Science Agencies Could be Casualty of President Trump's Budget

President Donald J. Trump has proposed a more than 10 percent funding cut for non-defense programs in order to pay for $54 billion in new military spending. The additional defense spending would be in excess of the spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which limits growth in federal spending.

According to the White Office of Management and Budget, no changes will be made to entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which represent approximately 60 percent of total federal spending. This mandatory spending has grown over the years and now places significant pressure on other federal programs, known as discretionary spending. Congress appropriates funds annually for these discretionary programs, such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies and programs.

Some agencies have been targeted for deeper cuts than the 10 percent average for all non-defense programs. The Environmental Protection Agency is rumored to be slated for a 25 percent cut, including the elimination of programs that protect beaches and safeguard homeowners against radon poisoning. Roughly 3,000 staff positions would be eliminated. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would lose 17 percent of its funding overall, although the proposed cuts to research and satellite data divisions are deeper. The Sea Grant program, which integrates research, education, communication, and extension, would be eliminated.

The president’s announcement was met with skepticism by some Republicans in Congress.

Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA), who chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said “You cannot balance the budget using discretionary funds. I would encourage them to look at all of the accounts.”

“Trump is going to need to understand that Republicans here don’t want to cut spending that much so he is going to need to do the serious work,” said Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID). Although Labrador supports Trump’s goal of increased defense spending, he wants to see entitlement spending cuts as well.

Newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke vowed to push back against the 10 percent budget cut that the White House is seeking. “I looked at the budget. I’m not happy. But we’re going to fight about it, and I think I’m going to win at the end of the day,” said Zinke during his first all-employee address.

President Trump has not yet publicly released his budget plan for fiscal year 2018. The President’s budget request is typically released at the beginning of February, although it is not unusual for a new president to release a ‘slim budget’ until the full budget request is ready later in the spring.

Congress is not required to enact the president’s budget request. Lawmakers can create their own spending plan after considering the White House’s plan.

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Science Organizations Issue Joint Statement on Water

A group of scientific societies is calling on President Trump and Congress to support the Clean Water Act. The letter endorses an amici curiae brief filed by wetland and aquatic scientists with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which is reviewing a federal rule that defines the geographic coverage of the Clean Water Act.

“The nation’s wetlands cover a tiny proportion of our landscapes (<6% of the lower 48 states), yet they contribute many times their ‘fair’ or proportional share in services to human well-being—often more than 10 times as much as predicted from their area. Like diamonds, they can be small, but extremely valuable,” the statement says.

The letter was signed by the Society of Wetland Scientists, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Fisheries Society, Ecological Society of America, Phycological Society of America, Society for Ecological Restoration, and Society for Freshwater Science.

The Washington Post covered the statement here.

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2,000 Organizations Urge Congress to Address Sequestration

The American Institute of Biological Sciences was among more than 2,000 organizations that called upon federal lawmakers to provide relief from budget sequestration for non-defense discretionary programs.

Since 2013, sequestration has dramatically cut funding available for federal programs that support research, environmental conservation, education, housing, foreign aid, and other non-defense programs.

Congress has twice acted to lessen the extent of sequestration. The current deal expires in fiscal year 2017.

Read the letter to Congress.

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AIBS Identifies Emerging Public Policy Leader

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has selected the winner of the 2017 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. Stephanie Bora is a Ph.D. candidate in immunology and infectious disease at Pennsylvania State University.

“AIBS is proud to recognize Ms. Bora’s notable accomplishments in science policy at her university and nationally,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis.

Bora organized the 2016 congressional visits day for the National Science Policy Group, a network of student science policy organizations from across the country. More than 50 students from 16 colleges participated in the event. Bora also serves as Director of Members for the organization and was previously the northeast regional Co-director. She founded the Science Policy Society at Penn State in 2014 and subsequently served as president and treasurer of the group. Her doctoral research investigates how bacteria that live in the human gut facilitate use of vitamin D—work that has implications for treatment of certain diseases. Bora has a B.S. in microbiology from the University of Wisconsin.

