Congress Completes FY 2019 Appropriations, President Declares Emergency

Congress has passed a bipartisan spending and border security package that includes fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding for the federal agencies that were shuttered during the 35-day partial government shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019. Included in the spending package was $1.375 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Trump agreed to sign the legislation, but declared a national emergency to transfer funds from other government programs to fund wall construction.

Congress completed its work on FY 2019 appropriations by passing the spending package, which includes seven funding bills for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Commerce, Justice and Science; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; Homeland Security; and State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

The spending package provides:

  • $8.1 billion (+$308 million) to the National Science Foundation, with $6.5 billion (+$185 million) for Research and Related Activities.
  • $5.4 billion to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a decrease of $484 million from FY 2018.
  • $21.5 billion to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an increase of $764 million from FY 2018.
  • $985 million (-$213 million) for the National Institute of Science and Technology.
  • $13 billion (-$95 million) to the Interior Department in FY 2019, with $1.3 billion (+$14 million) going to the Bureau of Land Management; $3.2 billion (+$20 million) to the National Park Service; and $1.58 billion (-$17 million) to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The bill also provides Interior with $14.1 million in new funding for the departmental reorganization initiated by former Secretary Ryan Zinke.
  • $1.18 billion (+$12 million) to the U.S. Geological Survey, with $157 million (-$850,000) for the Ecosystems Mission Area.
  • Level funding of $8.06 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in fiscal year (FY) 2019. The bill provides an additional $791 million for toxic waste site clean-up and water infrastructure. Congress rejected the President's request for a $2 billion budget cut for the agency. The bill also does not include the funds requested for "workforce reshaping" at EPA.
  • $3.16 billion for agricultural research, including $1.7 billion (+$341 million) for the Agricultural Research Service, $1.47 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (+$63 million), and $415 million (+$15 million) for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
  • $1.04 billion (+$150,000) to the Smithsonian Institution.

The border security package provides only a fraction of the $5.7 billion requested by the President for a border wall, and also bars construction of the wall on five border sites in South Texas. By declaring a national emergency, the Administration plans to tap into military construction funds or even disaster aid to secure the remainder of the funding.

The President's national emergency plan has raised concerns of executive overreach among lawmakers of both parties. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) expressed concerns that a future Democratic President could use a similar strategy to declare an emergency over climate change. "Today's national emergency is border security," he said. "But a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, "We think the president would be on very weak legal ground to proceed on this, and I'm sure that if he chose to do that, that we would test it in the courts. And you've heard a lot of Republicans express a similar sentiment." Democratic lawmakers in the House are considering a resolution of disapproval to block the President's emergency declaration. The resolution might pass in the House, but Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he would support the President's declaration. If the resolution does pass in Congress, the President can veto it. Congress would then need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override the veto.

The President's declaration is now also facing legal challenges from several groups, including Texas landowners. A coalition of 16 states, led by California, are suing to block the President from reallocating funds to pay for the border wall. The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have also filed a suit against the Administration alleging that the declaration is unlawful.

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Science, Climate Change Return to Spotlight in New Congress

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on climate change on February 13, 2019 during which experts on sea-level rise and other global warming impacts briefed the panel on the latest climate research. There was a discernible shift from a tone of climate skepticism, which was dominant in the panel’s proceedings over the past 8 years under the leadership of former Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), a climate skeptic.

Climate change has been highlighted as a top priority for the 116th Congress by Democratic lawmakers. House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) decided to make climate change the focus during the panels first full hearing. “Though this administration has regrettably chosen to ignore the findings of its own scientists in regards to climate change, we as lawmakers have a responsibility to protect the public’s interest,” she said during the hearing.

Among the witnesses, was Dr. Robert Kopp, Director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, who stressed the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to as “close to zero as possible.” Dr. Jennifer Francis, Atmospheric Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, also served as a witness and warned about the impacts of exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius in warming.

Some Republican members of the science panel seem to be warming up to the idea of addressing climate change with pragmatic solutions. The Committee’s Ranking Republican, Representative Frank Lucas (OK), invited Joseph Majkut, director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center to testify. Majkut has a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from Princeton University and is a proponent of a carbon tax and other policies to address rising temperatures. “As a rancher who represents a large community of agricultural producers, Ranking Member Lucas wants to better understand the complex relationship between climate change and weather,” said a committee spokeswoman. “He’s interested in how we can help communities increase preparedness for weather events and help businesses benefit from better short-term weather prediction.”

