White House Nominates Science Adviser

President Trump has nominated Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorologist and Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma, to be the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. If confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Droegemeier will serve as the President’s chief science adviser.

The Director of OSTP advises the Administration on determining government spending for science and response strategies to challenges, such as public health disasters and climate change.

Dr. Droegemeier has expertise in extreme-weather forecasting and has led two National Science Foundation (NSF) funded centers, one focused on predicting storms and the other on adaptive atmospheric sensing. He was also nominated by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to serve on the National Science Board, the governing board of NSF. He has been a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma for 33 years, where he is currently a University Administrator. He is also the Secretary of Science and Technology for Governor Mary Fallin (R-OK) and has worked on weather and climate issues for former Governor Brad Henry (D-OK). Droegemeier earned his Ph.D. in atmospheric science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The President’s nominee has testified before Congress several times and has spoken favorably about climate research. In 2013, Dr. Droegemeier testified before the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment that climate models “can be useful for determining future environments” and extreme storms in the future. “Our understanding of, and ability to predict, high-impact weather will improve climate model representations of storms, precipitation, the radiation budget and even chemical processes,” he said.

Dr. Droegemeier co-authored an op-ed last year along with Daniel Reed, a former Vice President at Microsoft, warning about the declining research spending in the United States. “U.S. government investment in basic research is now at a 40-year low as a percentage of [gross domestic product]. This places the ‘miracle machine’ in grave danger.”

The President’s nominee has received support from the scientific community. According to John Holdren, who served as OSTP Director under President Obama, Dr. Droegemeier is a “respected senior scientist and an experienced adviser on science policy to state and national leaders.” He said, “I expect he’ll be energetic in defending the R&D budget and climate change research in particular.”

Droegemeier also won bipartisan support from lawmakers, including Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a self-proclaimed climate change denier, Senator James Lankford (R-OK), and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

The position for OSTP Director has remained vacant for over 18 months, a record length of time that any modern President has been without a science adviser. During the Trump Administration, the number of OSTP staff dropped down from 135 under President Obama to 35 last year. The number has since grown to 60 under Acting Director Michael Kratsios.

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Senate Approves Second Appropriations "Minibus"

The Senate has passed a second appropriations package for fiscal year (FY) 2019, including the funding bills for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

This marked the first time since FY 2010 that the Senate debated and approved an Interior and Environment spending bill without considering it as a part of a year-end omnibus spending package. Lawmakers adopted 58 amendments before approving the “minibus” package, including one for expanding federal actions to address lead in drinking water and another for fighting algal blooms. An amendment to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund was not adopted, despite receiving some bipartisan support.

The spending package will now go to conference with the House, which passed its version of the “minibus” earlier in July.

The Senate bill would provide the Department of Interior, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies $35.9 billion, about $600 million more than the House bill. EPA would receive flat funding of $8.1 billion under the Senate bill, while the House bill would slash its budget by 100 million. The U.S. Geological Survey will receive flat funding under the Senate bill and a slightly increased budget under the House bill. Both bills have largely ignored the deep cuts proposed to the Department of Interior and EPA by the President.

The agriculture spending bill approved by Senate provides $2.73 billion (-10 percent) to agricultural research, including $1.301 billion (-$42 million) for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), $1.425 billion (+$17 million) for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and $405 million (+$5 million) for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

The first “minibus” spending package, which included spending bills for Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs had been approved by both chambers earlier in June and is expected to be ready for the President’s signature by early September. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) intends to “steer clear” of another year-end omnibus spending package and said that the Senate will be in session for most of August to work on appropriations. Appropriators have indicated that the next spending package they consider could potentially combine spending bills for Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which account for 75 percent of all discretionary spending.

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Scientists Warn about Threat to Biodiversity from Border Wall

A recently published Viewpoint article co-authored by eighteen scientists warns about harmful impacts of constructing a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The report is focused on the effects of a wall on biodiversity conservation and binational cooperation on research and conservation. Lead author, Robert Peters, invited scientists to “endorse” the report. More than 2,800 scientists from at least 50 countries had endorsed the article as of August 6, 2018.

