Congress Nears Funding Deadline, Mulls Budget Negotiations

Less than two weeks remain before the start of fiscal year 2016. The federal government faces a potential shutdown unless Congress passes a stopgap funding mechanism, known as a Continuing Resolution, by 1 October.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated that there will not be a government shutdown this year, but some conservatives in the House of Representatives appear to be poised to risk one over a fight about government funding for Planned Parenthood.

Other policy debates may influence the duration of a Continuing Resolution, including the possibility of a new budget deal to undo sequestration. McConnell told reporters that it is likely that spending caps would be raised as a result of budget negotiations.

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for an increase for both non-defense and defense programs. Funding for non-defense programs was cut by $41 billion between 2010 and 2014. After adjusting for inflation, this is a 15 percent reduction.

Several Democrats in the House have introduced a bill that would raise the spending caps for non-defense and defense programs equally. The “Prevent a Government Shutdown Act of 2015” would automatically eliminate sequestration for non-defense discretionary programs and provide the same amount of relief for defense programs if budget negotiations do not succeed by the start of the new fiscal year. The legislation, H.R. 3476, is sponsored by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking member of the Budget Committee.

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2,500 Organizations Call for End to Budget Sequestration

The American Institute of Biological Sciences and a diverse group of 2,500 organizations sent a letter to Congress to call for an end to budget sequestration. The letter calls for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that takes into account the deep reductions that non-defense (NDD) programs have sustained since 2010.

“Such sequestration relief must be equally balanced between nondefense and defense programs, as strong investments in both NDD and defense are necessary to keep our country competitive, safe, and secure,” states the letter. “There is bipartisan agreement that sequestration is bad policy and ultimately hurts our nation. It’s time to end the era of austerity.”

Read the letter at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20150910nddstop_sequestration.html.

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Republican-Backed Resolution Calls for Action on Climate Change

Ten Republican members of the House of Representatives are sponsoring a resolution that would direct the chamber to commit “to working constructively … to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.”

The resolution notes the negative impacts climate change could have across the country, including “longer and hotter heat waves, more severe storms, worsening flood and drought cycles, growing invasive species and insect problems, threatened native plant and wildlife populations, rising sea levels, and, when combined with a lack of proper forest management, increased wildfire risk.”

H.Res. 424 is sponsored by Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY) and co-sponsored by Representatives Ryan Costello (R-PA), Carolos Curbelo (R-FL), Robert Dold (R-IL), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), David Reichert (R-WA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

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NSF Advisory Committee Report Addresses Future of Environmental Research, Education

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education (AC-ERE) released a report on 16 September that offers recommendations for addressing environmental challenges over the next decade. The report, “America’s Future: Environmental Research and Education for a Thriving Century: A 10-year Outlook,” notes that the United States is facing a wide range of environmental challenges, including climate change in the Arctic, El Ni?o affecting West Coast fisheries, drought in California, and land-use change in New England. It states that, “Human systems are becoming dominant forces in ecosystems and the environment resulting in novel landscapes, altered hydrologic and biogeochemical regimes, and new disease pathways.”

According the AC-ERE, the scientific community is ready for new approaches to research and education that reach across different disciplines to provide the understanding needed to solve environmental and societal challenges. The report stresses the need to integrate our understanding of biophysical processes and social processes as well as engineered systems in order to address complex environmental problems.

James Olds, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences, said, “Interdisciplinary research and education are essential to carrying out NSF’s vision. This report is very forward-looking and highlights the current and potential role of science as a catalyst for progress in the coming decades.”

The AC-ERE recommends that NSF build on its core and special programs, including Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems; Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems; and Risk and Resilience, “to integrate a stable, foundation-wide environmental portfolio across its research and education directorates and programs, creating new programs when needed to address specific research questions and societal-environmental challenges.” Moreover, “NSF should invest in projects focused on studying best practices and supporting research that will improve methods of connecting science with decision-making.”

The AC-ERE specifically proposes creating a program to support Broader Impact Networks and Nodes (BINNs), which would be multi-institutional collaborations to connect education and community engagement professionals with researchers to effectively accomplish broader impact goals. BINNs would help principal investigators who receive NSF awards to embed their projects’ education and outreach activities in a larger framework.

The report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/geo/ere/ereweb/ac-ere/ac-erethrivingcentury.pdf.

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Alabama School Board Supports Science-Based Teaching on Evolution

On 10 September the Alabama State Board of Education unanimously approved new science standards that support a science-based approach to teaching evolution in public schools.

Past standards sought to call into question evolutionary theory, referencing “unanswered questions and unresolved problems” and questioning evidence for “large changes” through natural selection.

The new standards, which go into effect in 2016, support a curriculum that acknowledges the scientific consensus on evolution, stating, “this theory is substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence. Therefore, this course of study requires our students to understand the principles of the theory of evolution from the perspective of established scientific knowledge.”

In addition, the new standards emphasize a critical thinking and data-driven approach to learning science. The revised standards also include climate change as part of the curriculum.

The board’s ruling does not affect the disclaimer stickers required on Alabama science textbooks that state evolution is a theory, “not a fact,” and must be “critically considered.” The stickers may be discussed at a public hearing set for 9 November.

The new standards can be found here.

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Upcoming White House Forum: Open Science and Innovation

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Domestic Policy Council (DPC) will convene a live-webcast forum to celebrate citizen science and crowdsourcing. “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People” will be a cross-discipline discussion between representatives from academia, the private sector, all levels of government, and the general public to highlight topics such as the significant contributions of citizen science and crowdsourcing, publicly available tools and resources, and future potential for greater involvement.

The forum will be available as a livestream at wh.gov/live from 8 am to 12 pm EDT on 30 September. Learn more at https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/09/open-science-and-innovation-people-people-people.

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NSF Accepting Nominations for 2016 Alan T. Waterman Award

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is accepting nominations for the 2016 Alan T. Waterman Award, an annual award recognizing a young researcher for his/her talent, creativity and influence. Congress established the award, named after the NSF’s first director, in 1975 to mark NSF’s 25th anniversary. Nominees can be from any NSF supported field of science or engineering, and the award recipient will be presented with a medal and a one million dollar research grant.

Nominations and associated materials are due by 23 October. Nominations may be submitted at https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/honawards/.

For more information about the award, past awardees, and eligibility and selection criteria, visit the NSF website at http://www.nsf.gov/od/waterman/waterman.jsp.

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Deadline Approaching: Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Help the public and policymakers to better understand the breadth of biology by entering the Faces of Biology Photo Contest. The winner will receive $250 and have their image published on the cover of BioScience.

The competition recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the competition must depict a person, such as a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, at a natural history collection, at a field station, on a computer, in a classroom, or anywhere else research is done.

The winning photo from the 2014 contest is featured on the cover of the May 2015 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 30 September 2015.

The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. For more information or to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.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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