted a review of more than 4,000 research facilities to identify potentially dangerous research compounds. The sweep came in response to a “safety stand-down” ordered by the White House in response to improper storage of biological select agents and toxins used in federal research.

In addition to adequately storing or disposing of select agents, agencies also developed improved laboratory biosafety and biosecurity protocols.

Of the more than 40 million samples reviewed, 27 instances were reported of agents that were not properly stored. The White House reports that there is no evidence that humans were exposed to any of these agents or toxins.

Non-governmental labs were also eligible to participate in the safety review. Potentially dangerous materials found at these labs were either destroyed or transferred to an organization registered to possess such substances.

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Deadline Approaching: Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Applications are being accepted for the 2015 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on 13-14 May 2015. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”
  • An award certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.

The 2015 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, 18 January 2015. The application can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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Participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Congressional Visits Day

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are invited to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal funding for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation, as well as other federal agencies.

BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

This year’s event will be held on 13-14 May 2015 in Washington, DC. The first day of the program is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their travel expenses.

Learn more about the event and express your interest in participating at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html. The deadline to sign up is 13 March 2015.

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Short Takes

  • The Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance project has launched its website, www.niballiance.org. The site is a forum for interested individuals to learn about and participate in community building activities that will help to cultivate a sustainable, networked, national community of practice to advance the interests of the biodiversity collections community.

  • A new competition is seeking an inexpensive, easy-to-use sensor to measure water pollution due to nitrogen and phosphorus. The winner of the Nutrient Sensor Challenge will create a technology that can measure nutrient levels unattended for three months and cost no more than $5,000. Learn more at http://www.act-us.info/nutrients-challenge.

  • The Gulf Research Program is currently accepting applications for 2015 exploratory research grants and research and science policy fellowships. More information will be presented about the fellowships during a webinar on 8 January 2015. Learn more at http://www.nas.edu/gulf/index.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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