President's Budget Request Promising for Science

On 2 February 2015, President Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2016. The plan would provide $1.091 trillion for discretionary spending, an increase of $75 billion above the budget caps set by Congress in 2011. The increases would be equally divided between defense and non-defense programs. To pay for the new spending, the President proposes new tax revenues, trimming mandatory spending programs, and immigration reform.

Most federal science agencies will receive a budget increase if the President’s plan is enacted. The administration proposes $146 billion for federal research and development, an increase of 5.5 percent relative to the FY 2015 enacted level.

The proposed funding is subject to congressional approval. Annual funding levels for federal agencies are subject to the appropriations process. Moreover, any effort to raise the caps on total government spending will require a change to the Budget Control Act of 2011. Some lawmakers have expressed an interest in raising the budget limits—especially for defense spending—however policy experts and politicians alike expect such fiscal discussions to be an uphill battle.

Details about the budget requests for the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy Office of Science, and U.S. Geological Survey are presented in this issue of the AIBS Public Policy Report. Details about these and other agencies will be the subject of a forthcoming AIBS report on the President’s FY 2016 budget request.

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NSF Funding Proposed to Increase by 5 Percent in FY 2016

The President’s budget request for the National Science Foundation (NSF) would provide $7.7 billion, an increase of $379.3 million over the FY 2015 enacted level.

The largest portion of the proposed increase would be directed to research, which would see a boost of $252.7 million across the agency for a total of $6.2 billion. NSF projects that the research grant funding rate would remain unchanged at 21 percent due to an anticipated increase in proposals submitted. Education activities are also proposed for significant new funding (+11.2 percent, +$96.6 million).

A nine percent increase would support Agency Operations and Award Management, especially the relocation of NSF’s headquarters and the government-wide 1.3 percent salary increase for federal employees.

Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would remain essentially flat. Within this account, $80.6 million is proposed for the final year of construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

Four cross-disciplinary initiatives would receive significant increases if the budget request were enacted. Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems is a new initiative proposed to receive $75 million to support research on the natural, social, and human-built factors involved in these interconnected systems. Fifteen million would be allocated for a new project to address broadening participation of underrepresented groups, with a special emphasis on activities that lead to demonstrable progress. An ongoing initiative, Understanding the Brain, would receive an increase of $37 million, and research on risk and resilience for natural and manmade disasters would be supported with an additional $38 million.

NSF would continue to increase its support for graduate students. In addition to increasing funding—but not the number of new fellowships—for the Graduate Research Fellowship, the agency plans to expand the research themes for the NSF Research Traineeships. Proposals will be solicited in two additional research areas: Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems and Understanding the Brain.

NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate

The proposed 2.3 percent (+$16.9 million) boost for the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) is the second smallest increase proposed for an NSF research directorate. With the exception of the Math and Physical Sciences, other directorates would receive between a 3.5 and 7.1 percent increase. BIO provides about 66 percent of federal funding for non-medical, basic life sciences research at academic institutions.

The number of BIO research grants awarded and the median award size would increase slightly from the FY 2015 levels. The funding rate for BIO research grants is expected to remain at 23 percent, a figure that does not include pre-proposals. When pre-proposals are accounted for, the funding rates are much lower.

Within the request for BIO, funding would be allocated among the five divisions accordingly:

  • Molecular and Cellular Biosciences: $136.2 million (+1.5 percent)
  • Integrative Organismal Systems: $215.4 million (+0.8 percent)
  • Environmental Biology: $144.8 million (+0.9 percent)
  • Biological Infrastructure: $145.4 million (+2.0 percent)
  • Emerging Frontiers: $106.1 million (+9.4 percent)

Priority funding areas include cognitive science and neuroscience research, cyberinfrastructure for the biological sciences, synthetic biology (including ecological applications and implications), and NEON operations. The largest amount of new funding ($7.5 million) would be directed to the NSF-wide Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems initiative.