According to the Viewpoint article published in BioScience on July 24, “In North America, along the 3200-kilometer US-Mexico border, fence and wall construction over the past decade and efforts by the Trump administration to complete a continuous border “wall” threaten some of the continent’s most biologically diverse regions. Already-built sections of the wall are reducing the area, quality, and connectivity of plant and animal habitats and are compromising more than a century of binational investment in conservation.”

The authors warn about the destruction of wildlife habitat and losses to scientific research resulting from a continuous and impermeable wall. Among the concerns are the cascading effects that can result from fragmenting species habitat, such as the potential to disrupt populations of pollinators or on the species that help to control populations of disease carrying organisms. This has real impacts on the ecosystems and human populations on both sides of the border.

“This would be the only wall on earth that would split a continent,” said Jennifer Miller, a co-author of the report and a senior scientist at Defenders of Wildlife.

The report suggests some solutions to address the potentially harmful impacts of the wall. The authors urge Congress to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) follow U.S. environmental laws; identify species, habitats and ecological resources at risk from barrier construction and security operations; design barriers that permit maximum wildlife permeability where possible; and purchase or restore replacement habitats when environmental harm is inevitable. The authors also call on DHS to “facilitate scientific research in the borderlands to complement and assist environmental evaluation and mitigation efforts.” Read the article here: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biy063/5057517

A DHS spending bill that would allocate $5 billion for the border wall is currently being considered by the House Appropriations Committee. President Trump initially agreed to a plan proposed by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to defer the consideration of border wall funding to later in the year. The Republican leadership’s proposal is intended to avoid a government shutdown right before the November elections. However, according to recent reports, the President has again threatened to shutter the government to extract funding from Congress for the border wall.

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President's USFS, DOE, and CEQ Nominees Advancing through Senate

Several nominations for key science and environmental posts in the Trump Administration are advancing through the confirmation process in the Senate.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has approved President Trump’s nominee, James Hubbard, for Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment. Hubbard, a former Colorado state forester, will oversee the United States Forest Service. Hubbard has received support from forest industry groups and foresters for his experience with forest policy. He retired from his position as Deputy Forest Service Chief for State and Private Forestry in 2017. He has served in various committee positions at the National Association of State Foresters.

Dr. Chris Fall, a neuroscientist and the White House’s nominee to lead the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, has been approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Fall is currently the Acting Head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) at DOE and has worked for the Office of Naval Research and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Obama.

The Senate panel also advanced Daniel Simmons to be Assistant Secretary of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Prior to serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of EERE, Simmons was Vice President of Policy at the Institute for Energy Research, which has previously questioned renewable energy subsidies and called for eliminating EERE.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved Mary Neumayr as the Chairwoman for Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which coordinates environmental policy and regulations across agencies. Neumayr is currently the Chief of Staff and highest-ranking official at CEQ and has previously served as Deputy Chief Counsel of Energy and Environment, Senior Energy Counsel, and Counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The nominations will now be considered by the full Senate, where confirmation of nominees has been slowed down by partisan divide.

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NOAA Chief Faces Questions on "Blue Economy" Proposal, Budget Cuts

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Acting Administrator Timothy Gallaudet testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard on July 24, 2018. Lawmakers questioned Gallaudet about NOAA’s plan to triple aquaculture production in the United States to reduce seafood imports.

NOAA’s “blue economy” plan is intended to boost ocean farming and mineral extraction, produce more seafloor maps, increase vessel safety at seaports, and promote energy development and tourism opportunities. “One-half of the global seafood supply is farmed, but in the U.S., less than 10 percent of our seafood is from aquaculture,” Gallaudet said. He also said that NOAA needs to work towards promoting energy production and mineral extraction. “Relying on foreign sources of critical minerals is a national security vulnerability that NOAA can help address through ocean exploration,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers insisted that such a proposal must also include environmental protections. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the ranking member on the subcommittee, questioned Gallaudet on why he removed the word “climate” from a NOAA presentation delivered at a Commerce Department “Vision Setting Summit” in June 2018.

