AIBS Congressional Testimony Calls for Increased FY 2019 Science Funding

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has provided testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees regarding fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), as well as for biological research programs within the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

AIBS urged Congress to reject the deep cuts proposed for many agencies in the President’s FY 2019 budget request and to continue the bipartisan tradition of investing in our nation’s scientific capacity. AIBS encouraged Congress to provide the NSF with at least $8.45 billion; the USGS with $1.2 billion, along with $174 million for the Ecosystems mission area and restored funding for the Biological Survey Unit; EPA Science and Technology with at least $760 million; restored funding for Science Support at USFWS; and new funding to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of Natural History.

Read the testimony submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20180426aibstestimony_1.html

Read the testimony submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20180427aibstestimony_2.html

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EPA Administrator Under Ten Ethics Investigations Signs "Secret Science" Proposal

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule on April 24, 2018 intended to restrict the use of science in crafting regulations. The proposed rule would do this by prohibiting the use of research for which data are not publicly available.

The “secret science” proposal titled “strengthening transparency and validity in regulatory science” was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on April 19, 2018. “We need to make sure [scientists’] data and methodology are published as part of the record,” said Pruitt. “Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important.” E&E News reported that OMB completed its review of the proposed rule a day after Pruitt signed it, breaking protocol. After reports of the discrepancy surfaced, OMB backdated the review completion date to suggest it had been completed a day prior to Pruitt releasing the proposed rule.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) have given their support to the proposal. Smith had also met with Pruitt in January to discuss the issue. Both Smith and Rounds have previously introduced legislation that would bar the EPA from using data that is not “transparent or reproducible.” Versions of the legislation have previously been passed by the House of Representatives but had ultimately died in the Senate.

The proposed rule, however, is more specific than the legislation and is intended to increase access to “dose response data” that measure the reaction of animal or human subjects to increasing levels of pollutants or other chemicals and are used in developing regulations. “Considering the breadth of dose response data and models used in the development of significant EPA regulations, the requirements for availability may differ,” the proposed rule reads. “These mechanisms may range from deposition in public data repositories, consistent with requirements for many scientific journals, to, for certain types of information, controlled access in federal research data centers that facilitate secondary research use by the public.”

Nancy Beck, deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s chemicals office, raised concerns about the policy in emails released under a Freedom of Information Act Request. “Making data available is very different than requiring a publication requirement. Such a requirement would be incredibly burdensome, not practical and you would need to create a whole new arm of the publishing industry to publish these types of studies that nobody is interested in,” she wrote.

The proposal would also grant the Administrator the power to exempt regulatory decisions on a “case-by-case basis” if compliance is deemed “impracticable.”

There will be a 30-day public comment period once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, after which a final rule will be issued. Many science policy experts view the proposed rule as an attempt to paralyze rulemaking because many studies rely on scientific data that cannot be made public for reasons such as patient privacy or industry confidentiality. The effort would also cost millions of dollars to execute.

Administrator Pruitt signed-off on the proposed rule, while facing several ethics investigations by EPA, lawmakers, as well as the White House. Pruitt testified before two House committees on April 26 after several allegations surfaced that he had misused taxpayer money, sidelined EPA staff who opposed some actions, and that he misrepresented relationships with lobbyists. The Administrator received scathing criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the hearing.

According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the agency broke appropriations law when they failed to inform lawmakers about a $43,000 secure phone booth Pruitt installed in his office. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) questioned Pruitt about his use of multiple email accounts in a letter. Barrasso added that he would not be holding any hearings on the issue but would wait to see how the White House responds.

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White House Rescissions Proposal Could Cut Funding from Omnibus Spending Bill

The White House is expected to send a proposal to Congress, potentially drawing funding cuts, known as rescissions, from the recently approved omnibus spending package for fiscal year (FY) 2018.

The White House plan is based on a 1974 budget law that allows the President to propose rescissions, which then need to be approved by Congress within 45 days. In its FY 2018 budget request, the Trump Administration had proposed deep cuts to several agencies, which were rejected in the final FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act. The President had expressed opposition to increased domestic spending and had initially threatened to veto the bill before finally signing it into law. The rescissions proposal could be seen as a way to reverse some of those increases.

