Another Stopgap Spending Bill

Lawmakers have passed a second continuing resolution to keep the government running well into fiscal year 2017. The stopgap measure means that Congress has until 28 April 2017 to finish the appropriations process. The fiscal year started on 1 October 2016.

The spending bill easily passed the House of Representatives before the chamber adjourned for the balance of the year. The vote was 326 to 96, with 208 Republicans and 118 Democrats supporting the measure.

The proportion of dissenting votes was higher in the Senate, where the measure passed 63 to 36. Thirteen Senate Republicans and 23 Democrats opposed the bill.

Although most federal programs will remain at their current funding levels, the legislation provides a slight increase in total spending from $1.067 trillion to $1.07 trillion. The $3 billion increase is directed to various programs ranging from emergency disaster assistance to respond to flooding in Louisiana, to helping Flint, Michigan residents who have suffered from lead in their drinking water, to reimbursing New York City for costs associated with providing security for President-elect Trump.

The bill passed the Senate less than an hour before current funding expired. The legislation had been slowed in the Senate over concerns about retired miners’ health care and pensions.

Several prominent lawmakers criticized the stopgap measure, especially the long duration of the continuing resolution.

“I am sorry I don’t think this was a very smart decision and I don’t think this will look very smart in April,” said Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), who chairs the House panel in charge of health-care spending.

Congress will be busy in the spring finishing 2017 appropriations, taking up confirmations of Trump nominees, filling a Supreme Court vacancy, as well as other issues the Republican majority has pledged to take action on, such as repealing Obamacare and reversing certain environmental regulations.

“There will be plenty of things for them to do. This will be a heavy lift,” said outgoing House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY).

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NIH Receives a Year End Gift from Lawmakers

Congress has passed a package of health-related legislation, including a bill that aims to boost investments in biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next three years. The bill authorizes—but does not fund—NIH at $36.5 billion in fiscal year 2020. NIH is currently funded at $31.4 billion. To attain the higher funding level, Congress will have to appropriate the additional funds in annual spending bills.

In that regard, things are already off to a good start, as $352 million above the current funding level was included for NIH in the recently adopted continuing resolution. Overall, the $872 million in the temporary spending bill was the same amount authorized in the “21st Century Cures Act.”

The $4.8 billion in additional authorized funding would be directed to specific initiatives created by the Obama Administration: $1.4 billion for the Precision Medicine Initiative, $1.8 billion for the cancer moonshot, and $1.6 billion for the BRAIN Initiative.

The package also includes $1 billion for expanded opioid treatment programs. It calls for NIH to produce a comprehensive strategic plan and for the White House to form a new board to streamline regulations for universities and other grantees. Other new initiatives include a program to provide career opportunities for young scientists and incentives for certain areas of research, including fields where public and private investment in research is small compared to the cost of preventing and treating the disease.

The legislation passed the House with only 26 dissenting votes and passed the Senate with five Senators opposed.

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Climate Skeptic Selected as EPA Administrator

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt is the Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma—a position he has used to sue the EPA over some of President Obama’s signature environmental initiatives.

“For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs,” Trump said. Pruitt “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.”

“I greatly appreciate the leadership Attorney General Pruitt has shown in suing to stop the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and look forward to watching him dismantle it piece by piece as EPA administrator,” said Senator Steve Daines (R-MT). The Clean Power Plan requires U.S. power plants to reduce carbon emissions.

Several Senators have already pledged to fight the nomination.

“This is going to be a litmus test for every member of the Senate who claims not to be a [climate] denier,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). “The health of our planet and our people is too important to leave in the hands of someone who does not believe in scientific facts or the basic mission of the EPA.”

But Republican lawmakers who trust climate science do not appear to take the same view on the nominee. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who previously championed cap-and-trade legislation, said “I’d be very inclined to support him. If I excluded everyone in the Republican Party who doesn’t believe in climate change, I wouldn’t have too many friends.”

Pruitt co-wrote an op-ed in May in the National Review about climate change: “Global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

Pruitt appears to be proud of being labeled an antagonist of the EPA. His official biography calls him “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Pruitt’s confirmation is subject to approval by a majority of the Senate. Confirmations cannot be filibustered.

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Now in BioScience: NSF's 'Big Ideas'

The November 2016 issue of BioScience considers the ten “big ideas” put forth by the National Science Foundation. An excerpt follows.

It is common for a federal agency to periodically review its mission and put forth new “strategic roadmaps” to guide priorities and champion new initiatives. This often happens at the start of a new presidential administration, in response to a congressional directive, or on the heels of a catastrophic organizational failure. This year, however, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has employed a somewhat less common tactic—preemptively identifying and publicly announcing the priorities it intends to use to engage the new administration and to build future organizational budgets. Earlier this year, the NSF released documents that identified 10 “big ideas.”

For years, reports from various sectors have drawn attention to the fact that some of the most significant problems facing society, and therefore the most timely challenges for science, require inter- or transdisciplinary responses. Signs that the research community recognizes the need for greater collaboration—and the development of the tools needed to facilitate this collaboration—are now more common. Indeed, boundaries between fields are increasingly fuzzy.

Read the full article for free at

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Expand Your Broader Impact Skills: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’ highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp is an intensive, two-day, hands-on training program that will be held in Washington, DC on 27-28 February 2017. Please note that registration for the December workshop is full.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview, including broadcast interviews
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What policymakers want and need to know from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Participants will also have the opportunity for formal and informal discussions with science policy and communications experts working in Washington, DC. A course outline is available here.

AIBS Individual Members and individuals nominated to participate by an AIBS Member Society/Organization receive a $75 discount on registration.

Learn more about the program and register now at

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AIBS to Help Scientists Develop Interdisciplinary Skills

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and research managers.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, and even policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was developed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team.

Who should attend?

  • Research program managers
  • Departmental leaders
  • Scientists engaged in collaborative projects
  • Graduate students and post-docs looking to augment basic research skills
  • Scientists working at the interface of different fields
  • Groups interested in developing successful research proposals
  • Academic, government, and industry scientists

This course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together.

Participants will develop and hone the skills needed to:

  • Engage in collaborative scientific ventures;
  • Eliminate barriers to effective team science;
  • Execute the factors that make collaborations successful;
  • Build the right scientific team;
  • Perform with a variety of personalities and work approaches;
  • Create a team roadmap;
  • Enact the five keys to leadership;
  • Develop effective communication strategies and techniques;
  • Facilitate scientific collaborations; and,
  • Apply practical solutions for team science concerns.

Learn more and register at

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Graduate Students: Apply for the 2017 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are being accepted for the 2017 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 on April 25-26, 2017. 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 2017 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, honorable mentions, and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on 9 January 2017. The application can be downloaded at

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Short Takes

  • As reported by The Washington Post, the presidential transition team at the Department of Energy has issued a list of 74 questions for agency officials to identify which federal employees and contractors worked on the Paris climate accord or other efforts to mitigate climate change. Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), one of the few Ph.D. scientists in Congress, called the move “deeply disturbing… These Cold War era tactics threaten to undo the decades of progress we have made on climate change and to dissuade a new generation of scientists from tackling our world’s biggest problems.”

  • Federally held scientific collections are becoming more accessible due to a new registry of U.S. federal scientific collections. The registry included information about more than 125 collections managed by more than 475 federal institutions—numbers that are anticipated to continue to grow. Access the registry at

  • The U.S. Geological Survey National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center is accepting statements of interest for a graduate student fellowship. The Science to Action Fellowship supports students in developing a product that puts science into action by applying research results to decision-making about natural resources. The application deadline is 15 December 2016. Learn more 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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