President Obama to Release FY 2017 Budget

The President’s budget request to Congress for fiscal year (FY) 2017 will be released on 9 February. A few details about the spending plan have been released in advance of the public announcement. Notably, federal employees would receive a 1.6 percent raise next year, if Congress enacts President Obama’s budget. In 2016, feds received a 1.3 percent increase.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack revealed last week that competitively awarded extramural agriculture research grants would receive a significant boost in the President’s budget request. Funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would double to $700 million. This is the same amount authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill that created the program.

“In the face of diminishing land and water resources and increasingly variable climatic conditions, food production must increase to meet the demands of world population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050,” said Vilsack. “Funding in research to respond to these challenges should be considered as an investment in our nation’s future, an investment which will pay big dividends in the years to come.”

Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which houses AFRI, said that only one in ten research proposals are currently funded.

“During the past seven years since AFRI was established, the program has led to true innovations and ground-breaking discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety,” said Dr. Ramaswamy.

AIBS coverage of the President’s budget request and the implications for federal science programs will continue in the next issue of the Public Policy Report on February 22. In addition, AIBS will release a report later this month with a full analysis of research spending in the FY 2017 budget request.

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White House Jumpstarts National Cancer Moonshot Initiative

The White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force had its first meeting on 1 February. The initiative, which was announced by President Obama during his State of the Union address last month, aims to eliminate cancer.

“We’re calling it a ‘Moonshot,’ and that’s because I believe that this effort, like President Kennedy’s call to land on the moon 55 years ago, is truly a call to humankind — to be bold and do big things,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the effort.

The Administration will be allocating $1 billion over two years. The initiative is set to jumpstart immediately with $195 million in “new cancer activities” at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The White House has called for $680 million in NIH’s FY 2017 budget and $75 million for the Food and Drug Administration to support seven areas of advanced research opportunities, namely early cancer detection, immunotherapy, pediatric cancer, genomic analysis of tumors, improved data sharing, vaccine development for cancer-causing viruses, and the establishment of an Oncology Center of Excellence to leverage scientific collaborations. Additionally, the Vice President would have control over a special fund allocated for “high-risk, high-return research.”

The White House fact sheet on the National Cancer Moonshot is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/01/fact-sheet-investing-national-cancer-moonshot.

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House to Consider NSF 'National Interest' Bill

A bill that would require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to publish written justifications for each award it makes will be debated in the House of Representatives this week. HR 3293 specifies that NSF could only approve projects that have the potential to increase U.S. economic competitiveness, advance human health and welfare, improve the scientific workforce, increase scientific literacy, increase industry and academic partnerships, support national defense, or promote the progress of science.

The legislation is sponsored by the chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith has been a vocal critic of certain social science and climate change research sponsored by NSF.

“Unfortunately, in recent years, the federal government has awarded too many grants that few Americans would consider to be in the national interest,” said Smith last fall during the committee mark up of the bill.

A similar measure was adopted by the House as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (HR 1806) in May 2015.

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Paris Climate Agreement Under Fire at House Science Committee Hearing

The House Science Committee debated President Obama’s international commitment to address climate change during a recent hearing. Although the focus of the hearing was the ability of the president to unilaterally act instead of deferring to Congress to approve a treaty, lawmakers did not waste the opportunity to question whether or not the Earth’s climate is changing.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) called the president’s climate pledge “a bad deal for the American economy, the American people and would produce no substantive environmental benefits.” Other Republican lawmakers questioned the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change and warned of economic consequences from action on climate change.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and other Democrats cited the scientific consensus on the causes of rapid climate change. Democratic members on the panel noted the significance of having a global agreement to combat climate change and growing private sector support for action to reduce emissions.

Stephen Eule, Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, testifying before the committee argued that the Paris agreement is under the purview of Congress, not just the president. He also called into question the effectiveness and plausibility of the goals set by the agreement, and argued that the limits put in place on developed nations make little sense when the majority of increases in emissions will be in developing countries.

Steven Groves, a Senior Research Fellow with the Heritage Foundation, argued that the Paris agreement should be defined as a treaty and therefore President Obama needs to submit it to Congress for ratification. Using the State Department guidelines for determining whether an international agreement is a treaty or not, Mr. Groves argued that the Paris accord meets all eight requirements for designation as a treaty.

Another witness, Dr. John Christy, a well-known climate change skeptic, called into question the validity of projected impacts from climate change. Although Christy did not outright deny climate change is occurring, he spoke about flaws in climate models and that the threats posed by climate change are overestimated.

Dr. Andrew Steer, of the World Resources Institute, was the dissenting voice. He praised the Paris agreement for bringing 187 countries together to act to mitigate climate change. He emphasized the importance of the United States remaining a leader and drew attention to increasing efforts of U.S. companies and cities to address climate change on their own.

Importantly, the House Science Committee has no direct role in ratifying a treaty, a power held by the Senate.

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Upcoming Webinar on R&D in the President's Budget Request

The AIBS Leadership in Biology series will continue on 25 February 2016 with a webinar that analyzes President Obama’s final budget request to Congress. Learn about new science initiatives the Obama Administration is proposing for fiscal year 2017 and what could be in store for existing research programs. The webinar is free to attend, but advance registration is required at http://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/a-look-at-the-fy-2017-rd-budget.html.

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Short Takes

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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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