The proposal has received skepticism from several lawmakers. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said, “If we reach agreement, we ought to honor it. That’s the way I always believed.” Shelby believes that it would be difficult to get the proposal approved by the committee but did not rule out some cuts. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) also expressed doubts about the proposal advancing in the Senate but added, “Obviously, we ended up spending more money than many Republicans, including me, were happy with, but that was the price of getting the defense spending number at an acceptable level. I think it’s worth talking about, but the devil is going to be in the details.”

Other Republican lawmakers like Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, as well as Democratic lawmakers are also wary of the Administration’s effort to reverse spending. Democrats are also worried about the prospect of the rescissions package causing agencies to put plans on hold until the matter is resolved.

According to Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), who discussed the proposal with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, $25 billion is likely to be the “ceiling” for any package. Cole indicated that the package could take money from unobligated funds, which is money that agencies did not spend in the past. But if it draws cuts from the new spending package, the move could cause delays in and undermine bipartisan negotiations for next year’s appropriations.

The rescissions proposal is being pushed by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to placate conservatives opposed to the recent budget deal and possibly to help his expected bid to take over as the next House Speaker.

The White House also sought $14 billion in rescissions last year in a bid to pay for emergency hurricane relief, with the proposal taking unallocated funds from a Department of Energy Program. Another proposal requested $1 billion in rescissions related to Superstorm Sandy. However, these proposals were ignored by Congress.

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Biologists Visited Congress as Part of AIBS Grassroots Event

Biological scientists from Alaska to Florida and California to Connecticut were in Washington, DC, on April 16-17, 2018, to participate in an AIBS communications and advocacy training workshop. Following the training program, scientists headed to Capitol Hill where they spent April 18 meeting with their members of Congress. The meetings provided participants with an opportunity to put into practice what they had learned in the training program, while also advocating for increased federal funding for scientific research.

The meetings with members of Congress were an opportunity for scientists to help lawmakers understand the importance of sustained federal investments in scientific research, particularly how federal investments support cutting-edge research in their districts and states. Most participants talked with their elected officials about the need for Congress to appropriate at least $8.45 billion to the National Science Foundation in FY 2019, but some discussed the importance of new investments in the National Institutes of Health and United States Department of Agriculture.

In addition to AIBS members, scientists participating in the event represented: Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society of Naturalists, Animal Behavior Society, Botanical Society of America, Ecological Society of America, American Society for Microbiology, Genetics Society of America, Organization of Biological Field Stations, American Society of Mammalogists, American Society for Plant Biology, and American Society for Plant Taxonomy.

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Over 500 Scientists Issue Statement Rebuking President Trump

Over five hundred and seventy scientists, who are members of the National Academy of Sciences, have issued a statement publicly denouncing the Trump Administration’s “denigration of scientific expertise and harassment of scientists.”

Scientists from social, biological, environmental, and physical sciences published the statement independently of the Academy. They note in the statement that the dismissal of scientific evidence in policy formulation with respect to climate science is particularly “egregious.” The signatories highlight the efforts led by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to hold a “Red Team/Blue Team” debate on the validity of climate change research and brands it as an exercise that “seeks to foster erroneous impression of deep uncertainty concerning reality and seriousness of anthropogenically driven climate change.”

In 2016, three hundred and seventy-five scientists published an open letter warning against the dangers of human-induced climate change and the negative consequences of U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Many of those scientists have also signed the new statement, which stresses that “human-caused climate disruption” has become more apparent.

In the statement, the scientists urge the government “to maintain scientific content on publicly accessible websites, to appoint qualified personnel to positions requiring scientific expertise, to cease censorship and intimidation of Government scientists, and to reverse the decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.”

Read the statement here: https://scientistsforsciencebasedpolicy.org/

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NASEM Report Calls for Reforms to Support Young Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has released a new report entitled “The Next Generation of Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences Researchers: Breaking Through,” which examines the policy and programmatic steps to ensure successful and sustained careers for scientists, particularly postdoctoral researchers. The report calls for substantial reforms to “strengthen the U.S. Biomedical Research System for the next generation of scientists” and urges Congress, federal agencies, universities, and other research institutions to take significant steps to empower early career scientists.

