New Requirements on NSF Funding Advance in Congress

The House Science Committee marked up legislation that Republicans claim will improve transparency at the National Science Foundation (NSF), but that Democrats purport will impose politics into peer review. If enacted, H.R. 3293 would require the agency to make a written justification that each grant it awards promotes the progress of science in the U.S., is worthy of federal funding, and is in the national interest.

The bill was originally proposed as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), the bill’s sponsor, justified the need for additional guidance to NSF because, “in recent years, the federal government has awarded too many grants that few Americans would consider to be in the national interest.”

Smith has actively criticized NSF grants for social science and climate change research and education, calling out specific awards as “questionable.”

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the top ranking Democrat on the committee, said “the Majority is pushing this agenda in the complete absence of any actual problem being identified with NSF’s current policy that this bill is supposedly aligned with. If the existing policy is working, why move forward with this bill that the entire community views as politicizing science?”

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Informal STEM Education Bill Signed into Law

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will continue to support informal science education and to conduct research that advances the field. Recently enacted legislation, H.R. 1020, was signed into law to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education that takes place out-of-school. NSF currently spends about $55 million a year on informal education research and activities.

The new law expands the pool of potential participants in the NSF Master Teaching Fellowship program. Math and science teachers who possess a bachelor’s degree in their field and who are working towards a master’s degree will be allowed to participate in the program. Currently, participation is limited to teachers who have already completed a master’s degree.

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Federal Agencies Directed to Account for Value of Ecosystem Services

On 7 October, the White House directed all federal agencies to account for ecosystem services in agency planning and decision-making. Ecosystem services, as defined by this directive, is an umbrella term encompassing the benefits that nature offers to the population, including recreation, supplying food and materials, cleaning water, and protecting shorelines.

The White House directed agencies to examine their policies and practices and to identify ways in which the value of ecosystem services can be better integrated into agency decision-making processes. The White House is requesting analysis of current federal practices within six months and detailed plans for implementation within 14 months.

The directive is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/memoranda/2016/m-16-01.pdf.

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Representatives Launch Prize Caucus

A new Congressional Prize Caucus was recently formed to increase awareness and support for prize competitions. Such competitions are becoming increasingly popular as a way to incentivize innovation and to solve tough problems. The caucus is chaired by Representatives Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL).

“Prizes are a win-win for Washington: they drive American innovation by coupling unique government resources with the everyday ingenuity and entrepreneurship of citizen innovators,” said Christopher Frangione, XPRIZE Vice President of Prize Development.

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Hearing Examines State of Agricultural and Biotechnology Research

The House Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing on 29 September to highlight research innovations and related issues regarding agricultural colleges and universities.

Several committee members raised questions about public perceptions of science, particularly about the potential benefits of research, but subcommittee chairman Rodney Davis (R-IL) was firm in his support of agricultural research. “A conclusion drawn by many stakeholders is that we must prioritize food and agricultural research within our national policy discussions. I am convinced by what I have seen that public support for agricultural research does in fact have a high rate of return.”

Several committee members raised questions about how to more efficiently or effectively fund various research and academic programs, and how budget cuts have affected research efforts. General consensus from the hearing witnesses was that the best course of action would be continuing a mix of grants encouraging large scale collaborative projects, as well as smaller, more targeted grants to continue necessary research in more specialized areas.

Much of the discussion focused on federal, state, private and academic collaborations and partnerships, especially in the areas of major and specialty crop research, combatting livestock-carried and foodborne illnesses, public outreach and education, and developing and diversifying agricultural educational and research capabilities.

Several witnesses and committee members highlighted the importance of federal cooperation with land grant universities, and support for the efforts of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Dr. Michael Heithaus, of Florida International University, presented Florida’s Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities (HSACUs) program as a model that has seen a significant amount of success, and is educating the next generation of agricultural scientists, researchers, and farmers from under-represented groups.

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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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