FY 2020 Appropriations Wrapped-Up in Time for Holidays

Just prior to the expiration of the most recent stopgap funding resolution that kept the government running through December 20, 2019, both chambers of Congress passed two packages of appropriations bills totally approximately $1.4 trillion. The two compromise packages were signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019. As an indication of the compromise nature of the package, groups from the left and right have criticized the final fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations package.

Among the compromises are some funding for the border wall and significant new investments in renewable and clean energy research programs at the Department of Energy. These investments have been described by some as a Manhattan Project to find solutions to climate change.

For the National Science Foundation, which was included in the defense and security legislative package, Congress provided nearly $8.278 billion. This is an increase of about 2.5 percent from FY 2019 levels and a 17.2 percent increase from the President’s FY 2020 budget request for the National Science Foundation. The National Institutes of Health will receive an increase of about 6.5 percent, which will result in funding of about $41.8 billion. Within the Department of Commerce, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will receive about $1.034 billion, an increase of just under 5 percent. The Energy Department’s Office of Science will experience an approximate 6.3 percent budget increase, bringing its budget to 7 billion this fiscal year.

Basic science (6.1) within the Department of Defense will grow by 3 percent to $2.6 billion. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will essentially be flat funded, with an increase of approximately 0.9 percent providing some new funding to grow the programs budget to $3.458 billion. The total budget for NASA will swell by about 5.3 percent to $22.6 billion. NASA’s science directorate will grow to $7.139 billion, an increase of 3.4 percent. NASA STEM Engagement program which was zeroed out in the President’s budget, will be funded at $120 million, $10 million above the FY 2019 level.

Most environmental research programs saw at least modest increases. Doing surprisingly well, the Ecosystems function within the United States Geological Survey will receive about $171 million for FY 2020, which is a bump of approximately 9 percent. Overall, USGS is set for a 9.5 percent increase — placing its budget at $1.271 billion. Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is being trimmed by about 1 percent. Importantly, however, most of the agency’s research programs will receive modest budget increases. The agency’s research office will receive about $590 million, an increase of 4.3 percent from FY 2019 and 76 percent more than the President’s request. For research at the Environmental Protection Agency, Congress has provided funding at 54.7 percent more than the President’s budget request. This increase represents a bump of just under 1.5 percent from the FY 2019 funding level.

Within the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Food Agriculture will grow to $1.527 billion, an increase of 3.8 percent from the FY 2019 enacted level. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will grow by $10 million, bringing its FY 2020 funding to about $425 million. Forest and rangeland research within the US Forest Service will remain essentially flat, with a FY 2020 funding level of approximately $305 million, up from approximately $300 million in FY 2019. The Agricultural Research Service will see its budget trimmed by about 4.5 percent. In FY 2020, it will operate with $1.607 billion.

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President Nominates New NSF Director

President Donald Trump has announced his intention to nominate Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan to serve as the next director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). If confirmed, Dr. Panchanathan would be the agency’s 15th director. He would assume the office following Senate confirmation. He would replace Dr. France Cordova at the end of her term in 2020.

Following the announcement, Dr. Cordova said: “For five years, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan has been a bold, energizing presence on the National Science Board and he was a leader in every sense of the word in the research community prior to that. I was delighted to learn that the White House named him as nominee to serve as the next director of the National Science Foundation. This position requires the ability to connect with all stakeholders in the U.S. science and engineering community, walking the fine line between serving and leading. Panch has the character and knowledge that make him an ideal fit for the job. As my own term draws to a close, I am heartened at the idea of Panch as my successor.”

Dr. Panchanathan has served as a member of the National Science Board - NSF’s governing body - since 2014. He currently heads the knowledge enterprise development at Arizona State University. In this capacity, he is responsible for advancing research, innovation, strategic partnerships, entrepreneurship, and global and economic development.

Panchanathan is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. He is also the Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society of Optical Engineering (SPIE). He is currently serving as the Chair-Elect in the Council on Research (CoR) within the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Panchanathan was the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Multimedia Magazine and is also an editor or associate editor of many other journals.

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Congress to Create Two Entities to Address Research Security

Lawmakers are expected to approve legislation that would create two bodies aimed at preventing foreign influence on U.S. scientific research. The annual defense bill, titled the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), authorizes an interagency working group within the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House to coordinate activities aimed at protecting federally funded research from foreign interference. The bill would also create a roundtable comprised of academics, government officials, and industry officials, coordinated by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to advise the government on protecting national security while maintaining international research collaborations.

The NDAA would also establish new reporting requirements for national security academic research, authorize the creation of a new technology and national security STEM fellowship for undergraduate and graduate students, and commission a Defense Science Board study on emerging biotechnologies pertinent to national security. Additionally, the legislation requires the Director of National Intelligence to submit an annual report to Congress on “sensitive research subjects” that could affect national security in order “to help ensure academic freedom.”

Oversight of foreign influence on research has been increasing. Lawmakers have made enquiries into the processes in place at agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), to detect and address foreign threats to federally-funded research. In September 2019, sixty science, engineering, and international education organizations, including AIBS, urged the heads of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, NIH, NSF, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense to consider a wide range of stakeholder perspectives as the agencies work together to tackle foreign influence on U.S. research. Two separate bills were introduced in the House and Senate intended to address issues of foreign influence on science and academic espionage without impeding scientific collaboration. Neither pieces of legislation were passed, but many elements of those bills have been included in the NDAA. The final version of the NDAA is closer to the House version of the bills, which according to Tobin Smith, Vice President for policy at the Association of American Universities, “is great news,” Science Insider reported. A provision in the Senate bill requiring federal agencies to create a secret registry of researchers who had violated rules on the disclosure of foreign ties had raised concerns among the scientific community.