The report makes several recommendations, such as levying a fee of $1,000 on principal investigators (PIs) for every postdoc they hire and requiring that the funds support mentorship and professional development programs for postdocs; increasing the number of National Institutes of Health (NIH) individual research fellowships and career development awards five-fold over five years to give scientists more autonomy; a 3-year hard cap on the duration that postdocs can be funded by a PI’s grants to encourage postdocs to seek more permanent staff positions or employment outside academia; and raising postdoc salaries coming out of NIH grants from $43,700 to $52,700, which would in turn serve as a model for institutional postdoc salaries.

The report also identifies obstacles that have hindered prior reform efforts such as “a lack of shared guardianship between the federal government and research institutions, constrained funding for NIH, and a lack of data on the career outcomes of young researchers, which has prevented students and trainees from making informed decisions about their career options.” The report makes recommendations to Congress, NIH, and research institutions to overcome these obstacles by creating conditions conducive for sustained change.

The report, commissioned by Congress in 2016, was prepared by the NASEM Committee on the Next Generation Initiative. It is informed by an 18-month study that collected career aspiration, training, and outcome data from NIH, research institutions, and professional societies and incorporated suggestions from individual university administrators and biomedical scientists.

Read the report here: https://www.nap.edu/download/25008#

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Senate Confirms NASA Administrator

Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) was confirmed as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator by a narrow 50-49 vote in the Senate on April 19, 2018.

There was a dramatic turn during the vote when Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who had initially voted against the nominee, changed his vote. Also notable for this vote, for the first time in the history of the Senate, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), recently out of maternity leave, brought her newborn baby to the Senate floor while she cast her vote.

Democratic lawmakers unanimously voted against Bridenstine, citing concerns over his lack of science experience and views on climate change. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) said, “Jim Bridenstine, the nominee we are considering, served as a Navy pilot, and I thank him for his service, but that does not qualify him to run NASA. Just because you know how to fly a plane does not mean that you have the skills and experience to lead the federal government’s space agency.”

Republican Senators defended Bridenstine’s “remarkable record of service” and pointed to his recent legislation, the American Space Renaissance Act, which was sponsored by Bridenstine and did not make it past Committee. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) said, “If ever there were a need for a renaissance in space, it’s now. Because who can deny that ever since Neil Armstrong’s fateful one small step in 1969, America has in some respects been retreating from space?”

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee had approved Bridenstine’s nomination earlier this year, but it was unclear for a while if he had enough support to be confirmed by the Senate. NASA has been without an Administrator for the past 15 months, with Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot serving as Acting Administrator. Lightfoot recently announced that is retiring.

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Stay Up-to-Date on Biodiversity Collections: BCoN 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 next webinar, titled Collections Communications: A Report from BCoN, will be held 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. Eastern time on May 2, 2018. One goal of BCoN is the identification of ways for the community to sustainably advance the goals and objectives outlined in the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA) strategic and implementation plans. Among these goals are improved community governance and the development of a community positioned to sustainably advance the digitization efforts associated with biodiversity collections. Toward this end, BCoN recognized that improved communication with various stakeholders within and outside of the biodiversity collections community is essential. BCoN thus organized a workshop to identify communication needs and resources to help advance the goals of the NIBA and the community more generally. This webinar explores the recommendations arising from this workshop.

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

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Increase Your Career Opportunities and Your Impact: 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, June 7, 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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Short Takes

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) has scheduled its first in-person meeting after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s controversial directive to bar active recipients of EPA grants to serve on the board. SAB members have traditionally been academic researchers, several of whom were forced to leave under the new policy and were replaced by associates of the industries regulated by EPA. The SAB advises EPA on a wide range of scientific and technical issues and will be discussing the agency’s semi-annual regulatory agenda during their meeting scheduled for May 31 and June 1 in Washington, D.C.
  • A new piece of legislation introduced by Representative Don McEachin (D-VA), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and investigations, would “prohibit any reduction, consolidation, or termination of offices and activities related to science research” within the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill is aimed at protecting the National Center for Environmental Research and related initiatives at the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers that promote public health. The legislation titled “Healthy Environment for Children Act” has been referred to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

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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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