Workforce development programs within BIO would receive new investments. Contributions for CAREER grants to support young investigators who excel as educators would increase by 5 percent. Funding for a new broadening participation initiative would receive $1.4 million from BIO, as well as support from other NSF directorates. The Research Experiences for Undergraduates program would be infused with $2.2 million in new funding from BIO.

The Long-Term Ecological Research network would receive $28.0 million (+1.3 percent). Funding for the National Ecological Observatory Network operations would increase by $6.0 million. NSF estimates that up to 5.9 percent of BIO’s total funding would be dedicated to operations and maintenance of the facility.

Support would be sustained for digitization of scientific information associated with biological specimens held in U.S. research collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections.

The Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) initiative will continue to phase-down in preparation for a 2017 sunset. The Dimensions of Biodiversity program—the last BIO program within SEES—would be sustained in FY 2016.

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$1 Billion Increase Proposed for NIH

The President’s budget proposes a 3.3 percent increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a total of $31.3 billion. Most of the proposed increase would be directed to research project grants (+$873.0 million). Intramural research would receive a $94.7 million increase.

New funding is proposed in support of several initiatives President Obama highlighted in his 2015 State of the Union address. Two hundred million dollars would support the new Precision Medicine Initiative that aims to tailor medical treatments to individual patients. Research on antimicrobial resistance and the development of new antibiotics would be supported with $100 million in new funding. The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, which seeks to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain, is proposed to receive an additional $70 million.

Funding for Research Project Grants (RPGs) would increase by 5.3 percent. The number of new competing RPGs would increase by 1,227 to more than 10,300. The proposed budget would result in the proposal funding rate increasing by 2 percent to 19 percent.

Training programs would grow by 3.1 percent, with stipend rates increasing by 2 percent. Full-time trainee positions would rise by 204 positions.

One science education program is proposed for elimination. The Diversity Research Education Grants in Neuroscience program would be zeroed out from the FY 2015 level of $1.0 million in order to support higher priority education programs instead.

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Energy Research Would Benefit from President's Budget

The proposed $5.3 billion for the Department of Energy Office of Science is a 5.4 percent increase. Funding for Biological and Environmental Research would grow at a rate of 3.4 percent (+$20.4 million).

New funding would be provided for core research in genomic science, three Bioenergy Research Centers, and research to understand interdependencies among water, energy, and climate change.

Biological systems science would receive $294.3 million, a cut of $5.6 million. Support would ramp down for radiological sciences and structural biology infrastructure as activities are completed. These declines would partially offset new funding for foundational genomics research in support of bioenergy and environmental research.

The Climate and Environmental Sciences program would benefit from an increase of $26.0 million, for a total of $318.1 million. The largest increase would be directed to climate and earth system modeling (+$30.8 million) for new research to evaluate geographic regions that are significant sources of prediction uncertainty. The terrestrial ecosystem science program, which supports research on Arctic and tropical ecosystems, would lose nearly $4.0 million dollars (-9.1 percent).

Workforce development for teachers and scientists would be boosted by $1.0 million. Most of the proposed increase would be directed to undergraduate internships at Department of Energy labs. There would be no change in funding for graduate research fellowships.

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USGS Science Finally Gets Its Due in 2016 Budget

The budget for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) would increase by 14.3 percent in FY 2015 to $1.2 billion. Among the proposed programs changes are new funding for climate resilience, landscape understanding, and science infrastructure. Research and development funding would increase by $95.3 million and represent 64 percent of the total USGS budget in FY 2016.

The Ecosystems activity within USGS would receive an increase of $19.3 million (+12.3 percent). Science in support of critical landscapes, such as the Arctic, sage steppe, Puget Sound, and Columbia River, would be boosted by $6.7 million. Other research foci would be emerging invasive species, as well as declining species, including pollinators. Research on ecosystem services would increase by $1.8 million, including continued development of a national ecosystems framework to inform cross-governmental activities. The Cooperative Research Units would receive $2.0 million in new funding to expand their education programs to undergraduates in addition to their existing focus on graduate education.

