Congress Extends Stopgap Funding by Two Weeks

A partial government shutdown has been averted for another two weeks, until December 21, after Congress passed a second stopgap funding bill on December 6, 2018, to fund some parts of the federal government. The bill funds at fiscal year (FY) 2018 levels federal agencies for which fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations have not yet been signed into law, including the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Science Foundation.

Congress had approved several FY 2019 funding bills before going into recess prior to the midterm elections and had passed a continuing resolution to fund the remaining agencies at FY 2018 levels until December 7. Lawmakers planned to complete work on FY 2019 appropriations during the lame-duck session but negotiations over funding President Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall and the death of former President George H.W. Bush kept lawmakers from reaching a deal on the spending bills.

The second stopgap measure has delayed the chance of a partial government shutdown to later in the month. The President has been pushing for $5 billion in funding for the border wall but Democratic lawmakers have so far agreed to allocate only $1.6 billion. “Somebody will have to blink,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has suggested passing six of the seven remaining spending bills that have bipartisan support, while extending current level funding for Homeland Security, which includes funding for the border wall, through the end of FY 2019. E&E News has reported that there is some bipartisan support for this proposal, but lawmakers are concerned that President Trump could simply veto any spending bill that Congress approves if the border wall does not get funded.

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Administration Releases Dire National Climate Report

The second volume of the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment Report has been released. The document summarizes key climate science findings and highlights the impacts of climate change on communities as well as the U.S. economy. Actions to reduce risks, including global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are identified. The first volume, released in October 2017, presented the assessment of the physical science that is the foundation for the second volume.

The assessment recognizes that climate change will adversely impact more Americans, particularly low-income communities, cause significant financial losses, damage infrastructure, and debilitate social systems. “The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country,” the report states. “More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.” The report warns that “sea level rise might reshape the U.S. population distribution” by causing millions of Americans to move away from the coast.

The report also discusses how the effects of climate change on regions outside the United States could impact the United States. “The impacts of climate change, variability, and extreme events outside the United States are affecting and are virtually certain to increasingly affect U.S. trade and economy, including import and export prices and businesses with overseas operations and supply chains,” states the report.

The study notes that climate change could shrink the economy by as much as 10 percent by the end of the century and significantly decrease agricultural yields. Among some of the potential economic impacts, the report predicts $141 billion in heat-related deaths, $118 billion in coastal property damage, and $32 billion in infrastructure development costs.

“Extreme weather events are expected to be more intense and more frequent in a warming world,” said David Reidmiller, Director of the National Climate Assessment of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. He added that climate change will impact air quality and destroy fisheries and other ecosystems.

President Trump has rejected the findings of the assessment. “I don’t believe it,” he responded when asked about the report’s findings that climate change could adversely impact the economy. “Right now, we’re at the cleanest we’ve ever been,” he added. “If we’re clean and every other place on Earth is dirty, that’s not so good.”

Some Republican lawmakers acknowledged the impact of human activity on climate change but considered the report “alarmist.” Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) said, “It’s clear that it’s changing, and it’s clear that humans are a contributing factor,” but added that “it’s going to need to be a conversation, again, that doesn’t start with alarmism but that starts with some discussion of the magnitude of the challenge, the global elements to it, and how the U.S. shouldn’t just do this as a feel-good measure.”

Other Republican lawmakers agreed with President Trump’s stance that the climate will stop warming on its own. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) said, “We know that our climate is changing…Our climate always changes, and we see those ebb and flows through time.”

Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler accused the Obama Administration of influencing the report and suggested that the Trump Administration could seek to control the models used for the next study. “Going forward, I think we need to take a look at the modeling that’s used for the next assessment…The drafting of this report was drafted at the direction of the Obama administration,” he said. “And I don’t know this for a fact — I wouldn’t be surprised if the Obama administration told the report’s authors to take a look at the worst-case scenario for this report.”

The National Climate Assessment report is congressionally mandated to be prepared every four years by scientists from 13 federal agencies. The fourth installment was written by more than 300 authors, including Federal and State government scientists as well as scientists from the private sector.

