Congress Rejects Some of Trump's Deep Cuts to Science, But Budget Outlook is Not Rosy

Congress has begun to move some of the 12 spending bills that will fund the federal government in fiscal year (FY) 2018. Notably, billions of dollars in cuts to science programs proposed by President Trump were rejected by House Republicans, although many research programs are still facing cuts relative to FY 2017 funding levels.

Representatives are trying to fund the National Science Foundation at $7.3 billion, a reduction of $133 million but $687 million more than the President’s budget request. Research and Related Activities, which includes the Biological Sciences Directorate, would remain at the current funding level. A 10 percent cut to the BIO directorate had been previously proposed. There is growing concern within the scientific community about how flat funding will erode investments in core programs.

Within the Department of Agriculture, intramural agricultural research and facilities would be cut by 6 percent, which is significant but less damaging than the 20 percent cut sought by President Trump. Extramural research would be cut by less than 1 percent. Representatives rejected the administration’s request to close 17 agricultural research facilities.

The Department of Energy Office of Science would receive $5.4 billion, the same amount as in FY 2017. President Trump had requested a 17 percent cut to the program.

The House energy appropriations bill eliminates funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), as was requested by the White House. The program received about $300 million this year to fund experimental energy research.

House Appropriations Energy Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) said that the decision to end ARPA-E came from objections from the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. “I like ARPA-E, but the reality is our Science Committee doesn’t like it, wants to put the money into basic science. And with this [budget] allocation, we’ve got to make some tough decisions,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be funded at $5 billion, a cut of $710 million from the FY 2017 enacted level. Lawmakers propose flat funding the National Sea Grant College Program, which supports research, education, and extension at 33 universities; the program was proposed for elimination by the White House.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would see at 1 percent increase for science, but earth science research would lose 11 percent.

Instead of the 13 percent reduction requested by President Trump, the National Institute of Standards and Technology faces a 4 percent cut.

So far, House subcommittees have passed seven appropriations bills; the remaining bills will likely be revealed this month. The Senate has not yet moved any spending bills.

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Lawmakers Renew Calls to Renegotiate Sequestration

Republicans and Democrats in Congress are calling for a new budget deal that provides additional funding in fiscal year (FY) 2018.

A letter sent by leading Democrats in the Senate calls for “significant relief from sequestration. The sequestration budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act Of 2011 will have long-lasting consequences for America’s hard-working families. Discretionary programs are critical for our national security, for creating infrastructure jobs across the nation, caring for our veterans, cleaning up our environment, and advancing scientific knowledge.”

The leader of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) was joined by 20 Republican colleagues on a separate letter calling for a new bipartisan budget agreement. The letter states: “This agreement could be immediately negotiated and paired with the vote to increase the debt limit that Congress faces late this summer or early fall. In fact, absent such a bipartisan, bicameral agreement, we are reticent to support any budget resolution on the House floor.”

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, annual limits were set on discretionary federal funding—which includes science—until 2021. Limitations were placed on both defense and non-defense programs.

Twice, Congress has acted to reduce the annual cuts. The most recent deal covered FY 2016 and 2017.

FY 2018 would be the first year of full sequestration, with $3 billion being cut from non-defense programs. This would bring these programs funding levels to 16% below the FY 2010 level when adjusted for inflation.

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EPA Embarking on Exercise to Undermine Climate Science

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving ahead with creating a “red team/blue team” exercise to review what is known about climate change. The concept comes from military analysis, where a red team criticizes the current consensus view and a blue team rebuts that critique.

“Climate science like other fields of science is constantly changing. A new, fresh, and transparent evaluation is something everyone should support doing,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in a statement.

The agency confirmed that the review is formally in the works. The Department of Energy may also be involved.

Scientists have criticized the idea. Moreover, policy experts say that the exercise would likely not have legal standing in any effort to reverse the “endangerment finding” for greenhouse gas emissions, which is the basis for federal action on climate change.

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Precipitously Low Staffing at OSTP

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is barely keeping the lights on, with only 35 staff currently working in the office. That’s a reduction of about two-thirds as compared to the Obama Administration.

In addition, President Trump has yet to name a director for the office and the science division is unstaffed. The last three science employees left in late June. The White House has not confirmed or denied that the science division has no dedicated staff.

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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 latest Journal Citation Reports were recently released and the impact factor for AIBS’ journal BioScience has risen to 5.378. To celebrate this new impact factor, a new curated selection of highly cited articles from recent years are now free online.
  • The Pentagon may soon be required to study the impact of climate change on U.S. military bases. The House Armed Services Committee recently adopted by voice vote an amendment that would require such a study. The amendment was adopted with bipartisan support.
  • The American Institute of Biological Sciences joined 13 other scientific societies on a letter to President Trump about scientific advice in the federal government and the presentation of scientific data and information on government websites. Read the letter at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20170627_joint_society_s.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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