HOUSE OVERWHELMINGLY PASSES NASA AUTHORIZATION CONFERENCE REPORT - The U.S. House of Representatives on September 14 approved the conference report for H.R.1654, the NASA Authorization Act of 2000 by a 399-17 margin. The bill authorizes $13.6 billion for this fiscal year (FY), $14.2 billion for FY '01, and $14.6 for FY '02 for NASA's programs. "Sending this NASA authorization legislation to the President will mark the first time Congress has done so since 1992. Overall, we're recommending a one percent increase over the President's request for NASA funding in fiscal years 2001 and 2002, principally in the areas of science, aeronautics, and technology. These critical investments will continue developing our knowledge in areas ranging from the growth of cancer cells to the El Nino weather effect on Earth and the nature of black holes deep within our universe," commented House Science Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., (R-WI), the chairman of the conference committee. The bill directs NASA to establish a non-governmental organization (NGO) to manage research and commercial activities on the ISS after it is completed to improve scientific utility of the Space Station and directs NASA to conduct a study to assess the readiness of the scientific community to use the Space Station for life and microgravity research. It also authorizes a 2.5% increase in funding in FY2001 and FY2002 for Science, Aeronautics and Technology, such as Space Science, Life & Microgravity, Earth Science, Aero-Space Technology, and Academic Programs and increases funding for Life & Microgravity Research: +10.8% in FY2001 and +14.5% in FY2002. The legislation is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Clinton in the next few weeks. H.R. 1654 would mark the first NASA authorization signed into law in eight years.
AIBS PARTICIPATES IN SCIENCE COALITION LOBBYING EFFORT FOR SCIENCE FUNDING - On September 14, AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul participated in a day-long lobby effort sponsored and coordinated by the Science Coalition. Six teams of scientific society representatives and their members fanned out across Capitol Hill to meet with key Members of Congress and congressional staff to advocates for basic science research and funding during this critical time. Lobbying team members then met with up to 10 members of Congress or their staffers. It appears that the VA-HUD-IA appropriations bill, which includes NSF, NASA, and EPA, is likely to go to conference this week. Staff in both the House and Senate, including staff for House Whip Tom DeLay, admitted that there will be more money available than was originally allocated, but Congressional Republicans are now proposing that 90% of the surplus be set aside for debt reduction. This gambit, which has been rejected by the White House, could cause further delay in reaching agreement on the budget. House appropriations staff suggested that there is a good chance that the House, which appropriated a 3.8% increase to NSF, will be able to meet the Senate's increase of 10.27%, which includes an increase of $25 million for the Biocomplexity in the Environment Initiative. The White House is vowing to hold firm on its request for a 17% increase for NSF. Some Congressional staffers have said that the final FY2001 appropriations will include everything on both the Democratic and Republican wish lists, and may total as much as $650 billion. This sum would be $50 billion over the budget resolution level and some $26 billion over the level of the President's original budget request.
"The Science Coalition (www.sciencecoalition.org) is an alliance of 416 organizations, institutions and individuals including Nobel Laureates, businesses, non-profit health organizations, medical groups, health care providers, scientific societies and public and private universities. The coalition's mission is to sustain the federal government's historic commitment to university-based science research."
MORE ON LOBBYING DAY - The lobby day started with a kick-off breakfast. NASDAQ President Alfred Berkeley, a leading supporter of the contribution of basic research to the economy, addressed the participants with the message that strong funding for basic scientific research and science, math, engineering, and technology education is critical. Berkeley cited evidence such as the number of patents resulting from basic research funded by the federal government. AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul pointed out that while it may be more difficult to measure, the contribution of the biological sciences should not be overlooked. She pointed out that the International Society for Ecological Economics is extending and integrating the study and management of "nature's household" (ecology) and "humankind's household" (economics) and has developed methods to valuate natural resources and integrated ecologic-economic modeling at scales from local to regional to global, and integrating natural resources and environmental services into national income and wealth accounts. AIBS and the Ecological Society of America, which was represented at the lobby day by Executive Director Katherine S. McCarter and Public Affairs Director Nadine Lymn plan to provide Berkeley with a package of basic readings in ecological economics and resource valuation.
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE REFUTES LINK BETWEEN REDUCED LOGGING AND FOREST FIRES - A new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) refutes the claim that reduced logging has increased forest fuel loads that in turn have been blamed for this summer's wildfires. In fact, CRS found that heavy logging in the past may have created prime forest conditions, because removal of large trees promotes growth of heavy brush and more flammable small trees. The report also noted that over the past 20 years, some of the years with the most fires were also the years with the highest logging levels. The Departments of Agriculture and Interior on September 9 released a new forest health plan, with an emphasis on controlled burns and some thinning, but with little reliance on commercial logging [http://www.whitehouse.gov/CEQ/firereport.html]. Congressional Research Service reports can be found on the website of the National Council for Science and the Environment at http://www.cnie.org.