The proposed budget for the USGS includes an increase of $55.0 million above the FY 2015 enacted level for climate and land use change science. Climate change adaptation and resilience would receive new funds for emerging science needs, interagency coordination, and improving our understanding of the connections between climate and land cover change. New funding would be directed to research on the medium- and long-term patterns of drought in the western and southeastern U.S. Monitoring of biological carbon sequestration would receive an additional $6.5 million.

The Water Resources activity would be funded at $222.9 million (+$10.6 million). New investments would be made into research on the timing and quantity of water flows to inform ecological and fisheries management. The streamgage network would expand by 35 sites through the construction of new sites, reactivation of discontinued sites, or the maintenance of sites currently supported through less stable funding sources. Additional funding would be directed to research on water use, groundwater monitoring, and science to support drought decision-making.

Workforce development programs are another area targeted for new funding. Among the USGS programs that would benefit are Interior’s youth and education in science program, a postdoctoral research program, and youth in underserved communities.

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Lawmakers Float Proposals for Increasing Biomedical Research Funding

Members of both chambers of Congress are pushing for increased spending for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Recently introduced legislation would exempt the agency from mandatory budget caps and thereby allow increased funding for biomedical research without triggering automatic sequestration.

Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) are the chief sponsors of the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act. The bill would ease spending caps in order to accommodate escalating NIH funding—up to $15.7 billion—from 2016 and 2021. NIH’s current budget is $29.4 billion. HR 531 has the support of six other Democrats and Republican Peter King of New York.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is sponsoring similar legislation in the upper chamber. Maryland’s other Senator, Ben Cardin, is so far the only co-sponsor of S. 318.

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Inform the Future, Share Your Thoughts with the NIBA Advisory Council

The Advisory Council for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance Research Coordination Network is undertaking a review of the Strategic and Implementation Plan for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance. The purpose of this review is to evaluate progress made to date and to identify potential gaps in these plans and priorities for future initiatives. To inform this review, the Advisory Council would like to hear from the community.

The Strategic Plan set the biocollections community in the United States on a 10-year course to digitize and mobilize the scientific information associated with biological specimens held in U.S. research collections. The Implementation Plan published in 2013 included six recommendations for realizing the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance. These recommendations are:

  1. Establish an organizational and governance structure that will provide the national leadership and decision-making mechanism required to implement NIBA and to fully realize its Strategic Plan.
  2. Advance engineering of the US biocollections cyberinfrastructure.
  3. Enhance the training of existing collections staff and create the next generation of biodiversity information managers.
  4. Increase support for and participation in NIBA by the research community and a broad spectrum of stakeholders.
  5. Establish an enduring and sustainable knowledge base.
  6. Infuse specimen-based learning and exploration into formal and informal education.

For more detail on these recommendations, please refer to the Strategic and Implementations Plans.

The Advisory Council would appreciate hearing community perspectives on the following:

  • Are these recommendations still appropriate?
  • Are there items that were not included in the plan that should have been?
  • Are there items that have been completely or partially addressed by existing initiatives or groups? What are these and which goals do they specifically address?
  • Have needs emerged that should be considered if the NIBA is to be achieved?
  • Are you aware of new partnerships or collaborations with non-traditional users of biocollections?
  • General thoughts and recommendations.

Thoughts and recommendations about these or other items can be shared by leaving a comment on the NIBAlliance.org homepage.

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Short Takes

  • Dr. Barbara A. Schaal has been selected to be the President-Elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Schaal is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and was the 2011-2012 recipient of the AIBS Distinguished Scientist Award. She has served as President of AIBS member organizations Botanical Society of America and Society for the Study of Evolution. Schaal's three-year term at AAAS will begin on 17 February 2015.

  • Applications are being accepted for a workshop on Evolution and Warfare to be hosted by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. The event will be held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville on 16-18 September 2015. More information is available at http://www.nimbios.org/workshops/WS_warfare.

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Participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition 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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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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