President's USGS, DOE, EPA Nominees Confirmed

On 12 April, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator. Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, has previously served as a Republican aide to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Republican Senators unanimously voted for Wheeler. Democrats, who questioned Wheeler’s qualifications at his hearing, were expected to block his confirmation. However, moderate Democratic Senators opted to vote for his confirmation.

President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Dr. James Reilly, was confirmed by the Senate on 9 April along with two Department of Energy (DOE) nominees.
Reilly, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut and exploration geologist, had support from both sides of the aisle. He vowed at his confirmation hearing to not let politics obstruct scientific integrity.

Theodore Garrish, who has previously served as a special assistant to the Secretary and General Counsel at DOE, was confirmed as the Assistant Secretary of Energy for International Affairs. James Campos, who previously served as a Senior Adviser to the President of Nevada State College and a board member of the Nevada Taxicab authority, was confirmed as head of DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.

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Lawmakers Urge Speaker to Bring Scientific Integrity Legislation to Floor

House Democratic lawmakers, led by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY), have requested that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) bring legislation related to scientific integrity to the floor for a vote posthaste. A letter stressing the importance of scientific integrity and signed by 76 members of the House Representatives was sent to the Speaker on 12 April.

The Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1358) was introduced last year by Representative Tonko, ahead of the March for Science, and has gathered significant support with 152 cosponsors. The Act would set baseline standards for scientific integrity policies at all federal agencies that fund or conduct scientific research, requiring agencies to “create and enforce clear scientific integrity standards.”

In the letter, the lawmakers argue, “As public confidence in the integrity of our government continues to falter, demand for legislation of this kind will only grow.” The letter also emphasizes that the Act would “make it clear that independent science and evidence should be the basis for shaping federal policy, free from inappropriate political interference or bias due to ideology or conflicts of interest.”

The momentum to bring the legislation to a vote comes after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency’s plan to restrict the use of science in informing regulations, by barring the use of research for which raw data has not been made public. At a congressional hearing on 12 April, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Neomi Rao, was grilled by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-MA) on EPA’s “secret science” proposal. Rao said, “I think we do want to make sure that we have the best available evidence. I think it’s also important for the public to have notice and information about the types of studies which are being used by agencies for decision-making.” EPA has yet to release details of the plan.

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Pruitt Claims Authority Over WOTUS Protection Decisions

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a directive giving himself authority to make decisions related to regulatory protections under the Clean Water Act. The one-page memo signed by Pruitt on 30 March gives the Administrator the power to make “final determinations of geographic jurisdiction” under the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule. He will now be able to make decisions regarding the protection of streams, ponds, and wetlands.

Most of these “jurisdictional determinations” are made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps), with EPA taking over the decisions in special cases “where significant issues or technical difficulties are anticipated or exist,” according to a 1989 memorandum of understanding with the Army Corps. In the past, EPA’s regional administrators would make the final recommendations and decisions. The new directive will allow Pruitt to personally assess whether a project, including coal refineries and power plants, near waterways or wetlands would have a negative environmental impact.

EPA Spokeswoman Liz Bowman stated, “This memo explains that jurisdictional determinations that raise significant issues or technical difficulties should be handled in a consistent and uniform manner, particularly during the WOTUS rulemaking. Regions will absolutely be involved in the process and work closely with the Administrator’s office when doing the work to assess jurisdiction for very select, and often rare, cases.” According to Bowman, the memo is part of the agency’s efforts to redefine WOTUS to be more restrictive than previous definitions, so that only “relatively permanent” waters get federal protections.

The memo also gives the administrator the authority to issue a Clean Water Act veto of a project that the Army Corps has permitted. EPA has had the right to veto the Army Corp’s decisions but has rarely done so in the past.

A former EPA wetland specialist, Kyla Bennett, indicated that although it is a seldom used strategy, EPA can use the threat of a veto as a bargaining chip to pressure Army Corps or developers to make environmental concessions. “If it is all in Pruitt’s hands, everyone will know that it will never happen,” she said. “It’s going to be a free-for-all. Developers will know that they can do whatever they want without minimizing the impacts.”

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Lawmakers Ask Interior to Investigate Scientific Integrity at NPS

Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate have sent letters to the Deputy Inspector General of the Interior Department, Mary Kendall, requesting an investigation into the “effectiveness of scientific integrity policy” at the National Park Service (NPS).

According to a report from Reveal, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, NPS officials have removed any mention of human role in climate change from drafts of a report on sea-level rise and storm surge. An analysis of eighteen different versions of the scientific report revealed that the word “anthropogenic” and references to “human-activities” were crossed out.

The NPS report, written by a scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, describes research that projects risks from rising sea-levels at coastal national park sites and is intended to inform park officials as well as the public on ways to protect park resources and visitors from the impacts of climate change. The long-awaited report is not yet published and has been held up for ten months.

Many scientists have criticized the move as a violation of an NPS policy to protect science from political influence. Joel Clement, a former Department of the Interior official under the Obama Administration, called the NPS report “probably the biggest scientific integrity violation at the Department of Interior, by far … because this is an actual scientific report.”

Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, had vowed earlier to Congress that the department will not be censoring science. At a Senate hearing last month, he testified, “There is no incident, no incident at all that I know that we ever changed a comma on a document itself. Now we may have on a press release… And I challenge you, any member, to find a document that we’ve actually changed on a report.”

Lawmakers have urged the Inspector General to investigate if “the changes were made in response to explicit verbal or written direction or whether they were a result of a culture of climate denial.” The House letter was signed by Representatives Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Donald McEachin (D-VA), Donald Beyer (D-VA), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). The Senate letter was signed by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

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House Appropriations Panel Examines NOAA Budget

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science held a hearing on 12 April to consider the FY 2019 budget request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The acting Administrator for the agency, Timothy Gallaudet, testified at the hearing.

