AIBS Provides Comments on U.S. Bioeconomy

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) provided comments on the U.S. bioeconomy to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which recently issued a call for public input.

The OSTP has initiated a process to gather input to help inform “notable gaps, vulnerabilities, and areas to promote and protect in the U.S. Bioeconomy that may benefit from Federal government attention.” Bioeconomy is defined as the infrastructure, innovation, products, technology, and data derived from biologically-related processes and science that drive economic growth, promote health, and increase public benefit.

AIBS commended OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget for recognizing the importance of the bioeconomy and scientific collections in this year’s science and technology funding priorities guidance to federal departments and agencies, and called on OSTP to coordinate a government-wide initiative to build the Extended Specimen Network or ESN. “Existing specimens are extended through digitization and linkages with associated data, including genetic, phenotypic, behavioral, and environmental. New specimens will be collected with these extended attributes in mind. Combined with and even driving data integration technologies and relevant data layers, extended specimens will form the core of a powerful new research and education network. When fully realized, the Extended Specimen Network will support innovative new research in such areas as bioprospecting for natural products and pharmaceuticals, synthetic biology, bioengineering, biotechnology, agriculture, natural resource stewardship, and biodiversity conservation.”

The ESN concept was outlined recently through a series of expert workshops. Earlier this year, a report outlining the ESN was released in Washington, DC, during a National Press Club briefing for the news media. More information about the ESN is available at https://bcon.aibs.org/2019/04/04/bcon-report-extending-u-s-biodiversity-collections-to-promote-research-and-education/.

The full text of the AIBS comments is available at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20191022aibsbioeconomy_comments.html.

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Scientific Integrity Bill Advances in House

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology voted 25-6 to advance the Scientific Integrity Act to the House floor on October 17, 2019. The legislation (H.R. 1709), which was approved by the panel with bipartisan support, would require federal agencies that fund, conduct, or oversee scientific research to adopt and enforce clear scientific integrity policies. The bill would prohibit the government from suppressing agency scientific research and intimidating or coercing individuals to alter or censor scientific findings.

Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced the bill in March. “The fact remains [that] whether a Democrat or a Republican sits in the speaker’s chair or the Oval Office, we need strong scientific integrity policies. This bill would do just that, insulating public scientific research and reports from the distorting influence of political special interests by ensuring strong scientific integrity standards at America’s science agencies,” stated Tonko, according to a report by Eos. Although more than 20 federal agencies have already adopted some form of a scientific integrity policy following a 2010 Executive Order from President Obama, “the policies are uneven in their enforcement and in their scope,” said Tonko.

The bill did not have any Republican cosponsors originally, but won bipartisan approval after House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) offered an amendment to delete provisions that would have allowed government scientists to respond to media interview requests without getting prior agency approval. Lucas preferred leaving it up to the agencies and administrations to determine their own media policies. “Every administration deserves the opportunity to shape policy and message,” said Lucas. Once the amendment was adopted, Lucas, along with five other Republican lawmakers, voted in favor of the bill.

Michael Halpern, Deputy Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, although disappointed by Ranking Member Lucas’ amendment, welcomed the bipartisan passage of the bill. “This is the first time this kind of legislation has passed out of a House committee. This is also the first time this kind of legislation has received public support from Republicans still in office,” said Halpern.

The legislation, which currently has 229 cosponsors, must now pass the full House as well as the Senate, where companion legislation has been introduced by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). According to Halpern, Republican support for the bill in the House is expected to improve its prospects in the Senate.

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Senate Considers First Spending Package

The Senate agreed to move forward with debate on its first spending package for fiscal year (FY) 2020 through a procedural vote on October 22, 2019. The package includes four of the twelve appropriations bills: Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST); Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, which includes funding for agricultural research; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which includes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS); and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

The Senate spending bills would provide increases for most science and environmental agencies and programs relative to FY 2019 enacted levels, including a 3 percent increase for NSF, a 4 percent increase for USGS, a 6 percent increase for NASA, a 5 percent increase for NIST, a 2 percent increase for EPA, a 3 percent increase for the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and a 2 percent increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). NOAA, however, is slated for a 2 percent cut in its budget for FY 2020 under the Senate bill.

The Senate is expected to pass this first spending package this week. According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a second spending bill consisting of the Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies spending bills will be considered next by the chamber.

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President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Announced

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on October 22, 2019, establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) after more than two-and-a-half years into his administration.

