House Passes COMPETES Act with Some Amendments

A bill to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy Office of Science, and laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology passed the House of Representatives with only the support of Republican lawmakers. The final vote was 217 to 205. All members of the Democratic Caucus who were present along with twenty-three Republicans voted against H.R. 1806.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the sponsor of the bill and Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, presented the bill as a “pro-science, fiscally responsible bill.” Smith argued, “Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle would have you believe that the only way you can be pro-science is to spend more taxpayer money than the Budget Control Act allows. Real priorities require making choices. H.R. 1806 proves that we can set priorities, make tough choices and still invest more in breakthrough research and innovation.”

H.R. 1806 would increase the total NSF funding authorization, but make deep cuts to social science and geosciences research.

Twelve amendments to the “America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015” were debated, several of which were adopted.

An amendment offered by Chairman Smith restored proposed cuts to the EPSCoR and Graduate Research Fellowship programs. The increased funding came at the expense of research funding for the Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorates. Other amendments that were made to the legislation include encouraging female entrepreneurs, a program to incorporate robotics in K-12 education, and science education grants for Hispanic serving institutions.

An effort by Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) to strip a requirement that NSF funding be in the “national interest” failed. Foster is a physicist and one of only three Ph.D. scientists in Congress. Fellow Democrat Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who holds a Ph.D. in political science, opposed the amendment. Lipinski stated that the section was supported by NSF Director France Cordova and was the result of bipartisan negotiations.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill. “The Administration believes that H.R. 1806 would be damaging to the Administration’s actions to move American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth forward through a world-leading science, technology, and innovation enterprise.”

The fight over NSF authorizations now moves to the Senate, where Senator Thune (R-SD) is drafting his own version of the bill.

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Participate in the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits

Join a national initiative to educate lawmakers about the value of research and the scientific facilities in their district. The Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

The 7th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected official to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office.

Participants will be prepared for their meeting with a lawmaker through an interactive training webinar. Individuals participating in this event will receive training on how to improve their communication skills and tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official.

The event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, with the support of event sponsors Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, and Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Participation is free, but registration will close on 12 July 2015. For more information and to register, visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Senators Introduce Energy Research Reauthorization Bill

A bipartisan group of seven Senators has introduced legislation to reauthorize the Department of Energy Office of Science. The lead sponsors of the legislation are Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE).

“Governing is about setting priorities, and this legislation will put us on a path to double basic energy research—one of the best ways to keep good-paying jobs from going overseas—while streamlining basic energy research programs at the U.S. Department of Energy,” Alexander said in a statement. “As researchers have told me, it’s hard to think of an important technological advance since World War II that has not involved at least some government-sponsored research.”

The energy research provisions in S. 1398 differ significantly from those included in the House America COMPETES reauthorization bill. The Senate plan is a five-year authorization that would provide steady increases each year, unlike H.R. 1806 that would fund the Office of Science at the same level in 2016 and 2017. Moreover, the Senate legislation would increase funding for ARPA-E; H.R. 1806 would cut the program’s funding by half. Additionally, the upper chamber’s bill does not include limitations on climate research.

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Medical Innovation Bill Passes House Committee

A bill to boost funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is working its way through the House of Representatives. The “21st Century Cures Act” was approved unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on 21 May 2015.

H.R. 6 would authorize NIH’s funding to increase by $1.5 billion annually for three years. As with the COMPETES reauthorization, the bill does not guarantee future funding, but rather provides guidance for appropriators.

An additional $10 billion over five years would be set aside for a new NIH Innovation Fund. The fund would be used for accelerating cures and supporting young scientists, intramural research, and high-risk, high-reward research.

The “21st Century Cures Act” is sponsored by Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and Diana DeGette (D-CO).

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Federal Government Outlines New Strategy for Stemming Pollinator Loses

A Presidential task force has released its recommendations for how the government can improve pollinator health.

The report outlines three ambitious goals. First, is to reduce honeybee colony overwintering mortality to 15 percent or less within a decade. Honeybee colony mortality was 40 percent last year. The second goal is to boost the population of Eastern monarch butterflies to 225 million. The population of monarchs has declined by 90 percent in recent years. Lastly, the report aims to restore or enhance 7 million acres of pollinator habitat within five years.

The report is accompanied by a “Pollinator Research Action Plan,” which identifies research priorities to address knowledge gaps about pollinators and the causes of their declines. The action plan calls for setting a baseline of the status of pollinator populations, assessing environmental stressors, restoring habitat, and understanding the choices land managers and beekeepers make. Another goal is improving access to pollinator and associated plant specimens through digitization and standardization of data.

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Request for Comments on Microbiome Research

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is seeking public input on future directions for microbiome research. Input is sought from academia, industry, and other stakeholders. Comments are due by 15 June 2015. Learn more at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/05/20/2015-12191/microbiome-research.

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NIBA Research Coordination Network Becomes Biodiversity Collections Network

The Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance Research Coordination Network has changed its name. The initiative has renamed itself the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCON). The name change came as a result of discussions with the biocollections community during which it became clear that the NIBA RCN name did not adequately reflect the goals and objectives of the initiative.

Despite the name change, the goals and objectives of the project remain the same - to foster the development of a sustainable community able to advance the long-term goals articulated in the Strategic and Implementation Plans for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance.

The Biodiversity Collections Network has established a fresh web presence at bcon.aibs.org. The initiative may also be engaged via Twitter @BioCollNetwork or on LinkedIn via the Biodiversity Collections Network group.

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Enter the Beyond the Box Creative Curator Contest

As part of the Beyond the Box Digitization Competition, interested parties are encouraged to think about how they might use data from insect collections to answer new questions or solve problems. The winning entry will receive a $50 Amazon gift card. Full details on this contest can be found on the Beyond the Box Web site at https://beyondthebox.aibs.org/creative-curator-contest.html. Submissions are due 6 June 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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