AIBS Testimony: Fund NSF at $9 Billion in FY 2020

In testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, the American Institute of Biological Sciences urged Congress to provide the National Science Foundation with at least $9 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2020.

“Biological research is in our national interest. Increasing our knowledge of how genes, cells, tissues, organisms, and ecosystems function is vitally important to efforts to improve the human condition. Food security, medicine and public health, national security, economic growth, and sound environmental management are informed by the biological sciences. The knowledge gained from NSF-funded research contributes to the development of new research tools and industries,” AIBS testified.

AIBS urged Congress to sustain its bipartisan tradition of investing in our nation’s scientific capacity.

Read the testimony at: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20190422aibstestimony_4.html

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Action Alert: Ask Your Members of Congress to Support NSF

Congress has begun its work to set funding levels for federal programs for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Scientists interested in the National Science Foundation (NSF) should consider contacting their U.S. Representative and Senators to ask that they provide NSF with $9 billion in FY 2020.

NSF is the primary federal funding source for discovery-driven biological research at our nation’s universities and colleges. The agency provides approximately 69% of extramural federal support for non-medical biological and environmental research at academic institutions.

The President’s budget request for FY 2020 proposes a 12.5 percent cut to NSF, including a 13 percent reduction to its research activities. This budget hurts research and undermines the nation’s ability to address national challenges.

If funded at $9 billion, NSF can accelerate progress on its 10 Big Ideas, expand support for early career researchers, and create new interdisciplinary research programs. This investment will sustain core research and education programs that are vital to U.S. competitiveness.

Interested individuals can send a letter to their members of Congress from the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

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White House Releases Guidance on Use of Science in Rulemaking

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has released new guidance on the quality of information to be used in rulemaking by federal agencies.

In an April 24 memo to the heads of federal agencies and departments, Acting OMB Director Russell Vought provided updated standards for agencies to use to comply with the Information Quality Act. The guidance updates implementation of the current information quality guidelines established by a 2002 OMB memo, Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated by Federal Agencies. These updates “reflect recent innovations in information generation, access, management, and use, and to help agencies address common problems with maintaining information quality.”

OMB has asked agencies to modify their definition of “influential information,” thereby changing what information qualifies to be considered when drafting rules. The new guidance intends to put in place a more rigorous review process to determine the “fitness of scientific information for policy purposes.”

OMB is also directing agencies to make more data and methods, including the computer code used in data analyses, publicly accessible, so that third parties can reproduce the findings underlying rulemaking. The “reproducibility standard” for influential information is intended to “increase the credibility of federal decisions.”

The updates modify how agencies respond to “requests for correction” (RFC) from the public. Under current guidelines, RFCs can be submitted by a member of the public when certain information “does not comply with agency guidelines.” There is also an opportunity to appeal the agency’s initial decision on an RFC. Under the new guidance, agencies would be required to respond to such requests with technical “point-by-point” answers within 120 days to reflect more “realistic timelines” and not “opine on the requestor’s or the agency’s policy position.” Additionally, agencies would be required to share draft responses to RFCs and appeals with OMB prior to sending them to the requestor for “assessment of compliance.”

According to critics, the OMB guidance is similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule, proposed in 2018, which would have barred the use of scientific studies in drafting new regulations unless the underlying data were publicly available in a manner “sufficient for independent validation.” The memo also does not provide details about the process and costs associated with implementing the updates, another concern pointed out by critics.

Agencies have been directed to update within 90 days their own specific guidelines on information quality based on the parameters provided by the memo.

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After NIH, NSF Asked about Foreign Influence on Research

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has asked the National Science Foundation (NSF) about the processes in place at the agency to detect and deter foreign threats to federally-funded research.

In the letter to NSF Director France Córdova dated April 15, 2019, Senator Grassley asks about the background check process used to vet recipients of NSF grants, the rules and procedures in place to prevent any theft of research data and findings, the resources and dollars used to identify and investigate such violations, and the enforcement mechanisms to protect intellectual property generated by taxpayer-funded research. He also asks how many audits have been conducted in the last five years to identify potential violations concerning foreign affiliations and whether the agency is coordinating its efforts to address potential threats with other federal agencies, such as the Justice Department or the State Department. He has given the agency a two-week deadline to respond to his enquiries.