Gallaudet defended the President’s plan to slash the agency’s budget by 23 percent in FY 2019, eliminate 355 jobs at the National Weather Service, and significantly reduce climate research. “We had to make some tough calls, and we decided to prioritize core government services,” expressed Gallaudet.

Gallaudet explained that increased automation and improved “business practices” at the agency will allow for budget cuts and staff reductions.

Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) expressed concerns about the elimination of the agency’s Arctic climate research program and said that the budget plan seemed to have been prepared by “climate deniers.” Worried about NOAA’s climate science work getting derailed, Cartwright said, “I hope this committee can fix the serious problems in this budget proposal.” Gallaudet responded, “We haven’t eliminated our climate work — it’s just been reduced.”

When asked about NOAA’s plan to end the agency’s coastal zone management grants, the Sea Grant program, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, and the Office of Education, Gallaudet said that termination of these programs would be necessary to focus on the Administration’s broader goals of “national security, public safety, economic growth and job creation.”

Gallaudet has been serving as the Acting Administrator since he was confirmed last October as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. President Trump’s nominee to lead NOAA, Accuweather Inc. CEO Barry Myers, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

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OMB Releases President's Management Agenda

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the President’s Management Agenda on 20 March 2018. The Agenda provides a broad framework to improve the federal government’s efficiency through modernization in key areas and is expected to guide agency reorganization plans that are supposed to become available in coming months.

The Agenda defines a long-term plan that incorporates goals of successfully accomplishing missions, providing better services to Americans, and effectively managing taxpayer dollars. The plan describes “three key drivers of transformation” that the Administration will focus on to achieve modernization. These include, information technology modernization across the government, data accountability and transparency to hold agencies accountable for tax dollars, and developing a modern federal workforce.

The Agenda establishes “Cross-Agency Priority” or CAP goals for each key area to be led by an interagency team of senior federal staff. Progress on these CAP goals can be tracked online on a quarterly basis at www.performance.gov/PMA.

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NSB Announces Public Service Award Winners

The National Science Board (NSB) has announced that Dr. Jane Lubchenco, distinguished university professor and marine studies advisor to the President at Oregon State University, will receive the 2018 Vannevar Bush Award. The award recognizes lifetime achievement for pursuits to improve the welfare of mankind and the nation through public-service activities in science, technology and public policy.

Lubchenco is an environmental scientist and marine ecologist with experience in science, academia, as well as government. She has a diverse background in ecology, zoology, marine biology, ocean management, and public policy. Lubchenco’s work has contributed extensively to the field of ecology as well as stimulated public engagement from the scientific community. She served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and on President Obama’s Science Team (2009-2013).

The NSB also announced that Dean Kamen, entrepreneur and inventor, will receive NSB’s Public Service Award, which honors exemplary service in promoting the public understanding of science and engineering. Kamen is widely known for inventing the Segway Human Transporter and several medical devices. He also founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization that promotes the understanding and use of science and technology among more than a million young people globally.

Lubchenco and Kamen will be honored during the National Science Foundation Annual Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. this May.

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New AIBS Report on Biological Sciences in the President's FY 2019 Budget Request

A new report by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) Public Policy Office analyzes the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request for biological sciences research and education.

The report summarizes proposed budget and program changes relevant to the biological sciences. The document analyzes the budget proposals for several federal agencies and programs, including National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology, United States Geological Survey, Department of Energy Office of Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency, among others.

The report is available here.

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BCoN Announces 2018 Webinar Series

The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) will convene a series of webinar programs in 2018 to share information about BCoN activities with the community and to receive community input on prior and pending BCoN programs. These webinars will include a formal presentation followed by an opportunity for participants to ask questions and share information. All programs will be recorded and posted to the BCoN website.

BCoN is supported by a National Science Foundation funded Research Coordination Network grant to the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

The first webinar, titled NIBA: A Status Report from BCoN, will be held 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. Eastern time on April 25, 2018. In 2017, BCoN convened a two-day workshop of biodiversity collections community stakeholders to review community progress toward the goals and objectives outlined in the Strategic and Implementation Plans for a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA). This webinar will summarize the findings from that workshop.

Click here for more information regarding the webinar series and to register.

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Registration Open for 2018 AIBS Writing for Impact and Influence Course

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program to help scientists and students hone their written communication skills to increase the power of their message.

Writing for Impact and Influence combines practical instruction and hands-on exercises to improve participants’ general writing proficiency and their ability to reach large audiences. The program will provide participants with the skills and tools needed to compose scientific press releases, blog posts, emails, and memoranda.

Learn to write for stakeholders, decision-makers, and the general public, with a focus on perfecting the reader experience.

The course consists of six 90-minute online modules conducted live and will begin on Thursday, 7 June 2018, with subsequent course sessions held weekly on Thursdays (except July 5). Individuals who actively participate in and complete the full course will receive a certificate recognizing that they have completed a nine-hour professional development course on business writing for scientists.

Register now: http://io.aibs.org/writing

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Enter the 2018 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, researcher, technician, collections curator, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, with 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 along with 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 2017 contest was featured on the cover of the April 2018 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 1 October 2018.

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

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Short Takes

  • The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF) have published their report “Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities,” which incorporates data collected from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). According to the latest SED, U.S. institutions awarded 54,904 research doctorate degrees in 2016, only five fewer than the record high in 2015. In 2016, the largest share of doctorates awarded was in the life sciences (23 percent), followed by engineering (17 percent), and psychology and the social sciences (16.5 percent). To read the full report go to: https://www.nsf.gov/news/newssumm.jsp?cntnid=244922&WT.mcid=USNSF51&WT.mc_ev=click

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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 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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