Congress, White House Agree on Budget

Last week, lawmakers unexpectedly announced that a deal had been reached to raise federal budget caps that have been limiting federal spending for three years. Less than two days later, the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 with the support of all Democrats and 79 Republicans. The Senate passed the bill on Friday with a vote of 64 to 35; all of the dissenting votes were cast by Republican Senators.

The measure will have a large impact on non-defense discretionary spending in the next two years. It eliminates 90 percent of budget cuts that would have occurred in fiscal year 2016 as a result of sequestration; in 2017, 60 percent of cuts will be avoided.

In total, the bill will provide an additional $80 billion over two years, which will be equally divided between defense and non-defense programs. The funding will be frontloaded in 2016 as compared to 2017, with an additional $25 billion going to non-defense programs this year and an additional $15 billion in 2017. The deal does not address sequestration in 2018 or beyond.

The new deal is not a guarantee that funding will be increased for research programs, but it provides Congress with greater flexibility to fund national priorities.

The House and Senate have begun work to update allocations for the 12 spending bills that collectively fund the federal government.

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House Elects New Speaker

A few weeks after John Boehner (R-OH) announced that he would be resigning as Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI) was elected to the position on 29 October.

The former chair of the Ways and Means Committee and Budget Committee has a track record of supporting his party’s positions, but also of pragmatism. Ryan co-led the effort in 2013 to provide federal programs partial relief from sequestration for two years.

Ryan’s positions on science are harder to nail down. In the past, Ryan has opposed spending on applied energy research and stem cell research.

The congressman acknowledges that climate change is happening, although he said in 2014 when asked about humans’ contributions to warming: “I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think science does, either.”

Ryan’s election as Speaker set off a race for his successor on the Ways and Means Committee. Representatives Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Pat Tiberi (R-OH) are vying for the chairmanship.

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Back to the Future: White House Releases Updated Strategy for American Innovation

The White House released an updated Strategy for American Innovation on 21 October, using the nation’s recent focus on the classic film Back to the Future Part II to draw attention to the Administration’s revisited plans for developing and supporting American innovation. This Administration has previously released innovation plans in 2009 and 2011.

The plan reemphasizes the main goals of the 2011 blueprint, including investment in the foundations of innovation such as science education and physical infrastructure; driving private sector innovation through tax credits and encouraging entrepreneurship; and accelerating breakthroughs for national priorities such as clean energy, space, and health care.

The Administration has introduced a number of new goals and initiatives. To some extent, these initiatives shift away from the original focus on private sector innovation towards improving federal practices. These include making it easier for immigrants to contribute to the innovation economy, improving public access to federal data to help empower innovators, and ensuring diversity in the scientific workforce.

Other new initiatives the Obama Administration rolled out since 2011 include:

  • Grand Challenges: Administration-identified ambitious goals to solve important problems that capture public imagination.

  • A Precision Medicine Initiative, which is helping develop individualized healthcare treatments.

  • The BRAIN Initiative seeks to develop understanding of brain function for healthcare and advanced computing purposes.

  • Investments in urban research and innovation efforts driven by cities, academic institutions, and the private sector.

  • A National Strategic Computing Initiative that seeks to unite federal agencies in advancing high-performance computing.

The plan is available here.

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Call for Comments on Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is requesting feedback from governments and stakeholders on a draft scoping report for the Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services. The scope of this assessment is to evaluate the status, trends, and drivers, of biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and ecosystem goods and services for the long-term wellbeing of humans. Its objective is to strengthen the science-policy interface on biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and ecosystem goods and services at all spatial scales.

IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body open to all member countries of the United Nations and is a leading group for assessing the state of the planet’s biodiversity. IPBES provides a mechanism for the scientific and policy communities to synthesize, review, assess, and critically evaluate relevant information generated worldwide by governments, academia, scientific organizations, and other stakeholders.

IPBES is seeking comments on the proposed approach, particularly from the point of view of users of the assessment arising from this report. Comments should be emailed to hien.ngo@ipbes.net by 3 November 2015, using the feedback template available here.

The draft scoping report is available here.

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Four Republicans Form Working Group on Clean Energy, Climate

Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced the formation of a new working group on clean energy, climate change, and environmental issues. The working group aims to broaden the conversation on energy and environmental issues in the Republican Party.

Ayotte, who is the first Republican to come out in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, is spearheading the group and is working towards expanding the membership.

Ayotte said in a statement, “The Energy and Environment Working Group will be a way for us to bring people together and start an ongoing conversation about these topics—like how we can best protect our environment and climate, pursue common sense and market-based reforms to grow our economy and promote cleaner energy production.”

Alexander, chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee, has called for the building of 100 new nuclear reactors to thwart climate change while criticizing the government’s incentives for wind production. Kirk and Graham have emphasized that their focus is addressing environmental concerns while protecting the economy and energy independence of the country.

“I’m tired of sending hundreds of billions of dollars to buy oil from people who hate us,” Graham stated. “We must have energy independence. And in the process, I believe it is possible to produce a safe, clean environment, and create new well-paying jobs for Americans of all generations.”

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NIH Launches Prize Competition for Open Science

A new contest sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Wellcome Trust will award $230,000 for a new product or service that makes scientific data more accessible to the public.

“Research is a global, data-driven enterprise and our ability to improve health increasingly hinges on our ability to manage and make sense of the enormous amounts of data being produced by scientific research,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “I expect the Open Science Prize to generate innovative ideas to improve data access and establish new international collaborations that will illustrate the transformative power of sharing research data.”

Six teams will be selected to build prototypes. The winner will be selected from these teams. Learn more at https://www.openscienceprize.org/.

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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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