Long Awaited Senate Science Authorization Legislation Makes Its Debut

A yearlong effort to craft legislation to reauthorize federal basic research programs resulted in the introduction of bipartisan legislation on 22 June 2016. Freshman Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) are the primary sponsors of S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act.

The bill aims to set the direction of federal science policy and to update science education programs. Although no future funding levels are currently specified in the bill, committee staff have said that those details will be included in an amendment to be considered this week. Two-year authorization levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be proposed. Although the fiscal year 2017 funding level for NSF matches the $7.5 billion already approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, funding could grow by 4 percent the following year if appropriators follow the bill’s lead.

The Senate bill is a stark contrast from legislation passed by the House of Representatives last year and builds upon the America COMPETES Act that expired three years ago. Notably, S. 3084 reaffirms NSF’s existing merit-based peer review process and would make it easier for federal employees to attend scientific workshops. The bill would also improve oversight of large research facility construction and establish an interagency working group to reduce regulatory burdens for academics.

“In order for America to remain competitive, it’s essential that we efficiently and effectively invest in research so that our country’s brightest minds can create and develop,” said Senator Gardner. “It’s also critical that we expand educational opportunities and recognize the importance of equipping the next generation of leaders with STEM skills so that America not only keeps pace with the rest of the world, but remains the leading innovator.”

Earlier this year, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) released a report chronicling some of the ways in which federal investments in scientific research have contributed to economic growth. Showcasing these connections helps lawmakers craft policy.

“Federal investments in research and development help spur innovation and drive the new industries that will discover the next big thing,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill that promotes science and research, strengthens innovation and advanced manufacturing, grows our skilled workforce and enhances American competitiveness around the world.”

AIBS was invited by the Senate Commerce Committee to review the draft legislation and to provide input prior to the bill’s introduction. Two of the recommendations put forth by AIBS have been incorporated. One of the changes expands the list of eligible entities that can partner with federal agencies on citizen science and crowdsourcing projects to include public-private partnerships. AIBS raised the issue because some natural history museums are public-private partnerships and should be able to work with federal agencies to promote public engagement in science.

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House Science Committee Holds Hearing on "Ensuring Sound Science at EPA"

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on 22 June 2016 to examine the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory agenda. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was questioned on the agency’s climate change rules, water regulations, as well as the review of carcinogenicity of the herbicide glyphosate.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) posited that the EPA has frequently used “suspect science, questionable legal interpretations, and flawed analysis” to create expensive environmental rules. He also alleged that the EPA failed to provide information requested by the committee in a timely manner. He stated, “The Environmental Protection Agency has become an agency in pursuit of a purely political agenda rather than an agency that protects the environment. EPA’s political agenda is to rearrange the American economy, instituting command and control by the Obama administration.”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said that EPA has formulated regulations that are “balanced and progressive” and have demonstrated that economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. In EPA’s defense, she also mentioned that the EPA has delivered more than 15,000 documents to the Science Committee in response to the 12 separate investigations launched by the committee.

Lawmakers raised several issues that were previously addressed at a hearing held by the House Science Committee in July 2015. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which requires states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, was one issue that was brought up again. Chairman Smith cited a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that is based on data provided by the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) that suggests that economic growth would stagnate, electricity costs would increase, and almost 400,000 jobs would be lost over the next 15 years under the Clean Power Plan. McCarthy maintained that, “That is exactly opposite of what we believe will happen based on our independent analysis” and insisted that there is no disagreement between the EPA and EIA on the benefits of the climate change regulation. According to the EIA report, with the EPA regulations average electricity prices would be 3 percent higher in the late 2020’s, but would fall back to normal levels by 2040. The rule is currently stayed by the Supreme Court.

Representative John Moolenaar (R-MI) questioned McCarthy about the Clean Water Rule, which Congress voted to disapprove. Thirty-two states are suing over the rule. McCarthy responded that 87 percent of the comments that EPA received were in support of the rulemaking and the main concerns came from the agriculture industry. She emphasized that the agency did everything they could to expand the exemptions for the agriculture community. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of the rule in October 2015.

Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) questioned the Administrator about EPA’s decision to redact a report that concluded that the herbicide glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic. The report contradicted a 2015 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as well as a 2008 Swedish study that found a link between the compound and cancer. Lawmakers expressed their concerns over the motivation for the decision to remove the report marked “final” from the agency’s website. McCarthy responded that the report was a final review from the cancer assessment committee but not a final agency document. She said that it was “unfortunate that it was mistakenly released by a contractor because it is still in review by the agency… And when we have an issue that’s as important as glyphosate is to the agricultural community, we want to make sure that we get the science right.” She estimated that the final report would be made available to the public in fall of 2016.

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AIBS Writes to Appropriators about NSF Funding

AIBS joined a multi-disciplinary group of 35 scientific societies and universities to thank lawmakers for leaving research funding decisions within the National Science Foundation (NSF) to experts, instead of lawmakers.

“The NSF’s merit review process is the global gold standard for selecting the most promising research within and across scientific fields of study, including the biological, computer, geosciences, mathematical, physical, social and behavioral sciences, and engineering,” the groups stated. “The merit review system remains the best means for meeting national scientific priorities, fostering innovation, and determining which grant proposals to fund.”

The letter also expressed concern about the essentially flat funding level for NSF in fiscal year 2017. The Senate bill would keep NSF’s research programs at the 2016 level, whereas the House would provide $46 million in additional research funding, but cut funding for major scientific facilities.

The letter was sent to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate panels responsible for funding NSF.

Last year, language in the committee report accompanying the House appropriations bill specified that funding within NSF should be allocated in a particular way to research directorates. This was a break from past practice where Congress left those decisions to experts within NSF using input from the scientific community, the National Academies, and the National Science Board.

Read the letter at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20160614nsfthank_you.html.

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Nominations Sought for NSB Awards

The National Science Board is accepting nominations for its public service awards. The Vannevar Bush Award recognizes lifetime achievement for pursuits to improve the welfare of mankind and the nation through public-service activities in science, technology and public policy. The Public Service Award honors individuals and groups for substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science and engineering. Learn more about the awards and submit a nomination at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/awards/.

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Register for the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Event

This national initiative, initiated and organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, is an opportunity for scientists across the country to showcase for their elected officials the people, facilities, and equipment required to advance scientific research and education.

Now in its eighth year, the event enables scientists, graduate students, and representatives of research facilities to meet with their federal and state elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or meet at the policymaker’s local office.

AIBS will schedule the meetings with lawmakers and will help participants prepare through online training and one-on-one support.

The event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, with the support of event sponsors Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Paleontological Society, Society for Freshwater Science, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

Participation is free, but registration is required. You must register by 17 July 2016. For more information and to register, visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Webinar on Biological Informatics Workforce Needs

The biological sciences are increasingly driven by the ability to collect, identify, integrate, analyze, and interpret complex data. Researchers and educators, current and future, must have the knowledge and skills required to use these data and data management and analysis tools appropriately. In December 2015, the American Institute of Biological Sciences convened a workshop in conjunction with its annual meeting of Member Societies and Organizations to explore the education and training issues that must be addressed to ensure we have the skilled biological informatics workforce required to advance biology for the benefit of science and society. The workshop generated a report with 12 recommendations for professional societies, journal editors, universities, faculty and students, government agencies, and funding organizations. This webinar will summarize this meeting and explore in greater detail the recommendations identified by workshop participants.

Join AIBS on 20 July 2016 at 1 pm EST for this free event. Register at https://www.aibs.org/events/webinar/addressing-bio-informatics-workforce.html.

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Fellowship Opportunity at Smithsonian Institution

The National Museum of Natural History is offering a fellowship for graduate students, post-doctoral and professional researchers. The program provides an opportunity to conduct independent research and to collaborate with Smithsonian scientists. Fellows have access to the world’s largest natural and cultural history collections. The fellowship is open to both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens. Learn more at http://nscalliance.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/fellowship-program-flyer.pdf.

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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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