House Passes Bill to Accelerate Biomedical Innovation

Bipartisanship surfaced in the House of Representatives last week when the chamber approved legislation that would increase funding for medical research and seek to expedite access to new medical treatments. On 10 July the “21st Century Cures” act passed the House by a vote of 344-77. The primary sponsors of the bill are Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and Diana DeGette (D-CO).

Despite H.R. 6 garnering widespread support in the House, with 230 members co-sponsoring the bill, some fiscal conservatives opposed the creation of a new mandatory spending program to support biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration. These agencies would collectively receive $9.3 billion over five years. The Club for Growth and Heritage Action both opposed the bill and told lawmakers that they would include the vote on their legislative scorecards.

The White House stated concerns about providing additional funding for certain agencies “without addressing sequestration more broadly. Sequestration funding levels threaten not only NIH research, but also other investments in innovation.”

Discretionary funding for NIH would be reauthorized through 2018. If the money is appropriated, NIH could receive up to $1.52 billion in new funding each year for three years.

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Action Alert: Voice Your Support for STEM Education

The Senate has begun consideration of bipartisan legislation to overhaul the nation’s K-12 education policy. If enacted, the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015” would be the first education reauthorization since 2001. S. 1177 includes several favorable provisions regarding STEM education.

Importantly, the legislation would create a new source of funding for states to support partnerships between local schools, businesses, universities, and non-profits to improve STEM education. The program would provide each state with discretion for how to use these funds, whether for teacher training or science competitions.

Although the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee unanimously reported the legislation in April 2015, the amendment that added the STEM section during the Committee’s mark-up was adopted by a close vote.

Your Senators need to hear from you that STEM education is a priority and should remain a part of the education overhaul. Take action at http://policy.aibs.org/app/write-a-letter?3&engagementId=114995.

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Interior Funding Stalled by Confederate Flag Debate

During consideration of the fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency, Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) successfully offered an amendment that would allow the sale and display of the Confederate flag on public lands.

Calvert offered the amendment—at the urging of House leadership—in the waning moments of debate prior to a final vote on the spending bill. This amendment would have undone votes taken a few days earlier to restrict the sale of Confederate flags at National Parks and ban the flag from cemeteries on public lands.

According to news sources, southern Republicans objected to the new restrictions and pushed GOP leadership to offer the amendment to reverse course. An aide to Republican leadership couched it differently: “This was an attempt to codify the Obama Administration’s own directive to our national cemeteries.” The administration instituted a new policy on the sale of Confederate flag memorabilia at gift shops in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina shooting.

The appropriations bill was later pulled from the floor by Republican leadership instead of proceeding to a vote on final passage.

Given the short time frame before the end of the fiscal year on 30 September, the legislative fate of H.R. 2822 is uncertain.

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Senators Gear Up for COMPETES Reauthorization

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will seek input from the scientific community prior to developing its legislative plan for federal research and development policy priorities. Freshmen Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) will lead the outreach efforts.

According to a press release issued by the committee, they will seek “a bipartisan path for reauthorizing federal research and development programs carried out by agencies last authorized by the COMPETES Act.” The 2010 reauthorization included the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology labs, and Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Senators will convene an innovation and competitiveness working group to solicit input from academia, business, non-profits, and government agencies on ways to reduce administrative burdens and strengthen partnerships between academia and the private sector.

Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Gardner wrote in an op-ed, “we will ensure that this recommitment to U.S. competitiveness is premised on realistic and stable budget policies that will allow for more efficient long-term planning by the research community and other stakeholders.” Thune is chair of the Commerce Committee.

The public can provide input at sciencepolicy@commerce.senate.gov until 21 August 2015.

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White House Outlines Science Priorities for 2017

There were few surprises in the Obama Administration’s science and technology priorities for fiscal year 2017. In a joint memorandum from the directors of the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy, federal agencies were once again directed to support research and education activities related to climate change, clean energy, Earth observations, and ocean and Arctic issues.

Innovation in life sciences, biology, and neuroscience made a repeat appearance from the 2016 priorities. “Priority should also be placed on research that seeks fundamental principles that cut across habitats and biological systems, such as those that govern the behaviors of microbiomes in diverse environments,” states the memo.

Preservation of and improved access to scientific collections was also called out as a priority. A requirement to adequately budget for care of collections was added several years ago as a result of successful advocacy work by the natural history collections community.

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Short Takes

  • Federal research funding at universities and colleges declined by 6 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2013, the most recent year for which the government has data. Between FY 2012 and 2013, federal obligations dropped by $2 billion, after falling by $1 billion the previous year.
  • Eight colleges have tested a new certification for undergraduate biology education developed by the Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education. Participating schools implemented the recommendations of the "Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action" report. Learn more at http://www.pulsecommunity.org/page/pulse-progression-levels-announced.
  • Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) has offered an amendment to the "Every Child Achieves Act of 2015" that would require federal agencies to provide education materials to K-12 schools that dispute humans' role in driving climate change. Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) has offered his own amendment to counteract this initiative, should the Wicker amendment be included in the education reform bill.
  • The latest episode of BioScience Talks podcast is now online. July's guest discusses fast-growing transgenic salmonids, which are currently being developed for eventual human consumption. Listen at http://www.aibs.org/publications/news/latest-bioscience-talks-podcast.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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