EPA Continues to Remove Scientists from Advisory Boards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is letting the appointments of 38 additional scientists expire from the Board of Scientific Counselors. The board members’ three-year terms will expire in August.

This is the second wave of scientific advisors whose terms the agency will not renew. In total, 47 appointments were not renewed, leaving only 11 current members on the board.

In addition, all meetings of the board and its five subcommittees have been suspended. Robert Kavlock, acting director of EPA’s Office of Research and Development wrote in an email that they are “hopeful” that the board can resume its work in 2018.

Nominations to serve on the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) will be accepted through 30 June 2017. Jane Zelikova, co-founder of 500 Women Scientists, said “its important to have strong independent scientists who serve on the BOSC. That won’t happen unless such scientists actually apply. So lets make sure ample numbers of highly qualified scientists apply!”

Learn more at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2017-05-25/html/2017-10672.htm.

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Assessment Finds ARPA-E Meeting Its Goals

A National Academy of Sciences review of the Advanced Research Projects-Energy (ARPA-E), an Energy Department program under attack from the Trump Administration, has found “no signs” that the program “is failing, or on a path to failing.” The study was mandated by Congress.

President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 proposes eliminating funding for the program.

“There are clear indicators that ARPA-E is making progress toward achieving its statutory mission and goals, and it cannot reasonably be expected to have completely fulfilled those goals given so few years of operation and the size of its budget,” concluded the committee.

Five attributes of ARPA-E were identified as especially important in the program’s progress since it’s inception in 2009.

  • ARPA-E selects projects to fund through a multifaceted process that entails evaluating each project’s potential to contribute to the achievement of the agency’s goals should it be successful.
  • ARPA-E program directors have wide authority to develop new focused technology programs that are potentially transformative.
  • ARPA-E program directors actively manage projects through technical research guidance and feedback, regular and frequent assessments of progress made toward technical milestones, and revision of milestones in response to new findings and research discoveries.
  • The projects ARPA-E has funded support its statutory mission and goals.
  • While 6 years is not long enough to produce observable evidence of widespread deployment of funded technologies, there are clear indications that ARPA-E is making progress toward its statutory mission and goals.

Key recommendations include preserving the program’s flexible management approach, developing a framework for assessing the agency’s impacts, and expanding the use of ARPA-E’s practices throughout the Department of Energy.

Report the report at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24778/an-assessment-of-arpa-e.

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Deep Cuts to EPA a Non-Starter in Congress

Lawmakers continue to reject the deep budget cuts proposed by President Trump to many non-defense programs. At a recent hearing on the 30 percent cut proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Representatives from both political parties stated their objections to the budget.

“These are all proposals we are unlikely to retain,” said Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA), who chairs the appropriations panel that oversees EPA.

Democratic Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) called the proposed budget a “disaster” and called for a bipartisan rejection of the President’s budget request.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the plan. “I believe we can fulfill the mission of the agency with a trim budget.”

Several Republicans objected to proposed cuts to programs that directly impact their state, such as Superfund, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and programs that regulate pesticides and air quality.

EPA’s primary competitive extramural grants program, Science to Achieve Results (STAR), is proposed for elimination in the President’s 2018 budget. A new analysis by the National Academies found that the program is “productive” and has led to potential reductions in the cost of complying with environmental regulations.

Although the 2018 budget request requires congressional approval, EPA does have the ability to start decreasing the size of its workforce now. The agency plans to buyout no more than 1,228 employees this summer. The buyout plans are still subject to approval by the White House.

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Senators Push Back on Proposal to Reorganize Interior

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke defended his plan to reassign dozens of top department officials during a hearing by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Zinke notified at least three dozen officials that they will be moved to another position within Interior.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), the top ranking Democrat on the panel, said that Congress had been “left in the dark” about the reorganization. Zinke responded that the moves are partly motivated to shift personnel out of headquarters and into the field, where more staff are needed, and also to better align staff skills and positions.

The Washington Post reported that the push “appears much broader than what Republican and Democratic administrations have pursued in the past.”

“Personnel moves are being conducted to better serve the taxpayer and the Department’s operations through matching Senior Executive skill sets with mission and operational requirements,” according to Interior spokesperson Heather Swift.

Among the officials who will be reassigned are Interior’s top climate policy official and several regional directors for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The list of reassignments is not yet public. Zinke cited privacy rules and told Senators that the full list would be provided once staff have decided to accept their reassignment or to resign.

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Meet with Your Lawmakers This Summer and Help Inform Science Policy

Registration is now open for the 2017 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This national initiative, organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research. Now in its ninth year, the event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their federal or state elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office. AIBS will schedule the meetings with lawmakers and prepare participants through online training and one-on-one support. “Participating in the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event was an invaluable experience to have as a graduate student,” said 2016 participate Erin Larson. “The training provided by AIBS made me feel confident and ready to go have a conversation with Representative Reed’s District Director about federal funding, especially how it’s benefitted me during my Ph.D. I was struck during our meeting by how meaningful it is to ‘show up’ and participate in the political process, especially as it relates to federal funding for the biological sciences. We scientists take the importance of federal funding to do our research to be a given, but it’s important for us to be able to communicate that effectively, especially with policymakers, to ensure that federal funding is maintained in the future.”

The event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, with the support of event sponsors American Society of Plant Taxonomists, American Society of Primatologists, Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Helminthological Society of Washington, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Paleontological Society, Society for Freshwater Science, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and event supporter Society of Nematologists. Participation is free, but registration will close on July 18, 2017. For more information and to register, visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Enter the 2017 Faces of Biology Photo Contest

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

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 was 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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Short Takes

  • The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is inviting experts to review several scientific assessments. The global draft assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services is available for review until 15 August. The Americas regional draft assessment is available for review until 24 July. Interested experts need to register as users of the IPBES website and then can apply to become IPBES reviewers at http://www.ipbes.net.
  • The Department of Energy unfroze all remaining funding for ARPA-E grants that were previously awarded but whose contracts were not signed prior to President Trump taking office. About 30 projects were originally held, but a few were released last month after a department review.

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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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