The House Science panel recently announced the leadership of its 5 subcommittees. First-term members of Congress will chair four of the subcommittees: Representative Haley Stevens (D-MI) will lead the Research Subcommittee; Representative Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) will chair the Environment Subcommittee; Representative Kendra Horn (D-OK) will head the Space Subcommittee, and Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) will lead the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. The energy subcommittee will be chaired by Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA).

Representative Jim Baird (R-IN), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Research and Technology has expressed support for basic research. “The United States is a leader in cutting edge research and technology,” Baird said. “Having earned a PhD in monogastric nutrition, I know the value of supporting basic research and expanding areas like STEM education.”

Other Republican subcommittee leaders include Representative Roger Marshall (R-KS), Ranking Member of the Environment Subcommittee; Representative Brian Babin (R-TX), Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee; Representative Ralph Norman (R-SC), top Republican on the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight; and Representative Randy Weber (R-TX) Ranking Member on the Energy Subcommittee.

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NIH Requests Federal Investigations into Allegations of Foreign Influence

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has requested that the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services review twelve allegations of “noncompliance related to medical research.”

In a letter released by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Inspector General Daniel Levinson noted that the referred cases mostly deal with the failure of principal researchers receiving NIH grant funding to disclose foreign affiliations. He revealed that in the past five years his office has made two referrals to the Justice Department for potential prosecution; one involving intellectual property theft and the other involving undisclosed financial support from a foreign government. He also indicated that they have recently initiated a review of NIH’s vetting and oversight process related to research integrity and initiated audits relating to NIH’s award process, including its process for evaluating the potential risk of grant recipients.

The letter from the Inspector General was in response to questions posed by Senator Grassley in a January 17, 2019 letter seeking more information on “foreign threats to U.S. institutions.” On February 6, Senator Grassley stated that he intends to “continue scrutinizing this area so taxpayers get their money’s worth when funding this research and foreign actors can’t pilfer the good work done by legitimate researchers.”

Back in August 2018, NIH had sent a letter to more than 10,000 research institutions expressing concern about “threats to the integrity of U.S. biomedical research” from foreign governments and asked institutions to help curb “unacceptable breaches of trust and confidentiality.” At the time, NIH officials had revealed that they were investigating half a dozen cases but did not provide any details.

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NSF Announces New BIO Director

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced that Dr. Joanne Tornow will serve as the next Director of the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO).

Dr. Tornow has worked in program management, leadership, and strategic development roles at NSF for nearly two decades. Tornow has previously served as Senior Adviser for strategic planning in BIO, head of BIO’s Molecular and Cellular Biosciences division, Deputy Assistant Director for NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE), Acting head of SBE, and Head of NSF’s Office of Information and Resource Management. Prior to joining NSF, she was faculty at Portland State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Dr. Tornow has been the acting BIO head since January 2018. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in human genetics from Yale University.

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Learn to Communicate and Influence like a Pro: 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 March 25-26, 2019.

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

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Short Takes

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers have published a proposed rule to revise the definition of the "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) in the Federal Register and are requesting public comments. The new definition would limit the number of wetlands and waterways that would receive federal protections under the Clean Water Act. The deadline to submit comments is April 15, 2019. Submission instructions are available at:

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced that Dr. Noni H. Byrnes will be the next Director of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). CSR manages the receipt, review, and referral of grant proposals for NIH. Dr. Byrnes has served as Acting Director of the center since the retirement of former Director Dr. Richard Nakamura, in May 2018. She has worked at CSR in various capacities since 2000 and in the pharmaceutical industry before that. Dr. Byrnes has a B.S. in chemistry from Allegheny College, Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Emory University, Atlanta.

  • President Trump has announced his intention to nominate David Bernhardt to lead the Department of the Interior. Bernhard, a former energy lobbyist, has served as acting Interior Secretary since January 2, 2019 when former Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned.

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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 to get started.

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