ASSESSING CLAIM THAT SCIENCE GETS CREDIT FOR THE ECONOMY - If it is true that scientific research is the basis of the economic boom in the United States, then perhaps we should vote for NSF President Rita Colwell for President of the country. The August 25 issue of Science examines the claim that U.S. prosperity has been built on a foundation of scientific research. The article (at 1274) traces the history of economic valuation of scientific progress since the late 1700s and focuses on technologies such as computers. Economist Robert Gordon of Northwestern University says that the information technology revolution has made negligible contributions to the very substantial gains in productivity over the past two decades. A sidebar to the article looks at the valuation of the contribution of biomedical research to the economy. The article did not look at the value of basic research in the biological sciences to the conservation and management of natural resources.
DOE LOOKS AT WOMEN IN SCIENCE, MATH, ENGINEERING, AND TECHNOLOGY CAREERS - The Department of Energy has launched several initiatives to try to bring more women into the science, math, engineering, and technology (SMET) workforce. DOE's efforts come in part in response to the congressionally-mandated Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development (the "Morella" report). At a recent agency forum on women in science, attended by top female scientists from within and without DOE, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson noted that within DOE, women hold only 15% of the jobs in technical areas. In the U.S. workforce, women hold only 9% of jobs requiring education skills and 10% of the jobs based on physics. Richardson stated that this imbalance contributes to the shortage of SMET workers in the United States. To address this situation, DOE plans to collaborate with NSF to use its national labs of education resources for students and interns and to modify the "teaching culture" of those labs to be more appealing to women, underrepresented minorities, and the disabled. DOE also plans aggressive recruitment and hiring initiatives and a self-monitoring system to measure how well DOE and its contractors do in removing barriers to equal opportunity.
POSTDOCS NEED BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS, COMPENSATION, BENEFITS, SAY THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES - Employment conditions for postdoctoral scholars, especially at universities, need to be significantly improved to develop the human capital necessary for a healthy research enterprise in the United States and to maintain the nation's global leadership in science and technology, says a new guide from a committee of the National Academies. The report, titled Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies, was released September 11, 2000. The postdoctoral population has more than doubled in the past 10 years to about 52,000, according to the committee's estimates. As a result, says Maxine F. Singer, chair of the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, and president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., postdocs receive "embarrassingly low pay and meager benefits." She added, "Although many postdocs have stimulating and productive research experiences under the supervision of attentive, thoughtful mentors, we also learned about postdocs who are neglected, even exploited, while making creative and fundamental contributions to the research projects on which they work."
The committee set forth several guiding principles for the postdoctoral experience. First and foremost, it should be viewed as an apprenticeship with the purpose of gaining scientific, technical, and other skills that advance the postdoc's professional career. Second, postdocs should receive appropriate compensation, benefits, and recognition for their contributions to research. Third, to ensure that postdoctoral appointments are beneficial to all concerned, everyone involved should agree on a clear and mutual understanding of the nature and purpose of the appointment. The report recommends specific actions:
- Institutional recognition and status should be awarded commensurate with the contributions of postdocs to the research enterprise, along with access to health insurance and institutional benefits.
- Postdocs should be invited to participate in creating standards, definitions, and conditions for appointments.
- Mechanisms for frequent and regular communication between postdocs and their advisers, institutions, and funding organizations should be developed, including initial expectations and formal evaluations.
- Limits should be set for the total time spent as a postdoc. This should be about five years at all institutions, with clearly described exceptions, so that these scholars are able to assume professional level positions within a reasonable amount of time.
- Substantive career guidance should be provided to improve postdocs' ability to prepare for regular employment and take steps to improve the transition of postdocs to regular career positions.
- The quality of data should be improved both for postdoctoral working conditions and for the population of postdocs in relation to the availability of jobs in research. Prospective postdocs should be informed about job market demand so they can make better decisions about whether additional experience is necessary.
The committee plans to distribute the guide widely to postdocs, advisers, administrators, funding organizations, and disciplinary societies, and make presentations at major meetings of scientists, engineers, and university administrators throughout the country. An enhanced Web version, with links to best practices, discussions, and other resources, is available at http://www4.nationalacademies.org/pd/postdoc.nsf. Copies can be downloaded (free) purchased from the National Academy Press [http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9831.html]. The cost of the report is $14.95 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy.