Government Opens Temporarily as Longest Shutdown in History Ends

The 35-day partial government shutdown ended on January 25, 2019, after President Trump announced a deal with congressional leaders to reopen the government for three weeks during which time a conference committee would negotiate the homeland security provisions of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations - the legislation that funds border security.

Congress quickly passed a continuing resolution on the same day the deal was announced to fund until February 15 agencies that had been shuttered since December 22. The legislation did not include funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Disagreement between the President and Congress on border wall funding had prompted the government shutdown.

“This is an opportunity for all parties to work together for the benefit of our whole beautiful, wonderful nation,” said the President. He added, “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” alluding to declaring a disaster in order to make funding available for the border wall.

Congressional appropriators on the conference committee have initiated talks over appropriations and border security and are hopeful that a deal will be reached before the 3-week deadline. “Except for Homeland Security, we are very close to agreement on the six appropriations bills. While we have some differences on disaster relief and recovery, I believe we can come to a speedy agreement there, as well,” said House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY). An agreement on Homeland Security funding is yet to be reached, with Democratic lawmakers insisting on not allocating any funding for the border wall. E&E News reported that Senate Republicans favor a combination of physical barriers, more security personnel, and expanded technology.

Although, the President has ensured that all federal workers will receive their back pay “very quickly or as soon as possible,” the shutdown is expected to have long term impacts on the operations of the agencies that were shuttered for more than a month. Research agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will need to spend significant effort in resuming operations and catching up on the work they were unable to perform during the course of the shutdown. At NSF, this includes processing frozen award transactions and scheduling more than a hundred review panels that were suspended as a result of the shutdown.

In January, AIBS issued a statement expressing concern for the long-term impacts of the shutdown and urging that the government be funded. AIBS also endorsed the call from a large coalition of scientific societies and universities that urged the President and Congress to end the government shutdown and provide $8.175 billion to NSF for FY 2019. Read the letter from the Coalition for National Science Funding here: https://cnsf.us/statements/CNSFPartialGovernmentShutdownLetter_1.23.19.pdf

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Report Details Attacks on Federal Science, Urges Congressional Oversight

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) asserts that the Trump Administration has sidelined science when making critical decisions. The report details an extensive list of instances where science was undermined in the first two years of the Administration. The report, “The State of Science in the Trump Era,” urges Congress to investigate such policies and decisions and pass legislation to reinforce the role of science at federal agencies.

UCS lists 80 examples of “attacks on science” across agencies, ranging from censorship of scientific findings, sidelining science advisory committees, restricting conference attendance, and halting, editing, or suppressing studies. A significant proportion of the listed incidents occurred at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The administration is trying to accomplish its goals by pushing science out of the process,” said Jacob Carter, lead author on the report and a research scientist at UCS. “Science is being silenced, in a truly unprecedented way — and we’re all paying the cost.”

The report offers detailed recommendations for Congress to use its oversight powers to ensure that policy decisions are supported by scientific evidence and urges lawmakers to investigate the possibility of “inappropriate corporate influence”. “For the first time in two years, we could see some meaningful checks and balances in Washington,” said Carter, referring to Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives after the 2018 midterm elections. “There’s a lot of damage to undo, but we have a roadmap to get there.”

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Invitation: Meeting and Workshop on Biological Collections

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is organizing a public meeting of the Committee on Biological Collections: Their Past, Present, and Future Contributions and Options for Sustaining Them. The meeting is intended to examine history and value of biological collections in research and education. More information about the study and the meeting is available at https://www8.nationalacademies.org/pa/projectview.aspx?key=51270

Members of the public are welcome to give brief public statements for the committee’s consideration. Input can also be submitted in writing through the study website. All written materials submitted to the committee will be included in the Public Access File created for the Committee and may be quoted in whole or in part in the Committee’s report with attribution.

The meeting will take place on February 7-8, 2019 at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, DC. The meeting will also be available via webcast.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/biological-collections-their-past-present-and-future-contributions-and-options-for-sustaining-them-tickets-55657594363

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NASEM Convenes Panel on Safeguarding U.S. Bioeconomy

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has convened an ad hoc committee to consider strategies for safeguarding and sustaining the bioeconomy, defined as the economic activity driven by research and innovation in the life sciences.

The committee has been tasked with outlining the landscape of the U.S. bioeconomy, identifying approaches for assessing the value of the bioeconomy, developing a framework to measure the value of intangible assets, such as datasets and intellectual property, and identifying potential economic and national security risks and policy gaps.

According to NASEM, “Maintaining competitiveness in the bioeconomy is key to maintaining the economic health and security of the United States and other nations. This study is being undertaken to define and assess the scope of U.S. bioeconomy.”

In their final consensus report, the panel will identify multiple approaches to safeguarding the bioeconomy, provide analyses of the pros and cons of each strategy, and recommend the most effective strategies to protect the technologies, data, and other intellectual property, while sustaining innovation and growth.

Read more about the study at http://nas-sites.org/dels/studies/bioeconomy/

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Participate in 2019 Congressional Visits Day

Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences on March 26-27 for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

Meet with your members of Congress to help them understand the important role the federal government plays in supporting the biological sciences. Advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research supported by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.

Participants will complete a communications and advocacy training program provided by AIBS that prepares them to be effective advocates for their science. AIBS also provides participants with background information and materials, as well as arranges meetings with lawmakers.

Supplemental training program: In conjunction with the 2019 Congressional Visits Day, AIBS is offering its highly acclaimed Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This professional development training course will be offered on March 25-26. All participants who complete the course will receive a certificate of completion indicating that they have successfully completed 12 hours of communications training. This professional development training program provides practical instruction and interactive exercises designed to help scientists (e.g. researchers, graduate students, professionals, educators) translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to effectively engage with decision-makers and the news media. For more information and to register for the training program click here.

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Express your interest in participating in the event by registering. Registration will close on February 15, 2019. Space is limited and it may not be possible to accommodate the participation of all interested individuals.

Register at: https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html

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Short Takes

  • Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has announced the appointment of eight new members to the Agency's Science Advisory Board. Among the new members is John Christy, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Alabama and a prominent critic of mainstream climate science. Christy has previously advocated for a "red team-blue team" debate on climate science. Other new members include mainstream academicians and consultants.

  • House lawmakers have passed legislation that would raise salaries for federal civilian employees by 2.6 percent for 2019. The pay hike is intended to match a raise approved by the President for the military in 2019 and end a pay freeze implemented by him for civilian employees. An equivalent bill has also been introduced in the Senate. Last year, the Senate passed similar legislation providing a 1.9 percent salary hike to the federal workforce, but the bill failed to pass in the House.

  • House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has announced who will helm the panels subcommittees during the 116th Congress. Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM), a freshman, will head the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) will chair the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee, and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) will chair the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee.

  • In an explanatory statement accompanying the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Agriculture-Rural Development-Food and Drug Administration appropriations bill, appropriators have expressed concerns over the unknown costs of relocating the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) outside the national capital region. The statement reads, "Insufficient information and justification relating to the reorganization and relocation make moving forward on these proposals premature at this time." Appropriators have directed the Department of Agriculture to include cost estimates for the proposed relocation in its budget justifications for FY 2020. According to Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA is currently reviewing proposals by communities and universities to host the ERS and NIFA operations and is on track to complete the move by the end of 2019. Last year, 107 stakeholder organizations, including AIBS, urged Congress to scrutinize the proposal to relocate NIFA.

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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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