NSF Releases Public Access Plan

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has released its public access plan for data, “Today’s Data, Tomorrow’s Discoveries, Increasing Access to the Results of Research Funded.”

The plan is in response to a 22 February 2013 directive from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). That memorandum, Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research, directed Federal agencies with more than $100 million in research and development (R&D) expenditures per year to develop plans to make publicly available to the “greatest extent and with the fewest constraints possible and consistent with law” the “direct results of federally funded scientific research.”

The NSF plan seeks to meet the objectives outlined by the White House through an open, flexible, and incremental approach that will:

  • Integrate publications, data, and other products of NSF funding into a single management system;
  • Build on current policies and practices;
  • Leverage resources in other Federal agencies, universities and research institutes, and the private sector;
  • Provide a platform for innovation; and
  • Broaden access to NSF-funded research findings with necessary and appropriate safeguards.

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Republican Budget Plans Unveiled

Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees released their budget plans, setting their tax and spending priorities. Both plans call for significant cuts in discretionary spending and taxes, with an aim toward balancing the budget in a decade. Many observers noted the plans were short on specifics.

In the House plan, under the heading General Science, Space and Technology, which includes the National Science Foundation, the plan calls for $27.9 billion in both budget authority and outlays. The House GOP says its budget reduces unnecessary spending “while supporting core government responsibilities,” such as basic scientific research. It provides “stable funding” for NSF’s science, space and technology basic research, development, and STEM education.

The plan, however, seeks to move federal support away from applied research. “For example, spending for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science includes some areas, such as biological and environmental research, that could potentially crowd out private investment,” the House budget document noted.

The House plan also criticized the Obama Administration’s support of alternative energy development, saying fossil fuels received just 15 percent of total federal support for fuels and energy technologies. “In an effort to make green energy more viable, the administration is trying to make fossil fuels more expensive,” the plan stated.

The budget resolutions must now be passed by each chamber and differences reconciled. Most significantly, the resolutions set forth the allocations, or amount of funding, that the various Appropriations Subcommittees will have available to fund the programs under their jurisdiction. It is unclear whether the various factions in each chamber can find adequate common ground to pass a compromise budget resolution.

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Funding for New NOAA Research Vessel Questioned

Included in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 funding request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is $147 million for construction of a new Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV). The vessel, which would conduct surveys throughout the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, would upgrade NOAA’s ability to survey marine mammal populations, to collect samples and observations to support ecosystem-based management, and to conduct oceanographic and climate research, among other activities. “The OSV will have a more diverse range of capabilities and functions than any other vessel in the NOAA fleet,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan when releasing the budget request.

The proposed vessel represents a significant portion of NOAA’s requested 10 percent budget increase ($534 million). NOAA is asking for a total budget of nearly $6 billion.

At a March 18 hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee, Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) questioned the need for the new vessel. He suggested instead that it might be cheaper if NOAA contracted out the survey work.

Sullivan stressed that NOAA will likely lose half of its aging fleet—from 16 ships to 8—by 2028 and that new investment is needed.

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Senate Leaders Spar over Climate Change

Climate change is a hot political football in Washington this month. In a 3 March 2015 editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged states to refuse “to go along with” the Obama administration’s regulations aimed at reducing carbon pollution. McConnell said the regulations exceed executive authority and may be illegal. The Administration maintains that the Clean Air Act grants the President this authority.

Ten days later Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) offered a response in a USA Today op-ed, blaming GOP Senators for being climate change deniers who are out of touch with public opinion.

Climate change will likely be a recurring theme during budget negotiations, according to Environment and Energy Daily. Senate Democrats are expected to introduce a string of nonbinding climate change amendments during the budget deliberations expected to begin this week. “I want to use every opportunity we have to highlight the massive difference between where the Republican Party in Congress is on climate change — i.e., pretending it’s not real — and where the American public is, i.e., having to cope with it every day,” Whitehouse told E&E Daily.

Meanwhile, on 19 March 2015, President Obama issued an Executive Order meant to cut federal government greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next decade from 2008 levels. The administration said this would save taxpayers $18 billion in energy bills. Renewable energy sources would increase to 30 percent of federal electricity consumption.

At the same time, major suppliers to the federal government, among them GE, IBM and Honeywell, announced new efforts to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. The administration said that the combined government and supplier commitments would lead to a 26 million metric ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 to 2025, the equivalent of getting 5.5 million cars off the road for one year.

Not to be outdone, on the same day that the President signed the Executive Order, Senator McConnell sent a letter to all 50 states with a template for how to block Obama’s new carbon emissions regulations. According to the New York Times, McConnell’s office “is coordinating with lawyers and lobbying firms to try to ensure that the State plans are tangled up in legal delays.”

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Global Data-Sharing Initiative Grows

In 2013, 100 international leaders met to launch the Research Data Alliance (RDA) to foster the open sharing of data from scientists “across technologies, disciplines and countries.” The effort quickly mushroomed to 2,600 members from more than 90 countries. The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the European Commission, and the Australian government support the RDA.

Some 400 participants attended the RDA’s 5th plenary March 8-11 in San Diego, as part of its regular semi-annual in-person gathering. “RDA-developed tools will have a tremendous impact through science, and the plenary provides a place where interested communities from around our world get an opportunity to test-drive the tools,” said NSF program officer Bob Chadduck.

RDA encourages its members to rapidly develop tools and products within a 12- to 18-month timeframe. For example, Data Type Registries are being established to create machine-readable data that will be accessible to researchers. As NSF explains, the Registries have “an archive of common data structures that researchers can turn to when deciding how to organize their data. The creation of such a registry will support the accurate use of data to reproduce experiments, confirm findings and interoperate among data sets.”

At the plenary, participants were urged to adopt these and other tools being developed by RDA working groups.

The next RDA plenary will be held in Paris, September 23-25, and will focus on research data for climate change.

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National Medal of Science Nominations Open

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently opened the nominations for this year’s National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation. To view the eligibility requirements or to submit a nomination, visit the National Science Foundation website. http://www.nsf.gov/od/nms/nominations.jsp

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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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