End in Sight for Spending Bills

It is anticipated that Congress will soon finalize spending for fiscal year 2017, more than seven months after the start of the fiscal year. Lawmakers have passed three continuing resolutions to keep the government open, including most recently on Friday.

Notably, the spending deal does not include most of President Trump’s recent budget requests. There is no funding for a border wall nor massive increases in defense spending at the expense of non-defense programs, although the Pentagon will receive a $15 billion increase.

Science programs were largely spared from the sharp cuts the Trump Administration had sought. A summary of science spending included in the current package:

  • Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy: +5 percent
  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: +7 percent
  • Agricultural Research Service: -6 percent
  • Department of Energy Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research: +0.5 percent
  • Environmental Protection Agency, Science and Technology: -4 percent
  • Forest Service, Forest and Rangeland Research: -1 percent
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Science: +3 percent
  • National Institutes of Health: +6 percent
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: -2 percent
  • National Science Foundation: +0.1 percent
  • Research and Related Activities: flat
  • Education and Human Resources: flat
  • Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction: +4 percent
  • U.S. Geological Survey, Ecosystems: -0.3 percent

Some senior lawmakers questioned whether it was worth it to kick the metaphorical can so far into the fiscal year when appropriations bills could have passed months ago with bipartisan support. Lawmakers elected to wait until the spring to finish 11 of the 12 appropriations bills so that the new president could provide input.

“I don’t think much has been achieved by this other than we’re racing around here at the last minute when we shouldn’t have been,” said Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that more than 160 “poison pill riders” were removed from the spending package. Environmental issues, women’s health, and immigration were among the contentious issues negotiated.

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ARPA-E Grants Withheld

The Department of Energy is jumpstarting President Trump’s plans to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The agency has begun to withhold funds for previously approved research grants.

A department spokesperson said, “This is nothing more than applying good governance principles to how these programs are being executed.”

President Trump had proposed that that ARPA-E funding be cut in half in fiscal year 2017 and be eliminated in 2018. Congress ultimately makes funding decisions and so far has not agreed with these proposals, as reflected in the proposed increase for ARPA-E in 2017 that will be voted on this week.

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, wrote to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry about the funding. The letter charges that the order to withhold grant funding may violate the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act.

“Taken together with the president’s recent budget request that proposes to eliminate ARPA-E, these reports appear to suggest that the administration is attempting to shut down the agency without congressional authorization. Such an action would be both ill-advised and potentially illegal,” wrote Representative Johnson.

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Climate Science Disappears from EPA Website

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled changes to its website on 28 April, including the removal of several webpages on climate change. The pages contained information on climate science, the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on different segments of the population, and the Clean Power Plan.

“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land, and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency,” wrote EPA spokesman J.P. Freire. “We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.”

Bipartisan legislation on this subject was coincidentally introduced the same day as the website changes were made. Legislation by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) aims to prevent federal agencies from removing scientific databases from public view. The bill would require agencies to maintain public access to existing open databases produced from taxpayer-funded research. Under current law, the federal government has to retain data but does not have to post it online.

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The State of Scientific Integrity at USDA

The Inspector General for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has identified some trends regarding the treatment of science within the agency. Nine percent of surveyed USDA scientists say that their research has been altered or suppressed for reasons other than technical merit.

Of the 1,300 agency scientists who responded to the survey in the summer of 2016, 41 percent did not have training on the agency’s scientific integrity policy or did not remember having had the training. The majority of respondents did not know how to file a complaint under the agency’s scientific integrity policy. Moreover, 18 percent of agency scientists were not aware of the policy.

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AIBS Launches 7th Annual Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest for your chance to win $250 and to have your photograph appear on the cover of the BioScience.

The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

“This AIBS initiative is one of the ways scientists can show the public and policymakers what it looks like to do science,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Co-Executive Director of AIBS. “AIBS is committed to promoting informed decision-making, which requires an engaged public and policymakers. The photo competition is just one of the ways we endeavor to help the public gain a better understanding of biological research.

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the competition must depict a person, such as a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, at a natural history collection, at a field station, on a computer, in a classroom, or anywhere else research is done.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside the journal, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The winning photo from the 2016 contest is featured on the cover of the April 2017 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 1 October 2017.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Writing for Impact and Influence

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has heard a common refrain from faculty, scientists, government and private sector executives, and everyone in between: Scientists are losing the ability to communicate effectively in writing. The concern is less about how well a scientific manuscript is drafted and more about how routine business and public engagement information are communicated.

AIBS is responding by offering a professional development program designed to help biologists, including graduate students, hone their written communication skills to increase the impact and influence of their message.

This course complements AIBS’s highly successful Communications Boot Camp for Scientists, which focuses on oral communication.

Writing for Impact and Influence provides practical instruction and hands-on exercises that will improve the participant’s general writing proficiency. The program will provide participants with the skills and tools needed to compose scientific press releases, blog posts, emails, and memoranda. Each product-focused session will have an assignment to be completed independently, with feedback from the instructor. The course is interactive, and participants are encouraged to ask questions and converse freely with the instructor and other participants.

Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/programs/writing-for-impact-and-influence.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Institutes of Health will hold a workshop on “NIH Guidelines: Honoring the Past, Charting the Future.” The workshop will consider new directions in biosafety oversight of recombinant DNA and genome editing tools. The workshop will be held on 18-19 July 2017 in Rockville, Maryland. Learn more and register here.
  • Eight Democratic Senators wrote to President Trump to urge the nomination of “well-qualified experts” to “key science and technology positions within your administration,” especially the Office of Science and Technology Policy. No names have been announced yet for any of the appointed positions within the office. The letter was signed by Senators Hassan, Nelson, Markey, Peters, Udall, Booker, Cortez Masto, and Schatz.
  • More than half of life sciences Ph.D. recipients work outside of universities and colleges 10-14 years after graduating, according to a new report from the National Science Board. A similar trend has been seen in other scientific fields. Although the trend is not new, the interactive infographic that presents this employment data is novel. Access the tool at https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/infographic2/#main.

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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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