Biologists Visit Congress: Ask Congress for Investments in Research

Biological scientists traveled to Washington, DC on 27-28 April 2016 to communicate to members of Congress the importance of sustained federal investments in the biological sciences. The scientists and graduate students were in the nation’s capital as part of the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day.

The participants included researchers affiliated with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and its member organizations, including the Organization of Biological Field Stations, Botanical Society of America, American Society of Mammalogists, and the Ecological Society of America. Among the participants were Julia Omotade, the 2016 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award winner and Kevin Morris, who received one of three honorable mentions for the award.

The two-day event began with a training session for participants. Policy staff from AIBS and the Ecological Society of America provided details about the federal budget for R&D and tips for effectively communicating with policymakers. Kei Koizumi, Assistant Director for Federal R&D at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, presented an overview of President Obama’s budget request for FY 2017.

On 28 April, participants fanned out across Capitol Hill for meetings with members of Congress and their staff. The group emphasized the importance of federal investments in research that ultimately help the nation create new jobs and respond to society’s needs, such as improved food security, enhanced ecosystem management, and improved human health. Participants highlighted the importance of the National Science Foundation in fostering economic growth. The agency’s Biological Sciences Directorate funds 68 percent of fundamental, non-medical biological research.

Download a BESC fact sheet on the importance of federal investments in biological research.

Read an AIBS report on the returns on federal investments in biological research.

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Senate Panel Approves NSF Budget with No New Research Funding

Legislation approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on 21 April would provide $46.3 million in new funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year 2017. In spite of the proposed increase for the agency, funding for NSF research and science education programs would remain at 2016 levels.

The new funding would be directed to the acquisition of three research vessels. Notably, NSF has only requested funding for two ships, not three. The proposed ships will meet the ocean science needs identified in a 2015 report from the National Academies of Science.

In adopting the FY 2017 spending bill, appropriators rejected a request from the Obama Administration for $400 million in new mandatory spending to support early career researchers.

The committee report that accompanied the bill includes language that would create a new requirement in regards to NSF peer review. “As part of the peer review process, NSF should include criteria that evaluates how a proposal will advance our Nation’s national security and economic interests, as well as promote the of [sic] progress of science and innovation in the United States.”

This language parallels an effort by House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) to require NSF to publish written justifications for each award it makes in order to ensure that the agency is supporting grants that are in the “national interest.” The House of Representatives passed Smith’s bill, H.R. 3293, in February 2016.

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Senate Debates FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations

On 20 April, the Senate began debating a bill to fund the Department of Energy and related federal programs in fiscal year (FY) 2017. Senate leadership agreed to keep ‘poison pill riders’ out of the bill to ensure quick passage.

The Senate Appropriations Committee had approved S. 2804 earlier in April and voted unanimously to fund energy and water programs at $37.5 billion, an increase of approximately $355 million above current spending and $261 million over President Obama’s budget request.

“The bill Senator Feinstein and I have negotiated puts us one step closer to doubling basic energy research, invests in our waterways, and helps to resolve the nuclear waste stalemate. It cleans up hazardous materials at Cold War sites, and it maintains our nuclear weapons stockpile,” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senator Feinstein (D-CA) stated, “For most of the non-defense accounts, the bill essentially provides flat funding compared to fiscal year 2016. Given the budget climate, this is good news.”

Many amendments were considered during floor debate. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) offered an amendment to increase funding for the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to $325 million, an increase of more than $30 million from the base bill. Senators voted 70-26 to adopt the amendment.

A bipartisan amendment was filed by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and co-sponsors Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), which stated climate change is real and that “human activity contributes to climate change.” The chamber so far has not taken up the amendment.

Debate on the bill was expected to move quickly, but was stalled over an amendment introduced by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) to ban the United States from purchasing from Iran heavy water for nuclear reactors. The chamber twice voted against invoking cloture, which would have limited further debate. Floor debate will resume after a week long recess.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee passed its own version of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act on 19 April. H.R. 5055 contains a few controversial policy provisions, including an obstruction to full implementation of a rule that expands the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. ARPA-E would receive $306 million from House appropriators, $44 million below the President’s FY 2017 request and $19 million less than the Senate bill. The Department of Energy Office of Science would receive $5.4 billion, $50 million more than FY 2016 funding levels and the same as the Senate bill.

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New Database for Isotope Data Subject of Meeting in New Mexico

Isotope scientists, museum and biodiversity scientists, journal editors, and database professionals from around the world recently gathered in the desert of New Mexico to discuss how to create a database - IsoBank - that would capture isotopic data.

The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) cosponsored the workshop. BCoN is a National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network administered by AIBS. BCoN participated in the workshop to share lessons learned from the biodiversity community’s experience building research databases. Equally important, BCoN is working to build a more networked community of practice that uses biodiversity collections data. These linkages help to build a more robust research infrastructure, as well as to enable new science and education initiatives in ecology, comparative biology, physiology, evolution, archaeology, and many other fields.

A call for an IsoBank was made in 2015 in the pages of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

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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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