The PCAST, first established in 2001, is a presidential advisory council comprised of science and technology leaders from the private sector and academic communities who advise the President on science, technology, and innovation topics critical to the country’s security and economy, as well as public health and welfare. The council is tasked with providing “policy recommendations on strengthening American leadership in science and technology, building the Workforce of the Future, and supporting foundational research and development across the country.”

The council will be chaired by Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier, Director of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with Edward McGinnis, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, serving as the PCAST Executive Director.

In addition to the chair, PCAST will eventually include 16 members. The White House has announced the names of the first seven, which includes six industry officials and one representative from academia. The academic representative on the panel is Birgitta Whaley, Director of the Quantum Information & Computation Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Panel members selected from industry include Catherine Bessant, Chief Technology Officer for Bank of America; Dr. H. Fisk Johnson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.; Dr. Dario Gil, Director of Research at IBM; Dr. Sharon Hrynkow, Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs at Cyclo Therapeutics; Dr. A.N. Sreeram, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Dow Chemical; and Shane Wall, Chief Technology Officer and Global Head of HP Labs, HP Inc.

Historically, academic members on PCAST have outnumbered industry officials. According to OSTP, names of the remaining nominees will be announced “in the near future” and will include “several additional scholars from academia.”

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Bipartisan Climate Caucus Launched in Senate

On October 23, 2019, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mike Braun (R-IN) launched the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus that will focus on energy innovation and business-friendly solutions to climate change.

In an Op-Ed for The Hill, Senators Coons and Braun wrote: “Today, we are launching the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of senators who, like the Americans we serve, believe Congress should play a central role in guiding America’s 21st century energy economy and addressing the challenge of a changing climate. Our caucus seeks to take the politics out of this important issue. Instead, members will commit to an honest dialogue, through which we can develop solutions that solidify American environmental leadership, promote American workers, and make meaningful progress on protecting our environment.”

The Senate climate caucus is similar to the House’s bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which had nearly 100 members at the end of the previous Congress but shrunk significantly after losing a third of its Republican members in the 2018 midterm elections. The House caucus, now chaired by Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Francis Rooney (R-FL), started out with an even split between Republican and Democratic members but currently has more Democrats. The Senate caucus, however, will add the same number of members from each party. According to E&E News, Braun and Coons agreed that they would not be including lawmakers who are looking to debate established science. “If you’re not accepting the basic chemistry and physics that when you put carbon into the atmosphere you create a greenhouse effect, I think this probably isn’t the right place to be,” said Senator Braun.

So far, the caucus only has two members. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will likely join the group. Four or five additional members will be announced in the coming weeks.

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Short Takes

  • Companion legislation to the America Grows Act, which was introduced in the Senate last month, has been introduced in the House by Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Kim Schrier (D-WA), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA). If enacted, the legislation would authorize a five percent annual funding increase over the next five years for research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • According to a new report by the Audubon Society, a U.S.-based conservation group, two-thirds of bird species in North America are at risk of extinction due to global temperature rise. The report concluded that 389 of the 604 types of birds studied, including the wood thrush, the Baltimore oriole, common loon, and mountain bluebird, could vanish as a result of threats to their habitats from rising temperatures, higher seas, heavy rains and urbanization. Earlier this year, a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that a million species of plants and animals worldwide face extinction within the next few decades as a result of land-use change, climate change, invasive species, and pollution.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended that two of its federal advisory committees, namely the Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board (ELAB) and the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT), be disbanded to comply with the President's Executive Order issued in June 2019 requiring agencies to terminate a large number of current advisory committees. Agencies were ordered to terminate by September 30, 2019 "at least one-third" of their federal advisory panels established not by law but by agency heads, including panels for which the objectives have been accomplished, the assigned work has become obsolete, and the primary functions have been absorbed by another body. According to EPA, there are "existing committees and other mechanisms" that can provide the agency with guidance that earlier fell under these panels. ELAB was established in 1995 to make recommendations on EPA's measurement programs and environmental accreditation, while NACEPT was formed in 1998 to advise the EPA Administrator on general environmental management, including citizen science issues.

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Help Your Scientists and Students Strengthen Their Communication Skills

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) can bring our science communications professional development program to your organization. Designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in engaging 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 workshop that is offered periodically in Washington, DC. We can also bring the program to your university, department, lab, institution, or company. We work with you to customize the program based on your needs.

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

To bring the course to your institution and for more information please contact Dr. Robert Gropp at rgropp@aibs.org or 202-340-4281.

Learn more about the program at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communications_boot_camp.html.

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