White House Response to Republican Budget

The Obama Administration recently issued its critique of congressional Republican budget plans for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. The GOP proposals would fund non-defense discretionary spending at the lowest real levels in a decade, the White House said. As for the effect on science and technology, “real R&D funding would fall to its lowest level since 2002, except when large sequestration cuts also took effect in 2013.”

The GOP budgets call for significant cuts in health, education, and infrastructure investment. In addition, the administration said that compared to its own budget, the GOP plan would lead to:

  • 1,300 fewer medical research grants funded by the National Institutes of Health.
  • 950 fewer competitive research awards at the National Science Foundation affecting 11,600 researchers, technicians and students. “This reduction will slow the pace of discovery across fields of science and engineering—including areas like advanced manufacturing, clean energy, cybersecurity, and neuroscience—inhibiting research essential to US innovation and economic competitiveness,” according to the White House analysis.
  • Delayed or eliminated improvements slated for 125 national parks, including Denali, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.
  • Cuts of more than 30 percent ($838 million) from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “These reductions would significantly reduce the number of clean energy research, development, and demonstration projects supported in cooperation with industry, universities, and the national labs,” according to the critique.

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NSF Dear Colleague Seeks to Stimulate NEON Research

On 1 April 2015, the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a Dear Colleague letter to “foster and coordinate research that makes use of NEON [National Ecological Observatory Network] data and/or samples/specimens by enabling research teams to coordinate their efforts and to address specific questions.”

The NSF is supporting construction of NEON, which was designed to offer the measurements, flexible operation, and research capability needed to assess long-term biosphere change and vastly expand our knowledge of regional and continental scale biology. When complete, the NEON observatory will collect and provide high-quality, standardized data from 106 sites (60 terrestrial, 36 aquatic and 10 aquatic experimental) across the U.S. using instrument measurements and field sampling. The sites have been selected strategically to represent different regions of vegetation, landforms, climate, ecosystem performance, and gradients of change. NEON’s site-based, remotely sensed and continental-scale data are provided as a range of scaled data products that can be used to describe changes in the nation’s ecosystem through space and time.

The NSF letter encourages two types of funding request: 1) Conference’s designed to support costs of bringing together a team of researchers with shared research interests to coordinate plans for specific analysis or synthesis of NEON data; and 2) Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs) to support innovative research that leverages NEON data and/or samples/specimens. Requests must propose to use NEON data and/or NEON samples/specimens in order to be considered for funding.

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Administration Unveils National Plan to Fight Antibiotic Resistance

On 27 March 2015, the Administration released a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. The plan implements the recommendations made by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in its 2014 report, Combating Antibiotic Resistance.

The action plan cites estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that drug-resistant bacteria cause 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses each year in the United States. The CDC estimates that up to half of all human antibiotic use is unnecessary or inappropriate.

The 5-year action plan seeks to curb this overuse of antibiotics in humans and in farm animals. The plan sets five major goals:

  1. Slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections.

  2. Strengthen national one-health surveillance efforts to combat resistance (“one-health” refers to integrating the data of surveillance systems that monitor human pathogens with those that monitor animal pathogens).

  3. Advance development and use of rapid and innovative diagnostic tests for identification and characterization of resistant bacteria.
  4. Accelerate basic and applied research and development for new antibiotics, other therapeutics, and vaccines.
  5. Improve international collaboration and capacities for antibiotic resistance prevention, surveillance, control, and antibiotic research and development.

Each of these goals has specific objectives and milestones to be achieved. Of particular interest to biologists might be Goal 4, which calls for increased research to better understand microbial communities, how antibiotics affect them, and how microbes might be harnessed to protect health. Within three years, milestones include:

“USDA, NIH, and CDC will support research on the spread of resistance genes between zoonotic pathogens and the commensal microbiota that live in the gastrointestinal tracts of animals and humans (i.e., in animal and human microbiomes)

USDA, in consultation with NIH and CDC, will support research to map the gut microbiome of at least one food animal, using metagenomic techniques and “big data” analysis tools…”

To implement the plan, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget would double spending in this area, to $1.2 billion.

Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, promptly criticized the plan. In a statement, Rep. Slaughter said the plan fell “woefully short in taking meaningful action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in healthy farm animals.” She further argued that the United States is 10 years behind Europe in combating antibiotic resistance. Rep. Slaughter recently reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1552), which would block eight critical classes of antibiotics from being given to healthy farm animals. Many consumer and environmental organizations also criticized the plan as being too weak in curbing overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.

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Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge Offers Rewards to Innovators

Despite global concerns, illegal wildlife trade has grown exponentially in recent years. Perhaps most dramatically, the poaching of rhinos increased more than 9,000 percent from 13 animals in 2007 to 1,215 in 2014. In order to combat the $19 billion black market in wildlife products, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently launched the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge. Along with USAID, the US Global Development Lab, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, and TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade-monitoring network, support the challenge.

Non-governmental science and technology innovators are invited to submit their ideas for tackling this enormous problem. In particular, solutions should target four areas: detecting transit routes, strengthening forensic evidence and intelligence, reducing consumer demand, and/or tackling corruption.

As explained on its website, the competition has a three-stage process: “All applicants are required to first submit a short Concept Note from which a group of finalists will be invited to… submit a Prize Application. The Challenge will select numerous winners from the Prize Application pool to receive a Prize of $10,000 in addition to promotional and networking opportunities and technical assistance to scale or accelerate their solutions. Prize winners will also have an opportunity to further compete for one of up to four Grand Prizes worth between $100,000 and $500,000. The Challenge will use Grand Prizes to target and invest in the most promising solutions. The total number of Prize and Grand Prize winners will depend on the quality of applications.”

Applicants may begin to submit their ideas this month.

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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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