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Public Policy Report for 28 December 2015

Lawmakers Finally Reach Deal on FY 2016 Appropriations

Seventy-nine days into fiscal year (FY) 2016, lawmakers finalized a spending plan for federal agencies. The deal is a major win for science advocates, as nearly all federal science programs will receive a needed budget bump.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will receive a 1.6 percent increase above FY 2015, providing the agency with a total budget of $7.5 billion. The Research and Related Activities budget line will receive $100 million of the $119 million in new funding directed to NSF. Importantly, the bill does not include restrictions that had previously been approved by the House of Representatives to limit how NSF can allocate funding among its research directorates. That provision would have restricted funding for geosciences and social science research. Instead, appropriators opted to limit funding for the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences to a maximum of the FY 2015 level. Although many considered this a win, it still breaks with past practice of allowing the NSF and National Science Board to identify research priorities.

The report language accompanying the bill directs NSF to complete an independent audit of the cost of completing the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and a plan to “ensure greater NSF oversight of costs, schedule, and performance over the lifecycle of NEON and other large facility projects.” NEON has been the subject of congressional scrutiny due to cost overruns, which resulted in a reduced scope earlier this year. A few weeks ago, NSF announced that management of the project will be transitioned away from NEON, Inc.

Funding for other agencies relative to the 2015 enacted appropriations:

  • National Institutes of Health: +$2 billion
  • Agricultural Research Service: +$178 million
  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: +$25 million
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: +$325 million
  • Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research: +$17 million
  • U.S. Geological Survey, Ecosystems: +$1 million

Notably, the Environmental Protection Agency was once again on the chopping block. Although the agency’s total budget will decline by $27 million, funding for science will remain at the FY 2015 level.

The House and Senate easily cleared the measure with bipartisan support. The final vote tallies were 316 in favor versus 113 opposed in the House and 65-33 in the Senate.

This spending bill adheres to the budget deal reached in November, which authorized an additional $25 billion to non-defense discretionary programs in FY 2016.

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Start the Year with an Inside Scoop on the Policy Landscape

Register now to reserve your space at the upcoming science policy webinars presented by the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Science Policy: A Preview of 2016
January 12, 2016
1:00 pm EST

The beginning of a new year is often considered a time for a fresh start. But for the second session of the 114th Congress, the past is a powerful predictor of future action (or inaction). Learn what science policy issues are likely to arise in Congress and the White House in 2016 and how election year politics might influence policy.

Register at

A Look at the FY 2017 R&D Budget
February 25, 2016
2:00 pm EST

Learn what President Obama’s final budget request to Congress could mean for federal science programs in fiscal year 2017. This program will delve into the specifics of proposed funding for federally supported biological research and STEM education. An overview of the budget process will also be presented for context.

Register at

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Women in STEM: New Reports Find Mixed News Across Science Agencies

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that several federal scientific research grant-making agencies are compliant with federal law to prevent discrimination based on gender, but that others lack sufficient records and record-keeping practices. Additionally, a demographic study recently published in BioScience suggests that both federal agencies and academia still have significant challenges to address in female representation in the scientific workforce.

The GAO report examined six major agencies responsible for grants to academic institutions: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Three out of the six agencies (NIH, NSF, NIFA) showed no significant disparities between success rates of men and women in receiving grants. The other three agencies, however, lacked clear results; DOE and DOD showed some disparities in some parts of the agencies, but lacked complete information for a full analysis. NASA lacked the ability to link electronic proposals and awards, making it impossible for the GAO to conduct an analysis for the agency.

The GAO noted that five of the six agencies reported a desire for Department of Justice action to facilitate interagency sharing of best compliance practices. Additionally, the GAO noted 13 potential actions federal agencies could take to increase female representation in STEM research. All of the agencies reviewed expressed interest in or are currently taking action in some of the identified areas.

Underscoring the ongoing need to address representation issues and support women in science, a new study by Christel C. Kern, Laura S. Kenefic, and Susan L. Stout was published in the December issue of BioScience. “Bridging the Gender Gap: The Demographics of Scientists in the USDA Forest Service and Academia” compares representation of women in USDA Forest Service Research and Development and in Society of American Foresters/National Association of University Forest Resources Programs approved universities.

Overall, the researchers found that women were underrepresented in forestry and related fields in both government and academia, though the federal entity had a smaller gender gap than the academic institutions. Additionally, female representation in federal and academic institutions decreased between junior and senior positions.

Beyond promoting gender equity, the findings are important as past studies have found that having gender-diverse research teams boosts productivity and creativity.

The GAO report can be found at

The Bioscience article can be found at

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NIH Announces Strategic Plan

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has set a self-described “bold vision” for the next five years. A new strategic plan outlines ambitious aspirations that the agency aims to achieve by 2020, including technologies to reverse paralysis and becoming a model agency for applying the scientific method.

The four overarching goals in the plan are:

  • Advance opportunities in biomedical research in fundamental science, treatment and cures, and health promotion and disease prevention.
  • Foster innovation by setting NIH priorities to enhance nimbleness, consider burden of disease and value of permanently eradicating a disease, and advance research opportunities presented by rare diseases.
  • Enhance scientific stewardship by recruiting and retaining an outstanding biomedical research workforce, enhancing workforce diversity and impact through partnerships, ensuring rigor and reproducibility, optimizing approaches to inform funding decisions, encouraging innovation, and engaging in proactive risk management practices.
  • Excel as a federal science agency by managing for results by developing the “science of science,” balancing outputs with outcomes, conducting workforce analyses, continually reviewing peer review, evaluating steps to enhance rigor and reproducibility, reducing administrative burden, and tracking effectiveness of risk management in decision making.

Read the plan at

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White House Releases Plan to Combat Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis

The White House released a National Action Plan for Combating Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) on 22 December 2015. An interagency working group developed the plan in response to an Executive Order issued by President Obama.

The plan identifies specific interventions and immediate actions to address global and domestic challenges created by the global rise in MDR-TB related cases and also attempts to inform related international policies. The National Action Plan describes a comprehensive strategy that outlines goals to “strengthen health-care services, public health, and academic and industrial research through collaborative action by the U.S. Government in partnership with other nations, organizations, and individuals.”

Specific goals include strengthening the domestic capacity to combat MDR-TB; improving the ability to prevent TB drug resistance in the U.S. by identifying and treating all patients in a timely manner; expanding international capacity and collaboration to combat MDR-TB through investments in innovative health practices and greater access to prevention and care; and accelerating basic and applied research and development leading to faster diagnosis, effective vaccines, innovative prevention measures, and new treatments.

The U.S. government plans to work with members of the public and private sector, other countries, non-government organizations, and global partners over the next five years to meet these goals.

Tuberculosis is responsible for more deaths globally than any other infectious disease and results in 1.5 million deaths every year. About 480,000 people develop MDR-TB every year. Less than 20 percent of them receive the drugs needed to fight the disease and less than half of the treated individuals are cured. The individuals who are not cured or treated continue to spread the disease to others and this has resulted in a global-rise in MDR-TB cases.

United States Agency for International Development is inviting stakeholders to engage with government officials working on implementing the National Action Plan at a launch event in Washington DC on 7 January 2016.

Details of the event:

The complete National Action Plan is available here.

A fact sheet of the plan is available at:

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are being accepted for the 2016 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held in spring 2016. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2016 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, 10 January 2016. The application can be downloaded at

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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 to get started.

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