“Federal investment in science is just that: an investment,” said Bora. “I personally know a handful of researchers at my university who have started companies based on their research, or generated patents and developed products. Stable investment in basic research in our country leads to better health, new technology, and is crucial to our continued position as an economic leader in the world.”

“Stephanie joins a distinguished group of Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award winners who have demonstrated great promise in science policy,” said AIBS Co-Executive Director Dr. Robert Gropp. “I am confident that Stephanie’s participation in Congressional Visits Day will help her become a life-long advocate for science.”

Since 2003, AIBS has recognized the achievements of biology graduate students who have demonstrated an interest and aptitude for making contributions to science and science policy. AIBS will sponsor Bora’s travel to Washington, DC, in April to participate in a congressional visits program co-organized by AIBS. This event includes a day of training on how to effectively communicate with policymakers and a briefing on the federal budget for scientific research. Bora will meet with her congressional delegation. In addition, she will receive a one-year membership in AIBS, which includes a subscription to the scientific journal BioScience.

AIBS is also recognizing two additional outstanding leaders with an Honorable Mention award. Kathleen Lyons is working towards a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Texas at Austin. Ellen Wann is a Ph.D. candidate in neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

For more information about the Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award, including past recipients, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/EPPLA_Summary.pdf.

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Bill Introduced to Prohibit "Distortion" of Federal Data

The “Scientific Integrity Act” would require federal agencies to prohibit “suppression and distortion” of research data. The bill is sponsored by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and co-sponsored by 77 additional members of the House.

If enacted, the legislation would require federal agencies to create scientific integrity policies. In a statement, former director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren said the bill “would embody in law important elements of the progress on scientific integrity and transparency in government we were able to make in the Obama Administration using Executive authority.”

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last month by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).

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Co-sponsors Needed for Botanical Sciences Legislation

Legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to support the botanical research capacity of the federal government. H.R. 1054, “The Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration and Promotion Act,” is sponsored by Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

The bill emphasizes the importance of protecting native plants and addresses botanical workforce issues. It would create a new program of botanical science research within the Department of the Interior to help increase federal botanic expertise and would allow Interior to hire additional botanical personnel. The bill would create a student loan repayment program for botanists. It would also create a preference for federal agencies to use locally adapted native plant materials in their land management activities.

The legislation is endorsed by 62 professional organizations, including the Botanical Society of America, American Public Gardens Association, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Natural Areas Association, and NatureServe.

Individuals interested in helping to advance this legislation can reach out to and encourage their members of Congress to cosponsor HR 1054. Letters can be sent to Representatives via the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

For more information, read a summary of the bill.

Updates on the progress of the bill can be found on the Plant Conservation Alliance Resources page. If you are interested in getting involved more closely in these efforts, please contact info@plantconservationalliance.org.

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Short Takes

  • A few seats are still available for the upcoming workshop on “Enabling Interdisciplinary and Team Science,” hosted by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. 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. The workshop will be held in Washington, DC on 14-15 March. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/team_science_event.html.
  • The National Academies have announced a new study, Science Breakthroughs 2030, to identify ambitious scientific directions in food and agriculture made possible by incorporating knowledge and tools from across science and engineering disciplines. Nominations are sought to serve on a senior-level executive committee to oversee the study. Nominations should be submitted by 22 March at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3346109/Call-for-Nominations-Breakthroughs-2030-A-Strategy-for-Food-and-Agricultural-Research-copy. Subscribe for updates at http://nas-sites.org/dels/studies/agricultural-science-breakthroughs/subscribe/.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) will support two new Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. The new sites will be along the Northeast U.S. coast and in the northern Gulf of Alaska. “The new LTER sites will bring new locations, technologies and scientists to the challenge of understanding our coastal oceans,” says Rick Murray, director of NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences. “The sites are in areas where there’s much recreational and commercial fishing, and both sites are in the midst of significant environmental changes.”
  • The Governing Council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has issued a report from their international peer review expert panel regarding reforms to the Canadian research funding process. The report draws upon work done by the American Institute of Biological Sciences SPARS division on the peer review process and scientific expertise and bias. Read the report at http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/49972.html.

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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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