Gallaudet said the proposed change was intended “merely to foster discussion” and has already been changed. “We are committed to NOAA’s climate and conservation elements of our mission,” he assured the Senator.

Gallaudet was also asked about the Administration proposed deep cuts to the agency’s budget, including a $50 million cut to climate change research. “Of course, we had to make tough priority calls,” replied Gallaudet, adding that other federal agencies also conduct climate change research. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) asserted that climate research should be led by “the very agency that is tasked with studying the climate, and that’s your agency: NOAA.”

Gallaudet also defended Administration’s proposal to eliminate grant programs, such as the Sea Grant and coastal zone management and resilience grants, saying that these were a lower priority in a budget that stressed national security.

Congressional Appropriators have largely ignored President Trump’s budget request for NOAA, but the agency is still looking at a 7 to 13 percent budget cut in fiscal year 2019.

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Prepare Your Resume, Hone Your Interview Skills

Registration is now open for the Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists, a new professional development program by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate programs in the United States do an excellent job of preparing students for careers in academia. As students and a growing number of reports note, however, many STEM graduate students are interested in employment in a variety of sectors by the time they complete their degree. Students continue to report that they feel ill-prepared and ill-equipped to pursue employment in these settings.

In response to this frustration heard from many graduate students, AIBS has developed a program to help scientists hone and practice the skills needed to secure employment. AIBS’s Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists is an intensive, two-day program that is a blend of lecture and hands-on exercises. Designed by scientists and a career coach, this program provides graduate students to senior scientists with the information, tools, and resources required to successfully identify and secure employment in a diversity of career pathways, including science policy, communications, program management, government, non-governmental organizations, international development, and others.

Course participants will:

  • Identify career interests and opportunities;
  • Learn to communicate their knowledge and skills to employers;
  • Develop strategies for finding employment;
  • Develop application materials;
  • Prepare for and practice different interview styles and scenarios;
  • Talk to scientists working in diverse employment settings and individuals responsible for making hiring decisions.

Current graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and scientists interested in transitioning to a new employment sector should consider signing up.

The program will be held in Washington, DC on December 17-18, 2018. For more information and to register, visit https://www.aibs.org/events/employmentbootcamp.html.

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Expand Your Broader Impact Skills: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’s highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp is an intensive, two-day, hands-on training program that will be held in Washington, DC on October 15-16, 2018.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What decision-makers want to hear from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to leverage social media
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Participants will also have the opportunity for formal and informal discussions with science policy and communications experts working in Washington, DC.

AIBS Individual Members and individuals nominated to participate by an AIBS Member Society/Organization receive a $55 discount on registration.

Learn more about the program and register now at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communicationsbootcamp.html.

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Short Takes

  • The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has withdrawn a 2016 policy intended to mitigate the impacts of land and water developments on wildlife, plants, fish, and their habitats. The policy, adopted under the Obama Administration, directed Federal agencies to create a "net gain" goal, or at least a "no net loss" goal, for affected natural resources. The 1981 policy replacing the withdrawn policy could reduce delays in development projects but exclude considerations for endangered species. According to the notice, published in the Federal Register on July 30, the withdrawn language is "inconsistent with current Executive branch policy."
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a new report on their review of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) measurement services and standards-support activities, examining the challenges the agency faces in providing these services and the extent to which the agency has taken steps to address them and align its work with Federal guidance. GAO found that NIST has taken steps to address challenges in prioritizing and coordinating its work, but needs to better align its activities with federal policies. GAO recommended that NIST comprehensively review measurement services and documentary-standards activities, and work with other agencies to take steps to strengthen interagency coordination. Read more about the report and GAO's recommendations here: https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-445?utm_campaign=usgao_email&utm_content=topic_scienceandtech&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

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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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