Senator Grassley has previously made similar enquiries to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense. His October 2018 letter to NIH prompted investigations into a dozen allegations of “noncompliance related to medical research” by the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier this month, NIH Director Francis Collins revealed during a Senate budget hearing that investigations of foreign scientists receiving NIH funds are currently underway at 55 institutions and some scientists have been found guilty of not appropriately disclosing foreign funding, redirecting intellectual property generated by their U.S. institution, or sending grant proposals to a foreign country, allowing for the theft of ideas. Collins indicated that some researchers could potentially be fired. Some U.S. universities are expected to announce actions they have taken to address foreign threats to NIH-funded research in the near future.

Readers of BioScience were alerted to investigations of foreign influence likely spreading to other agencies in an editorial published in the April 2019 issue. The editorial warned, “Researchers, regardless of whether funded by the NIH or another federal agency, should take our renewed national attention to international security and intellectual property seriously,” and that the inquiries into NIH research could be directed to other agencies as well. Read the editorial here: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/69/4/235/5427088

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Meet with Your Lawmakers to Inform Science Policy This Summer

Registration is now open for the 2019 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.

This national initiative, organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is an opportunity for scientists from across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research and education.

Now in its eleventh year, the event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their federal or state elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office. AIBS works with participants to schedule the meetings with lawmakers and prepare participants through online training and one-on-one support.

“When I found out about the AIBS Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits, I thought that this would be a perfect way to share not only my passion about my work but also my concerns and interests with a local government representative that might be able to influence policy and share advice about how to become even more involved,” said 2018 participant Khailee Marischuk. “I had not had any previous experience with this type of meeting, but AIBS did a fantastic job connecting me with my State Representative and preparing me for the lab tour and conversation. My meeting with Representative Terese Berceau was incredibly rewarding as she shared our enthusiasm for scientific research and our passion for promoting science policy for elected officials and the general public alike, along with giving our group insight in how best to make our voices and opinions known and heard. It was a thought-provoking discussion for me and hopefully everyone else involved.”

The event is made possible by AIBS, with the support of event sponsors American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Botanical Society of America, Helminthological Society of Washington, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Paleontological Society, Society for Freshwater Science, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and Society for the Study of Evolution and event supporter Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Participation is free, but registration is required. Registration will close on July 10, 2019. For more information and to register, visit https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html

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Registration Open for 2019 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, July 11, 2019, with subsequent course sessions held weekly on Thursdays. 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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AIBS Webinar: Grant Proposal Development

Join Dr. Julie Cwikla in a discussion about grant proposal development. The webinar will focus on - Art, Architecture, and Attitude - all important in building a competitive grant proposal.

Dr. Cwikla holds degrees in Mathematics, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics, and Mathematics Education. She serves as Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Department of Education, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and others. A recipient of the National Science Foundation’s “Early CAREER Award” she’s directed over $15 million in funded research programs serving children, teachers, professors, and families. She was named 2019 Ada Lovelace STEM Educator and just released Good to Great Grant Writing: Secrets to Success.

Date: Thursday, May 16, 2019 Time: 2:00 - 3:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time.

Register at: https://www.aibs.org/events/webinar/grant-proposal.html

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Short Takes

  • Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) have introduced bipartisan legislation that would increase federal advisory committee transparency and accountability. The Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments (S. 1220), would require committees to provide more public information about their proceedings, and would expand the Federal Advisory Committee Act to include panels currently exempt from the legislation. According to Senator Portman, the bill intends to promote "evidence-based" rather than "interest-based" decision-making and "strengthen the independence of federal advisory committees and close loopholes that permit agencies to skirt existing transparency requirements." A companion measure was passed by the House last month.

  • Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, namely Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tom Carper (D-DE) have announced that they will launch the Environmental Justice Caucus, the first caucus focused on environmental justice issues. The group will draw attention to the public health issues arising from pollution that "disproportionately impact low income communities and communities of color." The new caucus will coordinate its efforts with the House United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force.

  • Freshman lawmakers in the House have sent a letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee calling for "robust funding for our nation's climate change research programs." The letter led by Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA), Sean Casten (D-IL), and Joe Neguse (D-CO) and signed by more than 30 freshman Democrats urges appropriators to prioritize climate research in FY 2020 and provide "strong funding" for programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Transportation (DOT), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Office of Science within the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense.

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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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