House Approves Funding Boosts for Science

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its second fiscal year (FY) 2020 spending package on June 25, 2019. The "minibus" includes the Interior-Environment, Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture-Rural Development-Food and Drug Administration, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills.

The five-bill package would provide funding increases to most federal science agencies and programs, rejecting the President's proposed budget cuts. The House measure would fund:

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) at $8.6 billion, an increase of 7 percent above FY 2019. NSF was slated for a 12 percent cut under the President's request.
  • Research and Related Activities within NSF, which includes the Biological Sciences Directorate, would receive $7.1 billion (+9 percent).
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be funded at $5.48 billion (+1 percent).
  • The National Institutes of Standards and Technology would receive $1.04 billion (+6 percent).
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would increase by 4 percent to $22.3 billion, with $7.2 billion (+4 percent) for NASA Science programs.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey would increase to $1.24 billion (+7 percent), with $168 million (+7 percent) for the Ecosystems Mission Area. The President had proposed shrinking the overall budget for the agency by 15 percent.
  • The National Parks Service would grow by 4 percent, to $3.4 billion.
  • The Bureau of Land Management would receive $1.4 billion (+5 percent).
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is slated for $1.66 billion (+5 percent).
  • The Environmental Protection Agency would receive an 8 percent boost, bringing it to $9.5 billion. Within this budget, $728 million (+1 percent) would support Science and Technology. The President had proposed slashing EPA's budget by 31 percent.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is set to receive $1.4 billion (-17 percent) under the House's plan. ARS was slated for a 26 percent budget cut under the President's proposal.
  • The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a USDA research agency, would grow to $1.6 billion (+8 percent), with $445 million (+7 percent) for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
  • The Smithsonian Institution would receive $1.07 billion (+3 percent).

President Trump has previously announced that he will veto this spending package. There are two FY 2020 spending bills now remaining before the House -- the Homeland Security and Legislative Branch appropriations bills, while the Senate has yet to act on any FY 2020 appropriations bills.

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House Pumps Breaks on Administration Plans to Relocate Science Agencies

Lawmakers in the House have approved language in recently passed appropriations bills to prevent the relocation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agencies outside the National Capital Region and part of U.S. Geological Surveys’ headquarters to the western United States.

In its FY 2020 budget request, USGS had proposed “establishing a headquarters presence in the West” as a part of a larger reorganization effort at the Department of the Interior. The agency proposed relocating key leaders and staff from the Reston, Virginia office to Lakewood, Colorado in order to “improve support, engagement and collaboration with the Interior resource management agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, and other stakeholders and partners whose activities are concentrated in the West.” The agency did not specify which staff positions and functions would be moved.

In August 2018, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans to relocate USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Economic Research Service (ERS) outside Washington, DC to increase efficiencies and bring resources closer to stakeholders. After reviewing 136 Expressions of Interest from parties in 35 states, USDA announced in June 2019 that the agencies will be relocated to the Kansas City region.

Skeptical of these relocation proposals, lawmakers in the House have passed a fiscal year (FY) 2020 Agriculture appropriations bill that includes language barring the USDA from relocating ERS and NIFA outside the National Capital Region. The relocation proposal has also raised concerns from more than 100 stakeholder groups, including AIBS. Additionally, the FY 2020 Interior-Environment spending bill would prevent the USGS from using any federal funds for relocating its headquarters functions to the West. According to the legislation, such a relocation “would dramatically change the organization, have significant financial costs, and impact the Survey’s effectiveness and strategic national-level partnerships with Federal agencies, States, scientific organizations, and stakeholders.”

The measures require Senate concurrence as well as approval from the White House.

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Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Address Academic Espionage

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has introduced legislation (S.1879) that would require students from China, Iran, and Russia to undergo background screening prior to participating in “sensitive research projects.”

Under the “Protect Our Universities Act of 2019,” an interagency task force led by the Department of Homeland Security would be responsible for maintaining a list of sensitive research projects funded by government agencies. According to Senator Hawley, American universities are “key targets of espionage and intellectual property theft by not only China, but Russia and Iran.”

“For too long, these countries have sent students to our universities to collect sensitive research that they can later use to develop capabilities that threaten our national security,” said Hawley. “This bill takes much-needed steps to ensure our research stays out of the hands of foreign adversaries who are proactively rooting for our failure.”

A different measure (H.R. 3038) that also tackles academic espionage was introduced in the House by Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The bill would establish a roundtable at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and an interagency working group within the White House, to serve as platforms for discussions among stakeholders on how to address issues of foreign influence on science and academic espionage. The forums are intended to help to identify practical steps that universities and research funders can take to protect intellectual property without hampering scientific collaboration.

Concerns about foreign influence and academic espionage have been rising among lawmakers and science agencies. Last year, enquiries from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) led to investigations into allegations of foreign influence at the National Institutes of Health. Earlier this year, Senator Grassley also asked the National Science Foundation about the processes in place at the agency to detect and deter foreign threats to federally-funded research. An editorial in the April 2019 issue of BioScience had warned about investigations of foreign influence likely spreading to other federal agencies.

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Medical Groups Call for Action on Climate Change

Seventy-four medical and public health groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Lung Association, have called on government, business, and civil society leaders, elected officials, and candidates for office to recognize climate change as a public health emergency and prioritize actions to address it.

On June 24, 2019, the groups issued a call to action on their Climate, Health and Equity Policy Action Agenda, which lists ten policy recommendations to address climate change. “Climate change is one of the greatest threats to health America has ever faced—it is a true public health emergency,” reads the policy action agenda. “The health, safety, and well-being of millions of people in the U.S. have already been harmed by human-caused climate change, and health risks in the future are dire without urgent action to fight climate change.”

Policy recommendations include meeting and strengthening U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, promoting healthy, sustainable and resilient food systems, ensuring access to safe drinking water, investing in policies that enable a “just transition” for workers and communities adversely impacted by climate change, incorporating climate solutions into healthcare systems, and building climate change resilient communities.

These policy actions are intended to serve as a roadmap to formulate “coordinated strategies for simultaneously tackling climate change, health, and equity.”

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Last Chance to Register: 2019 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits

The deadline to register for the 2019 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is approaching.

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, Organization of Biological Field Stations, 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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Enter the 2019 Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest for your chance to win $250 and to have your photo appear on the cover of the journal BioScience.

The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the competition must depict a person, such as a scientist, researcher, technician, collections curator, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, with a natural history collection, at a field station, on a computer, in a classroom, or anywhere else research is done.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience and will receive $250 along with a one-year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside the journal and will receive a one-year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The winning photo from the 2018 contest will be featured on the cover of the May 2019 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 30, 2019.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences is seeking a Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB). This is a Senior Executive Service position, which can be filled as either a Federal employee, or as a rotator from an academic institution. DEB supports research and training on evolutionary and ecological processes acting at the level of populations, species, communities, and ecosystems. More information about the position is available at: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/536933400

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) will hold an information session with the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) on July 11, 2019 from 1:00-2:00pm Eastern Time. The Virtual Office Hours is an opportunity to learn about ongoing and new opportunities at NSF. This month there will be discussions on recent solicitations, dear colleague letters, and how co-review within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) and with other directorates is handled. Register at https://nsf2.webex.com/nsf2/onstage/g.php?MTID=e6203aacca4218e0f91d6f637f0fc2bfe

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