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White House Unveils Strategy for STEM Education

The White House has released a five-year strategic plan for STEM education, which defines the federal government’s role in advancing STEM education through collaborations with state and local stakeholders, the education community, and industry.

The plan identifies several goals, including building foundations for a STEM-literate citizenry, training a STEM workforce for the future, increasing diversity and inclusion, engaging students in interdisciplinary activities, and building computational literacy.

In response, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced that it will be partnering with other federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to support NSF INCLUDES National Network, a program aimed at diversifying the STEM workforce. NSF INCLUDES was launched in 2016 as one of the “10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investment.”

NSF will be supporting the White House strategy by committing $10 million to its Data Science Corps, which will provide basic training courses in data science and also expects to fund 200 industry and other non-academic internships of up to $55,000 for graduate students in FY 2019 and FY 2020 through the NSF INTERN program.

NASA has announced that it will work with the NSF INCLUDES community to broaden participation in STEM careers and elevate its Advisory Council Ad Hoc Task Force on STEM education to the status of a permanent, standing committee.

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NSF Seeks Community Input on Fundamental Biological Research

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is requesting input from the community on fundamental biological research questions and topics, specifically on the idea of creating “Integration Institutes for Cross-cutting Biology” to integrate diverse sub-disciplines of biology and support collaborative teams of researchers. NSF seeks ideas that span multiple levels of organization in living systems and require expertise from diverse biological subdisciplines.

The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2019. The Request for Information is available here: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2019/nsf19027/nsf19027.jsp

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Call for Applications: 2019 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is now accepting applications for the 2019 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who are demonstrating an interest and aptitude for working at the intersection of science and policy.

Recipients of the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the AIBS Congressional Visits Day, an annual event where scientists meet with lawmakers to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on March 18-20, 2019. Domestic travel and hotel expenses are paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding, and how to engage with policymakers and the news media.
  • Meetings with lawmakers to discuss the importance of federal investment in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2019 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior recipients, including Honorable Mentions, are not eligible for the award.

Applications are due by 05:00 PM Eastern Time on January 14, 2019. The application guidelines can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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Enhance your Interdisciplinary and Team Science Skills

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and individuals who work with or participate in scientific teams.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was designed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams. From its first offering the course has evolved to include a greater focus on team planning and teamwork, and less time allocated to university administration of interdisciplinary teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team, with scientific case studies and examples.

This course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together. We can also customize the course and bring it to your university, department, lab, or research team. This course provides the right foundation from which your team can successfully accomplish your goals.

The program will be held on January 14-15, 2019 in Washington DC. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html

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Short Takes

  • Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) will serve as Ranking Member of the House Science Committee next year. "As the Democrats retake control of the House, I look forward to leading my Republican colleagues in holding the new majority accountable and promoting a conservative agenda," he said. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is expected to serve as the Chair of the committee.

  • Representative Kay Granger (R-TX) won GOP support to serve as the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. She will likely serve alongside Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), who is expected to be the next Chair and the first woman to lead the panel.

  • Funding for research and development (R&D) conducted by higher education institutions in the United States reached $75.3 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2017, an increase of 4.7 percent from FY 2016, according to the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey conducted by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within the National Science Foundation (NSF). In FY 2017, the federal government provided the highest share of this funding at 53.5 percent. According to the survey results two-thirds of the $3.4 billion growth in R&D spending for FY 2017 resulted from increases in the life sciences subfields of biological and biomedical sciences (+ $664 million) and health sciences (+ $1.6 million).

  • The Senate Agriculture Committee has approved Dr. Scott Hutchins to be the next Undersecretary for Research, Economics, and Education at the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The White House nominated Dr. Hutchins, who has a background in entomology and insect management, to lead USDA's research efforts back in July 2018.

  • Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced that Matt Lohr, a former lawmaker from Virginia and former state agriculture commissioner, will be leading the Natural Resources Conservation Service at the USDA. Lohr will become the first permanent head of the agency that manages several conservation programs under the current Administration.

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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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