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Scientific Societies Express Concerns with Potential OSTP Mandate

A coalition of 60 scientific societies, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), joined forces on December 18 to share their concerns with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in response to reports that OSTP is considering an Executive Order that could jeopardize the sustainability of professional societies and the scientific and technical journals they publish.

The letter to OSTP expressed deep concern over changes being proposed to the administration’s policy on the open distribution of published journal articles containing federally funded research. If enacted, the new policy would hinder the ability of the U.S. scientific enterprise to be a global leader in driving discovery and innovation.

According to a news release from the American Chemical Society, “Under the current policy, free and open distribution of journal articles containing work resulting from U.S. federally funded research is subject to a 12-month embargo. Under the proposed change, this embargo period would be removed, and the journal articles would need to be made freely available upon publishing.”

“The proposed changes could result in unintended consequences that undermine the global scientific leadership of the U.S.,” said Glenn S. Ruskin, vice president, ACS External Affairs & Communications. “The proposed changes could also interfere with the efforts made by publishers to responsibly and transparently move toward greater open access of the research reported in their journals.”

Journals and publishers are presently exploring models that enable greater access to content while preserving the ability of journals to provide peer-review and ensure the quality of published content. Many in the scientific community further warn that, if enacted, many journals and some scientific societies - especially smaller ones — might be driven out of business.

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Faces of Biology Photo Contest Winners Selected

Three winners have been selected in the 2019 Faces of Biology Photo Contest, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

“Telling the story of science can often be enhanced through imagery. A great picture can educate and inspire,” said Robert Gropp, Executive Director of AIBS. “We have been working hard to help scientists strengthen their communication skills. Part of this has always involved challenging individuals to think creatively about how to share their excitement for their science with new audiences.”

The AIBS Faces of Biology contest showcases biological research in its many forms and settings. The photos are used to help the public and policymakers better understand the value of biological research and education.

Michelle Jewell, a science communicator in Raleigh, North Carolina won first place; Brandon Güell, a Ph.D. student at Boston University, won second place; and Becky Schott, an underwater photographer and diving instructor, won third place. View the winning entries here: https://www.aibs.org/public-programs/news/2019-faces-of-biology-winners.html

A forthcoming issue of the journal BioScience will feature the first-place photograph on the cover and the second- and third-place photos in an article. All of the winners receive a one-year subscription to BioScience. Michelle Jewell will also receive $250.

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Graduate Students: Apply for the 2020 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is now accepting applications for the 2020 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who are demonstrating an interest and aptitude for working at the intersection of science and policy.

Recipients of the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the AIBS Congressional Visits Day, an annual event where scientists meet with lawmakers to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held in the spring of 2020 (likely in March or April). Domestic travel and hotel expenses are paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding, and how to engage with policymakers and the news media.
  • Meetings with lawmakers to discuss the importance of federal investment in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2020 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior recipients, including Honorable Mentions, are not eligible for the award.

Applications are due by 05:00 PM Eastern Time on January 15, 2020. The application guidelines can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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Enhance Your Interdisciplinary and Team Science Skills

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and individuals who work with or participate in scientific teams.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was designed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams. From its first offering the course has evolved to include a greater focus on team planning and teamwork, and less time allocated to university administration of interdisciplinary teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team, with scientific case studies and examples.

The Enabling Interdisciplinary and Team Science course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together. We can also customize the course and bring it to your university, department, lab, or research team. This course provides the right foundation from which your team can successfully accomplish your goals.

The next program will be held on April 27-28, 2020 in Washington, DC. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Short Takes

  • The Senate has confirmed Ms. Aurelia Skipwith to be the next Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Ms. Skipwith has served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in the Department of the Interior since April 2017. She worked for Monsanto Co. for about six years, after which she briefly worked as a research and legal intern at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She has also worked as Assistant Corporate Counsel at Alltech, Inc. and co-founded agricultural consulting firm AVC Global. Ms. Skipworth has a B.S. in biology from Howard University, M.A. in molecular genetics from Purdue University, and J.D. from the University of Kentucky College of Law. The USFWS Director position has been vacant since the beginning of the Trump Administration. This was the Senate's second attempt to confirm Ms. Skipwith after they failed to take action on her nomination in the previous Congress.

  • Legislation addressing wildlife conservation in the U.S., entitled "Recovering America's Wildlife Act," (H.R. 3742) has been approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources. The legislation, which has gained 162 co-sponsors, including 121 Democrats and 41 Republicans, will now be considered by the full chamber. The bill would provide $1.4 billion annually to fund conservation and restoration efforts for more than 12,000 wildlife and plant species "of greatest conservation need," including species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and their habitats. The bill would also fund a competitive grant program to catalyze innovation in recovery efforts.

  • iDigBio, National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) have announced that the Biodiversity Summit 2020 will be held September 20-25, 2020 in Alexandria, Virginia, USA. The Summit is an international event and will serve as host to GBIF's governing board meeting, the ADBC annual summit, and TDWG's annual conference. It will also provide opportunities for all federal and non-federal natural history collections worldwide to network and share successes in biodiversity data digitization, mobilization, standards development, and access. The conference announcement page is available at https://www.idigbio.org/content/biodiversity-summit-2020. Please follow this page, which will be updated regularly as conference planning progresses.

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